When most people think of road tripping through Arizona they think of some of the larger and more well known tourist attractions. Hiking through the Grand Canyon, possibly skiing up north of Flagstaff, and shopping in Scottsdale. One thing that each of these locations has in common is that they are all located in the northern half of the state, and it is a big state. In fact, probably the most well known haunted hotel in Arizona is the Jerome Grand Hotel located in the mining town of Jerome, Arizona north of Phoenix and a little southwest of Flagstaff. What many visitors to the Grand Canyon State miss is a small southeastern county that is full of haunted mysteries.
Cochise County sits right in the southeastern corner of the state of Arizona. Its southern border runs along the American/Mexican border and its eastern edge connects with New Mexico. When you talk about Arizona with people who aren’t familiar with the state, many do not realize that there is a whole portion of the state that lies below Tucson. Cochise County is one of these areas. Rich in history, Cochise County receives its name from Cochise, a leader in a group of Chiricahua Apache who resided in this area before European colonization. In fact, there is a beautiful campground in the area, Cochise Stronghold, where Cochise’s remains are rumored to be hidden. When settlers were expanding to the West, the area that became Cochise County boomed with miners and mining interests. Two towns that experienced a mining boom were Bisbee and Tombstone. There was a third town, Douglas, that benefited indirectly from the mining interests as it was the local smelter for any of the minerals found in the area. Unfortunately, mines dry up and boomtowns shrivel. Each of these towns has had struggles to find a foothold in modern society post mining. Bisbee and Tombstone do so by embracing the tourist industry. On the other hand, Douglas straddles the Arizona/Mexico border with its sister city Agua Prieta, and in 2023 is still trying to find its rebirth in the modern economy. Out of these three towns, Douglas is the largest, but still, its population is just around 15,000. Bisbee and Tombstone each have populations between 3000-5000, much smaller than their prime during the copper and silver boom.
The Douglas of today does not have a lot of frills, amenities, or entertainment. The Supercenter Walmart is the main shopping resource. While there is an old downtown area, Douglas has not had the resources or a tourism industry to support revitalization. Its sister city across the border, Agua Prieta is much larger and contains more of the modern conveniences and entertainment. Douglas has one shining star that remains from its frontier golden age, The Gadsden Hotel. The Gadsden (named after The Gadsden Purchase) originally opened its doors in 1907; however, the first hotel was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1929. Besides ghosts, The Gadsden has hosted Thornton Wilder, who ended up extending his stay to two months, and Eleanor Roosevelt. There is a chip in the large marble staircase that extends out through the lobby. Local urban legend attributes the chip to a story that Pancho Villa once rode his horse into the lobby of the hotel and up the staircase. While Villa did stay in the hotel, the horse in the lobby story does seem a little outlandish.
It doesn’t take a lot of digging or talking to locals and hotel faculty to hear ghost stories associated with The Gadsden Hotel. Because they received so many claims of paranormal activity, employees of the hotel began keeping records of the paranormal reports that were brought to them by guests. If you ask the front desk to see the paranormal records, they will allow you to sit and enjoy the primary accounts of encounters with the Gadsden’s ghosts at your own pace.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the beautiful marble staircase (that of Pancho Villa’s legend) is at the center of many of the guest’s ghost stories in The Gadsden. The most common and mild stories involve seeing ghostly figures ascending or descending the beautiful staircase. I have to admit, it is such a gorgeous staircase, I can see why someone would want to continue visiting it in the afterlife.
Following the staircase, the room with the most activity seems to be room 333. Former guests who have stayed in room 333 say that they have heard disembodied knocks throughout the room, the TV turns itself on and off, and they have heard conversations that appear to be coming from invisible visitors right inside their room. However, I spoke with a former employee who had a darker story about room 333. He stated that when the room is empty there are many times where hotel staff will hear a deep growling that comes from inside of the room as they walk past the door. He said that they have also heard what sounds like scratching coming from inside the room when it is unoccupied. There is truly no single ghost “story” that accompanies room 333. Many hotels will have a particular ghost who has a tragic story (like one that we will look into with the Bisbee Grand Hotel). Is whatever remains in room 333 an entity left behind after The Gadsden’s tragic fire? Is it something darker?
The ghosts of The Gadsden do not stay in one room or on the staircase. Former managers and former employees have encountered spirits throughout the hotel. The former employee who spoke about their encounter in room 333 told a story about an arcade game that had been placed in the lobby to entertain guests who visit the lobby’s bar, restaurant, and coffee shop. However, employees who worked the night shift started hearing the game being played during odd hours after all of the business had closed down and the lobby was empty. They eventually decided to unplug the machine for some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, even unplugging the machine did not quiet the spirits that wanted to play games late into the night. The staff continued to hear the game after it had been unplugged. Finally, the game was removed from the lobby. The lobby ghosts also enjoyed calling to the employees of the hotel. Those working the night staff would occasionally hear their names being called from somewhere in the lobby well after the hotel had gotten quiet for the night. When they went to look for the source of the disturbance, there was nothing and no one in the lobby. This is one of those occurrences at The Gadsden that the staff has acknowledged just comes with working at the historic hotel.
Arizona is a state with lots of history, and with history comes ghosts and paranormal activity. Cochise County is a small, rural area built mainly by mining, farming, and ranching around the turn of the century. Cochise County embodies much of the legends of the Wild West associated with American legend, and it holds many fascinating ghost stories. Some of these ghosts have chosen to continue to inhabit beautiful hotels in the region. The Gadsden in Douglas is just one hotel with both a rich history and exciting spirits. Even if you don’t encounter something paranormal, the beauty of the hotel is worth a visit.