Digging up ghosts in Montana's haunted places
By Amy Grisak
"There are no such things as ghosts," is the typical mantra from spook skeptics.
But tell that to some of the folks who've experienced "something" at any one of the places where the colorful characters from our state's history don't seem to want to leave, and you're in for an earful. Here are just a few of the otherworldy occurrences that might change your thoughts to: "I do believe in ghosts. I do. I do believe in ghosts!"
Belton Chalet, West Glacier
The grand lodge at Belton, near the west entrance to Glacier National Park, sat relatively quiet, at least to outside visitors, for over 50 years until renovations began in 1998. Strange occurrences, like large, black kerosene smoke smudges appearing overnight on a newly painted wall, or a marble bouncing down the steps when no one was upstairs, happened during construction. For a while, no one wanted to admit it what everyone was truly thinking. However, a few years after opening their doors, the new owners of the Belton Chalet had to do something because they were losing employees.
So, they asked for assistance from an elder from a nearby Native American tribe for help. The Blackfeet Indian elder was brought in to appease the spirits, and activity calmed down for a time, but recently there have been encounters with a few of the possibly six different characters found wandering the halls at Belton Chalet. At times, employees and guests hear someone calling their name, doors slamming, lights swinging for no reason, or on rare occasions they'll spot a ghost of one of the little girls who stayed there, or the ubiquitous "man in the derby hat." To this day, some employees refuse to be in parts of the lodge by themselves, or work the night shift alone because of the strange occurrences. The best time for activity seems to be in the off-season, when the lodge is quiet except for a few restless spirits.
Haunted houses in Montana, photo by Steven Gnam
Bonanza Inn, Virginia City
With a history of murders, hangings, suicides and general rowdiness, Virginia City is a prime area for after-life wanderers. A premier hot spot for otherworldly activity is the Bonanza Inn.
Once a hospital in the 1870s run by the Sisters of Charity, the residual anguish and pain seem to still reside within the building. The "entity" literally reaches out to those in the Inn, and several guests reported being pinched or poked during their stay. Visitors taking the nightly "ghost walks" tour of Virginia City also have experienced similar sensations, including being patted on the head.
Who knows, maybe it's Mother Irene, a tirelessly servant and beloved sister who still has the need to comfort people over a century later. Chico Hot Springs, Pray Chico is a well-known haunt when it comes to ghost sightings. It's believed that Percie Knowles, who owned and operated the resort with her husband, Bill, as a health-care resort beginning in 1900, still resides in this place where she put forth so much effort to help people relax and become well.
Percie, who is usually seen as a white, hazy apparition in a dress, has made appearances in the saloon by the piano, as well as the dining room and lounge. She also spends time in Room 349, where she lived during her last days at Chico. Often, a strong floral perfume smell lingers in the air, and the rocking chair is seen moving slowly back and forth as if Percie is still sitting there.
The Dumas Brothel in Butte. David Reese photo
Dumas Brothel, Butte
Maybe the most eerie of this group of otherworldly places in Montana, the Dumas Brothel is not a place for the weak at heart to spend the night alone. Even after closing as an active house of ill repute in 1982, the girls from its 90-year history still roam the maze of hallways.
Even a couple of the madams, including Elinor Knott, make their presence known. Elinor was packed and ready to leave her life as a madam in 1955 with her married lover, who was going to leave his wife and start a new life with Elinor. Supposedly, he never showed up and she was found dead the next morning. The official report states her death was of natural causes, but speculation leans more to possibility of suicide, or even murder. Whatever led to her demise, she still walks the halls with a suitcase in her hands.
Paris Gibson Square Museum, Great Falls
As local lore tells it, the original Central High School in Great Falls had a swimming pool where a boy from a prominent family drowned. The pool was closed and eventually was incorporated into the structure of what is now the Paris Gibson Square Museum. Some workers are very apprehensive of the boiler room, supposedly because that used to be the swimming pool. For years, people working at the museum have experienced a little prankster they've dubbed "Timmy," who will take keys and sometimes play with the elevator in the wee hours of the night( It's certainly nice to have a reason when items go missing.)
Reeder's Alley, Helena
In 1864, one of the first miners in the Helena area built a cozy little place, which was soon followed by a number of cabins, known as Reeder's Alley. Rough and rowdy miners enjoyed the illustrious days of the gold rush, but as the gold decreased so did the area's reputation. By 1885 there were already reported hauntings in the area. Supposedly an old woman who lived in one of the cabins conned miners out of their gold, then murdered them.
She fled before the locals could enact their vigilante justice, but the bad sentiment remained. Years later, a group of men reported hearing cries and moans from the cabin, which went silent as soon as they broke into the place. With a number of strange deaths and murders in the area it's still looked upon with a wary eye.
University of Montana, Missoula
Several of the buildings at UM have reputations for spectral residents. The spirit of a student who committed suicide after the stock market crash and the subsequent loss of her family's ranch is said to still roam the halls in high heels in Brantley Hall, which was a girls' dormitory at that time. People also report a generally uneasy feeling in the basement, and at times sense as if someone is watching them.
A phantom German shepherd also roams the halls, and is said to run up to people before disappearing. Other buildings, including the University Theater, Main Hall and Jeannette Rankin Hall, are also favorite haunts from past students who make themselves known by flicking on lights, or jarring folks with blood-curdling cries - even when it's not final's week.
Where to go for spook sightings
Belton Chalet - The Belton is open during the summer, and cabins are available for skiers and winter visitors in Glacier National Park. www.beltonchalet.com; 406-888-5000
Ghosts Walks tour in Virginia City - There are tours available nightly during the summer, spinning the historical and spectral tales of this colorful mining town. Contact Brewery Follies at 406-843-5218 for tickets and information.
Dumas Brothel - The brothel is now operated as a museum and old-time photo shop, and is currently for sale if you'd like to own your own stories.
For more information www.thedumasbrothel.com
Chico Hot Springs - Open all year, you can relax in the hotsprings and keep your eyes open for one of the ghostly residents. www.chicohotsprings.com; 406-333-4933