Deadwood, South Dakota is one of the most haunted sites I’ve ever had the fortune to visit. As an avid ghost hunter for over 38 years, I thought I’d seen almost everything, but Deadwood is the exception to the rule.
The Bullock Hotel
Besides being known for its rich history of outlaws, murderers, gold seekers, and the site where Wild Bill Hickok was killed, Deadwood has the unique distinction of being the only entire town on the National Historic Register.
When Deadwood was first founded it was in direct violation of a treaty with the Lakota people.
The Lakotas had legal land ownership, however, when Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874 and discovered gold there, a gold rush began that gave rise to the town of Deadwood, which quickly rose to a population of 5,000 in town and over 15,000 prospectors in the area. The gold seekers and fortune hunters were living on the land illegally, but that didn’t stop them. The prospect of finding gold was just too big to pass up. One local gold mine just closed as recently as 2001, and the word from the locals is that there is still a lot of gold to be found in the area, but most if it is in bedrock.
The town soon grew with businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. The business of prostitution brought in a lot of money, and was legal until 1980. An entire city block was occupied by nothing but brothels at one point, run by such infamous Madams as Mustache, Pam, and Dirty Em, as did gambling and sales of opium. The lawless town had no sheriff until Seth Bullock, owner of the Bullock Hotel and other businesses, took the job not long after Hickock was murdered by Jack McCall in 1876.
After the gold rush slowed, the area soon began mining for other ores, which kept the economy thriving. In 1876 a smallpox epidemic swept through the town, killing many. Other epidemics killed many children and adults, who are now buried in mass graves.
Some of the towns most famous residents and visitors included Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Theater; Sol Star, partner of Seth Bullock; Potato Creek Johnny, famous for finding a gold nugget the size of a potato; and Calamity Jane, friend of Wild Bill Hickok.
When gambling was legalized in 1989 in Deadwood, money was made available to help restore the town to its original grander. Most buildings in the commercial district, and indeed many in the residential areas are historic buildings dating as far back as the 1870’s. A fire that engulfed the entire town in 1879 consumed most of the wood buildings, so brick and stone was used for most construction after that.
Interesting Facts about Deadwood:
· Kevin Costner owns a casino in Deadwood called The Midnight Star, so named from the movie Silverado.
· Prostitution wasn’t outlawed in Deadwood in 1980.
· The town once was home to over 5,000 people, but now hosts only 1,300 residents (not counting tourists and ghosts).
· Deadwood’s popularity increased greatly due to the popular HBO series “Deadwood,” resulting in a huge increase in tourism in the Spring and Summer months.
· Snow accumulation can reach 60 inches, but city-owned snow removal trucks take care of it quickly.
· The Bullock Hotel was the subject of the TV show Unsolved Mysteries.
Our investigation of the city began in 2006 when my husband, Gene, did some specialty masonry work on a project there for a week. During the day, I toured the area and found that the town has a fascinating history. At that time, the residents seemed reluctant to talk about any haunted sites, but I knew the ghosts were there. I sensed their presence, and vowed to go back someday to investigate further.
I got the opportunity to revisit deadwood for three days during a vacation in September of 2011. My husband, who only recently became interested in ghost hunting, came along for the ride and surprisingly, really got into it.
We stayed at the Bullock Hotel at 633 Main Street, built by entrepreneurs Seth Bullock and Sol Star in 1894-1896. Seth and Sol were partners in a hardware store that they moved to Deadwood from Helena, Montana. Bullock had been sheriff in Lewis and Clark County, Montana before his arrival in Deadwood. Bullock’s grandson described him as “Tall, with steely gray eyes and an imposing appearance that commanded respect. It was said that he could outstare a mad cobra or a rogue elephant.”
This beautiful hotel at the corner of Main and Wall streets was built with native pink and white sandstone. It has been restored to its Italianate Victorian style. This is the oldest hotel in Deadwood.
The Roosevelt Suite. Notice the mirror, which has a whited-out appearance.
We stayed in the Roosevelt Suite on the second floor where many strange events have occurred. It seems that Seth Bullock or “Old Seth,” as the employees call him, haunts the second floor where he is said to have died in room 211 in 1919, and the third floor, as well as the basement bar area and the bar off the lobby. I hoped to have some ghostly encounters and I was not disappointed.
