26 May 2012
Fright night: The 3 most haunted hotels in the West
By Grant Olsen, ksl.com Contributor
SALT LAKE CITY — I’m fascinated by the local legends I encounter as I travel throughout the Western United States. Whimsical or chilling, they provide a unique glimpse into the local culture.
Stories of haunted hotels particularly intrigue me. I’ve stayed in several of these infamous hotels over the years and have a great appreciation for the history and folklore they embody. Most of them have been harmless enough. Some are even charming. But a select few go beyond mere folklore and have a tangible eeriness to them.
Here is my list of the three most haunted hotels that I’ve encountered in the West.
3. The first to make the list is a bed and breakfast located right here in Salt Lake City. Built in 1893, theArmstrong Mansion marked the fulfillment of a wedding day promise from Francis Armstrong to his new wife, Isabel. It was a social hub for decades before falling into disrepair following Isabel’s death in 1930.
The mansion first came to my attention when I heard a creepy story about a husband and wife that stayed there a few years ago. Their room featured a large window, built into the gable of the mansion, which overlooked the yard.
That evening the couple decided to go out for dinner. When they reached the parking lot, the wife thought it would be fun to walk around the mansion to find the gable window to their room from the outside.
After a moment or two, they found it. Staring down at them, her face pressed up against the glass, was a woman in a black dress. The startled couple ran back into the mansion to find out who was in their room.
The desk manager insisted she was the only person on duty and no one else had a room key. When they reached the door, it was still locked and the room was just as they’d left it.
This story is not unique. Guests in the Armstrong Mansion regularly report hearing mysterious voices in the night, and some claim to have seen phantoms like the woman in the window.
My wife and I stayed in the mansion earlier this year. Our gorgeous room had a four-poster bed and several pieces of antique furniture, including a large armoire.
Throughout the night we heard tapping and skidding sounds, which we simply wrote off as quirks you’d expect from a house that’s nearly 120 years old. Around 2 a.m., the doors to the armoire suddenly slammed shut. They’d been closed when we went to bed, and we still have no idea how it happened.
2. The Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Ariz., ranks second on my list. This infamous hotel has been featured in many magazine articles and TV specials. "Unsolved Mysteries" dedicated an episode to the paranormal terrors of Room 305, alleged to be the most haunted in the building.
My friends and I stopped for a night at the Monte Vista while on a trip to the Grand Canyon.
The lobby was innocuous enough. A bored-looking girl sat behind the counter. She didn’t even look up to greet us.
Excited to see the notorious rooms on the third floor, we stepped into the antique elevator and closed its flimsy, grated doors. The moment I pushed the third floor button, a horrific screech filled the air. The elevator plummeted two feet in less than a second, stopping with a loud clang. My friends screamed in terror and we all assumed the Monte Vista was dragging us down to our doom.
“Don’t go in the elevator,” shouted the suddenly animated girl behind the counter. “It’s broken!”
With shaking hands, I opened the doors and we climbed out of the elevator and headed for the stairs.
The third floor definitely earns its reputation. Sickly lights illuminated the narrow hallway to the guest rooms. One door was ajar, and we peered in. Dark and ominous, the room looked like the setting of a Civil War-era surgery.
Back in the lobby, we asked the girl behind the counter if she’d witnessed any hauntings.
We had a guy staying here... He asked if he could sleep here in the lobby. He spent the whole night on the couch right there. He never fell asleep, though. His eyes were wide open, and he never really stopped shaking.
–Hotel Monte Vista employee
“I’ve heard some weird things,” she replied. “But the scariest thing I’ve ever seen was a few months ago. We had a guy staying here, and he came down at midnight and said someone was in his room. I asked what he meant and he said there’s a shadowy figure pacing back and forth in his room and watching him.
"This guy was a big guy, and he was totally pale. He asked if he could sleep here in the lobby. He spent the whole night on the couch right there. He never fell asleep, though. His eyes were wide open, and he never really stopped shaking.”
1. The Hernandez Hotel easily takes the top position on my list. Built as an Arizona stagecoach stop in the late 1800s, the two-story adobe building housed its share of outlaws, rustlers and ruffians before shutting down during the Great Depression.
When the hotel closed, the Hernandez family sealed it up like a tomb with everything still inside. The original art hangs on the walls. The front desk still has a book recording guest check-ins. A dusty suit of armor stands in the lobby.
Due to its remote desert location, very few people even know it exists. It has simply vanished off the map.
My wife and I were lucky enough to gain access to the Hernandez Hotel through a friend-of-a-friend. Part of the deal was that we could never share the hotel’s exact location with anyone else, ensuring its treasures and secrets remain undisturbed.
Dank air and dusty relics greeted us in the lobby. In addition to the suit of armor, a wrought iron chandelier hung over the large fireplace. Hand-carved figurines, which looked like evil versions of Cabbage Patch dolls, sat on the mantle.
We spent five hours exploring the sprawling labyrinth of hallways and hidden rooms. Behind the kitchen we discovered a large cache of antique guns, which included such gems as a “lemon squeezer” and a pepperbox revolver.
With floorboards sagging beneath our feet, we investigated the guest rooms on the second floor. The original bedding was still in place and several rooms had tattered books on the nightstands, with titles like "Death on Horseback" and "This Reckless Breed of Men."
The Hernandez Hotel creaks and groans like a Hollywood haunted house. Its rotten timbers shudder in the wind and fleeting shadows accompany you as you walk the halls.
It’s like entering a long-lost tomb. You're an intruder, and as long as you're within its walls, you don't feel entirely safe.
So what is your creepiest hotel story? And which hotels would go on your “most haunted” list?