Friday, October 18, 2013

THE SCARY SIDE OF THE OLD WEST

 
by Sarah J. McNeal
 
 
In celebration of Halloween, I thought I’d write a little spooky stuff about some ghost stories I found from the old west. Generally, I don’t think of ghosts and scary stories when I think of the west, but I’m here to tell you, the west has a darker side.
 

St. Mark's Episcopal Church Cheyenne, Wyoming
In 1868, the Episcopal congregation held services in a small church in 1868. Soon, the congregation of cattle barons and ranchers outgrew the little church and plans were made to build a larger church. The winter of 1886-87 proved to be a terrible one of blizzards and severe cold which killed many of the cattle. Since they lacked the prosperity of the ranchers, it took two more years before they could hold services in the new building. Even after they opened for services, the bell tower was still not completed so they just capped it off. In fact, the tower wouldn’t be completed until 1924.
Two Swedish masons were hired to finish the tower. When it reached 40 feet tall, the two mason vanished without a trace. The new workers they hired began to complain of hearing strange tapping noises, hammering and the sounds of whispering coming from the walls of the tower.
Some years later, a man came forward to say one of the original masons slipped and fell to his death. The other mason was afraid he would be discovered and deported so he panicked and put the man’s remains in the wall of the tower.
The church used to hold public tours of the tower during Halloween. Once, a psychic who came to take the tour reported sensing two spirits trapped in the tower, a white-haired man who walked with a cane and another that seemed very upset. It is thought that one of the spirits was the mason who fell to his death, and the other, was Father Rafter who had hired the men.
It has even been reported by many that they have heard the church pipe organ that was once located in the tower. The pipe organ had been removed from the tower long ago. Some have claimed to hear church bells ringing when no one was there. And still, to this day, people say they can still hear whispers within the church.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is located at 1908 Central Avenue in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Sadly, they no longer have the Halloween tour.
 

 
The Plains Hotel
The  City of Cheyenne was known as “The Magic City of the Plains.” As far as hotels were concerned, there was only a dingy old hotel that had become more like an old watering hole. So, in 1911, the Plains Hotel was built with all the luxury the day allowed. A grand opening was held in which men cattle barons and other men of importance dressed in their finest attire, military gentlemen showed up in full dress and elegant ladies who attended wore magnificent evening gowns. The party lasted until the wee hours of the morning with music and dancing.
The hotel cost $250,000 including furnishings which was a fortune in that day. The building stood five stories tall, boasting 100 guest rooms and 3 elevators. The lobby was lit by a magnificent mission art skylight panel with a floor composed of tile and mahogany and the grand staircase of marble and steel gave the lobby a feeling of grandeur.  Oil tycoons and cattle barons were among the elite who were attracted to the Plains Hotel for its superior amenities and services, but for one couple, the hotel would lead to tragedy.
As the legend goes, a bride named Rosie and her groom checked into the hotel for their honeymoon. One evening, her groom went down to the bar to have a drink and began a conversation with a prostitute. When Rosie noticed his prolonged absence, she went down to the lobby in search of him and found him leaving the bar with the prostitute. Rosie followed them to the fourth floor to the woman’s room and, hurt and enraged with jealousy, she shot them both.
Since the tragedy, people have reported seeing all three spirits roaming the hotel. The groom has been seen in many different places wearing black, formal long tails, black boots and a white shirt with a silver top button. Most often he is seen either on the fourth floor or in the basement.
The  “other woman” is most often seen on the second floor wear a short red dress with white lace. On one occasion, the hotel was decorated for Halloween and two mannequins dressed in wedding attire were placed in the lobby. Just as one of the employees spotted the “other woman”, the mannequin of the bride toppled over. The vision of the “other woman” immediately vanished.
The Plains Hotel continues to thrive today with 130 renovated rooms and amenities to suite its modern day guests.
 
 


