Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Haunted Hotel

When I told our friends we were staying in a haunted hotel for a few nights on our winter vacation the responses were varied.

Some thought it sounded cool.

Some said we were crazy.

Most just wanted me to let them know if we encountered any paranormal activity, although they didn’t use those exact words. A typical request sounded like this: “Let me know if you run into any ghosts!!”

The Monte Vista Hotel, located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, opened on January 1, 1927. It is listed on the National Registrar of Historic places. The hotel boasts a legacy of famed visitors and most of the rooms have been christened with some of those names. It also boasts of numerous ghosts, which have resulted in a spotlight episode on TV’s “Unsolved Mysteries” along with mention in numerous books, publications, and online sites.

We spent two nights in the hotel, with one at the front end of our two week vacation and the second on the final night.

During the first visit, we inhabited room 305, the “Jon Bon Jovi Room”, said to be the most active in the hotel.

Let me be clear: I don’t NOT believe in ghosts. I also don’t necessarily believe in ghosts either. Simply put, I’m from the school of “we don’t know what we don’t know so don’t ever rule out anything in this crazy world .” I apply the same mindset to unidentified flying objects, aliens, and religion.

I’ll be as honest as I can and admit that when we walked into the hotel I was on point, hoping to see or feel something, anything. I didn’t… least not on the first night.

That first room was kind of cool. It was large enough to hold two queen beds, an antique pedestal dining table, an antique dresser and two antique end tables. We were only interested in one piece of furniture, though, and we saw it immediately upon entering the room. It was the antique rocking chair, facing the window just as described in all of the literature, photos, and videos online.

This room is supposedly haunted by an old woman who was a long term renter. She would sit in the rocking chair, looking out the window, for hours. There are reports by guests and staff claiming to see the woman sitting in the chair or the chair rocking and moving by itself.

I wasted no time, nor did the kids, in jumping into the chair and waiting for something, anything, to happen. We were left disappointed, although the dark green on the walls coupled with the dimness of the antique lighting left the room looking eerie. The photos we took also looked a little creepy and I’m still scanning them intently for any hidden sign of the woman hiding in the background or within the lighting.

At one time the Monte Vista was extremely upscale, as evidenced by some of her visitors. John Wayne, Bob hope, Bing Crosby, Zane Grey, Barbara Stanwyk, Gary cooper, Carol Lombard, Jane Russell, Alan Ladd (“come back Shane!!!”), Lee Marvin, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and more recently Anthony Hopkins, Freddy Mercury, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael J. Fox, Michael Stipe of REM, and (don’t laugh) Air Supply have all been guests here and many of their names adorn the doors to the rooms.

The Monte Vista, sadly, is now only a shell of her former glory. Our local friend described the hotel’s current condition like this: “The owner basically owns a bar that happens to have a hotel over it”. He wasn’t kidding.

The place looks like it hasn’t been updated in forty decades.

The first night we were exhausted, having just arrived in Flagstaff after a 24 hour ride on Amtrak. By the time we walked into the rocking chair room we did little else but play in the rocker and then crash, heavily. We checked out the next morning and headed south to Phoenix.

The last night, however, we arrived just after dinner and had more than enough time to experience the “comforts” offered by the Monte Vista.

Before I get to the most important item, possible paranormal activity, I feel compelled to describe this hotel as frankly as possible so that if any of my readers decided to visit her they will do so fully armed with what to expect.

Back to the lack of updates…..

My husband Brian had specifically reserved a two room suite for us on this last night. The person he had spoken with mistakenly booked us for the next evening, meaning we were stuck and had to take what they had available. This included two separate rooms, one of which is the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen. We gave this one to the kids but there was a huge glaring problem, at least in this mother’s eyes. It didn’t include a bathroom (told you it was small). Several of the rooms do not have their own bathroom; they share a communal shower and toilets just off the hallway (similar to some bed and breakfasts).

Brian couldn’t understand why I was freaking out at the thought of our nine year old son or twelve year old daughter walking down a hotel hall to communal bathroom in the middle of the night (a haunted hotel that happens to sit on top of a rowdy bar). We gave them our spare room key and they were directed to use our bathroom.

While I was taking note of the electrical tape on each of the curtain rods (keeping them together, it appeared) and the Beethoven bust on the small antique dresser, our daughter came knocking on the door of our “Bing Crosby Suite” (this was no suite, let me tell you). She had a remote control in her hand and wanted to trade it with ours. Both of our rooms had Magnavox televisions; the remote in their room was for a GE television. Huh? She promptly commandeered our remote and it worked perfectly.

There was a slice of our carpet which had been removed and a smaller piece of carpet glued down within the space (apparently the carpet guys didn’t notice the size difference?). The bathroom was (notice a theme here) the smallest hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen and the tile looked about 30-40 years old. Normally, this could be considered quaint but the paint was peeling around the sink and shower, there was no shelving or counter of any sort, and the tiny shampoo/conditioner and soap might as well have been made with water. You know the cheap, CHEAP little bars of soap at an old “pay by the hour” Dreamland Motel?

The bed our first night was fairly comfortable; our bed the second night was springy, well worn. There was a small table with two antique dining chairs on each side; the table had what I’m certain is a Dollar Store black table cloth over it which looked like it hadn’t been washed in a few weeks….or months. The Bon Jovi room had a coffee maker; the Bing Crosby room had nothing except for an old hair dryer that started to smell like it would catch on fire after about one minute and after it had sucked a piece of my hair into the back vent on it, leaving me screaming.

