A little girl runs down the hall, disappearing into thin air. A man with a bushy mustache, top hat and agonized eyes appears at the door to ask about the health of the sleeper. A friendly presence and invisible helping hands assist a harried desk clerk.
Ghouls and ghosts are thought to move more freely among us as we approach Halloween, when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. But you don’t have to wait for Halloween to see spirits at several area historic hotels, which have specters roaming their rooms and halls year-round, according to guests and staff.
The ghostly stories are recounted in a new book, “Haunted Hotels of Southern Colorado,” by Nancy Williams, which includes the Strater and Rochester hotels in Durango and the Grand Imperial and Wyman hotels in Silverton.
The book mostly focuses on the histories of the towns and hotels, with a nod to the reported sightings. Much of the material is from secondhand reports – other books and newspaper articles, including several from The Durango Herald – but it’s a good way to learn some Colorado history regardless of whether you’re interested in the allegedly haunted side of things. Other towns and their supposedly haunted hotels include Dolores, Telluride, Ouray, South Fork, Del Norte and Creede, as well as Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
Durango’s grande dame, the Strater Hotel, had 112 years to accrue some uninvited visitors, which have alternately terrified and exhilarated guests, Williams quoted Rod Barker telling the Herald in 1999, although Barker now says he never would say something in that vein.
“I have seen no evidence whatsoever of ghosts in the Strater,” he said. “We like to think our hotel is full of the positive energy of the 8 (million) or 9 million people who have passed through since we opened in 1887. The only stories that sound somewhat credible are things that go bump in the night, and those can usually be explained by ice machines and such.”
That won’t stop the rumors and tales. Some locals say they have seen a ghostly woman sitting in an upper story looking down on Main Avenue, and guests report a man dressed as a railroad engineer walking through the lobby, a little girl running around and photographs of mysterious orbs.
“People like suspense and like to create an aura of suspense,” Barker said. “One summer, my daughter worked at the Stanley Hotel, which is supposed to be really haunted. Thinking about it being haunted really diminished guests’ experience at a beautiful old hotel.” (Architectural Digest listed the Stanley as the most haunted hotel in America.)
Kirk Komick, co-owner of the Rochester Hotel, however, revels in the ghostly doings at his establishment. The Rochester has been featured in a “Ghostbusters” episode, and in November will be Episode 8 in a new series called “Frontier Tastes and Tales,” which describes the hotel as a place “where ghosts and tourists still mingle every day.” It is listed as one of the 100 Most Haunted Hotels in America.
“We mostly get comments from Room 204, the John Wayne Room, or the rooms adjacent,” Komick said. “It’s usually a woman in heavy Victorian wear or a woman in Victorian lingerie.”
They get a lot more comments from the adjacent rooms, he said.
“Housekeeping says they get a strange feeling there,” Komick said. “We once had the hairdryer in 204 go on by itself, and we had to go in and turn it off.”
Laine Johnson, who runs history tours in Durango, including one about haunted locales, told Komick she once had a medium on a tour and took her up to the second floor.
“She picked up on the lady in white who stands at the top of the stairs,” Johnson said, “along with Mary Finn, the little boy and a man who might be mistaken for John Wayne. Hmmm …”
The Rochester runs a Halloween week giveaway of a night in Room 204 on Four Corners Broadcasting’s stations, and the room is always booked with guests from around the country for Halloween night itself, Komick said.
There’s no word on whether the recent refurbishment of the Grand Imperial banished its ghosts, most of whom seem to congregate around the old saloon. The most common sighting, though, is one known by name, Dr. Luigi Regalia, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1880 and died by suicide at the hotel in 1890. He has been seen inquiring about the health of guests.
Barker wonders why ghosts are always in old hotels.
“How old does a hotel have to be before it gets a ghost?” he asked. “Does a hotel have to attain a certain age before it has a ghost? When will the DoubleTree Hotel have a ghost?”
Neither Barker nor Komick have ever seen an apparition themselves, although Komick thinks he just doesn’t have the extra sense that would allow him to see one.
Barker has a last word on the subject.
“We like to keep our spirits in the Diamond Belle,” he said, “because that’s a good place for them.”
Readers can reach Ann Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org