Thursday, June 23, 2016

HGB Ep. 132 - Occidental Hotel

Moment in Oddity - The Williamson Tunnels
by: Bob Sherfield

In the Edge Hill area of Liverpool in England, lie a series of tunnels named for the man who created them, eccentric Victorian business man Joseph Williamson. Williamson had made his money in tobacco and snuff and now he had bought an area of Liverpool that was an undeveloped area of sandstone. He planned to build eccentric homes of "the strangest description” and without seemingly any rational planning behind them. The land was on a slope and in order to provide good size gardens, because of the slope and the quarrying, arches and terraces were constructed. Williamson was a strange cookie who had his workers do busy work like moving rocks from one area to another and then having them move the rocks back. He then had them build the Williamson Tunnels, a labyrinth of brick lined tunnels through out the sandstone, running in various directions and over different lengths. The tunnels seemed to have no point. In 1867, a local newspaper, the Liverpool Porcupine, ran an article in which it described the tunnels as a nuisance that seemed to only act as drains creating a cess pool 15 ft deep. Over the years the tunnels became filled with debris and despite a series of excavations by the West Lancashire Territorial forces in the early 20th century, a 1995 study by Liverpool University using a micro gravity study, and a further private investigation, no one could figure out the length of the tunnels. What has been discovered and cleared includes an area known as “The banqueting hall”, which is 70 feet long and 25 feet wide and 20 high, a double tunnel, and a triple decker tunnel. To this day, no one knows why Williamson ordered the building of the tunnels. He was by his nature secretive, and it has been speculated that his motivations may have been driven by the fact that he was a member of an extremist religious sect and the tunnels were his way of providing a means of shelter during the Apocalypse he believed was coming. Williamson claimed that he was simply providing work. Spending the money and energy to build tunnels with no purpose, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - The Winnie Mae Starts Round World Trip
by: April Rogers-Krick

On this day, June 23rd, in 1931, Wiley Post and navigator Harold Gatty took off for a Round the World flight in the Winnie Mae, a single engine airplane owned by Oklahoma oil baron F.C. Hall. Wiley Post, one of the most celebrated pilots in aviation history, predicted that he could complete the first ever round the world trip in an airplane, in just ten days. He enlisted the help of Australian navigator Harold Gatty. While Gatty plotted a route, Post made several changes to the Winnie Mae. He improved the instrument panel, installed adjustable seats, and added a special navigation station. On June 23, Post and Gatty took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York with a flight plan that would take them around the world. During their trip, Post and Gatty faced some serious challenges, which included getting bogged down in a muddy field and a bent propeller they hammered back into place. They made several stops along the way in many countries before landing at Roosevelt Field. On July 1, 1931, in just 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes Post and Gatty completed the trip round the world. The reception they received everywhere they went was huge. They had lunch at the White House on July 6, rode in a ticker tape parade the next day in New York City, and were honored at a banquet given by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America at the Hotel Astor. After the flight, Wiley Post was able to purchase the Winnie Mae from F.C. Hall. Post and Gatty published an account of their journey in a book titled Around the World in Eight Days. The book included an introduction by Post best friend, Will Rogers.

Occidental Hotel (Suggested by listener Sarah Gunther, Research Assistant Steven Pappas)

The Occidental Hotel is a historic hotel in the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. The area is a place that has seen gold diggers come through during the Gold Rush and people making their way West on the Oregon Trail. Outlaws have been through as well as heroes of the American West. And a well known battle of class warfare took place here during the days of cattlemen. The town is also the setting for A & E's drama "Longmire." The Occidental Hotel was in the middle of much history, but after a steady decline for the town, it almost was lost to the wrecking ball. Today, it has been restored to a grand hotel once again, giving guests a chance to go back in time to the old west. And just like so many tales of the West, this one has a ghosts story or two. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Occidental Hotel!