Right after our arrival and before doing any interviews, we decided to take a quick nap, and while my husband was in the shower I lay down on the bed. A few minutes later, a man’s voice said my name— “Margie,” very loudly. I opened my eyes and looked around but saw no one. My husband said he did not call me. Later that evening, while interviewing employees, I found out that “Old Seth” likes to call out women’s names, but that he usually does this for employees and rarely for guests. Since we had just arrived Seth must have been paying attention and followed us to our room immediately after our arrival. Later, the entire king size bed was shoved very strongly by something right after I got in it.
Seth’s Cellar Bar where paranormal activity occurs.
Apparently during the smallpox epidemic there was no place to quarantine people so Bullock allowed sick people to be quarantined in the basement of the original building. Guests and employees sometimes see the apparition of a little girl wearing late 1800’s attire in the basement area, and they assume she was a victim of the epidemic of 1876.
The hotel, which was known as a luxury establishment for gentlemen and ladies, used to have a secret underground passageway in the basement which led to a house of prostitution across the street. At the time, it was inappropriate for gentlemen to be seen entering such an establishment, so this way they could go unnoticed by the general public.
Gene and I both sensed the presence of spirits there, and took several photographs, but none materialized for us in that location.
We then interviewed several more of the employees and some guests who overheard our conversations. Each of them had a story or two to tell:
- A guest said she kept hearing her name being called and could smell cigar smoke in her room. The entire hotel is non-smoking.
- A front desk clerk said that a photo of Seth kept falling off the wall in the office and they finally had to move it to another location.
- An employee was working in the slot machine cage when a maintenance worker asked for some keys. She had the keys on her finger, when they suddenly levitated slowly out to a distance of 12” and dropped behind a cash drawer.
bartender often hears noises or witnesses glasses or full bottles of
liquor fly across the room of their own accord. Once a glass fell off of
a shelf and hit her on the head. The glasses are normally placed back from the edge of the shelf. The bartender said that paranormal things happen if an employee stops working or takes a break. They often feel a hand on their shoulder, or hear their name spoken. It seems that Mr. Bullock is making sure that “his” employees are not slacking off!
- A guest complained to the front desk that his room 211 suddenly filled with cigar smoke. He assured the staff that he was not a smoker and he didn't want to be accused of smoking in the room.
- A guest told me that when she stayed in room 313 her 10-year-old put his toy stuffed wolf down in the bedroom, but when he turned around to pick it up again, it had been moved into the shower of its own accord.
- A couple of the employees have heard strange unexplained children’s voices over the phone intercom system, but can’t find a reason for the sounds.
After hearing these tales, I continued my own ghost hunt. The bar on the first level was now closed, so I asked permission to enter and take photos with my Bell and Howell night vision still camera while my husband listened to more ghost stories from the maintenance worker. I snapped a few pictures, then felt a presence to my right at the bar. I raised the camera and just as I did so saw two bright white orbs of light floating behind the bar, and moving towards and through the wall These were not visible to the naked eye, but could clearly be seen through the large LCD viewfinder of the camera. One orb was in front of the other, and slight trails showed up in the viewfinder. I was not fast enough in snapping the photo to get these orbs on film, however. Darn!
Photo of the second floor mirror
A few photos I took with my still camera had anomalous items in them. What looks like a wishbone or A shape appears in the second floor hallway mirror where many other people have often captured a similarly shaped letter “A,” I was able to capture two more anomalous shapes on the wall in the downstairs bar. The shape changes slightly between two photos taken in the bar.
A search through a large book near the front desk containing photos and letters from hotel guests reveal that the haunting has been going on for many years. Included in the list of facts pertaining to paranormal events are the following:
· The most haunted guest rooms are 205, 207, 209, 211, 302, 305, and 314.
· Seth Bullock haunts Bully’s bar, the Cellar, and the hallways on the second and third floors. Orbs, foggy shapes, and a complete apparition of Bullock has appeared in the bar on the first floor on numerous occasions.
