Black Magic Cupcakes

Happy Halloween, everyone!! It’s the best time of year for fans of the paranormal like me. In honor of the sp00ooo0OOky holiday, I’ve written about a local haunted history legend and my experiences. If you hate ghost stories and local lore, skip down to the recipe for the 1979 Black Magic Cupcakes I made for a Halloween party with friends. If you’re a ghost story junkie like me, read on!

When you send your acceptance letter to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you receive a packet of information about the first year experience, on-campus resources, and the legend of Helen the ghost. That’s not exactly true, but the minute you step foot onto campus, upperclassmen are ready to share the story of the ghost of Helen Roberts to scare already terrified first year students.

Helen was a student at Coe during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918. According to legend, she lived on the west wing of the second floor of Voorhees Hall, the women’s dormitory, when she was struck with the illness. An infirmary was located on the west wing of Voorhees Hall on the third floor, which is where Helen was cared for when she fell ill. She eventually succumbed to the illness, and died in the third floor infirmary before her family could visit her. Helen’s parents were grateful for the care provided to Helen in her last days, and they donated a grandfather clock to the school in her memory. The clock stands in the lobby of Voorhees Hall where Helen lived and died during her brief time at Coe.

I moved onto the second floor’s west wing of Voorhees Hall in the winter of 2010-2011. My sorority sisters warned each of my roommates and me about Helen’s past hijinks. Helen lived inside the clock that her parents donated, but would come out and visit the women in their rooms. Our sisters told us that if you had a sleepover with male visitors, Helen might pinch, slap, or hit your beau in the middle of the night. Be careful what you say about Helen, because she might lock you out of your room. Nothing Helen did was ever dangerous, and most of us thought of her as an extra roommate. When my two roommates and I were living on the second floor, I didn’t experience any of Helen’s visits. However, one of my roommates was sleeping in the bottom bed of our triple bunk. She woke up when someone smacked her leg, and saw an imprint in her down comforter from Helen’s hand.

I didn’t have any experiences of my own until the next year when I moved into the third floor of the west wing with two roommates. Helen made her presence known by doing small acts of annoyance. Two roommates would be gone at class, and somehow the door would lock when the third roommate went to the shower (that was her favorite trick). I would also find it hilarious to see someone in their towel having to call the maintenance crew to unlock their door!

The night that made me a true believer was in the middle of winter when both of my roommates were gone for the weekend. I had read books on the paranormal and obvi watched too many ghost shows. I stood in the middle of room and told Helen that it was okay if she wanted to be with us in our dorm room, but that she couldn’t scare us or lock us out anymore. I’m not sure what I expected to happen. Maybe Helen manifesting and being like, “Oh hey girlfriend, thanks! It’s super dope of you to let me hang out here.” After nothing immediately happened, I sat down to my computer at my desk and started playing music and writing out papers. Within five minutes, my music paused. I first thought it was Coe’s terrible wireless internet. Then the books on the shelf above my computer crashed down onto my keyboard, including the hilarious favorite, All My Friends Are Dead. THAT WAS A BIG NOPE SANDWICH. I brought up an empty Word document, and told her that if she had a message, she could type on the keyboard, and I got the heck out of there for the night. When I came back the next day, the Word document had spaces and backslashes. THAT WAS MY MESSAGE FROM THE GREAT BEYOND?? Helen was a prankster troll, and I really appreciated that. When you’re knee deep in assignments and research, having a half time prankster ghost roommate was a (mostly) welcome distraction.

Did I try to “debunk” most of my happenings and my roommates’ experiences? Nope. It’s a lot more fun to bond with your sisters over ghost stories and scare boyfriends with warnings of Helen’s dislike of male sleepover guests.

Now it’s time to whip up these 1979 Black Magic Cupcakes and see what spirits you might conjure up along the way.


1979 Black Magic Cupcakes

Recipe from All Iowa Fair Cookbook submitted by Jacqueline Hughes of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup of Hershey’s cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of strong black coffee or 2 teaspoons of instant coffee and 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup of buttermilk or sour milk
  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla


  1. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk or sour milk, oil and vanilla.
  3. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes (batter will be thin).
  4. Either pour batter into greased and floured 13×9 inch pan, two 9 inch cake pans, or 2 1/2 dozen cupcake liners.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or 15 minutes for cupcakes.
  6. Frost with favorite frosting (I used 4 cups of powdered sugar, 4 tablespoons of milk, and 4 tablespoons of butter beat on low for frosting. I waited for the first batch to fully cool before frosting, then got impatient with the second and made a gloop glop runny frosting–don’t be like me, be patient).


Gloop glop, impatient Shanel gets melted frosting on hot cupcakes.

1979 Black Magic


3 thoughts on “Black Magic Cupcakes

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