The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
 259 Texans and the nearly 1500 Mexican Army troops lost their lives at the Alamo. So, it makes you wonder if just maybe some ghosts still there. Many locals living in San Antonio, Texas they will tell you that spirits, ghosts of those doomed men, still walk the grounds of old mission. The Alamo is considered by many to be one of the most haunted sites in the nation.
Many of you already know that in 1836 Texas was part of Mexico ruled by the dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, ( also known as the 'Napoleon of the West.' Many citizens of the United States had come to Texas years earlier their rights as foreign-born landowners guaranteed by the Mexican constitution. When Santa Anna decided to nullify the constitution, Texans were incensed and a revolt ensued.
The bombardment of the Alamo by cannon fire went on for thirteen days and nights as the approximately 200 defenders sat inside, surrounded by an army of 5,000. In the end all but the women and children were killed.
Here is a person account by a man who experienced the haunted Alamo first hand:
"I'll never go back in the Alamo again," swears Jorge, a native of San Antonio. "It was closing time and the guard was locking up. I looked over to where the case is that displays Bowie's knife and I noticed a man standing there gazing into the display case. I figured he must have been an enthusiastic docent because he was all dressed in old fashion clothing."
"Then I realized I was looking at a ghost. I know it sounds crazy, but I realized I could see right through him," Jorge explains.
(I have been to the Alamo and I have stood in that very spot. It gives me chills to think of it now.)
There are many ghost stories about the Alamo even to the days right after its fall. The bodies of the defeated Texas defenders were stacked up and burned, never receiving a Christian burial. Now you probably know that’s going to have some consequences right there.
When Mexican soldiers were ordered to return to the mission and completely destroy it they were met by a giant ghostly figure standing atop the mission brandishing a ball of fire. Terrified they retreated. The ghost appeared again when the commander went to get the job done, and he fled in fear as well.
Another frequent ghostly visitor is that of a little girl dressed in white who appears in the top window of the building that is now the gift shop. From the outside of the building she seems to appear looking out the second story window…but that there is no second story and the window is twenty feet above the floor, a bit high for a child to peer out.
I find it hard to believe in ghosts, but I’ve been to the Alamo and it certainly has a haunted air to it. With all those men who lost their lives on that ground it’s no wonder if their spirits still linger there.
 
By the way, if you’re interested, they do tours of the ghosts that haunt San Antonio.
Knight Hall, Forest Grove, Oregon
Knight Hall Forest Grove, Oregon was once a private three-story home, but now houses the music department of the University. After the home was converted for the university, a ghost that has been named Vera would move through the halls, singing, and playing the piano. Allegedly, the stories were confirmed in 1979 by a group of young reporters. One of the reporters began to play the piano and Vera repeatedly said, “Please stop.” The reporters left and returned the next night with more friends. When they once again started to play the piano, Vera is said to have released a loud sigh.
Well, maybe Vera had a reason to sigh depending on the musical ability of the reporters. Still, I would be creeped out.
 
I hope  all of you have a safe and fun Halloween. I’m at a Halloween party tonight and, when I return, I’ll reply to anyone who comes by and leaves a comment…if you’re not too scared.
 

 
If you are looking for a ghostly read HARMONICA JOE'S RELUCTANT BRIDE is just the book for you. It's a time travel western with a ghostly encounter.
 
A haunted house, a trunk and a date with destiny.
Lola Barton discovers a warp in time in an old trunk when she falls into 1910. She finds herself married to Joseph Wilding, a stranger shadowed by secrets. Mistaken for Callie McGraw, a thief and a woman of ill repute, Lola finds her life is threatened by a scoundrel. Joe stands between her and certain death. With danger threatening all around and secrets keeping them apart, can Joe and Lola find their destiny together? Or will time and circumstance forever divide them?
EXCERPT:
Harmonica music floated down from the attic—the last place in this tumble down wreck of a house Lola Barton wanted to go.  Had someone or something taken up residence there?  Lola made her way up the darkened attic stairs measuring each step as the ancient boards creaked in protest under her feet.  Her flashlight beamed a narrow circle of light illuminating the cobweb-covered door at the top of the landing.  Her heart raced and pulsed in her ears.  Hands trembled with the surge of adrenaline as she pressed forward.  She ignored her inner voice that warned, “Don’t go!”
Her cynical mind told her the rumors that Misty Oaks Plantation had ghosts weren’t true.  The tales of murder and betrayal had to be the overactive imagination of the local townspeople.  A homeless vagrant had to be the most logical explanation for the disturbance. 
Once she gained the landing, she blew the cobwebs from the door and leaned her ear against it to listen for any movement on the other side.  Wisps of harmonica music lifted in the air.  Perhaps someone left a harmonica lying around and the wind blew hard enough through the cracks in the walls to make it sound as though someone played the instrument.  Just the wind.  No ghost.
With her courage bolstered by her logical conclusion, she grabbed the doorknob and turned it. 

 



15 comments:

  1. Sarah, what a delightfully seasonal post! I can't imagine what the groom at the Plains Hotel was thinking, but perhaps he should have considered his options a bit longer before acting on one of them. ;-)

    As for the Alamo.... Folks have reported seeing the ghost of John Wayne there, as well. The Duke co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the 1960 epic The Alamo, a project close to his heart. Reportedly, he spent quite a bit of time "haunting" the place during the development phase in order to capture the appearance and...ahem...spirit of the location. Evidently, he became quite attached to the shrine of Texas liberty. ;-)

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  2. Sarah, I loved this post. I do believe in ghosts, although I have never encountered one at the Alamo. Thanks for entertaining me.

