Anchorage, Alaska – Hotels are, by their nature, frightening places. Horror scribe Stephen King wrote how one never knows what happened in the room before a lodger lays his head down to sleep. Who slept there before? And who died? In the dead of night, with the blankets pulled up tight to your chin, what is it in the darkness that sounds like breathing? Is the cold merely because of a draft of frigid night air, or is there something more lurking in the darkness? During the night, a lodger might encounter phantom children or have things tossed about the room by unseen hands. The next morning, when the frantic guest reports the phenomena to the management, he’s given a pen and a large book. In it are the experiences of hundreds of other travelers who have felt and seen the same things. Far from being frightened, the staff welcomes their deceased lodgers, and treats them with the same respect as they would any other guest.
There’s an unofficial title that often is claimed in every state that seems dubious to some, but to others is a real point of pride. Run a google search on “most haunted hotel in…” and you’ll see what I mean. Whether it’s the famed Stanley Hotel in Colorado or the Menger and Driskill hotels in Texas, there is always someone vying for the title. Stories, some outlandish and others just plain creepy, circulate in newspapers and online, each one touting the sheer number of otherworldly presences that still occupy the rooms. Alaska is no different, except that most of the hotels there are a bit younger than their southern counterparts. However, in Anchorage, what the hotel lacks in age, it makes up for in chills and strange occurrences.
In 1867, in what would become known as Seward’s Folly, Secretary of State William H. Seward convinced the U.S. Senate to purchase Alaska from Russia. It took forty-five years for the state to become an organized territory, but by then hundreds were flocking to the area with the promise of gold and other riches. The freezing temperatures and harsh conditions did little to dampen their spirits. Towns sprung up throughout the province, catering to the needs of those prospectors and explorers, and with them came Anchorage in 1914 as a port for the Alaska Railroad. Just two years later, a full four years before the city would become incorporated, its first hotel opened.
The Anchorage Hotel was a central meeting place for the whole town. Its luxuries were a reminder of civilization in the wilderness, being the only place for miles where one could eat a meal on fine china. Anchorage, the city, however, was growing too fast. During the first few years of its operation, the hotel saw its first tragedy with the murder of Anchorage’s first chief of police, John Sturgus, in the alley that bordered the building. The case was never solved, and no motive was ever discovered. Undaunted, expansion plans continued. Across the alleyway (where Sturgus was found), an annex was built with a sky-bridge connecting the two buildings.
Tragedies not withstanding, the hotel grew in popularity, attracting foreign dignitaries, actors, and other celebrities to lodge within her walls. Most notably, it was at the Anchorage Hotel that Will Rogers and Wiley Post stayed in 1935, just before crashing their airplane outside of Barrow.
There are so many reported phenomena at the Historic Anchorage Hotel that the employees have begun keeping a special register, this one filled with the stories of co-workers and guests. Reading through the pages, a pattern emerges, one that points to several souls who, for either grief or tragedy, decided never to leave. Of the phenomena of unknown origin, there are lists that include everything from framed pictures being hurled across the room by an invisible assailant to the sounds of children running up and down the halls. Once, a Shaman stayed at the hotel and encountered a happy little boy (who has never been identified) and a crazed old woman (who has been seen by more than a dozen guests). Among the strange things that happen at the hotel, there are always two who appear more than most.
In the early 1920’s, so the story goes, a young woman accompanied her fiancé to the hotel with plans of wedding him. However, a few days later, he managed to strike gold, and left her standing on her wedding day, in her wedding dress. Devastated, the young woman made her way back to her room and hung herself. Ever since, guests have talked about the young woman in the white dress who wanders the second floor. Always, they say, she appears sad, but disappears when someone talks to her.
The second restless soul met his demise in the alley outside, but seems to come in to warm his non-corporeal bones. Police Chief John Sturgus, who was shot down in the alley between the hotel buildings, still makes appearances, and from the frequency of the reports describing the man in the hat who walks past the stairs, quite often.
No good thing can last forever, and so it was with the Anchorage Hotel. The main building was eventually sold and torn down. The Annex, however, changed hands several times before finding itself in the capable arms of its new owner. It had fallen into such a state of disrepair that, before long, the building seemed headed for the wrecking ball as well. In 1989, however, a new group bought the building and renovated it, bringing the old hotel back to at least a piece of her former glory.
Though not the capital of the state, Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, and is always a good place to visit. While springtime and summer may be the best times to visit temperature-wise, one must brave the cold of winter to stand the best chance of seeing John Sturgus as he walks the hotel halls. He most often appears around the anniversary of his death, February 20th. The others seem to hold to no schedule but their own, as they are seen with such frequency that the hotel keeps a journal of phenomena reported by guests, and many of those stories are truly chill-inducing.
See you in two weeks!
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