Jerome, Arizona Check in or check out; there is nothing quite like staying in an historic mansion when visiting another city. The fly-by-night and by-the-hour chains that promise sterile rooms that all look the same may be a pleasant place to sleep, but they have no personality. Travelers often like to find a place of historic significance, where the air still smells of the old world, where the furniture might be older than they, and where the general atmosphere breeds a type of nostalgia and importance that is missing from many modern hotels. When searching for such lodging, however, it is wise to see the building for more than it is now. Some hotels have a brutal history, one that can leave even the weariest of travelers unrested. Peaceful slumbers can be interrupted by howling dogs, loud footsteps, and cries in the night. Those cookie-cutter motels might begin to look good if the traveler only knew that, where his bed now sits, more than one have died.
Arizona, with cities like Flagstaff and Tucson, has more than its share of ghost stories. From its early days in the pioneer west, its history has been anything but gentle. While towns of more famous sightings get most of the attention, there are, in every smaller town, places where the shadows just might hold something macabre and where hotels feature permanent guests.
The town of Jerome, Arizona, began in the 1900’s as the United Verde Copper Mine, employing hundreds to dig deep within the mountain for precious metals. The town, often referred to as a den of sin and vice by the local newspapers of the time, was typical of most mining towns. It was in 1926 that the United Verde Copper Company began construction on the United Verde Hospital to treat its sick and injured miners. By the time it opened in 1927, it was an amazing site to behold. At 30,000 square feet and five stories of poured concrete, the hospital was designed to be fireproof as well as resistant to the shock of 260,000 pounds of dynamite exploding within the mines.
By 1930, United Verde Hospital was widely regarded as the most modern and well-equipped hospital in Arizona and possibly the Western States. Many patients were brought in to have their mangled bodies examined, to recover from some disease, or even to bear their children. While many of them were nursed back to health, a large percentage of patients simply went to the hospital to die. Many women perished during childbirth, and many men coughed their last gasping breaths within the walls. The building also served to care for the mentally unstable, housing them until they either died or were miraculously "cured."
The ill and infirmed were not the only deaths that occurred at the hospital. In 1935 an orderly named Claude Harvey was killed when he was crushed beneath the hospital elevator. No autopsy was done on his body, and though the death was ruled a tragic accident, rumors circulated that he was murdered. Another rumored murder concerned another orderly who fell, or was pushed, from a balcony on the fifth floor. Though no arrests were ever made, the popular notion was that both deaths were deliberate acts against the two men.
When the copper mine dried up, United Verde began phasing out its operation, and the town began to slowly die. So few people stayed, in fact, that the hospital was closed down in 1950.
For the next 44 years the massive building sat vacant on the hillside, looking over the remains of the town. Although there was no electricity, locals claimed to see lights burning brightly in the windows. Many claimed to hear shouts and screams coming from the old hospital, and those that ventured close enough swore they heard coughing and labored breaths. The building was declared haunted.
In 1994, after having sat vacant for nearly half a century, restoration work began on the United Verde Hospital, courtesy of the Altherr family, turning it into the Jerome Grand Hotel. When it opened its doors in 1997, the hauntings began again with even stranger phenomena reported.
Because of the number of tragedies that occurred in the hotel when it was a hospital, there is no way to accurately count the number of ghosts that are reported to manifest themselves. Sightings are varied in description and range from the mundane to the unbelievable.
The most common occurrence is the sound of labored breathing and coughing coming from empty rooms. Worse, these sounds often emanate from a dark corner of a guest’s room. The guest in question usually describes a sharp drop in temperature, followed by a dusty smell. Then the coughing begins, along with wheezing behind it. One patron actually left his room and spent the night in the lobby after hearing such noises.
Another phenomenon commonly observed are ghost lights. Employees have noticed flashing lights in unoccupied rooms. When they go to check the room for any sign of mischief, the room is empty.
At least two of the ghosts are women, have been seen by numerous visitors. The first, a nurse carrying a clipboard, seems more to be a memory than an actual ghost. She roams the halls, pausing at intervals and leaning down, looking at beds that no longer exist and patients long since dead. The other, a woman in white, has been identified as a woman who died in childbirth. Neither she nor her baby left the hospital halls. According to legend she is distraught over the treatment of her dead child, who was buried in an unmarked grave. According to the locals, she stalks the hotel, searching for her child’s final resting place.
The Jerome Grand Hotel does a great business and seems to revel in its haunted history. Many of the original fixtures, from the elevator that claimed the life of Claude Harvey to the boiler that was made in 1927, are still in use. The tavern located inside the hotel is named "The Asylum," an homage to darker times. It sits atop Cleopatra Hill as one of the highest public structures in the Verde Valley. The town of Jerome, which once boasted a population of nearly 3,000 people, is home to only about 500 people. Tourism is a heavy industry.
There is not one specific time of year for experiencing the ghostly manifestations, nor does there seem to be a best time of day. Coughs and wheezes have been heard at all hours, while the nurse and the lady in white usually appear in the early morning hours. It is, however, Arizona. Spring is when the weather is best.
See you in two weeks!
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson