Ever since I was a little girl and would go see western movies with my dad at the Tacora Theater in Aurora, I have been interested in American history, the Wild West, the gold rush, and ghost towns. …
Ever since I was a little girl and would go see western movies with my dad at the Tacora Theater in Aurora, I have been interested in American history, the Wild West, the gold rush, and ghost towns. In 2004, I started watching the TV series Deadwood on HBO. The series, based on many real-life characters was set in 1870s Deadwood, S. D. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Charlie Utter, George Hearst and the two main characters Seth Bullock and his partner Sol Star brought history to life. They would later build what today is the Bullock Hotel, the jewel of Deadwood.
Seth Bullock was born in Canada in 1849 and at age 16 he ran away from home and lived with his sister in Montana. He became savvy in business and politics eventually becoming a senator. Together with Theodore Roosevelt, he was influential in the formation of Yellowstone National Park. They became loyal friends, with Roosevelt inviting Bullock to his presidential inauguration years later in 1905. While in Montana, Bullock had partnered with Solomon Star to form The Star & Bullock Auctioneers and Commission Merchants, then decided that the business would prosper in the booming camp of Deadwood, so in 1876 they headed east with all their hardware supplies, arriving one day before the murder of Wild Bill. They purchased the property on the corner of Main and Wall Streets setting up a tent at first and then operating the Star and Bullock Hardware Store that would eventually, after the ravages of a fire, become the site of the Bullock Hotel built in 1895 at a cost of $40,000. It is said to have had 63 sleeping rooms with brass beds and oak furnishings and was considered to be one of the first luxury hotels of its time. In his lifetime he served as a Rough Rider under Roosevelt, a U.S. Marshall and the first sheriff of Deadwood, because of the camps demand for law and order. He had an imposing appearance with steel gray eyes and a big mustache. Seth Bullock died of cancer in 1909 in Deadwood at age 70 leaving behind a wife and three children. He is buried on top of a hill in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. It is also the burial place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane whose graves are together.
For many years I wanted to travel to “historic and haunted” Deadwood to see places I’d read stories about. Finally in 2010 my “then” husband, son, and I made the trip. We went in early June before masses of tourists filled the venues and before it got unbearably hot. We stopped and visited the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore and other “must see” places on our way. I will never forget arriving in Deadwood, driving down the brick-paved Main Street with all the historic buildings and unique storefronts. I was thrilled to finally be there and I was in a state of expectation for our two-night stay at the Bullock Hotel because it had the reputation of being haunted.
There are many ghost stories reflecting the colorful and rich history of Deadwood in general and the hotel is a known attraction to paranormal investigators and spooky- adventure seekers. In 2015 the hotel was even featured on a special Halloween episode of ghost adventures! The hotel that stands today finished a renovation in 1993 recreating the original atmosphere and decor based on historic detail, with the lobby that featured velvet-like carpeting and brass chandeliers.
There are many stories from employees and hotel guests who claim the smell of lilac, roses and cigar smoke is often noticed throughout the hotel, with the cigar smell being very strong in room 211, the room that used to be Seth Bullocks. The cleaning staff reports that carts used to carry supplies between rooms will often be moved to another location from where they had left it. Staff has also reported that after changing a roll of toilet tissue they will go back into the room to find all of the paper scattered throughout, with the empty spool still on the holder. According to many guests who have left accounts of their experiences in a thick notebook on the front check-in counter, there have been numerous sightings of Seth Bullock himself. They report seeing his tall ghostly figure in many areas of the hotel including the restaurant. At one time a staircase connected the bar and restaurant to the floors above. It was located behind the bar and on one account a bartender quit his job and fled after seeing the ghost of Bullock standing at the end of the bar. Perhaps he had traveled from his room above to check on the diligence of working staff below, said to be something he did on a regular basis. Aside from apparitions, plates and glasses are known to shake or fly, furniture is moved, appliances randomly turn on as do the showers in guest’s rooms. Many guests have heard their names called or been tapped on the shoulder or heard disembodied footsteps in the hallway. The hotel offers a ghost tour for those to want to hear more about the colorful past and see the places where some of the paranormal activity occurs. There is never a dull moment at the legendary Bullock Hotel!
The basement of the hotel is named Seth’s Cellar and at one time served as a smallpox ward, housing many sick residents from town. Numerous reports revolve around sightings of a little girl named Sarah and her mother who was a local prostitute. Both had been patients in the makeshift hospital. Sarah reportedly watched her mother die just before she herself was taken by the disease. There is a story from an employee who had worked at the hotel for many years and claims that while they were preparing a party on the lower-level and filling helium balloons, the balloons were all clinging to the ceiling but occasionally one would quickly come down, then rise up as if someone were tugging on it. Perhaps it was little Sarah playing a prank. That account also claims that during the party all of the balloons popped at one time. In the past there was a piano located in the basement and people reported they would hear it being played when there was no one downstairs.
We stayed in a corner room on the second floor, but it was not room 211. I definitely sensed a presence and in fact, I would not undress and take a shower as I wondered who might be peering at me! I admit sleep was also short on both nights of my stay. On one evening my son and I went out into the hallways to take pictures with our phones. We wanted to see if we could capture any orbs (balls of spiritual energy), and we were not disappointed. Many orbs of varying sizes appeared in our photographs. These were different looking than those caused by light interference. I am particularly “spooked” by my own Seth Bullock apparition.....captured when I took a picture of a dresser in a hallway, revealing a mustached face in the lower right corner of the mirror. It was not apparent at the time I snapped the pic! To add more to the story, while we were out taking photos my husband was in our room resting on the bed and reported that the door which had been locked, slowly opened giving him an eerie feeling...because no one was there.
If you are intrigued by the paranormal and interested in history, a trip to Deadwood should be on your bucket list. You still have a few days remaining before Halloween and there may be vacancies at the Bullock Hotel. Go have a cocktail in the bar and unwind…perhaps Seth himself will join you. You could also attend “Deadweird”, the annual Halloween celebration. This could be the most “spooktacular” Halloween of a lifetime.
Sources for this column were taken from: legends of america.com and rockymountainparanormal.com.
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