What is it about ghost stories that is so fascinating to us? Is it the fear of the unknown? Do we love to be frightened for some odd reason? Or is it that we're afraid of our own mortality? Maybe it's a little of all of the above. Whatever the reason, ghost stories are part of our history, culture, and urban legends. They continue to evolve and change, and enthrall us.
There are many theories about why ghosts exist and hauntings occur. Perhaps the theory that ghosts are tied to geological occurences and minerals is true for Montana. After all, gold strikes in Garnet, Bannack, Virginia City, and Helena brought miners from all over the country. Perhaps the theory of extreme violence is true for Montana. The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Montana State Prison are locations where extreme violence occurred. Perhaps those who once lived are so emotionally tied to the locations they once inhabited, they do not want to move on - like Percie Knowles of the Chico Hotel.
What ever the reason for the supernatural lingering, these ghost stories are truly terrifying. Read on - if you dare!
Little Bighorn Battlefield
The echos of the battle can still be heard today.
Set during a time of incredible turmoil and unrest during our country's history, the Battle of the Little Bighorn (November 9, 1875) was a complete massacre of the 7th U.S. Cavalry; all of which could have been prevented with some communication between the officers and caution. It's not surprising that an event that brutal and violent would have left an "impression" on the battlefield. 268 soldiers, 168 Native Americans, and 3 civilians lost their lives. A memorial was erected over the mass grave in 1881.
Along with an eerie feeling upon visiting the Battlefield Memorial, tourists and visitors have reported hearing battle cries, screams, yelling, gun shots, bugles, and the sounds of horses; among other things. Some theories suggest that this mysterious phenomena is a recording that is played back to those "lucky" enough to witness. In other words, the massacre was so brutal and violent, and so much energy was expended, that it made an "impression" on the land, very much like that of a tape recorder. The tape is played back when the right conditions occur. Some visitors have seen apparitions of Native American scouts on ponies, along the horizon.
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The apparition of a women dressed in white has been seen lingering by the piano.
Set in the golden rolling hills of Pray, Montana, near the Yellowstone river, sits a small, quaint, white washed hotel and hot springs resort. Chico Hotsprings was built in 1900 as a resort for gold miners, by Bill and Percie Knowles. It was later converted to a health spa when Bill Knowles died in 1910.
Still in operation today, Chico serves the general public as well as a celebrity or two. With mineral waters that have healing properties, a restaurant, and lodge, it's not hard to understand why this mountain hide-away is so popular. Stories of supernatural experiences in the hotel bring another kind of "ghost-seeking" crowd.
The apparition of the women in white has been seen floating along the third floor corridor, hovering around the piano, and also in the dining room. Those who consider themselves brave might book a stay in room 349, because strange things happen there. Rocking chairs move by themselves, footsteps are heard, and the bed spread wrinkles itself as if someone were sitting on there. Room 349 was the room that Percie Knowles stayed when she was alive.
On a beautiful summer day in 2000, a woman in turn of the century clothes came down to eat breakfast in the dining room. The other hotel guests were a little surprised that someone was dressed in vintage clothing, but shook it off. Suddenly, the woman vanished from sight. Percie Knowles must still love to be among her hotel guests.
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Montana State Prison Museum
Deer Lodge, Montana
Some prisoner sentences are eternal.
It's not hard to see why the Montana State Prison might be haunted. It was built in 1869, primarily with convict labor, and was in operation from 1871 to 1970. The Prison at Deer Lodge was reserved for very hardened criminals. Many of them had committed very violent and evil crimes.
The prison's W.A. Clark theater now houses the "galloping gallows," which is exactly as it sounds: portable gallows that were move from city to city in the state to perform executions. Over the years, there have been prison riots, murders, executions, mistreatment of prisoners by guards, and suicides.
There is a definite feeling of dread and sadness in the Prison Museum. Museum goers report hearing footsteps, whispers, and voices in the prison and around the grounds. Objects fly in the air by themselves. Some have been touched and pushed by unseen hands, and others have been physically choked.
Hitchhiker of Black Horse Lake
The spirit of a Native American man walking along the road rolls up onto the windshields of oncoming cars.
Black horse lake, a seasonal lake, runs along the long stretch of US Highway 87, just above Great Falls, Montana, on the way to Fort Benton, Montana. If you travel this stretch of road, beware!
