Celebrities staying at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas have been many. But the names come more from the past than the present.
Lee Marvin, Shelly Winters and even Pancho Villa have come through the hotel’s historic doors — Villa riding his horse into the lobby and up the majestic marble staircase.
This time of year, though, it’s not accounts of these guests that draw attention. Rather, it’s the hotel’s many ghosts — Sarah, Jonathan, "the Indian Boy" and "the Headless Man." These apparitions, whose histories remain mysteries, are among the disembodied souls documented in Tempe resident Ellen Robson’s new book, "Haunted Arizona: Ghosts of the Grand Canyon State" ($12.95, Golden West Publishing).
"There is certainly plenty of room in that hotel for ghosts to hide," Robson said of the 160-room Gadsden built in 1907.
Hotel manager Robin Brekhus found one of those ghosts hiding in the basement on Friday, March 13, 1991. The time was 4:10 p.m. and the hotel’s power had failed. Going into the basement in search of candles, Brekhus came upon the faceless figure of a man. "He kind of floated down the hallway," Brekhus said. "It just looked like fog to me, but it was the shape of a person."
In traveling the state researching her book, Robson found similar stories that compelled her to write the book. Her favorite tale was of two Victorian women who were seen at what is now Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix.
"The theater used to be divided into three parts," Robson said. A bakery, an apartment and a theater were once housed there. As Robson understands it, Bob, the baker, did his work at night, and one evening he spotted two women dressed in Victorian garb, watching him. Recognizing them as ghosts, Bob introduced himself. In time, Bob moved on to another job but the women returned, asking about their friend. The building’s owner told them he left and they departed, never to be seen again.
"It was (the building’s owner) belief that there had been an antique store there at one time and the women had brought some antiques over from England," Robson said. Why their souls stayed, however, remains a mystery.
"Everybody finds ghost stories fascinating," Robson said. She got hooked on Arizona spooks while researching a cookbook featuring the recipes of diners along Route 66.
At one New Mexico diner, Robson and the co-author of that book, Dianne Halicki, learned of the eatery’s ghost and changed their plan.
"It was more fun than a bunch of recipes that we were going to have to test and gain 20 pounds doing," she said.
"Haunted Highways" was their joint venture. With "Haunted Arizona," Robson struck out on her own.
"In many cases these ghosts become like members of the family," she said.
And perhaps the best kind, as they need neither to be clothed nor fed.