Looking from the street, you'd never suspect this modest three-story Victorian home in Council Bluffs contains so many creepy and cool collectibles.
But once you step through the front door and climb the creaky stairs to the second floor, it's obvious that homeowner Jeff Peterson has spent years curating a collection of all things curious.
"It's 365 days of Halloween for me," Peterson said during a tour of the house.
Peterson and his partner, April Williams, have lived in the house since 1996. The house, which saw its first resident in 1887, is in the Historic Oakland/Fairview Neighborhood. That first resident was John J. Steadman, editor of the Daily Nonpareil, according to a city directory.
Peterson's collection is vast and includes thousands of items, including rare movie memorabilia (often signed by directors and movie stars), horror masks and life-size replicas of movie monsters, shrunken heads, exotic butterflies, beetles and bugs from the deep jungle.
There is even a freezedried, two-headed calf born on a farm in Manilla, Iowa, in 2013.
"This is where I come and get lost," he said.
Peterson, a Council Bluffs native and 1978 Lewis Central graduate, has been collecting the strange and unusual all of his life. He remembers drawing creatures with his crayons as early as age 5.
At the age of 10, Peterson received a book that would influence his fascination with the macabre. The book was "Strange Creatures From Time and Space," written by John Keel with artwork by Frank Frazetta.
"I've always been interested inmonsters," Peterson said. "Monster magazines is where it all started."
Peterson would later become friends with the Frazetta family. The book is a comprehensive encyclopedia ofmonsters from around the world, and he still owns it.
Over the years, Peterson has built an impressive collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror curios. However, it wasn't until recently that he started unpacking his items to display.
There's only one rule when it comes to where he can display his collection, he said: The first floor is off-limits. But once you make your way up the front staircase, the somewhat-jarring journey begins.
Displayed along the staircase are framed movie posters of old film classics that include "King Kong" (1933), "Mighty Joe Young" (1949) and "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1973).
He loves all monsters, but King Kong has a special place in his heart. There's a part of a bedroom on the second floor dedicated to the original film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Council Bluffs native Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Peel back the layers of his collection and you'll also find a hefty dose of history.
In 1998, Peterson hosted a 65th anniversary reunion party for the "King Kong" film at his house, attended by Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Forrest J. Ackerman, Greg Bear and more. The group was in the metro area as part of a film event that was held in Omaha.
"All of them were legends and it will never happen again because they've passed away," Peterson said. "That was one of the biggest highlights of my life."
The second floor is filled with other items such as a "haunted vase" he inherited from his aunt that "sweats," original comic book art, more movie posters, rare butterflies that Peterson mounted himself and books that feature his own artwork and sculptures.
Midway through the second set of stairs to the third floor, visitors are greeted by a full-size replica of Bela Lugosi dressed as Dracula. This space doubles as a place to display more of the collection and Peterson's art studio.
Dozens of horror masks are displayed here, some of them painted and haired by Peterson himself.
"I'm really particular on what things look like according to the old classics," Peterson said. "I want them as close as possible."
He recently painted a lifesize replica of the monster from the 1954 film "Creature from the Black Lagoon." It's displayed on the third floor. Eventually, he'd like to have full-size replicas of all of the classic Universal monsters.
Call Peterson an avid collector, but that's almost too simple. He's also a sculptor, painter, designer, cryptozoologist (the study of hidden monsters like Bigfoot) and a pen-and-ink artist.
Peterson may have spent a lifetime collecting other people's creepy creations, but he also has a big collection of his own work.
His portfolio includes large sculpted dragons, which are on display at the Dragon's Lair, 2311 N. 90th St. in Omaha, illustrations of mythical creatures and monsters, and paintings.
In 1979, Peterson worked for the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County. During his time there, he drew an illustration of the "haunted" Squirrel Cage Jail, which was published on the cover of the Shoppers Bulletin on Oct. 17, 1979. He also designed the interior of the jail's haunted house for the month of October.
Then, in 1985, he opened a T-shirt business with his longtime friend Bruce Crawford. Dream Connection Collection featured T-shirts with designs by Peterson, including dinosaurs, fantasy creatures, monsters and endangered species.
The shirts were sold at Richman-Gordman, J.C. Penney and other clothing stores in the United States, Peterson said.
The business ceased operations in 1994, but Peterson's love for fantasy and horror never died. One day, he'd even like to buy a building and turn it into a monster museum where he can display his assortment of collectibles and screen movies.
"I'd put a full-size, 40-foot King Kong on top of that son of a gun," Peterson said.
But for now, decades of creating and collecting have turned his home into his own personal museum. And while it's not big enough to display his entire collection, it does have two floors of fun that he can revisit over and over again.
Beyond Peterson's impressive collection is the house itself, which might be haunted, he said. He once heard what sounded like marbles rolling across the top floor, and when he tore up the floor to remodel the space, he found two old toys under the floorboards. He's also heard eerie voices, and sometimes lights randomly turn on, he said.
"We never know what to expect around the corner," Peterson said. "You can say there's never a dull moment around this old haunted house on the hill."
Anyone who's lucky enough to tour Peterson's house should enter at their own risk. His creepy collection will pique curiosity, but be careful not to stir any sleeping spirits in this 132-year-old house.
"I love to scare and be scared," Peterson said. "I just love monsters. Period."