· Lights and appliances turn off and on by themselves.
· An unseen hand often taps people on the shoulder.
· Paranormal activity increases when a staff member whistles, hums, or stands idle.
· An antique clock in room 305 sometimes chimes even though the clock does not work.
· A strong rose and lilac perfume smell is sometimes noticeable, especially in winter months, with no source found.
· Chairs in the bar will rearrange themselves.
· Unplugged radios will turn on, always playing country music.
· Working radios tuned to other channels will change to country channels by themselves.
· Sometimes the sounds of a woman and/or baby crying are heard in the hallways, but a source cannot be found.
· The ghost of a cowboy actually shoved a man out of his room after knocking on the door.
· A guest was startled one day when the striker of a fire extinguisher case jumped around, hitting the glass, wall, and case by itself.
· In June of 2005 a young family took the ghost tour, and when they entered the cellar their 23 month old got upset and kept saying “NO!” and “GO AWAY!” to an unseen spirit in the corner. His shoe laces, which were inside of a lace holder, were found untied.
· Showers go off and on by themselves (this also happened to me, but not my husband).
· The shape of a letter “A” often appears in photographs (see my photo above).
· A boy got locked out of his room one evening while his parents dined, and was let back in by a man with a key. Later, the boy saw a picture of Seth Bullock and said “that is the man who let me in the room.”
Unexplained foggy shape in the Bullock Hotel taken by a former guest.
A former laborer who worked on the hotel restoration project in 1990 wrote to the management about an event he experienced. One day in May a bad snowstorm blanketed the city in deep snow. He went to work anyway, needing the day’s pay. He shoveled the front walk and met his supervisor there, but no other workers showed up. The laborer looked for work on each floor and walked up the long original staircase to the second floor where everything had been torn out. The floor was just a shell, waiting for renovation. He walked between he support beams and joists and felt eyes on his back. “I turn, and find nothing. I walk faster, making my way to the front of the hotel, where a larger and more grand original staircase adorns the front of the place. Again, I feel eyes upon me, and I hear a scraping sound coming from the back of the place. I turn, and at the end of the hallway I see a pale man with an aquiline nose and a bushy mustache staring at me. I cannot speak. He chooses not to. Neither does he leave, nor look away. His black eyes bore holes in me, and I notice that his clothes, his face, are faded somewhat, almost transparent. He stares, boring his black eyes into me, accusingly. ‘I’m sorry. It’s just a job,’ I call out. He just stares, as if he did not hear me..”
The worker fumbled backwards and stumbled down the stairs where he found his supervisor. Seeing the laborer’s face, the supervisor realized that something was very wrong. Both men heard the scraping sounds again, and turned to leave at the same time. Another day of work was not worth it.
Wild Bill Hickok’s final resting place
Will Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock, and many others are buried at Mount Moriah.
Caretakers report that sightings of shadowy ghosts and unexplained voices have been reported by visitors. After closing time, caretakers have sometimes heard people talking in the locked cemetery, but when they
investigate no one is to be found.
I felt like I was being watched by unseen eyes during my 2006 visit and again in 2011.
The Oyster Bay Restaurant and Fairmount Hotel.
The bartender told us that he has had fully secured glasses fall on his head several times. An ex-employee named Sabrina said that she was filling up napkin dispensers one evening after closing when all nine dispensers came flying at her, cutting one of her arms. She also said that part of the hotel was once made into apartments on the third floor, but that people moved out after being attacked in their rooms by unseen forces. It is believed that those apartments are now closed and unused.
Another employee was closing up one evening after hours and saw a cowboy sitting at one of the slot machines. She started to walk towards him to tell him they were closed, but he “just disappeared into thin air.”
Our next stop was the Gem Theatre, site of one of the most infamous “amusement houses. All Swearengen lured women from the East coast with the promise of a career on the stage, but forced them into prostitution after they arrived. Swearengen had a reputation for having a nasty temper and abusing his wife in addition to his employees. An old hand bill advertisement from the Gem included many comics, Vaudeville acts, singers, dancers, and names of women. It is believed that the “theatre” brought in at least $10,000 a night and sometimes ten times that amount.