The state of Wyoming was the home of several nomadic Plains tribes. The fondness European men had for beaver felt hats brought trappers to the state. Soon the Gold Rush would bring people coming through Wyoming on the Oregon Trail and forts were needed for protection. Settlers came and in 1869 the Wyoming Territory was established. The territory began petitioning for statehood in 1888 and in 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming into statehood and it became the 44th state. Many listeners probably know this, but women got the vote for the first time in Wyoming. Women's suffrage was established in 1869 in Wyoming and the first vote was cast by Mrs. Louisa Swain in Laramie. *Fun fact: Diane lived in Wyoming for four months.*

The Big Horn Mountains stretch from the Great Basin and plains of Wyoming north into Montana. At the base of those mountains sits the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. It's the county seat for Johnson County where the Johnson County War occurred. The bulk of this war took place in 1892. Wyoming was basically public domain and people were flocking there to homestead. The larger farmers and ranchers ruled the area with a system called Prior Appropriation. Large cattle companies did not like having competition from small ranchers that were homesteading and they started monopolizing the land. These larger ranchers even hired gunmen to wipe out the competition. The smaller ranchers joined forces with some of Wyoming's lawmen and formed a posse. There was a long standoff and finally the United States Cavalry came in and ended the war. This was one of the most well known range wars of the Wild West.

The Occidental Hotel sat at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains and was located not too far off of the Bozeman Trail. This allowed for many travelers to visit and stay at the hotel on their journeys through the west. John Jacobs and John Bozeman decided that they wanted to create a trail that would make travel from the Oregon Trail to Montana easier. Their trail went through Wyoming up into Montana and was shorter. There was more water along the trail and it was very attractive to covered wagons. The trail was named for John Bozeman. There was one issue with the trail and that was the fact that it traveled through land that the Cheyenne and Lakota hunted buffalo upon. There were a few issues and the government tried to make motions for some kind of peace treaty, which went horribly wrong when Col. Henry Carrington came to construct three forts along the trail. He was joined by Capt. William Fetterman. In 1866, he took a force to engage with the Lakota tribe headed by Red Cloud after a group of woodcutters were attacked. Red Cloud ambushed the military group with several other tribes and the group of 80 were killed. People were terrified and the forts were abandoned. Red Cloud signed a treaty and never fought the white people again. But the Bozeman Trail was closed.

The Occidental was an interesting hotel in its time as it was fashioned from several log buildings connected to each other. It appeared to be a large barn with several out-buildings. The upstairs of the main building had six rooms. There was a lobby, a restaurant and a saloon as well as stables and kitchens. This original structure would be outgrown and a larger wooden building was built that connected to the log buildings. By the 1920s, the wood would be gone, replaced by a brick building. As the years passed, it became a "grand" hotel. The decor was replaced and the volume of visitors increased. Throughout all the decades, even back to the early log structures, the hotel was known for its hospitality and good food. And many people came to stay at the Occidental, some of them infamous.

The most infamous guests were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who rode to the hotel from their Hole-in-the-Wall hideout, which was nearby. The hideout was about 45 miles south of Buffalo. It's in a remote and secluded area and was used not only by the Wild Bunch, but Jesse James as well from the 1860s to 1910. The Hole-in-the-Wall was named for the pass that is there and it was an ideal location because the narrow pass was easy to defend. A creek ran through the canyon that the outlaws used to water their rustled cattle. At one time, a few cabins had sat here to help endure the cold Wyoming winters. Today, a working cattle ranch called Willow Creek Ranch is here.

There were many famous visitors to the hotel during its heyday in the late 1800s. Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane were frequenters of the establishment and it also received visits from General Phil Sheridan, President Theodore Roosevelt and Pinkerton Tom Horn. Famous lawmen like Frank Canton frequented the bar. He had once been sheriff of Johnson County and was a member of the Regulators who were on the side of the big cattlemen during the Johnson County War. But Frank Canton was not his real name because he had changed it from Josiah Horner when he decided to stop being an outlaw. He once was a bank robber, cattle rustler and gunfighter who was pursued by the Texas Rangers.

The hotel boasted an air of hospitality, so it is no wonder that many weary travelers chose it as the place they preferred to rest their heads. According to the official Occidental Hotel Website: "Early in its existence, the Occidental established a reputation for hospitality and fine food. Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, spent many happy hours in the Occidental lobby and saloon, and based characters in his celebrated novel on cowboys and gunslingers that he observed there. Many historians believe that the shoot-out at the climax of the book — the first "walk down" in Western literature — took place in front of the Occidental."

