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A Walk with Prescott’s Past
Photo by Christopher Scotti
Something jumped up on the bed. It felt like a cat, like when my cat at home jumps up at the foot of the bed. I felt its weight as it landed softly by my feet. It took a few steps up the center of the mattress and then paused before settling down. I reached my hand down to make sure a real cat hadn’t climbed through the window for a nap. Nothing. It couldn’t have been a cat. The only cat that had lived in the building died decades ago in the upstairs room. It was my imagination, fueled by the many ghost stories I had heard the night before. I brushed the thought aside and spent the next hour trying to banish the tingles in my spine. The next morning, we woke up and packed our things for the busy day ahead. Chris had been quiet all morning. “You didn’t happen to feel a cat jump up on the bed last night did you?” he asked. I froze. Maybe there was something to those ghost stories after all.
The Hotel Vendome has been a favorite Prescott destination for visitors and locals alike for nearly 100 years. Built in 1917, the bed and breakfast was owned and operated by a young woman named Abbey Byr and her husband until she came down with tuberculosis. One night, her husband went out to get her some help for her worsening condition. When he didn’t return, Abbey locked herself and her cat, Noble, in her room where they both eventually passed away. Since then, visitors and hotel employees have told stories of hearing strange noises, heavy footfalls on stairs, bells ringing, and cats meowing when there isn’t anyone else in the building. People have said that they’ve seen shadows moving in the halls and others have felt something like a cat jump in their lap. A few men who have stayed in room 16, where Abbey died, have found their wallet and keys missing in the morning. With a thorough search, they often find their belongings in the top left corner of the closet. Every encounter has been benign and many visitors have found it hard to stay away from the historic hotel with its comfortable lounge, wine bar, second floor balcony, kitchen, and entertaining history.
Now the hotel is owned by an ambitious young couple who are dedicated to preserving the Vendome’s charm as well as updating some of its less comfortable features. Each room at the hotel has a different theme and is fully furnished with antiques, quilts, clawfoot tubs, and a historic bell service. We stayed in the Tom Mix room, named after the hotel’s favorite cowboy movie star who stayed in the hotel during the making of his films. With the exception of our unexpected visitor, our stay at the Hotel Vendome was quite uneventful and accommodating. Located only a few hundred yards from downtown Prescott, the Vendome was conveniently close to the action but far enough away to shelter guests from street noise. While the hotel had a lot to offer, it still struggled with its age, which made it difficult to sleep through the night. The air conditioner was noisy when it came on every hour, the bed was very soft and felt almost like a waterbed, and thin walls and floors did little to muffle the sounds of others.
What the Vendome lacks in updated air conditioners, it makes up for in entertainment. With its Fremont Bar serving wine, beer, sangria and cheese plates, the inn is a great place to relax and enjoy the afternoon, especially when a local musician stops by to play. It is also the first stop for A Haunting Experience Tours, a two hour historical ghost tour of downtown Prescott led by Darlene Wilson, a self-taught historian and spiritualist. Wanting to see just how haunted Prescott was, we signed up for the tour. Just before the sun set behind Whiskey Row, we met Darlene and another excited couple, who would be joining us on the tour, and started our journey through a downtown Prescott we had never seen before.
The first ghost we learned about outside of the Vendome was Mr. Harriton, a man who worked the elevator in Prescott's tallest building. According to Darlene, many law attorneys working in the building have seen and heard some strange things in and around the elevator.
Next door at the Elks Theatre several witnesses have heard the eerie notes of a violin when the building was completely empty. It is thought that the violinist is a distraught performer who committed suicide after being nagged by his wife one too many times.
Photo by Christopher Scotti
Across from the Elks Theatre is the legendary Hassayampa Inn, the grandest of the historic hotels in downtown and known for their showcase of beautiful historical artifacts. Not long after the inn opened in 1927, a young woman named Faith Summers and her new husband checked into room 426 for their honeymoon. That night Faith's groom went out for cigarettes and never returned. She waited for him for three days before she was overcome with grief. She hung herself from the bell tower above her room. Since her tragedy, Faith's ghost has been seen, felt and heard by visitors and staff members at the Hassayampa, including instances where women have felt the sensation of their feet being massaged or their hair combed. She has also been seen walking the halls, holding flowers and crying at the windows.
Faith isn't the only ghost that people have claimed to see. A night watchman wearing a long brown jacket has been seen guarding the front lobby, checking locks, watching out the windows, and reading the newspaper. A young boy has also been seen playing in the laundry room, where several women have said that they felt tugging on their shirts even though the room was empty.
Other famous buildings in downtown Prescott also have their share of ghost stories. Matt's Saloon, Hotel St. Michael and The Palace claim to be haunted. According to Darlene, visitors and employees at The Palace have seen a woman with long black hair and a white dress flitting through the restaurant and standing on top of a set of stairs near the back of the room. Glasses have flown from the bar to opposite sides of the room and video footage has been taken of a manikin moving by itself across the room. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the footage ourselves.
The infamous bar at The Palace. This heavy wooden bar was carried out by loyal patrons during the great Prescott fire at the turn of the 19th century. The fire burned down the entire block and all of Whiskey Row, except for this bar, which was carried across the street and to the courthouse lawn. Photo by Christopher Scotti.
We also learned a few myths during our adventure, including a rumor of a maze of tunnels running underneath Prescott used to smuggle Chinese workers, alcohol and other illegal goods into town. While there is substantial evidence supporting the use of a Chinese labor force in Prescott between 1860 and 1880, evidence of immigrants being smuggled into town through underground tunnels has yet to be discovered.
While we weren't convinced of all the ghostly activity depicted in photos or on a suspicious ghost-radar app, we enjoyed the collection of stories that our guide shared. By the end of the tour, we were glad to have learned more about Prescott's haunted past. Having never experienced a ghost encounter, we had to admit that we were still skeptics in the end. However, our skepticism was challenged later that night at Hotel Vendome.
After returning to the hotel from the tour, we prepared everything we would need for the next day and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I felt something jump up at the foot of the bed and walk between Chris and myself and then lay down between us. Since I had a cat at home that did something similar on a regular bases, I thought that perhaps I was imagining the experience and I fell back to sleep.
The next morning, I noticed that Chris wasn't his usual talkative self. I asked him what was bothering him and he finally asked me if I had felt anything strange the night before. "Like what?" I asked.
"I felt something like a cat jump up at the foot of the bed and lay down between us," he said. I'm sure my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
"You felt that too!" We both started at each other for a moment then looked at the bed next to us. It seemed that the ghost cat, Noble paid us a visit.
Clare Hancock. Editor in Chief. Immersion Travel Magazine