Ten great ghost towns in the West
Spooks and evil spirits? You don’t have to believe in that stuff to love a good ghost story. But some of the best tales of fright come from the old mining towns of the American West, where greed for gold and silver drove prospectors and settlers to unspeakable violence and mayhem. They don’t call them ghost towns for nothing. Here are 10 ghost towns to put on your Halloween travel list.
When Goldfield was the richest and most populated gold mining town in Nevada, all the wealthy elite stayed at the swanky, four-story Goldfield Hotel. But after the boom turned to bust, psychics and paranormal investigators claim the now-defunct hotel became the haunting grounds of several ghosts, including the spirit of a pregnant prostitute who died while chained to a radiator in a small first-floor room. The story goes that her infant was tossed into an abandoned mine underneath the hotel. Ghost hunters say the hotel is one of seven portals to the Other Side.
Directions: From Las Vegas, drive 184 miles north along U.S. 95. For more information, call (775) 485-6365. (Hugo Martin / Los Angeles Times)
This barren patch of desert on Death Valley that’s littered with broken bottles and abandoned mine shafts is the site of one of the most bizarre deaths in the old West. An angry lynch mob hanged and then buried a down-on-his-luck saloon keeper named Joe Hooch Simpson after he killed the town banker in 1908. But when a Los Angeles Times reporter showed up a few days later to snap a photo, locals unearthed Hooch and strung him up again for the snapshot. While he was above ground, a local doctor decided to lob off Hoochs head to test it for syphilis. Now a headless Hooch reportedly haunts the site of Skidoo in the heart of Death Valley.
Directions: From Stovepipe Wells, drive southwest along State Route 190 for nine miles, turn left on Wildrose Canyon Road, and after another nine miles, turn left on the first major gravel road and continue for almost eight miles. For more information, call the Death Valley National Park at (760) 786-3200 or go to www.nps.gov/deva/. (Hugo Martin /Los Angeles Times)
Inside the splintery churches, homes and businesses that comprise Bodie State Historic Park, chairs, tables, bottles and pool tables remain in the same spots where town folks left them more than a century ago. Can it be that a curse protects what remains of Bodie? According to legend, bad luck latches on to anyone who steals from the town. Park rangers say dozens of former visitors have returned stolen Bodie swag, including nails, parts of a clock and old bottles.
Directions: From U.S. 395 seven miles south of Bridgeport, take state Route 270. Go east 10 miles to the end of the pavement and continue three miles on a dirt road. For more information, call Bodie State Historic Park at (760) 647-6445 or go to www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509. Open year round. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
It’s not just deserted, but it’s also a great place to see meteor showers and stars. Building material was scarce in many old West mining towns, so Rhyolite saloon keeper Tom Kelly built his home out of what was most accessible to him: bottles. The home, which stands today, was built with more than 50,000 beer and medicine bottles. Legend has it that Kelly still haunts the bottle house along with a mysterious prostitute who was buried nearby. The town that once was home to 10,000 people became a ghost town by 1916. The town bank, train depot and part of the jail remain today.
Directions: From Las Vegas, take U.S. 95 north for 117 miles then turn west on state Route 374 for about two miles. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
This former mining town has become a destination for about 250,000 tourists a year. Here’s what Dennis Sigman and Eve Conant wrote in a recent Travel section story about their visit to the Arizona city: “[Local historian Nancy] Smith filled us in on Jerome’s claim to fame (aside from the views and its mining history): its ghosts. Belgian Jenny is just one of Jerome’s mining-era madams whose spirit is said to be lurking about. Another ghost making frequent cameos, Smith said, is Sammie, a prostitute who was murdered in the early 1930s.” Click here to read the whole story.
Violence was commonplace in many old West mining towns. Locals in Ruby attributed several killings to a curse on the towns mercantile store. It was built over an old padres grave, or so the legend goes. That might explain why, in a span of seven years, the mercantile was robbed twice and the employees murdered. The town has been abandoned since 1941, but visitors can still see several original structures, including the walls of the old mercantile store.
Directions: From Nogales, Ariz., drive north along Interstate 19 for seven miles, then west along Ruby Road for about 24 miles. (Jeff Robbins / AP)