“What do you mean it’s haunted?” I scoffed.
“The Plains Hotel — it’s haunted,” one of my college writing students insisted.
“The Plains Hotel?” I had stayed at the Cheyenne, Wyoming, hotel before, but didn’t recall seeing any furniture moving autonomously, or hearing suspicious noises, and I certainly didn’t happen upon creepy twin sisters in matching blue dresses standing at the end of the hallway.
But she was persistent. She handed me the book Haunted Cheyenne, warning, “Don’t read it at night!”
I thanked her, but didn’t give the book much thought until my husband, Ron, was away for work. Tucked in bed, I began reading.
My mind wandered — could any of the stories be true? There was the tale of a bride named Rose who, finding her husband on their wedding night with a lady of the evening, grabbed his gun and finished off the adulterous pair before taking her own life. Did Rose still haunt the hotel, built in 1911, never finding peace?
I needed answers. I walked into the lobby of the five-story, blond-brick building the next morning to ask for a tour of Suite 444 — Rose’s room. The staff at The Plains didn’t bat an eye. A bellman led me to a beautiful suite with window views of Cheyenne. Everything seemed in order until I turned to leave. There, in the double-paned window across from the master bed, were two perfect bullet holes.
My jaw dropped. The bellman mentioned that once, when he was making the bed, he heard a woman whisper behind him, “Thank you.” He turned to discover he was alone.
The hotel owner, Astrid, gave me a tour of the expansive basement, where enthusiasts detect the strongest paranormal activity. The hotel once boasted a tunnel system that connected to the State Capitol building. Because nothing says political conspiracy, collusion and coercion quite like a back-room passage to the pillars of power.
I liked the concept of a secretive tunnel system because it evoked a rational explanation about the ghost-like activity. And can you imagine what happened in those tunnels? I did, which became the premise for my haunted-hotel story.
When I asked Astrid about the hauntings, her response was resolute. “Nuh-uh. Not on my watch.”
As the “guardian” of the hotel, Astrid explained, “I carry a big weight around me, like this white bubble of light, so they don’t penetrate my bubble and spook me.”
But she did show me a framed photograph taken in 1930 in the hotel’s bar. The bar appears deserted. Astrid then pointed to the bar’s mirrored backsplash, where two men are clearly seen standing in front of the bar, apparently confined to some astral plane.
“It’s not a retouched photo,” she said, shuddering. “I don’t want to get scared. I’m in the basement a lot.”
Guests at The Plains frequently task the staff with helping them locate its ghoulish residents.
A history of otherworldly sightings ties The Plains to another nearby landmark. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, is the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
Ron and I took part in a “ghost tour” offered at The Stanley. Skeptical, I wanted images with better detail than my phone could provide, so I borrowed an SLR camera that would ensure high-resolution images.
When Andy, the tour guide, distributed four electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors — ghost-hunting gadgets — it looked like an old television remote, which seemed appropriate. If I wanted to find an old soul, why not click to the past? In our group of 20, Andy placed one in my palm. It had three LED lights, identifying the signal field strength as safe, caution or danger — green, yellow or red.
My meter stayed in the green zone initially, but when we entered the tunnels, it shifted to yellow. Tension welled in my chest and if it changed to a darker side, I’d soon be changing pants.
As I crawled farther into the labyrinth, the meter began to pulse red, warning me. My skin tightened, goose pimples covered me as I sensed someone was standing behind me. When I turned, the tunnel was dark — cold and empty.
At the conclusion of the tour, I thought of Lloyd, the bartender in The Shining, and snapped a photo of the Stanley Hotel’s bartender at work. I then looked at my photos.
As I scanned the camera’s display, all my images were, as expected, in color — all but the one of the bartender. Perplexed, I thought of the phantoms in the black-and-white picture of the bar at The Plains.
What was it about these two hotels? Was it all in my head, or did they lock within their walls macabre mysteries? I’m not sure. But I was spirited away by the possibility of more haunted happenings.
About Spirited Away:
Some guests never check out
What happens when the legend of the old west becomes the new reality? In Mary Billiter’s fun novel of investigating the unknown and navigating love, a drop-dead sexy cop and a fiery redhead are linked by a mysterious haunting and the unsolved crime of passion behind it all.
When Reese Pemberton relocates from the Golden State to the Cowboy State for a corporate promotion, she discovers a different state of mind. From the hustle and bustle mayhem of the Bay Area to the slow and easy meanderings of Wyoming, Reese welcomes the change in pace as the hotel’s new general manager. However, she shuts the door on the notion that her hotel is haunted.
But when a series of mishaps introduces the fiery redhead to the hotel’s legendary cowboy ghost, she begins to question the events surrounding his demise.
Reese and Cheyenne police detective Cody Pring join forces to put to rest the spirit that haunts the hotel. In the process, they discover long-buried secrets. Can the two solve a decades-old mystery or are some things better left with the dead?
Find out more at www.marybilliter.com.
Originally published at happyeverafter.usatoday.com