We’re sweating bullets as we slowly creep our way through the precarious mountain pass that leads to the small town of Silverton. The sun has long since disappeared, making the drive even more unnerving as we navigate its sharp turns. We try, and fail, not to look down toward where the road ends and the steep chasms below us begin. It’s not a great start to the evening, one where anxiety is running high thanks to our final destination. Tonight, we plan to sleep in one of the rooms at the very haunted historic Grand Imperial Hotel.
Haunted historyThe hotel was built in 1882 and opened in 1883 in direct response to the addition of the railroad, which acted as transportation to and from town. The hotel was commissioned by W.S. Thompson, a perfume importer from England who’d started investing in the local mining industry and wanted to provide luxury accommodations for visitors. Today, there are 32 guest rooms scattered between the second and third floors, and the Grand Imperial is owned by the Harper family.
With its long and storied history, the 135-year-old building has plenty of sad, strange, and supernatural tales to share with its guests. There’s Luigi, a ghost who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Room 314, and the doctor, who was staying in a nearby room and tried to save him. There’s the old sheriff, who to this day guards the tunnels under the town where the women of ill repute on Blair Street were shuttled to and from their customers scattered across Silverton. There’s the woman who likes to sing and smells of perfume. There’s the old miner who still visits the bar to order a drink, decades after he tragically died. And then, there’s the bartender, who haunts the theater in the basement and likes to play tricks on those he deems disrespectful.
Activity at the hotel started picking up in 2015, when the construction crews remodeling the third floor started having nails and chunks of drywall thrown at them. Apparently, their work was upsetting one of the resident ghosts. The tantrums got so bad that the workers started going downstairs to wait out the upset spirit.
In September of this year, the events were investigated by Four Corners Paranormal Investigations as part of the “World’s Largest Ghost Hunt” on National Ghost Hunting Day – an event where ghost hunters around the world lead supernatural investigations on the same day. The ghost hunters stayed the night in the basement, one of the most haunted parts of the building, and, according to Myste French, the hotel front supervisor, they caught a glimpse of a misty apparition floating in the theater.
We stayed at the Grand Imperial in early October, and while we didn’t have chunks of drywall thrown at us or objects moved around on us (that we know of…) we have a few stories of our own to tell.
The stayWe arrive at the Grand Imperial after an hour-long, steering wheel-clenching drive. It’s late, and the streets are peacefully quiet, with not much open at this hour. We grab our bags and head inside, where we’re greeted by a beautiful Victorian-esque lobby covered in regal carpeting and furniture. In the corner is an antique piano, roped off from curious sticky fingers, and a golden staircase leading to the rooms. As we make our way across the lobby, we feel the eyes of a statuesque woman staring out from a large painting. It’s the portrait of Lillian Russell, an opera singer and actress who once stayed at the Grand Imperial. The painting is one of very few likenesses of her.
We grab our keys from the friendly front desk person and make our way to our room, which is located just down the hall from the most haunted room in the Grand Imperial, room 314. We’re noticeably nervous as we climb the stairs, on alert for any signs of the long-dead seeking our attention. In our state of heightened awareness, we absorb the details: daunting staircases, glistening, stained glass chandeliers, and the many paintings that stand vigilant on the walls. We lose our way in the winding hallways more than once, but finally arrive at our place of lodging for the night in room 304.
Warily, we unlock the door to our room and peek inside, fully expecting there to be a spectral waiting for us inside with a cold smile. There is no shadow figure to greet us – just two floral patterned beds, which sit beneath black and white photographs of stern-faced men and women of the Old West era. Even with no ghosts, we feel it give off a weird vibe, and opt to search for a place to grab some food, which seems preferable to hanging out in the deathly quiet hotel.
We take to the streets and come across the Golden Block Brewery – a lively contrast to the evening silence of Silverton. We settle in for beers and pizza, and immediately get into our first impressions of the Grand Imperial and our room. Our companion is visibly anxious about the stay, while we are a bit more calm, especially after downing a drink special called the Sinafire, which is filled with Fireball whiskey, apple puckers, cranberry, and soda.
After a few beers, we take a shot, we hope, for good luck. Perhaps the more spirits we ingest, the more likely it is that the ones at the hotel will let us sleep.
We head back to the hotel, warm with beer and liquor. By the time we reach the room, we have a game plan ready: we will not to leave our beds until the sun comes out, and we will leave the TV on all night. No way are we sleeping without lights on because, well, we’re adults.
