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The Worst Ghosts of the Southwest

If Halloween is the time of year for frightening tales of apparitions, night monsters, tombs, and vampires, these hauntingly normal ghosts of the Southwest dispel the myth that the supernatural beings are always out to haunt us. Sometimes, they are just doing what they do best — being themselves. Here are five tales of the odd and unpredictable way that some ghosts are reported to hang out in the afterlife.

Illustration from “Phantastes: A faerie romance” (1894) (via British Library)

Miss Julia Lowell: The scorned prostitute who can’t stop working
Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee, Arizona

The demise of Miss Julia at Arizona’s Copper Queen Hotel is much like the demise of many a scorned woman. One night, she serviced a new client, fell madly in love, wanted to marry, and, after he revealed that she wasn’t marriage material, decided to kill herself. While one might think that this Miss who never became a Mrs. would be freed from the shackles of her job, nearly a hundred years of sightings logged in the book at the reception confirm that she’s more active than ever.

Our scorned prostitute, as flirtatious and alluring as always, only appears to men in scantily-clad attire and dances seductive stripteases at the foot of their beds. Sometimes she whispers in their ear, sometimes she appears with a bottle of liquor in her hand, and sometimes she flits around the hotel, tapping only on the doors of male guests. Poor, poor Julia — never a vacation day for this lady of the night.

Mr. Thomas James Wright: The poker player who’s stuck in his room
Room 18, St. James Hotel, New Mexico

The St. James Hotel is no stranger to supernatural sightings and is reputably swarming with ghosts. Perhaps the most unusual is Mr. Thomas James Wright, an ill-tempered poker winner who was shot from behind after he won the rights to the hotel in a tense poker match. His murder was grizzly: he slowly bled to death, right outside of his room.

As you can imagine, he is not a happy ghost, and before the staff permanently locked his room, he would haunt people by pushing them down in the hallway or turning into a ball of angry-looking orange light above their heads. Today, though, the room is still locked (but the staff have kindly decorated it with a coat rack, a rocking chair, paraphernalia from the Old West, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a poster of a half-naked woman), so while he can’t really do much haunting these days because he apparently can’t get out of the room, he can still be heard bumbling around, grumbling, and refusing company.

Parlor at St. James Hotel (photograph by Cyborglibrarian/Flickr)

Kate Morgan: The lovely young lady who likes to shop and watch TV
Hotel del Coronado, California

Kate, reputedly a “beautiful young woman,” checked into California’s famous Hotel del Coronado in 1892 and waited for her lover for four days. He didn’t show up. In what was determined a suicide, she was found dead on the exterior steps of the hotel leading towards the beach after realizing that her lover would never come.

She’s supposedly been at the Coronado ever since. But there’s no need to worry: as in life, this charming, youthful, innocent young lady is totally harmless in the afterlife. She’s said to like hanging out in her former room, playing silly pranks on guests, watching TV (it often turns on and off by itself), walking along the beach, and shopping in the gift shop.

Pancho Villa: The revolutionary still looking for his head
Gadsden Hotel, Arizona

Pancho Villa, the famous revolutionary, former governor of Chihuahua, Mexico, and commander in the Mexican Revolution, has a much less decorated existence these days. As the story goes, after he was assassinated, loyalists cut off Villa’s head and buried it at the site of the burned-down Gadsden Hotel in Arizona. He had visited on horseback years before, and his horse had chipped a stair on the staircase (the chip is still there).

When the hotel was rebuilt in the early 20th century, people started seeing apparitions of a tall headless man in an army suit. Believed to be Pancho Villa’s ghost, the apparition now haunts the basement and hallways looking for his lost head. How anyone knows the identity of a headless man in an army suit is beyond us, but, well, that’s the way the story goes.

Stray Cat: The hungry feline who won’t leave the kitchen staff alone
Oliver House, Bisbee, Arizona

What would a round-up of worst ghosts be without a ghost cat? According to crime reports, 27 people have died in this popular B&B in Bisbee, Arizona, since it was built in the early 20th century and it is supposedly haunted by seemingly everyone — but the ghost who sleeps outdoors and eats rodents is perhaps the most interesting.

The stray cat who lived outside the house for many years and was fed by the kitchen staff still roams the property, begging for food, sleeping in the sun, meowing, doing what felines do best, except while dead.

Illustration of a Japanese ghost cat (via Wikimedia)


All this month we’re celebrating 31 Days of Halloween with real tales of the macabre and strange. For even more, check out our spooky stories from 2011 and 2013.