Friday, March 21, 2014

Hiram's House

Hiram Martin Chittenden
One of Yellowstone National Park's important early figures was Hiram M. Chittenden. Working for the Army Corps of Engineers, he spent two extended tours of duty in the park. A West Point graduate, he first came to Yellowstone as a lieutenant in 1891 and for the next 4 years was in charge of maintenance and construction of the roads and bridges. Like so many others, he fell in love with the clean air, beautiful scenery and wondrous sites he was exposed to every day. After 4 years there, he requested to remain, but it was not to be and he had to report to a post in the northwest.

In 1899, his request to return to Yellowstone was successful and he was overjoyed that spring when he was able to return. His return came with a promotion and he was assigned to the post of Engineer Officer. In 1902, the government gave him a larger budget and Hiram was able to turn his attention to new buildings and offices, including a badly needed new mess hall.  Later that year, with the planned arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Gardiner, Montana at the park's northern border, he was able to convince Washington, D.C. of the need for a magnificent entrance to the park. 

Historical picture of the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone
On February 19, 1903, under Hiram's supervision, construction on what has come to be known as the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance was begun. President Roosevelt was visiting the park when construction on the arch itself was started so he was asked to place the cornerstone. The stone he laid covered a time capsule containing a picture of himself, a bible, several local newspapers and a few other mementos of the time. The arch was completed on August 15, 1903 at a cost of $10,000. 

Roosevelt Arch as it looks today.

With the larger budget, Hiram was also able to have a new home constructed for himself. He personally oversaw the construction of his house which was located just east of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. The house was a rather simple design and built of wood, but it fit him perfectly and was large enough to accommodate his family on their frequent visits. His wife Nettie and their children Eleanor, Hiram Jr., and Teddy remained at the family home in St. Louis during most of his various posts, but often came to stay with Hiram at Yellowstone for extended periods of time. He had one of the rooms in the house built as his office and he spent many hours at his desk smoking his cigars while reading, writing, and making plans for the future of the park.

The Chittenden home now serve as offices for several
park organizations.

In late 1905, he was given orders to a post in Seattle, Washington. After a total of ten years in his beloved Yellowstone, he was loath to leave, but he answered the call of duty and left behind his park and his home. He and his wife planned to return to Yellowstone in retirement to live out their lives, but in 1917 at the age of 58, Hiram contracted an illness and passed away without ever seeing the park again. At least not while he was alive.

The original Chittenden home is currently occupied by the offices of the Yellowstone Association and the Yellowstone Institute. The employees are sure old Hiram returned here after his death. Computers in the office sometimes shut down and then turn themselves back on while an employee is working on them. Repairmen cannot explain it because they can find nothing wrong with the equipment and when removed from the premises, they work perfectly. Overhead lights flicker on and off. Electricians have been summoned numerous times, but can find nothing wrong with the wiring. The employees are convinced Hiram doesn't like his home having electricity and is trying to let them know of his displeasure.

Could Hiram's spirit still be staying here?
Other than the annoying, but harmless pranks with electrical items, the employees consider Hiram to be friendly and even helpful at times. Doors often open and close by themselves. Upon entering in the morning, the employees will find doors that were left open will be closed even though the building was locked and no one had entry during the night. One of the managers tells how once he had forgotten a report he needed so he returned that evening to retrieve it. Upon entering the front door, he saw the door to his office, which he had definitely left open, was closed. As he crossed the room, his office door slowly swung open for him. After looking around to make sure nobody else was there, he retrieved the needed report and left, making sure to lock the front door behind him. He was the first to arrive the next morning and found his office door to be closed once again.

Hiram, Nettie, Hiram Jr., Eleanor, & Teddy
The conclusive evidence of Hiram's presence though is the aroma of his cigar. Smoking in public buildings has been prohibited for a number of years now, yet the smell of cigar smoke is often present in the room which used to be Hiram's office as well as a room upstairs which used to be his bedroom.

Shortly before he died, Hiram confided to a friend that his only regret was not accomplishing more while in Yellowstone. Evidently he has returned to spend eternity in the place he loved the most and perhaps to help guide those who are today working on the park and its future.

Maybe Henry Wordsworth Longfellow had Hiram in mind when he wrote, "All houses in which men lived and died are haunted houses. Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide with feet that make no sound upon the floors."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel & The Forever Guests

Buffalo Bill Cody
William Frederick Cody was born on February 26, 1846. He was born in what was called "Iowa Territory" and moved to Kansas when his family sold their farm and relocated to Fort Leavenworth. His father soon died and at the tender age of 11, with his family destitute, Bill Cody went to work with a freight carrier as a "Boy Extra" riding up and down the length of a wagon train delivering messages to the drivers and workmen. Two years later, he became a scout for the army and at the age of 13, killed his first Indian.