Some drivers have reported a Native American Man suddenly rolling onto their windshield, as if he has just been hit by their car. He is said to have long hair and is dressed in a jean jacket or overalls. When drivers get out of their cars, no one is there, and their cars are completely free from damage. It is believed that the phantom hitchhiker was hit by a car many years ago, along this stretch of US Highway 87.
Bannack Ghost Town
The ghost of a teenage girl, who drowned in 1916, haunts the Hotel.
Founded in 1862 when gold was found along Grasshopper Creek, Bannack, Montana is the home of the infamous Vigilantes, who drove out sheriff Henry Plummer and his band of road agents, the "Innocents." These anonymous "Vigilantes," with their form of outlaw justice, hung 24 of Plumber's road agents, including Henry himself. This story is Bannack's most famous claim to fame. It's no surprise that Henry Plummer's ghost roams the ghost town.
The gold miners of 1862 weren't Bannack's only residents. Families with children lived there as well. A teenage girl, named Dorothy Dunn, drowned in a dredge pond along the creek, in August of 1916. Dorothy's best friend was Bertie Mathews, and her parents ran the Meade Hotel. One night, Dorothy appeared to Bertie on the second floor, wearing a long blue dress. Bertie was very shaken by the event. On another occasion more recently, Dorothy appeared to a 7 year old girl who was visiting the Bannack State Park. The girl stated that Dorothy tried to speak to her, her mouth moving, but no sound came out. Park goers have reported seeing a girl in a blue dress looking at them from a window on the second story of the Meade Hotel.
Some visitor's have reported hearing babies crying. With the many illnesses that ran rampant in the conditions of the mining towns, it's not surprising that many babies would have passed away.
Garnet Ghost Town
Some of the Hotel's guests never checked out.
Nestled in the Garnet Mountains of Montana, just 50 miles from Missoula, Garnet is a cozy and secluded ghost town. Garnet was named for the semi-precious gem stone that was mined there; however, gold was what brought serious miners to the town. Once a booming mining town, Garnet was in operation as late as the 1940's. The general mercantile finally closed its doors in the late 1940's, and Garnet would slowly fade into history, suffering the fate of many gold rush ghost towns, it would seem. Garnet was restored in the 1970's by the Bureau of Land Management, and the Garnet Preservation Association was founded.
It has been said that Garnet is one of the most spiritually active ghost towns in America, and the winter months are when it's most active. The town comes alive with music, laughter, and parties. Piano music is heard in the Kelly Saloon, even though there is no physical piano on the mountain any more. Disembodied footsteps have been heard. The sounds of a blacksmith's hammer can be heard in the general store. Party noises have been heard inside the J.K. Wells Hotel. However, the sounds all disappear when an investigator touches a door nob.
In the 1970's, the bureau of land management appointed fire chief Kerry Moon to stay at Garnet during the winter, to discourage looting while restoration was ongoing. He was the first to hear these strange sounds. When he approached the Hotel, the sounds stopped, and there was nothing but dead silence. He walked around the building, hid in the trees, and once out of sight, the noise started up again!
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Virginia City, Montana
Once the territorial capital of the State, Virginia City is the largest ghost town in Montana. Miners flocked to the area in 1863, when gold was discovered in Alder Gulch. It's an oxymoron, but the ghost town has never actually been abandoned, and it's now the county seat of Madison County. The town is none-the-less haunted, however.
The ghost of a hanged murdered has been seen leaning against a post, casually smoking a cigarette, shortly before disappearing. The ghost of a young girl, believed to have died during an epidemic, has been seen loitering around the costume shop. You may even hear the musical stylings of a singer at the opera house. Friendly nursing nuns have also been spotted around the Bonanza Inn, as it once was a hospital for miners.
Those who have stayed in Room No. 1 at the Bonanza Inn have reported sinister activity during their stay, in the form of a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and duster. One guest awoke in the middle of the night, feeling a pair of unknown eyes watching her. Another guest felt someone watching her through the window from outside. When she pulled back the curtain, she saw the same man with a wide-brimmed hat and duster looking right at her, just before he disappeared. One guest awoke to something poking him from the underside of the mattress.
