Once known as “The Showplace of the West,” Rapid City’s historic Hotel Alex Johnson—built in 1927 by a railroad tycoon—is now considered one of America’s oldest and spookiest hotels thanks to the past and present residency of ghosts, dead presidents, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Hotel Alex Johnson hosted six U.S. Presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan, but it is most famous for being the on-location home for Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant during the filming of the 1959 classic North by Northwest.
This would have pleased Alex Johnson. He died in 1938, but the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad vice president specifically built his namesake hotel to attract moneyed future-visitors en route to a little tourist trap in the Black Hills: Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock and Grant were stationed in Rapid City to shoot the now-legendary scene atop the gargantuan presidential carvings, but had their permit revoked when U.S. Parks officials caught wind of the scene’s violent nature. After shooting the cafeteria scene on location, the actual monument skirmish took place in a California studio where Hollywood magic made the final cut look like the real thing.
Besides his interest in attracting monied guests, Johnson admired the culture of the local Lakota Sioux tribes. He decorated his hotel lobby with Native American art, including woven rugs, hand-painted ceiling beams, and handmade floor tiles representing the “four sacred corners of the Earth.” Today, hotel visitors can see it as it was from the start. Those not familiar with the Native American “whirling logs” symbol—representing the sun, the four directions, and the four seasons—might easily mistake the floor tiles for Nazi swastikas.
Like any historic hotel, the Alex Johnson has its fair share of ghost stories. The “Lady in White,” who haunts the eighth floor, was supposedly a bride who leapt to her death from room 812. Eighth floor guests have purportedly awoken to find their windows opened and their dresser drawers turned upside down. There have been other reports of a mischievous little girl ghost (possibly that of Johnson’s daughter, who died of polio at the hotel) and of Johnson himself roaming the hallways. The hotel capitalizes on its haunted reputation: Guests can book a Ghost Adventure Package for an extra charge, which includes an overnight stay in a reportedly haunted room with a K2 meter, aka a “ghost detector.”