At the age of 14, Bill became a Pony Express Rider, a position he held until his mother became seriously ill and he returned home to care for her. She regained her health over the next several months and Bill left to work for a freight company delivering supplies to Fort Laramie. When the Civil War broke out, he tried to enlist in the army, but was refused due to his age so he continued working for the freight company until he was accepted into the army in 1863. Bill served until his discharge when the conflict ended in 1865. 

Upon his discharge, he made his way to Rochester, New York where he met and fell in love with Louisa Frederici. They married and eventually had 4 children, one of whom was a daughter they named Irma. After returning west to serve as a civilian scout for the army, Bill was involved in numerous battles with the Indians and he gained a reputation as a fearless combatant, even being awarded the Medal of Honor. The award would later be rescinded when the standards for receipt of the medal were changed to exclude civilians. When Bill wasn't fighting with the Indians, his job required him to hunt and kill bison to feed the army troops and workers for the Kansas Pacific Railroad who were building a rail line west. 

Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903
An expert shot and hunter, he killed 4,832 buffalo in 18 months, earning the nickname of "Buffalo Bill." A renown sharpshooter of the time, William Comstock, was traveling around the country performing shooting tricks under the name "Buffalo Bill" Comstock. The two Buffalo Bills agreed to a buffalo shooting contest to determine who would get to exclusively use the name. Over an 8-hour period, Cody shot and killed 68 bison to Comstock's 48. The legend of Buffalo Bill Cody had begun.

From 1872 to 1882, Buffalo Bill performed in his friend Ned Buntline's Wild West Show and in 1883, he created his own circus-like show he called Buffalo Bill's Wild West. With many of his friends like Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley as headliners, the show was a huge success and traveled across the U.S., Great Britain and Europe. In 1901, a train accident resulted in the death of 110 of the show's horses and injuries to a number of the human performers. Annie Oakley was so badly injured she was told by doctors she would never walk again. Through sheer will and determination, she recovered and even eventually returned to performing again, but the show had to shut down for a while and never recovered financially. It finally went bankrupt in 1908. 

Irma Cody
 In 1895 during the off-season for his show, Buffalo Bill, impressed with what he saw as the growth and economic potential in northwest Wyoming, came to the area and was instrumental in the founding of the town of Cody. Each year afterwards, he returned to assist in the continued development of the town and in 1902, he opened a hotel he named "The Irma" after his beloved daughter. He had one of the suites, #35, built and furnished to be his private, personal room and office for when he was in town. He called his place - "just the sweetest hotel that ever was" and often said if he could choose where he would spend eternity, it would be at The Irma.

Buffalo Bill died on January 10, 1917. Historical records indicate that not long after Bill's death, guests and workers began reporting odd things happening in the hotel. The reports have not stopped. Today, after several renovations and additions over the years, The Irma is still in business with 39 rooms and guests may stay in 15 of the original rooms, including #35, Bill's private suite. Interestingly, the new rooms are apparently left un-visited by any entities from beyond, but not so in the original rooms or in the restaurant which used to be the hotel's bar.

Guests in Suite 35 have reported hearing people talking and walking around in the room above them. The problem is, there is nothing but a slanted roof above Suite 35. Hotel staff have repeatedly reported hearing voices and people laughing in the room as they pass by on their nightly rounds, but no guests are registered for the room and upon unlocking the door and looking in, the noise abruptly stops. After investigating, they invariably find there is nobody inside. In several of the rooms, most notably #35, #29, and #16, the cleaning staff has reported making the beds with clean sheets, turning their attention elsewhere and within seconds looking at the bed again to see the bedclothes turned down or rumpled. Pictures hung securely on nails are often found to be on the floor - on the other side of the room far from where they would have fallen if they had just somehow slipped off. The hotel has a picture a man took of his wife sitting on the bed in Room #16.  They were alone in the room, but when the film was developed, it clearly showed another woman in the room with them - floating in the air above the wife. 

The Irma Hotel in 1908
Guests staying in a room alone have reported being awakened in the middle of the night by being touched lightly on the face or arm by a cold hand. One lady staying by herself in Room #35 marched down to the front desk to complain because the covers on the bed were pulled down firmly enough to land on the floor. Night personnel are accustomed to guests in the original rooms coming down at night requesting to be moved to a different room for various reasons that are hard to explain - rocking chairs which start rocking on their own, the sound of swishing petticoats going from one side of the room to the other, TV's and lights turning on and off by themselves, water faucets turning on and off with no help from a living human hand, uncomfortable feelings of being watched and of not being alone and dark shapes "caught out of the corner of my eye." 

In the restaurant, staff have for years reported seeing a man walk in and take a seat in one of the booths, but when the waitress goes over to take his order, the man has disappeared. Numerous times, night staff have reported seeing a man dressed in old-west cavalry clothes moving in the halls of the original building. He seems to be floating however as only the top half of his body can be seen. No records of who he may be have ever been uncovered.