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  3. Kathleen, that is so interesting about John Wayne haunting the Alamo. I can see why he would. We all have those favorite places that may not be our homes, so maybe we might choose one to haunt if we get lost in the afterlife. The Alamo was a terrific movie.

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  4. Thank you so much Caroline for coming by and reading my blog. You're always the sweetest lady. I take it you have been to the Alamo several times. You must live close to San Antonio. I liked living in Texas. It's not just a big state; it's a great state. I have fond memories.

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  5. Great post, Sarah. I believe in ghosts and believe I have seen one at one time. Pretty scary incident. I even wrote a short story about it.

    I've always wanted to go on one of the ghost tours, especially one in Louisiana in one of the bayou houses.

    Your book sounds like a winner!

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  6. Great post, Sarah! WOW, I had no idea about these, except for the Alamo.

    My husband and kids and I went down there several years ago, and though I never actually saw a ghost, it seemed as if I could feel them. Once when I was a little girl, we went to the battlefield at Vicksburg. I was about 3 or 4 and I remember clearly "feeling" them around me. I ran to catch up with my dad. I couldn't put it into words, but I know now what it was. Same feeling at the Alamo.

    The only time I've actually seen a ghost was when I worked at the Nat'l. Cowboy Museum. There was one certain place in their little recreated town that I would not stand--it was the blacksmith's shop. It just had a presence there I didn't like. One day I turned around and there was an old may sitting on a piece of the old fire fighting equipment. He had on a "wife beater" shirt (something you don't see every day at a museum!) and pants, white hair, and he was just kind of slouching on it watching me. I started over to tell him not to sit on it, and someone else called me. I turned my head to say, "Hold on," and when I turned back he was gone. Completely. You have to understand, there is a long hallway you have to walk down to get to the little village. He was no where to be found.
    Cheryl

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  7. Linda, that's amazing that you actually had an encounter with a ghost. What's the name of the story you wrote from that experience?
    Thank you so much for the compliment and for coming by today and leaving your very nice comment.

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  8. Cheryl, what an amazing experience. It makes my skin tingle. I have no idea what it's like to "feel" a spirit's presence and I've never had a ghostly experience. Even though I'm a cynic about ghosts, I am yearning to have that experience and dreading it simultaneously. I do know one thing for certain, I will never buy a house in my hometown of Bloomsburg, PA. They are all old Victorians and I think they're all haunted. See, a cynic that sort of believes.
    Thank you so much for being such a friend and coming by.

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  9. Very interesting. I should share about the Cary House Hotel in my town of Placerville. The TV show on haunted buildings did a 20 minute stint on it several years ago. I have encountered the ghost there so I definitely understand, Sarah. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Paisley, I think it would be great if you wrote about a haunted place that you had a ghostly experience in. I am so fascinated with ghosts. I like to write about them, read about them and hear about them...not sure I'd want to see one. LOL
    Thank you so much for coming and commenting.

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  11. Fun spooky places, Sarah! You're right, the Old West, as well as the Old South had plenty of haunted spots. I have a book on my shelves about the haunted south, can't recall the title and I'm not at home to check it. I've planned/hoped for a long time to stage a book around one of these ghostly places. Maybe someday. :)

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  12. Sarah--thanks for the entertaining posts about ghosts.
    I live close to San Antonio, I'm a Daughter of the Texas Republic, and I have never heard tales about ghosts in the Alamo--John Wayne or anyone else. That doesn't mean there aren't stories--but it means I've somehow missed those!
    But many historic places have rumors of spirits from the past, and I'm sure those always make a good story.
    Good job, and I especially love the photos.

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  13. Hey Lyn. I'm so glad you came. Ya know, I think there are plenty of places in the south where restless spirits haunt, but I never really thought of the west as having ghosts haunting places. I was kind of surprised. Don't know why.
    Thank you so much for coming by today.

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  14. Well Celia, now I would have thought a Texas gal like you would have all the stats on haunted places in Texas. I didn't know you were a Daughter of the Texas Republic. I sure hope you blog about that sometime. I'd love to read about that.
    Thank you for coming by and being so supportive.

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  15. Sarah, Thanks for the stories. I've been to the Alamo, years ago, and I had the opportunity of a few minutes alone in the church/shrine area. While I didn't 'see' ghosts, I certainly felt an ethereal presence.

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