Tag Archives: ghost child

Haunted Road Trip: Tucson to Madison (Part 1)

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One of my personal favorite videos I’ve ever put out involved how to take a haunted road trip from LA to Vegas.  This year, I set my sights a little bigger and covered a lot more distance, this time taking a trip from Tucson, AZ to Madison, WI, with Wendy Lynn Staats, drummer and violin player for the rock band, Sunspot.  They’re a group that features a lot of songs with paranormal or geek culture themes.  If interested, check out some drone footage I shot of the band here:

Tucson, AZ itself has some great haunted sites, but perhaps, as a Chicagoan, none stand out more than the place that lead to the (temporary) downfall of John Dillinger’s crew.  The Congress Hotel had to serve as a temporary landing spot for the gang of outlaws as the house they rented was not yet ready for them.

Hotel Congress 1934One early morning, fire broke out and the gang, like everyone else, was forced to stand on the street to watch fire envelop the hotel.  Knowing they had some precious cargo inside, a firefighter was convinced to go retrieve their luggage.  In appreciation, the firefighter was given a significant tip.  The following day, the firefighter in question happened to see a photo in True Detective Magazine of the generous tippers.  Within two days the entire crew was arrested, setting the stage for one of the most famous and clever prison breaks in history, that being the escape in the warden’s car in Crowne Point, IN that is described in detail in “Voices from the Chicago Grave.”  (further reading on John Dillinger’s time in Tucson here)

The Hotel Congress boasts many old time amenities and a whole slew of ghosts who continue to make their presence known.  There’s a maid in one of the halls, a cowboy in the basement, a war vet barfly who continues to tell stories to anyone within earshot and the second floor offers a variety of haunted rooms including the positive (room 220, long time resident still hanging around) and the very negative (suicide deaths leading to hauntings in rooms 214 & 242).

No time to stop for the night this time around, so we headed due north toward the tiny, remote town of Snowflake, Arizona.  Snowflake is famous for one thing and one thing only – this is the site of the most famous UFO abduction case in history.  It was here at the in 1975 that Travis Walton and six fellow loggers encountered a UFO.  Walton ventured from their truck and ended up getting abducted.  He was gone for five days.  The story may be familiar as it’s the basis for the feature film “Fire in the Sky” (trailer below).

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where Walton was working, is enormous.  We drove in total darkness for a disorientingly long amount of time.  I had designs on finding the exact location where the UFO encounter happened to try to take some readings, as I’ve heard that there’s still a radioactive signature here.  However, I did not plan for the forest being nearly 3 million acres.  The next best option, which is really a goldmine when getting to the bottom of local lore, was finding a local bar to talk to the regulars.  We passed one or two small dives that appeared to be closed for the night before finally locating a restaurant/bar that was open.

Sadly, this venue didn’t quite have the local flavor I was hoping for as it appeared to cater to time share ‘owners.’  Still, the place had to be staffed by locals who knew all about the tales, right?  I mean, after the most famous UFO story since Roswell, have there been other sightings?  Do other UFOlogists swing through often to see the place for themselves?  What about Bigfoot sightings?  There tends to be a correlation between places with a lot of sasquatch sightings and UFO activity.  With so much woodlands, I can imagine all sorts of cryptid sightings!

“So, do you know about the UFO history of this area?” I asked our bartender.

“You mean, like Area 51?” She responded.

“Um, no,” the smile leaving my face.  “Just down the road from here was the most famous UFO abduction case in the world.  There was a big Hollywood film made about it.”

“Oh,” she said before turning around to dry glasses.

ElRancho“Oh?”  Just “oh?”  I will never understand how there wasn’t a string of follow-up questions to my statement.  I guess I’m a researcher and others are not.   ….but still!  A Hollywood movie was made based on events in your town and you have zero interest?  A UFO plucked a dude off of your sleepy street and you’re not interested?

Clearly, we were barking up the wrong tree and we had a lot of miles left to drive.  Our camp for the night was just over the border in the beautiful town of Gallup, New Mexico.

Gallup’s picturesque landscapes made the town a natural fit for countless movies over the years, particularly westerns.  However, it’s here that one of my favorite movies of all time, Kirk Douglas’s “Ace in the Hole” was filmed.

All of those crew members and movie stars had to sleep somewhere while in town and where better than a hotel opened by Roy Griffith, the brother of the legendary director DW (“Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance”)?  Today, the El Rancho Hotel is considered one of the most haunted locations along Route 66.

ElRancho3The two-floor lobby with the wrap-around balcony proudly displays vintage, signed black and white photos of the stars of yester-year who once stayed there.  Some rooms even display names on them, presumably honoring past residents.  It’s in this upper lobby where people have heard phantom conversations, singular voices, footsteps and laughter.

Among individual rooms, the bridal suite claims the most activity, but neighboring rooms also report objects moving on their own, doors opening by unseen hands and the unwelcome wake up call of the curtains flying open on their own at the crack of dawn.  Apparently a long gone crew member doesn’t want to miss their call time.