Perhaps old Buffalo Bill did manage to choose where he would spend eternity. Maybe he just occasionally returns to check on his investment. In its heyday, The Irma saw many of the famous and infamous as guests. Perhaps some of their spirits checked in, but never checked out of "just the sweetest hotel there ever was."

Author's note:
Front entrance of The Irma Hotel
About a year ago, this blog's author, with his wife and daughter, spent the night in room #29, one of the original rooms which is supposedly haunted. The room itself was furnished in period furniture with a number of interesting old photographs on the wall. The mattresses were new and very comfortable in their antique wooden bed-frames. The carpet was rather old and the floor took an unsettling rather sharp dip down along the entire outside wall.  Walking across the large room resulted in creaks, squeaks and pops from the wooden floor under the carpet.  After checking out everything and unpacking our overnight items, we left to explore the town and get some supper. 

The room the author & his
 family stayed in
Returning a few hours later, we found our room to be exactly as we had left it. Our teenage daughter settled in her bed on one side of the room with her iPhone and computer while we lay down on our bed with our books. After a long day of driving and walking around the town, it didn't take long for all of us to agree it was time to turn out the lights and get to sleep.

We had just gotten comfortable when from the enclosed bathroom just about 4 feet from us there came a loud noise. I got up to investigate and upon turning on the light in the bathroom, found my shaving kit to be sitting on the floor. There's nothing fancy or different about my kit than any other kit out there - a fake leather zippered bag just big enough to hold a toothbrush, a razor, a few toiletries and several other overnight necessities. When I had finished brushing my teeth that night, I had set it firmly on the back of the sink away from the edge where it might have a chance of falling off or getting knocked off, but fall off it did - evidently. I picked it up, took it back into the room with me, sat it on the dresser next to the bed and turned out the lights again.

A few minutes later, we heard another sound from the bathroom; like something had once again fallen. Feeling a bit more perplexed and yes, a bit more unsettled and wary, I carefully and slowly reached inside the bathroom and turned on the light. There in the middle of the floor was a packaged bar of Irma Hotel soap! There were built-in shelves to the side of the tub which held the towels and on one of the shelves was a little wicker basket holding a couple of bars of soap, and bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The basket, still sitting upright with all of its other contents in place, was deep enough that the soap was below the top edge and there was absolutely no way that bar of soap could have been jostled or tipped over and fallen to the floor. At least no way for it to happen according to the laws of physics as I know them! Plus, the soap was laying in the middle of the floor close to the door several feet from where it would have landed if it had just fallen out.

Note the shelves & basket with
soap & toiletries
I've never actually seen a ghost or a spirit, but at that moment in that room, I admit I was a bit unnerved. I picked up the soap half expecting it to feel really cold or hot or somehow different, but there was nothing remarkable about it. Before turning to leave the room with the soap in my hand, I did something I felt kind of stupid for doing - I said out loud, "Stop it! We just want to get a good night's sleep and we'll be gone in the morning so behave and leave us alone for the rest of the night!" My wife asked from the bed, "Who are you talking to?" "The ghost or spirit or whatever is throwing things on the floor," I replied. "Right, that will work" she said with a nervous chuckle.

It evidently did work though. We both lay there in the dark, holding hands, legs touching for mutual assurance everything was OK, but we never heard anything else or felt a cold hand on our faces. After what seemed like an hour or more, I could tell from her breathing my wife had fallen asleep. I lay there with wide-open eyes, listening for noises, waiting for something else to fall on the floor, all senses on high alert for the feeling of an unseen presence, some danger I would have to protect my family from. I'm not sure how long I lay awake, but sometime in the night I drifted off. The next thing I knew light was coming in the window and the darkness had passed. Leaving the door open, we quickly brushed our teeth and took care of all the other morning bathroom functions, but by mutual agreement, with the Psycho shower scene for some reason playing over and over in our heads, the wife and I decided we really hadn't gotten dirty yesterday and it would be OK to skip our morning showers. We'll take 'em tonight when we stop at some other place.

The bar of soap - touched by a spirit?
We gathered up our things and checked out. The front desk guy asked if we had had a good night. I answered, "Yes, everything was fine." He looked at me kind of funny so I said, "Why do you ask?"  "Oh," he replied, "sometimes our guests who stay in the same room you guys did report some strange stuff." "Nope," I lied, "nothing unusual at all. Slept just fine." "Very good," he smiled. And with that, we put the Irma Hotel in our rear view mirror.

I kept that bar of soap and brought it home with us. It sits on my desk in my home office. Sometimes I pick it up and wonder. It has never thrown itself down to the floor again and it still feels like just another bar of hotel soap. But I know it's not.