The most terrifying story, however, is that of a movie crewman who stayed in the room during the shooting of The Missouri Breaks in 1975. He was not feeling well, and stayed behind while the rest of the crew went to dinner. No one was in the Bonanza. There was a loud, sharp knock at the door. The man got up to answer the door, but found no one there. Once the door was closed, the same knock rapped on the window. He went to the window but once again, no one was there. Then there was a knock on the door. This continued, back and forth, until he gathered up his belongings and slept in his car for the rest of the night.
The Original Governor's Mansion
Ghosts come in all shapes and sizes...
The Original Governor's Mansion of Montana, built by William Chessman for his family in 1887, stands tall, overlooking downtown Helena. The home is a Queen-Ann style three-story home with elaborate architecture and furnishings. No expense was spared, as the home was built to show Mr. Chessman's wealth and influence over the city of Helena. Financial difficulties forced the Chessman family to move out of the mansion and into the "Chessman Apartments" across the street. The mansion would see two more owners before it was bought by the state in 1913 to be the home of the Governor and his family. The "new" Governor's mansion was built in 1959, and the "old"mansion fell into disrepair, as it was turned into office space. It has now been fully restored, and tours are given almost every day, a couple times a day, during the summer.
It has been reported by caretakers and tour guides that the mansion is haunted. Shades will be found pulled up, closet doors that are kept closed will be found open, disembodied footsteps have been heard, and picture frames have been turned toward the wall.
Most intriguing, though, is the story of a black cat who roamed the halls of the mansion. Children of former Governors who lived in the house reported seeing a black cat. All of the stories were strangely the same. The cat would appear to the children and purr at their legs as if asking to be picked up. Just as they were about to pick up the cat, it would disappear. As it turns out, the Chessman family owned a black cat.
The Windbag Saloon
Big Dorothy's party continues on.
The Windbag Saloon stands quietly along the Walking Mall in Helena Montana, beneath the shadow of the fire tower. The restaurant shows unmistakable signs of another lifetime in the form of the rock walls and the high decorated ceilings. The floor creaks next to the solid wood bar. Old historic black and white photos line the walls.
The Windbag Saloon has been in operation since 1882, and has had a few owners over the years. Dorothy Baker, a very famous madam in Helena's history, owned the Windbag Saloon from the 1950's to the 1970's, although it was called Big Dorothy's then. Dorothy was run out of business by those who wished Helena to have a more reputable downtown. "Dorothy's Rooms" were above the restaurant and bar. They are now rented by businesses, and the tenants have reported hearing music and women's laughter. Some have even experienced the faint smell of perfume. Downstairs, the sounds of footsteps have been heard when no one was there. The radio sometimes changes stations all by itself. Patrons and employees alike have caught glimpses of disembodied reflections in the large mirror above the bar. One woman was even hit on by the ghost of a man in a cowboy hat, while she was eating dinner. He tipped his hat at her, and disappeared.
Rex Restaurant and Bar
Skeptics may not want to visit the Rex.
Once a hub for bootleggers, women of ill repute, and city dwellers alike during prohibition, the Rex is a favorite of the Billings community today. The beautiful Rex Hotel, Restaurant and Bar, in Billings, Montana, was built in 1910 by European Alfred Heimer, who was once the chef for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Yearning to settle down, the chef built the Rex as a source of income for himself. German food and beer was his claim to fame.
The restaurant sits in front of the red brick three-story hotel. The Rex fell into disrepair, and went through a major remodel in 1976. The Hotel was turned into office spaces, and the basement in the restaurant was opened up.
Employees have been attacked by unseen forces in the basement of the Rex. Patrons have seen a man in a white shirt roaming around the basement and restaurant. He likes to stare at customers as they eat their meals, making them very uncomfortable. He sometimes spies on women while they are in the ladies room. He also likes to scare the men in the restroom by slamming stall doors. The figure of a woman has also been seen and heard roaming the halls of the offices on the second and third floor of the old Rex hotel. Male voices and scraping bar stools have also been heard, after the bar has been locked up for the night.
The most intriguing, and frightening, story is that of Buck the bartender. He is believed to have been a bar tender for the Rex during prohibition. One day, a former manager was sitting at the bar, verbally expressing his skepticism of ghosts to the employees. Suddenly, a book (ironically about Rex Harrison) flew up over the lip of the shelf, and landed hard on his head. This was not the last incident of this particular book hurling itself upon the head of a skeptic sitting in this particular bar stool, and it probably won't be.