A glance around different travel or review sites also recounts tales of unexplainable phenomena in the John Wayne room and the Susan Hayward room.

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By lunchtime we had made it to another location that is intimately associated with a Hollywood production…..and meth.  Yep, Albuquerque!  Perhaps no law enforcement agency takes stopping the spread of meth more seriously than the town where the movie “Breaking Bad” is set.  For the 18+ crowd, ya gotta check out the Candy Lady, a candy store that sells X-rated sweets.  No haunting here, but this is one of the ‘weird’ trip highlights.

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HighNoon2We, however, had our sights set on margaritas and the High Noon Restaurant and Saloon and they delivered!  The building itself has to be one of the oldest still existing structures in the United States as it was first built in the 1750s.  The building has long reported the presence of a woman in white in the Santos room (pictured to the right, note the saint statues in the alcoves), but the current owners have been feeling more and more unsettled.  Something isn’t right here.  That’s what led them to reach out for help in the form of Travel Channel’s “The Dead Files.” (read more on that here). Clever marketing ploy or legit paranormal drama, we had a lunch that more than hit the spot.

Bellies full of great food, we took a little walk before jumping back on the road.  In the process, we got a look at the Covered Wagon, a store that contains a ridiculous amount of Chile Ristras (bunches of hanging chili peppers, picture below) and the legend of a ghost named Scarlett, a prostitute who was murdered on the site when the building was a brothel.  She was allegedly stabbed by a fellow ‘working girl’ and died of blood loss before help could arrive.  Due to the clandestine nature of the building, there are no official records to confirm or deny that this crime took place.  Whatever the origin, the building and the immediate surrounding area seems to be visited by a female presence, who is not always clothed.  You heard me.

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In the same square is the La Placita Dining Rooms (picture below).  The business itself has been in operation since 1935 while the building itself went up sometime prior to 1880 (some sites claim 1706 as the building date).  We talked with one member of the wait staff who confirmed that he had coworkers with paranormal stories but he himself had yet to experience anything of note.

LaPlacita

According to various web sites, there are four known ghosts here, but only two or three are ever identified.  One is the ghost of a little girl who appears as a reflection in the women’s room mirrors while the other is a visage of a woman in full bridal gown seen descending the stairs.  The most unique and perhaps common visual anomaly is a fog or a mist that appears hovering over tables and lingers for a time before again vanishing.  Is this another specter attempting to form?  Perhaps time will tell.

Tune in next month for the next installment of the weird and haunted road trip, which will include infamous and ya-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it sites in Texas and Kansas!

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Still Not Free: Ghostly Prisoners at the Yuma Territorial Prison

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At a glance:

  • Actively haunted and easy to access prison from 1875
  • Site of a deadly riot
  • Famous prisoners and an infamous isolation cell

I’ve made countless trips across the California and Arizona desert, entering and leaving Los Angeles.  On one of these trips, I ended up taking a very southern route that passed me through Yuma, Arizona.  Even just briefly seeing the micro city from Interstate 8, I was immediately taken by its beauty.  Trains traversed the Colorado River via aged bridges, huge sand dunes formed the horizon, surrounding the historic western town.

I thought to myself immediately, “I need to find a haunted location here and get back as soon as I can.”  To my surprise, the work was done for me pretty quickly.  Turning on an episode of “Ghost Adventures,” I could tell from the first establishing shot, “They’re in Yuma!”  Sure enough, the episode was about the Yuma Territorial Prison (season 12, episode 8), a captivating, haunted structure that’s 36 years older than the state of Arizona itself.

Soon, I was making my own pilgrimage, heading south from Los Angeles and tip-toeing along the US/Mexico border to make my way to the wild west era prison.

The Yuma Territorial Prison (now operated by the State Park system of Arizona) is open year-round to visitors for a minimal fee (check out the operating hours prior to your visit here: http://www.yumaprison.org/hours-fees-parking.html).

battlehillThe site is intimate.  You are given a brochure at the visitor’s center and told to enjoy.  And with that, you are off!  The prison was surprisingly well attended considering 1) it’s Yuma and 2) it was a typical day, with temperatures reaching well into the triple digits.  That said, there was still plenty of opportunities to explore the grounds alone as most visitors spent their time indoors.  The main yard looks out over a canal and to the site of another place that merits future investigations – the location of a revolt of the Yuma/Quechan tribe that resulted in the destruction of two missions and the death of every European male, including the mission’s leader, Padre Graces, in 1781.

