Cimarron, New Mexico
Cimarron, New Mexico, is a place where one can still experience what life might have been like in the Wild West. Even its name is Spanish for “wild” or “unbroken.” Amid the Apache Indian dancers and historic tours, there sits a place where one might just get a little more of the Wild West experience than bargained for. Inside, the ceiling is still riddled with bullet holes from gunfights in the past, and the list of famous guests who came before reads like a Cowboy’s Who’s Who. But there is still more to this old hotel than meets the eye. Though the smell of cigars and roses filter through the halls, what lingers here is not designed for pleasure. Down the hall, the staff reminds that there are some doors that should never be opened, and certain places where the dead do not rest.
The old west was responsible for giving America some of its most enduring legends. Names like “Doc” Holliday and Black Jack Ketchum are celebrated through folklore, with a great amount of attention paid to not only their great deeds but the number of men who died staring down the barrel of their guns. Little thought, however, is often given to those that died not only at the hands of these legends, but at the hands of other, lesser known killers. While the famous westerners reach mythic proportion, those others pass into a different type of legend. In places like the St. James Hotel, they linger and give the place the dubious distinction of being haunted.
Before New Mexico even became a state, people began arriving looking for their own fame and fortune. Gold drew them in hoards, bringing with them their needs for food and lodging and entertainment. In 1872, a Frenchman named Henri (which he later changed to Henry) Lambert arrived and decided to put his considerable skills in hospitality to good use. Prior to this, his latest venture, Lambert had been the personal cook for not only Ulysses S. Grant, but also for President Abraham Lincoln. He opened up his saloon and billiard hall and soon began bringing in his fortune of the frontiersmen and traiders who used the Santa Fe Traill.
Within eight years, Lambert added on guest rooms, calling the place Lambert’s Inn. Among those who stayed in the rooms during that time were such notables as Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, The Earp brothers, Doc Holliday and even Billy the Kid and Pat Garret. In addition to guest rooms, Lambert’s establishment also began collecting deaths. By the time the gold rush had dwindled out, the hotel became known for a place where blood flowed almost as freely as the alcohol. It passed through many owners, changing its name to the St. James Hotel along the way, until business finally crawled to a stop, allowing the once glorious hotel to fall into near ruin. It wasn’t until 1985 that it was purchased and rescued from the developer’s shovel and brought back to life.
Because the hotel was built during a relatively lawless time, deaths at the hotel were common, and even joked about. At least twenty-six men are reputed to have lost their lives in the saloon portion alone. In fact, when the ceiling was replaced, the owners counted more than 400 bullet holes in the pressed tin.
The most malevolent of all the numerous spirits in the hotel resides in room 18, so much so that the room is no longer rented out. Within, the angry soul of Thomas James Wright, who was shot in the back after winning the deed to the hotel, waits for anyone who would invade his territory. Hotel employees report being pushed to the ground and menaced within the room, with stories being told about deaths occurring when the room was actually rented.
Not to be outdone, the room next door, room 17, is considered to be the afterlife abode of Henry’s second wife, Mary Elizabeth. Most commonly, she is not seen but rather smelled. Her rose-scented perfume wafts about in the halls, marking her presence. Very rarely, reports come in about guests seeing a near-transparent woman standing outside the room. She, according to the staff, protects the hotel and those in it from TJ Wright.
Other stories tell of old cowboys looking back at people from out of mirrors and of noises such as tapping and shrieking without sources. There are even stories about an old man, nicknamed the “Little Imp,” who enjoys causing trouble in the hotel and stealing items from guests and employees alike. There are also phantom scents, cold spots, and numerous apparitions that make themselves known.
The hotel is open year round, and so, apparently, are the ghosts. The old saloon still boasts twenty-two bullet holes in the pressed-tin ceiling, and more than half of the rooms have no modern amenities. But that doesn’t mean that the hotel is lacking. The other ten rooms have every modern convenience a person could want. The hotel also plays host to “Murder Mystery Weekends,” as well as special events that include music, lectures, and even the Kiwanis Breakfast. And yet, despite all the activity, paranormal phenomena occur with alarming frequency. Room 18, however, is still not open to the public. There sits in the room an iron bedframe with no mattress, a coat rack, and a bottle of Jack Daniels on the dresser, trying to appease the anger of the St. James’ permanent guest, and possible rightful owner.
Ghost hunters and psychics often visit the hotel, and most of them get results. However, the hotel is quite busy. Reservations should be made ahead of time. Just don’t ask for room 18.
See you in two weeks!