Where-to-go for frights as Halloween approaches
MADISON COUNTY—Halloween quickly approaches, and horror buffs around Montana are preparing to get their fright on. We put our research minds to work finding the best places to look for spooks both genuine and manufactured.
Around 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, according to a Huffington Post poll. Are you one of them?
Before the snow sets in, it’s time for a ghost-hunting adventure; we can’t guarantee whether tricks or treats will be what you find, but you’re guaranteed to encounter a scare or two.
Virginia City/Nevada City
You can’t talk about ghost hunting without mentioning Madison County’s very own ghost towns! Virginia and Nevada City are built on the stories of the fortune-hunters who lived (and died) there, and rumor has it some of those residents never fully left.
The Nevada City Hotel is reported to be frequented by the apparition of a road agent who was hanged nearby, according to Haunted Places, an online database of purported hauntings across the country. Visitors have reported “hearing footsteps in the hallways and seeing a shadowy figure standing behind their reflection in mirrors.”
Most frequently, the apparition seems to be an older cowboy figure who never speaks, but appears in hotel rooms and even sitting at the bar in Virginia City. Back when the hotel operated, guests also complained of a weeping woman, always in the same room, only to be told there was no guest in the room in question.
At one end of Nevada City sits the old Sedman House, one of the many historic buildings that populate the ghost town. Ellen Baumler, interpretive historian for the Montana Historical Society, wrote an account of alleged hauntings that occurred there.
“Employees sometimes find the bedding rumpled in the Sedman House, and a tourist once commented that the little girl in Victorian dress was a nice touch,” Baumler writes. “But there was no little girl.” At the time, living history productions weren’t even done at the Sedman house.
One more event Baumler recounts in her book Spirit Tailings: Ghost Tales of Virginia City, Butte, and Helena involves a film crew who shot a scene of Henry Ibsen’s Enemy of the People in the hotel’s bar. On a frigid winter day, the hotel was barely much warmer inside, and all the crew was packed into the saloon.
“The guest rooms and corridors upstairs and down were all locked,” writes Baumler,” when suddenly there were footsteps in the room above.” Several crew members went up to the room directly above the bar and opened it.
“It, too, was dark, cold, and no one was inside,” Baumler writes. “The floor kept creaking, slowly and deliberately, during the entire time the crew and actors were in the hotel.”
Outside of its normal tourist season, Nevada City is closed. However, the Montana Heritage Commission offers ghost tours around Halloween time, which explore the area and some of its more permanent residents.
Big Sky may soon be the Halloween destination of Montana, and there’s something for the scaredy-cats and thrill-seekers alike, even if there may be more artificial hauntings than gold-rush spirits like in Virginia and Nevada cities.
This year’s Halloween festivities include bands and outdoor mazes, performances and pumpkin-carving contests and even glow-in-the-dark dodgeball and a DJ. For those partial to more screams, there will be a horror movie festival and plenty of creepier offerings. And you don’t have to be a vampire to participate in a blood drive and give back while you celebrate the Halloween holiday.
A little to the north you’ll find Three Forks’ iconic Sacajawea hotel. John Q. Adams (an agent for the Milwaukee railroad, not the U.S. president), built the hotel in 1910, and many guests think it’s possible he never left. Adams has been sensed in hallways and guest rooms, and a ghostly maid has been seen, particularly on the third floor.
The maid is said to materialize and come through a third-floor wall, where Bozeman Magazine writes there used to be a linen closet. The maid walks out of the wall and returns, over and over again.
“There is the old owner and a small girl who likes to follow me on the third floor,” wrote a visitor to the online database who identified themselves as a housekeeper at the Sacajawea. They reported slamming doors, pens or notepads being thrown across the room and televisions turning on by themselves.
The first prisoner in the Montana State Penitentiary was incarcerated on July 2, 1871, and the state prison operated for over a hundred years until the late 1970s, when it shifted into its new, larger building, also in Deer Lodge. But the old prison remains right on Deer Lodge’s main street and is one of the most eerie places in the state. And for good reason.
Visitors can take guided or self-guided tours of the prison all year round and can even sign up for special “lockdown” events to be incarcerated overnight and experience what life was like in the old pen. But things get extra spooky around Halloween, when the prison holds its legendary haunted house. These may be less-ethereal apparitions, so keep your wits about you.
The haunted house is only held the weekend directly before Halloween, and if you want to make things extra terrifying, go late at night: this year’s haunted house will run Friday-Sunday, October 26-28, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 7 p.m. to midnight on Sunday. Admission is $10, but depending on who else is haunting the old prison, you may get some extra bang for your buck.