Secrets of the Strater Hotel

by Micah Susman

When I first moved to Durango, I got into a conversation with a group of locals about our experiences with ghosts, and someone mentioned the Strater Hotel. Then, all at once, everyone felt it was their duty to tell me the various urban legends about Durango’s most historic hotel: the ghost prostitute, the hiding places for all the guns and silver, the secret tunnels where important people would go to the brothel, and a few more contested ones.

Since then, after spending much more time in the hotel for various reasons, I decided to see what I could find out about these local legends. I spent a little time doing some reading and talking with a few employees, but finally I went to consult with the owner himself. Even though one could easily find information about the tunnels and much of the history online, I just had to go in person to find the real secrets.

In the early ’80s, Rod Barker took over the Strater Hotel from his father. Over the next few decades, he put millions of dollars into restoring the worn out cowboy hotel back to its classic splendor. He did a beautiful job and adorned every detail of the lobby and the three bars/restaurants. He has also curated a beautiful, alternative story about the “real” secrets of the hotel.

The Strater’s Secrets section of their website just reveals the food and drink available to the general public at the hotel. This was an early warning flag that the hotel does not openly promote their alleged haunted traits, but they at least acknowledge the stories with a wink. In addition, I was not offered a tour of any ghost sighting rooms nor secret passageways.

There have been many people who have either stayed at or been to the Strater Hotel over the past 131 years. Barker estimated over 5 million guests have spent the night, in addition to those who came for the theater, a drink, a meeting, etc. As a result, the rich experiences of all these people have contributed to the unexplained feelings many get while in the building.

Barker’s theory is that if you believe in humans having a type of energetic aura or footprint, and it leaves behind traces. The so-called ghosts in the Strater Hotel is just the resonant energy left behind by all those visitors. Barker said, “That is the good feeling you get [when visiting the Strater].”

We talked about ghosts a bit more.

“How old does a hotel have to be to have ghosts? Everyone thinks old hotels have ghosts … ghosts bring history alive,” Barker said.

So I asked him if his hotel had ghosts, and he told me of all the history the hotel has had: important treaties signed, important politicians, bank robbers, etc. But this was not what I was looking for; I had or could read about most of that for myself later.

When I asked about the alleged secret hiding places in the lobby, I was told these were fabricated during the 1998 remodel, and are a fun part of the experience of coming to the Strater for kids. But when pressed for more secrets, Rod did at least tell me of the 15-18 time capsules, one as big as a 3- by 5-foot crate, all buried throughout the building.

I was given endless amounts of statistics about prime rib, interesting anecdotes about growing up in the hotel, excerpts from the guest logs, favorite spots to sit, and details of the remodel. I felt engrossed in this living, breathing history. I appreciated hearing all the background and seeing the perspective on such an important Durango landmark from the man who probably knows it best; although, I sure had hoped for more information to corroborate those urban legends.

I could not imagine having grown up in such a hotel, much less own and be responsible for it. I understand why Rod seemed unwilling to paint his hotel in any manner that would make it scary for a guest or visitor. His authentic enthusiasm was contagious and it made me want to return soon. Of course, I was a bit discouraged our talk revealed no real Halloween-type secrets, but I was able to see what makes this historic hotel so popular with locals and tourists alike: Rod Barker’s love for it.

Micah Susman


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