Things don’t go that smoothly, though. Do they ever? We take turns waking up all night, our brains filled with stories about every strange sound we catch over the noise of the too-loud TV. On top of the anxiety, our night is peppered with the sound of footsteps on a phantom wood floor – a common phenomenon, apparently – and the sound of a jiggling door handle. There’s also the unnerving sound of someone walking on the floor above us, the most unsettling event of the night, as there is no floor above the third, yet the tap-tap-tapping is endless nonetheless.
After a sleepless night, we meet with Myste French, the front desk supervisor, for a tour of the building. During our walk, we hear lots of stories we were thankful we didn’t know the night before.
The tour“We don’t necessarily promote it but we don’t hide it,” said French of the hotel’s resident ghosts. “To some people, it’s a draw. To other people, it’s a turnoff. So we don’t want turn away prospective guests, but we also don’t want to deny what’s happening and be respectful to the beings that are here. Not exploit them but also not deny their existence. We toe the center line on that issue.”
During our tour, French takes us down to the basement, showing us the tunnels that run through the hotel and under the sidewalks of Silverton, unbeknownst to passersby.
“There were tunnels that kind of connected the respectable areas of town with the red light district,” French said. “We have what’s called an underground sidewalk … and that apparently connected to the tunnel system that went over to Blair Street. Near where that connection was made, there’s a ghost down there they speculate might actually be the old sheriff from that time – Sheriff Dowd. He was suspected of running the ring of bringing the women over to the respectable side of town.”
Staff at the hotel also suspect the sheriff is the spirit that haunts the key room where there has been reported activity. At one point, someone took a photo of a dark apparition, which appeared to guard the doorway of the room.
There’s also the conference room in the basement, where one of the few female spirits haunts.
“Her name is Miss Mary, and she has a British accent. Associated with her visitations will often be women singing or women humming, the sound of a beautiful woman’s voice singing, and the smell of perfume like honeysuckle or vanilla.”
Down the hall is the theater, where the saloon was originally located. It’s there where you’ll find a lot of activity, which is thought to be caused by a spirit called “The Bartender.”
“He is kind of serious and likes to be respected. If people are being loose and jokey about the ghosts, he’ll tend to play tricks on them and try to gain respect,” French said. “People will hear music. They’ll hear old-timey tunes or a piano playing. There’ll be glasses clinking. There’ll be cheering, kind of like a raucous crowd down there. Sometimes people will even see a mist floating across the stage.”
As we stand near the entrance of the theater listening to French, we hear rustling toward the back of the room, and a tapping noise behind the curtain. Chalking it up to the hotel staff, we aren’t too bothered by it. Well, until we walk to the stage and no one is, or had been, back there.
“Did you hear that, too?” we ask French. She had not. We move on to the next portion of the tour, unnerved.
Next is the main level of the Grand Imperial, where we learn of the spirits that cause trouble in the kitchen. They have a penchant for knocking over pots, pans, and food on the counter, and at times, causing the soda machine to malfunction.
One ghost – who staff believe perished in an avalanche – still likes to visit the bar and order a drink. Once he puts in his order, he vanishes into thin air without taking a sip.
The second and third floors are, as with the rest of the hotel, filled with stories of ghostly activity. One of the common things to hear, we learn, is footsteps approaching your door. The upper levels’ most famous apparition is Luigi – a man who died by suicide in 1890 in Room 314. Today, Luigi enjoys playing tricks on guests.
“A somewhat prominent actor was staying here and went up to his room. (He) got checked in, went back up to his room and was locked out – the little chain. Someone had put the chain across. … Then we had some kids who were staying here and they were super interested when they got here. ‘Tell us about the ghost! We want to know all the stories!’ And we were like, ‘OK, well if you have any experiences, you’ll have to let me know.’ And the next morning, the little girl told me that she when she was in the shower, she heard whispering in the bathroom, and then when she got out of the shower, she went into the main room to watch TV with her family, and the shower turned on. It stayed on for like 30 seconds and then turned off. She was ecstatic. She was so happy. She wanted to make contact and she made contact.”
A big part of making a connection with the spirits, French said, is a person’s willingness to be open to the supernatural. None of the ghosts at the Grand Imperial are vicious, so it’s fine to be open to them, even if the idea is a bit unsettling.
“There’s nothing malicious or malignant or evil in the building. Nothing is trying to hurt anybody or scare anybody. It’s more trickster, prankster kind of things or deaths where they were probably a pretty sad person who was dealing with a lot of anguish at that time.”