The great depression hit the area hard. Wyoming was a dry climate and as environmental issues affected the land, finances tightened for those living there. To put it simply, people just stopped spending on the luxuries they had enjoyed just years earlier.  As the spending decreased, so did the attendance at the Occidental Hotel. By the mid-1930s, the owners were struggling just to keep the doors open. This is a struggle that lasted years and took a major toll on the owners. The hotel saw a brief spike in guest attendance during WWII, but following the war, business declined again. As people traveled west, they began to prefer cheaper motels to the luxurious hotels of the turn of the century. By the 1970s and 1980s, business had all but ceased, with the majority of the guest rooms being transitioned into apartments for retirees.

Finally, after years of low business, the Occidental Hotel closed its doors in 1986. Some shops continued to occupy their spaces on the ground floor, but with little money coming in, the building fell even deeper into disrepair. In 1997, as preparations were made to demolish the once great building, Dawn and John Wexo bought the building and they co-run the hotel with David and Jackie Stewart. They dedicated their time and funds to a 10 year remodeling of the building and returned it to its once great form. They have remodeled the building to look much like it did 100 years ago and it has become frequented by tourists and spenders once again. It has been featured on hotel shows, as well as multiple ghost-hunting shows. Joan Rivers featured it on her show "Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?"

And it is no wonder that with all of the luxury of the hotel, some of the guests would not want to leave even after death. There have been many reports of people seeing strange lights floating around on the upper floors and feeling cold spots throughout the hotel. Guests have also reported hearing strange voices communicating with them, and bouts of eerie ghostly laughter in the halls of the hotel. Casper Wyoming Ghosthunters have recorded some interesting EVPs at the Occidental. Travel Channel's "Dead Files" visited the Occidental and reported that a negative entity lived at the property. Steve interviewed a former employee who claimed to have numerous weird experiences. Another employee quit her job over the hauntings. Justin who was the guy in charge of security when Dead Files came through, claimed he was so frightened that he didn't like working at the hotel.

Perhaps, the most widely acknowledged spirit we find is that of the Ghost Girl of the Occidental. Run ins with this spirit have been reported by numerous patrons over the years. At one time in its vast history, the hotel briefly served as a brothel. Evidence of a porch that once overlooked the dusty street below can be seen and one can imagine the ladies plying their wears from that porch. One of the prostitutes who was working there at the time had a daughter who passed away on the upper floor. People in the hotel report her having dark hair and, you guessed it, a WHITE DRESS! Either her ghost or some other spirit has been known to move guests' luggage and tap people on the shoulder. We surmise that this must be an older spirit since shoulders are a tad high for little girls. Or it could be something that occasionally masquerades as a little girl. The owner Dawn tells her story about the girl everyone calls Emily:
“There was a prostitute who had a daughter who died of cholera in the the NW wing where the brothel was, she was just a child. Some times people can feel her tapping her fingers on their backs, but one guest really got to meet her. He gave me the creeps as soon as he walked in. I've never felt creeped out by any guests, only him. His hunting party was snowed in, down in Denver so he was the first and only one to arrive. The whole northwest wing was empty except for him because the other rooms were held for those stuck in Denver. He was the guide, a mountain man, so when he called up screaming around 3am I knew why. He said that something was trying to pull his covers off the bed and they were throwing things around the room. I went upstairs, found his covers on the floor and the stuff on the dresser on the floor too. The little girl ghost picked up something about him, maybe he was a wife beater or a pedophile. A prostitutes daughter wouldn't of had a good life, so she saw fit to attack the poor man."
 Mary reported on the In Wild Wyoming blog:
"I just stumbled upon your post about the ghost girl. I saw her in the room you have pictured here (the room with the brick wall). I was staying in that room about 6 years ago and I was really sick myself. I found out later that I had West Nile Virus. I woke up around 3AM and saw a girl, about age 10, crawling on the floor towards my bed from the corner where the TV is. She had long dark hair that looked wet and a white nightgown that looked damp. She looked feverish. I figured that I saw her because I was sick too, and would end up very ill. She didn't scare me and she didn't seem 'bad' in any way. I've stayed in that room since and had no activity other than that one night."
Are the strange happenings at the Occidental related to paranormal activity? Are these just figments of people's imaginations as they travel back to an earlier time through their visit at the hotel? Is the Occidental Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!


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