At night, coming down from the north on the Interstate into the deep Verde Valley, eerie lights wink at you from high on a dark wall of mountains called the Black Hills. Those lights emanate from the old Arizona mining town, Jerome, a place that likes to bill itself as Ghost City. And those lights can suck you in.
In touristy Jerome, ghosts are a good thing, and this little artsy community of 444 residents is not bashful about promoting the nebulous spirits, be they benign or evil. At least one website claims the town is among the 10 most haunted places in the U.S.
Jerome holds a Spook Night every year in October. It began in 1953, long before Hippies discovered the town and another place to get high at 5,240 feet elevation. There are guided Ghost Walks and Spirit Walks through the town and a Halloween dance that takes place in “Spook Hall.” Even a visit by Elvis Presley in 1957 can not eclipse the power of eeriness, and you will not find a single sign saying ‘Elvis Stepped Here.”
But if there is one single place noted for its ghostliness it is the Jerome Grand Hotel, a large Mission-style building that looks down on the town from Giroux Street. It is a former company hospital established by the United Verde Mine in 1927 and later closed for 44 years. In 1994, the building was sold and turned into a hotel. The first of the current 26 guest rooms opened two years later. Some are said to have been “Death Rooms” where hospital patients were left to die. A caretaker hanged himself in the boiler room, it is said.
I came up here with Nebra early this month to hike on the high mesa above town, Mingus Mountain.
In booking the room, I bypassed Ghost City Bed and Breakfast along serpentine Main Street below and instead chose the Jerome Grand. The price was right, $135 for a room with a view of the valley. I had virtually no clue about the hotel’s reputation for ghosts.
From a distance, the hotel looks like an attractive, modern place, setting there on a steep, 50-degree slope. Painted gold and adorned with tasteful purple awnings, it is the focus of attention as you drive into town from the north. But the guts of it reveal a different story.
Checking in at the Front Desk, I heard a buzzing sound. The clerk stopped to use the ancient telephone switchboard with jacks and metal plugs. No direct dial from the rooms. All calls go though the switchboard. Near the desk is a journal for guests to post comments, some of course dealing with ghosts on the premises.
Then there was the 1926 Otis elevator that moves at 50 feet per minute, taking all of 45 seconds to reach the 5th floor “penthouse.” Old, yes, but apparently reliable. The hotel says it has been “out of order” for only 4 hours and 15 minutes in the last decade. You open a collapsing metal-screen to enter, insert your room key and punch the button to whatever floor you want.
We were handed two keys for Room 11.
Bypassing the elevator, we lugged our baggage up the wide walkway of bare concrete, up one level to our room.
The weather had turned cold with a strong north wind, and the first thing I did was look for a heater. But, no, there was only a radiator and it was turned off for the season. Wind whistled through an opening in the a/c. The doors to a tiny balcony were locked shut. The transom above the door was open. A long wood transom pole with a metal nub rested by the door. I didn’t dare turn on the ceiling fan. There was no wi-fi for my laptop. Nebra did manage to set up a hot spot with her I-phone. It was clean though and the distant views marvelous: the valley city of Cottonwood, the Red Rock Country around Sedona and the still-snowy tippy-tops of the highest peaks in the state, the San Franciscos.
Before turning in we walked down into town, using the steep cement steps to reach Main Street a few hundred feet below. It was still daylight and after window-shopping along the street we had a late supper at crowded Grapes. We had to wait 30 minutes to get a remote seat upstairs but it was the only eatery open on a Sunday evening.
Back at the Grand we settled in for the night. I looked over my maps of potential trails to hike the next day. Nebra worried over her emails and neither of us stewed over the ghost-thing. If anything, the wind had grown and now roared through the a/c. Just down the hall, the Asylum Restaurant and Lounge was closing for the night and sounds of clanging and banging metal and loud voices caused me to close the transom. Soon it was time to sleep and let the ghosts of the Grand have their moments.
I do not disbelieve in ghosts but I am skeptical of ghost stories in general. And, should I really want to get into the swing of things, I should sign up for the hotel’s “Ghost Hunting” activities, or as the guest book says, “our ongoing investigation of the supernatural and paranormal.” The hunt takes place on selected weeknights from 6 to 7:30 but, alas, our stay was on a Sunday. Participants who cough up $20 are loaned an EMT meter, an infrared thermometer and digital camera. And, I suppose, wished good luck.
If not the soundest of sleeps, mine certainly rated high up there for the night. No moans, no chains dragging the floor, no personal items transported. We awoke ready to hike. The wind had died some as we walked down into town and had a so-so breakfast at the Mile High Grill.
There was one frightening moment, at least for me.
On the way back up to Room 11, I rounded the corner of the stairwell and came face to face with a horribly twisted figure in the semi-darkness of the hallway. This thing, if you could call it that, appeared suffering severe mental anguish curled up in a wheelchair. It was small as a child but the face was that of a man in torment.
My breathing stopped as I came to a sudden halt. It took several seconds before I realized it was a life-like model made to scare guests. I think I would have preferred ghosts in the night.