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Hometown U.S.A.: Jerome, Ariz.

This hotel will never give up the ghosts

Your room might already be occupied, but that's just part of the attraction at the exquisitely spooky Jerome Grand in Arizona.

April 11, 2010|By Baxter Holmes
  • At the Jerome Grand, a former hospital, ghost hunters can opt for a "death room," once reserved for the terminally ill, and dine at the Asylum restaurant.
At the Jerome Grand, a former hospital, ghost hunters can opt for a "death… (Mark W. Lipczynski / Arizona…)

The bedcovers provide false security. People died on this floor, on the ones above and below. The Jerome Grand Hotel's history has chapters written in blood. Souls at unrest loom, folks say.

Pulling the sheets over your face won't hide the questions that hit seconds before slumber: Is the darkness empty, or is someone there?

The caretaker who hanged himself in the boiler room. The handicapped man who wheeled himself off the balcony. The executive who shot himself in Room 32. The unfortunate maintenance man, Claude Harvey.

Of Jerome's supposed spectral residents, maintenance man Harvey is perhaps the noisiest. The 1926 Otis elevator killed him -- came down on his head in 1935. Accident, murder, suicide? Still unclear. But visitors say strange noises emanate from the shaft where he was found.

The cab moves, unbidden, at all hours. "They say he plays with lights too," said front desk clerk Debra Altherr.

As haunted hotel legend seems to dictate, there's also a "Lady in White." A guest reportedly woke one night to see her standing at the end of his bed, waving her finger.

In a book at the front desk, guests report these and other paranormal testimonies: footsteps, moaning, heavy breathing and untouched doors flying open. But the devoted hunt for digital proof on the hotel's ghost tour, which provides an electromagnetic-field meter, infrared thermometer and a camera.

Ghost hunting has become a fad -- popularized by paranormal television shows such as "Most Haunted" -- and the boom is felt keenly in Jerome.

"Most hotels are down 20-30% in the area," said Bob Altherr, Debra's husband and co-owner of the Jerome Grand Hotel with his brother, Larry. "We were down only 2% last year." Of approximately $500,000 in tourism the town of 450 receives annually, Mayor Al Palmieri figures the ghost-hunting crowd deposits a sizable chunk that is still expanding.

Film crews hoping to catch ghosts materialize often, and lately have been trespassing in the cemetery or in supposedly possessed buildings. "That's starting to become an issue," said Police Chief Allen Muma, who owns the Ghost City Inn Bed and Breakfast.

Ghost-hunters' favorite spot in town is the Grand, which sits 5,200 feet above sea level, edged into Cleopatra Hill, watching over the town and the Verde Valley.

From its high perch, the five-story, Spanish Mission-style building brings to mind the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." (One half-expects a hedge maze and a deranged man pounding a typewriter: All work and no play . . .)

Formerly the United Verde Hospital from the late 1920s, the building closed in 1950. The main admittance area was turned into a restaurant, the Asylum.

Rooms 23 and 25 were known as "death rooms," where terminally ill patients drew their final breaths. Room 32, where two men who committed suicide stayed, is the most requested by ghost hunters.

In all rooms, Channel 3 on the televisions replays a video of the town's history. The narrator is an actor portraying a ghost.

A former copper-mining camp turned boom town 90 miles north of Phoenix, Jerome's population hit 15,000 in 1929. But copper prices fell, the mining operation left and most everybody went with it. By 1953, the population was about 50.

A hippie renaissance in the '60s helped revive Jerome, and in 1985 state and federal narcotics agents raided it on a tip that it was the marijuana capital of the state, only to learn that it wasn't, Palmieri said.

Now it's an artist's haven, with about 30 studios and galleries. There are also several wineries, and Palmieri said a soil engineer found Jerome's soil to be remarkably similar to France's Loire Valley wine region.

That viniculture may explain the haunting. "People say taking all that metal out of the ground created a vortex for unrested souls," Bob Altherr said.

On a recent morning, an elderly couple entered the Grand lobby, standing just in front of the faded cherry-red couch where guests often sleep if too spooked to stay in their rooms.

"It's probably too early to check in, isn't it?" the man said.

"Yes," said Debra Altherr at the front desk. "Your room is still occupied."

"By people or by ghosts?" he asked.

She didn't even look up.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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