Since my blog post was due around Halloween, I pondered what I could write about that was Halloween related. Then I remembered—I wrote a book of ghost stories! How could I have forgotten? Haunted Highway, The Spirits of Route 66 was conceived twenty-some years ago when my co-author and friend, Ellen Robson and I decided we should collaborate on something. She lived in Arizona. I lived in Michigan. We both worked full time and spent vacation time attending writing conferences together.
It was 1997 at a conference in Albuquerque, at a diner on Route 66 when we decided to use that famous highway in whatever we decided to write. That way, we could travel the whole route from Chicago to Santa Monica. But what to write? Hmm. Did I mention we were at a diner? Actually, it was a historic diner. Maybe they’d be willing to contribute a recipe? We could write the Route 66 Cookbook!
We returned to our homes and spent the next three months learning all we could about Route 66 and hunting down diners, restaurants, hotels, and any other place that served food. Remember, this was all pre-Google! Imagine how disappointed we were when on the eve of our first leg of the trip—Arizona through California—Ellen found The Route 66 Cookbook in a bookstore.
My flight from Michigan was already booked. We took the trip anyway. Our first stop was in Flagstaff at The Museum Club, a popular road house. We still didn’t know what to do, but we chatted with the owner about his establishment. That’s when we learned it was haunted. The idea hit us at the same time—Haunted Highway, a travel guide to haunted sites along Route 66.
Over the next year and a half, we traveled Route 66, digging up ghosts who haunted places people could visit; restaurants, hotels, museums, theaters, and so on. We’d learn the history of the spirits, how they died, why they wouldn’t leave a particular place, and what it was like living with them. It was one of the best road trips I’ve ever had, though it was actually four separate trips.
In the spirit of Halloween, I give you one of my favorite stories from the book, and I’m giving away two print copies. Remember, though the book was updated in 2012, some of the locations may not be open to the public any longer. They’re still great stories. If you’d like to win a copy, just leave a comment here or on this post on my Facebook page. I’ll pick a winner Sunday night.
The Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Arizona
The Hotel Monte Vista, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, first opened its doors on New Year’s Day, 1927. In the forties and fifties, when Western movies were popular, more than 100 were filmed in the area of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, both close to Flagstaff. Because there weren’t any accommodations in that locality, the stars made the Monte Vista their home away from home. Rooms are named after some of the famous guests that have stayed there. A few celebrities that hold that honor are: Bing Crosby, Jane Russell, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. If you’re a fan of old romantic movies, you can request to spend the night in the room where a scene from Casablanca was filmed.
The hotel with a celebrated past not only has historical charm and character to offer, but a few ghosts as well. The “phantom bellboy” knocks at the Zane Grey room announcing in a muffled voice, “Room service.” When the guests open the door, they find no one standing there, nor do they catch a glimpse of anyone dashing away down the long corridor.
“In 1970,” Ellen Roberts, the desk clerk, explained, three men robbed a nearby bank and to celebrate, they decided to stop by our lounge and have a drink—even though one of the men had been shot during their escape. While having his drink, the wounded man died, and some feel he’s the spirit that’s haunting this area of the building.”
Some repairs were needed after a fight had occurred in room 220. When his work was completed, a maintenance man turned off the lights and locked the door. He returned in only five minutes to find the light back on, the television going full blast, and the bed linens stripped. In the early 1980s, a strange, long-term boarder rented this room. When he passed away, his body wasn’t discovered for two or three days. Was his ghost responsible for the upheaval that took place in the empty locked room?
“When a father and son checked out of the Gary Cooper room, the father made the comment that during the night, he suddenly sat straight up in bed feeling like someone was staring at him,” Ellen recalled. “His son started to kid him but his dad was very sincere and kept stressing that he knew someone had been watching him. The red-light district was south of the railroad tracks, not too far from the Hotel Monte Vista, and two prostitutes were murdered in that room. One version of the story is that they died after they were thrown out the window.”
This hotel certainly has a variety of ghosts, all stubbornly refusing to check out. Other strange occurrences are the peculiar rings of the lobby telephone late at night, an image of a woman outside the Zane Grey Room, and sounds of a man coughing continuously through the night. If you’re not lucky enough to be entertained by the permanent guests, you’ll still have a good time listening to live music in the haunted cocktail lounge.