It’s hard not to think of the site of a failed Native American revolt that I investigated in Santa Barbara, which yielded the most drastic cold spot I’d ever personally recorded:

The prison, colorfully, and accurately, nicknamed “Hellhole Prison,” saw a tremendous amount of history and colorful characters pass through it’s doors despite only being in operation for 33 years (1876-1909).  Those very first inmates were put to work immediately, helping complete construction of their still unfinished new home.

darkcell-lowaasThe most iconic feature of the prison is the solitary confinement cell, aka “The Dark Cell.”  Prisoners found themselves confined within a strap iron cage, in the middle of this this dark cell.  The only light came from a small ventilation pipe directly overhead.  It was not uncommon for a prisoner to find themselves in the dark cell multiple times.  Just check out the rap sheet for attempted murderer AA Stewart, who was sentenced for 4 days for insulting an officer, then another 10 days for disobeying an officer and threatening him.  One might think spending a full month in solitary after an escape attempt would break his will, but the rebel had spirit, escaping and disappearing into the desert two months later.

Today, there is talk of a spirit of a child haunting the dark call.  In addition to people not feeling alone there, there are reports of being touched by a small, cold hand.  See a short video “tour” of the cell at AZCentral here: http://azc.cc/1RS0Nwv

The most infamous single incident at the prison happened in 1887 during an attempted prison escape that left four prisoners dead, three wounded and the superintendent of the prison suffering from multiple wounds from a butcher’s knife that were so severe, the man, Thomas Gates, eventually committed suicide to escape the pain.  A detailed step-by-step retelling of the escape attempt can be found here: http://westernamericana2.blogspot.com/2010/06/yuma-territorial-prison-1875-1909-by.html along with a write-up of one of the more famous prisoners, “Buckskin Frank Leslie,” who was once a co-worker of Wyatt Earp at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone.

Present day, the scene of the blood bath is around the main, green, courtyard.  One can even stand in the guard tower, in the footprints where sharp shooter Benjamin Hartlee took aim and gunned down attempted escapees Villa, Lopez, Bustamante, Vasquez.  Likewise, you can stand in front of the sallyport where Gates was held at knife point as the skirmish unfolded around him.  It was from here that Gates gave the signal to the guard tower to open fire.

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For as much as the prison was considered harsh, largely due to the landscape, climate and predatory wildlife of the area, it was actually quite comfortable for the day.  The building even had hydroelectric electricity by 1884, a full nine years before people saw streetlights for the first time at Chicago’s 1893 world’s fair.

clippingAn interesting blurb in the “Cochise Review” (as re-reported by the “Phoenix Herald”) in 1900 even mentions how successful the prison was at helping criminals rehabilitate from “the morphine habit,” citing the positive change felt by famed female stagecoach robber Pearl Heart.

Indeed, the prison did house a number of the most ruthless female prisoners one could dream up including 16 year-old Maria Moreno, who killed her younger brother with a shotgun blast to the face over an insult and Elena Estrada, who literally cut out her lover’s heart when she caught him cheating.

We see the energy over 3,000 inmates brought into the prison over the years, the hardships they experienced on site and we haven’t even mentioned that over 100 inmates died in prison due to illness (mostly tuberculosis) or other non-violent maladies.  You can easily imagine the location being haunted.

I casually asked a very official-looking state employee if he believed in the tales of the site being haunted.  He was almost angry at how casually I asked the question.  “I hear voices and shouts…. hear my name called to me almost every night when I’m working here alone.”  It’s so often that employees of a haunted site, or someone in an official or authoritarian position, will downplay paranormal claims or experiences.  It also comes off suspicious to me if an employee is glamorizing the haunted history of a site, as if it’s part of their marketing pitch.  In this case, it was neither of those things.  It was matter of fact – this place is actively haunted

The Ghost Adventures team caught a particularly engaging vision of a full band performing on stage in the on-site theater.  This was captured live by the Infrared, body-mapping Kinect camera.  While what they caught was jaw-dropping and the figures truly seemed to interact with the commands the team was giving, it should be noted that the theater was a recent addition, a room built specifically for tourists to watch an informational video.  While this doesn’t mean the room can’t be haunted, prisoners were not performing on this stage in the late 1800s/early 1900s, as the show insinuates.

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The nearby 115-body cemetery lacks any kind of individual grave markers, merely piles of rock over each body.  There isn’t even a plaque listing the names.  One has to wonder if this lack of individual recognition is leading some of the dead to continue to make their presence known.  That alone, coupled with the residual hauntings that are undoubtedly continue at this historic prison, leads this place to be something of a paranormal gold mine.  Phantom talking throughout the cell blocks, the metal clanging sounds of cell doors opening and closing by themselves are not uncommon occurrences.

The prison’s history continued after being a correctional institution. The campus become Yuma’s High School, a fact they continue to celebrate today with a wonderfully themed school shield and their team name being the Yuma Criminals.  Then, one of the structures was converted into the county hospital.  Later, during the market crash, countless homeless persons relocated here to live. So, even after the prisoner’s had moved out, there was still ample possibility for “new” hauntings to take hold.

A visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison is a can’t miss adventure for anyone interested in history, the wild west or haunted locations.  It should also be noted that the women’s cells were destroyed in 1923 when the Southern Pacific Railroad expanded into the area.  I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there are additional hauntings here, just outside of the current walls.