McCune Mansion

Salt Lake City, Utah

The little girl who walks from room to room is not part of the ceremony, and no matter where one looks, the source of the music that filters through the air cannot be found. Still, this is a place of beauty, an occasion to be marked. And while the staff left no detail unchecked, it is clear that there is more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

There comes a day when a person wants the world to be perfect. The perfect dress, the perfect cake, the perfect guests, and the perfect setting. Such things make up the perfect wedding, in which all eyes are on the bride, and the groom knows just how lucky he is. While some hold their nuptials in a church or rented hall, there is nothing that can compare to beginning a fairy tale life in an equally beautiful castle. But even in fairy tales, castles hold secrets. Although there is no dungeon or dragons guarding the fair maiden in the highest turret, there are still places where shadows run cold, and some who attend may not be on the guest list.

Alfred W. McCune led a remarkable life, even before he commenced construction on the house that today bears his name. Born in Calcutta, India, he and his family immigrated to Utah when he was still just a child. At an early age young Alfred showed great promise and tenacity. By the time he’d turned twenty-one, he was already a successful railroad builder, having been contracted to build pieces of the Utah Southern Railroad. So strong was his work ethic and business sense that his associations ran with many famous names of the time. J. P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, and Frederick Vanderbilt were business partners of McCune’s in the Peruvian Cero de Pasco mines.

When he decided to build his mansion, McCune’s wife, Elizabeth, hired the best architect in the state and instructed him to build the finest house money could buy. Onyx and Nubian marble were only two of the materials used in construction, creating a bungalow-style palace at a cost of over one-half million dollars. Construction was complete in 1901, and the family moved in.

The McCunes were prominent citizens, and it seemed luck shined on them within their house. According to legend Alfred McCune sat one morning for breakfast when a would-be assassin fired a single shot. It missed McCune by a great margin but lodged itself into the far wall of the breakfast area. On another occasion, during which one of Alfred’s granddaughters was visiting, the house fell victim to armed robbery. The granddaughter recalled being told by her grandmother, Elizabeth, to stay in bed because gunshots echoed through the downstairs areas. No one was killed, and the robbers got away with only a few pieces of silverware but were caught later.

Elizabeth McCune was also well known for her parties. Her closest friends were invited for a weekend retreat in July of 1917, during which no men, husbands, or children were allowed on the grounds. Upon arrival, all the guests were given a gown they were to wear for the entire weekend. It wasn’t until dinner, on the fourth of July, that the men were allowed back in, but they had to leave immediately afterward. So popular was the party that it became an annual event.

Alfred and Elizabeth McCune lived in the mansion until 1920, when they donated it to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be used as the McCune Music School. The McCunes themselves moved to Los Angeles. Even then, however, strange things began to happen. As the school was to be used for teaching music, those in attendance were accustomed to hearing violins and cellos playing at all hours of the day, but the music continued well into the night, after the building had been emptied for the day.

In 1953, the mansion became the Brigham Young University Salt Lake City Center. When the center closed twenty years later, it became the Virginia Tanner Modern Dance School, which held lessons in the ballroom. When the school closed, the future of the McCune Mansion was uncertain, until it was purchased in 1999 by Phil McCarthey and his family, who worked to restore it to its majestic beauty. Though the renovations were briefly halted in 1999 by a tornado that knocked down one of the chimneys, the McCartheys persevered. Restorations on the mansion were completed in 2001, returning it to its rightful place of prominence in the Salt Lake City community.

Since the time just after Alfred McCune and his family departed the house, strange things have been reported. Beneath the main staircase in the house is a small room in which musicians sat to perform, filling the house with their ambient music. To this day, music can often be heard as if the musicians still play within the room. While such a thing could have been easily explainable when the mansion was a music school, the room is not in use now. Still, the music plays and the room sits empty.

Other phenomena reported include the sightings of several spectral visitors. The first, a gentleman in a black cape, is usually only seen by those who are alone in the house as he observes them. No clue to his identity has been asserted, but there are several who swear to his presence.

Most often reported is the apparition of a little girl, around ten years old. She’s most often sighted walking out of and into the large mirror on the west wall of the house and has been blamed for rearranging items left out the night before. On several occasions employees have returned in the morning to find wedding arrangements placed in odd assortments. She has also been blamed for lingering footprints that begin ? and end ? in the center of several rooms. When asked, most people say she bears an uncanny resemblance to a little girl in a portrait that still hangs in the house.

The new owners are not immune to the ghostly hijinks either. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, on several evenings McCarthey has turned off the lights and locked the house up tight, only to see the lights going on and off in rooms in his rearview mirror as he drove away. In addition, the house holds all manner of supernatural manifestations in the form of cold spots, doors opening by themselves, and others locking, even when they have no locking mechanism.

Present Day:
The twenty-one-room mansion is now used as a extravagant setting for weddings and other public functions, comfortably catering to as many as 200 people. And while those guests of the permanent variety have not quieted down, no one seems to mind their presence. The little girl is still sighted walking from room to room, occasionally rearranging the furniture, all to the soft lilt of music from under the stairs.

Best Times:
As the mansion holds many breathtaking sights in just its construction, one might need to make several visits before seeing anything supernatural. The high wedding seasons seem to be best for seeing the little girl, and the best way to experience the mansion in all of its splendor is during a wedding. So playing matchmaker with a dozen or so friends might not be such a bad idea.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

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