As we walked towards the door of the Gem, I stopped and could not go in. There was a heavy, dark presence inside and I was not in the mood to deal with it. I believe that some of the negative energies still haunt the site even though the current owners have obviously made an effort to revitalize it.
The Adams House Museum at 22 Van Buren Street was once Harris and Anna Franklin’s beautiful Queen Anne Victorian style home. The Franklin's sold the property to their son Nathan for $1 in 1905, and he later sold it to W.E. and Alice Adams in 1920. W.E.’s daughter died in 1912 from Typhoid Fever, and cancer claimed his wife in 1925 while she was at her daughter’s home in California. Her pregnant daughter went into premature labor and died the next day. Adams then married Mary Mastorvich Vicich, age 29, when he was 73 years old, a deed that caused quite a scandal in Deadwood society.
After her husband’s death, Mary Adams closed up the home, with all furnishings intact. Today the home has been fully restored with grant money from the City of Deadwood and is a popular tourist attraction. However, visitors may get more than they bargained for while visiting.
During our tour of the home we entered a bedroom in the upper floor. I immediately felt the presence of a male spirit, first at the bed to my left, then I saw him sitting in a rocking chair by the window. The chair moved forward and back on its own accord very slightly. After talking about the room, the tour guide said to catch her after the tour to talk. Apparently she noticed that I saw something in the room.
I approached the guide after the tour was over and explained what I saw. She said that was Mr. Adam’s room and that he died in it. She also said that they often see the rocking chair moving and that other psychics have seen him in that room.
One day, she had some friends over for tea in the back yard while the museum was closed. One of the guests saw a man looking out one of the second floor windows, so the guide, along with her friends, went inside the house to investigate. They found nothing. Later, while on a tour of the Adams Museum in town, the guest saw a picture of W.E. Adams and said that was the man she saw in the window. Apparently, other people have seen Adams peering out the same window on other occasions. The guide will probably not mention anything about ghosts unless you bring it up—she is waiting to see what the guests come up with on their own.
Some of the ghosts at the Adams House may not be former residents, however, ghostly activity on the grounds could be from former Ingleside cemetery which used to be nearby.
The Adams Museum & House at 54 Sherman Street was built in 1892 by Deadwood pioneers Harris and Anna Franklin. It is an elegant Queen Anne style house which dominated the rough mining town. It was purchased in 1930 by William Emery Adams in memory to his first wife and two daughters. It was lated gifted to the town of Deadwood and it remains city property today. The museum has three levels, and has fascinating artifacts and exhibits dedicated to the history of Deadwood. The collection includes the remains of a rare Plesiosaur fossil with characteristics of both older and later species. The museum is the Black Hills oldest history museum. On display is information about Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Deadwood Dick.
Once again, I sensed the presence of ghosts on the premises, so asked one of the clerks if they ever experienced ghostly activity there. The clerk told me that whenever W.E. Adam’s portrait is removed from its place over the first floor fireplace, lights go on and off and the alarm system acts up. The curator has experienced hearing footsteps in the building when no one is around, and other unexplained noises have occurred there. Apparently W.E. is watching over his creation and doesn’t want anything changed.
|Old Style Saloon No.10|
Photo: jerry rawlings, CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Green Door Brothel/Lucky Nugget Gambling Hall is reportedly haunted by a number of uneasy spirits. This is the original location of one of the brothels in Deadwood, so no doubt has some lingering energies. Visitors have seen shadow people, felt unseen people brush against their hair, and have smelled perfume from an unknown source. I didn’t stay long, but sensed someone watching me while there.
I was unable to explore the reportedly haunted Miss Kittys, the Franklin Hotel, and Wild West Winner’s Casino in Deadwood, or the Homestake Visitor Center and Black Hills mining Museum, both in the nearby town of Lead, but plan to on a future visit.
Whether you are interested in ghost hunting or just a great historical place to visit, Deadwood will definitely not disappoint.
For more information about Deadwood, visit the town’s official site at www.deadwood.com.
Kay is a paranormal investigator and writer living in Kansas City,
Missouri. She is the director of the OZ Inter-dimensional Communication
Institute. Visit www.margiekay.com for more information.