But the worst, most difficult, thing to deal with was the noise.

I had read many online comments that mentioned the noise issue but I pooh pooh’d them, believing the writers must simply be difficult customers.

They weren’t lying.

The Monte Vista has a small bar on the main level and a larger bar on the lowest level. Both are hopping on the weekends. In addition, the larger bar often hires bands. There was a band on both nights we stayed there.

We could hear and feel the pulsing of the band all night, meaning from around 11pm until 2am.

Our next door neighbors (in the Presidential Suite; I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be OUR suite) cackled and talked until midnight and it sounded as if one of them, an annoyingly loud female, was standing next to my bed.

Despite these two factors, it was actually the people on the street below our window who were the loudest, the hardest to shut out.

We could hear them walking along the sidewalk or, in the case of one particularly drunk couple, standing outside to smoke. If they had been peacocks they would’ve been preening….in the loud, bawdy, tones of drunken youth. Reminded me of the days when my friends and I thought we were more hot and clever with each cocktail. Sadly, the sober people around us could never see the attraction, I’m sure. I was certainly not feeling “attracted” to this young and gratingly loud couple at 1:00 am. I wanted to punch them in the mouth and rip out their vocal chords. Oh dear, did I just admit that?

I digress.

Here’s the thing. By the time all of the loud shenanigans began to sounds like nails slowly dragging down an old chalkboard I had already become shaken, on edge. The noise just added to the surreal feel of the night.

We had returned from dinner by around 7:00 pm. As soon as I walked into the room I was overcome with a level of fatigue I can only describe as suffocating. Dinner at Bigfoot Barbecue had been amazing and I was full, but this was the type of tired during which I had no control over my eye lids or limbs.

As I lay on the bed, covering up with the electric throw blanket I had been travelling with, I muttered to Brian “I just have to sleep….can’t….stay…..awake….just ….a short….snoozer…..’k?”

The next thing I felt was a cold air surrounding me. I hunkered under the warm blanket and pulled me knees up to my chest. Then I felt Brian roll me over and playfully sit on me, joking that we actually had a room to ourselves. He teasingly suggested we should take advantage of the opportunity; I agreed, so he jumped off the bed to take a quick shower.

I then stood up and walk over to the window, planning to gaze down at the busy Flagstaff street in order to watch the evening’s players busy at work.

What I met instead was a solid white blanket of snow as far as my eyes could see. It was snowing, close to blizzard conditions, and in the distance I could see a small fire on the ground with a man standing over it warming his hands. He was wearing an old parka with the hood pulled over his head.

As he gazed back, I found myself waving to him, yelling “come in out of the cold”. He began to walk towards me, slowly at first and then more quickly. He then began to run.

As he got closer, faster, he looked up and I saw his face fully. I choked, screamed. His face was filled with rage and evil. The man, who had a light beard and appeared to be in his late forties/early fifties, was staring at me with red eyes….eyes that spoke volumes……anger, rage, something I cannot put into words. I knew in that moment he could not enter the room, ever.

I held out my arm as if to stop him and shouted “You must not enter this place! You cannot enter this place!!”

I’m not sure how many times I repeated myself but just as he reached the window, as his face came flush up to my own and as my breath seemed to freeze along with my heart, the snow disappeared and I was looking down on the streets of Flagaff.

Shaken, I returned to bed and the warmth of my blanket. As I nodded off again, the man’s face returned several more times. Each time, as if trying to keep from drowning, I would scream in my head “you must not enter this place! You must go away now!!!!”

I slept again. I couldn’t open my eyes, still very sluggish, and felt Brian sitting next to me on the bed. I tried to speak, couldn’t, and then tried again.

As if coming out of a dream, the twilight between sleep and awake, I whispered “did you take a shower”.

He looked at me curiously, replied “I’ve been sitting here the whole time on my iPad…I’ll take a shower in a little while. Why?”

It was then I realized I had been asleep the entire time. But it had seemed so real….so scary….and there was still a cold circle around me. I could still feel the bearded man’s presence.

I don’t have nightmares. I don’t remember my dreams. And other than a childhood nightmare that still haunts me to this day I’ve never experienced anything in my sleep that left me so shaken.

Was it a ghost, targeting one of Monte Vista’s guests? Was it my imagination or the power of suggestion? The ghosts reported in Monte Vista aren’t said to be threatening or violent; staff appear to feel more nostalgic and affectionate towards them than anything else.

I can’t say, can’t speculate. I can only share what happened the second night I stayed in this hotel.

I spent the rest of the night attempting to shut out the noises, put the man’s face and eyes out of my mind, and trying to “MacGyver” a set of earplugs using tissue (which failed miserably).

As we rolled out of bed at 3:30 to catch the early Amtrak ride home, I found myself looking over my shoulder in the bathroom, the hallway, the front desk, and then back at the Monte Vista as we headed down the sidewalk away from her.

I’m glad we stayed there, just as I am grateful for every new experience in my life.

But I think the next time we visit Flagstaff we’ll find a Holiday Inn Express. Cleaner, cozier, quieter….and, frankly, ghost-free.

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