Thursday, August 30, 2012

Those Dam Ghost!

Searching for Spirits at the Boulder Dam Hotel

Recently, I spent some time at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, NV.  Boulder City lies a mere 30 minutes south of bustling Las Vegas but it may as well be hundreds of miles.  As one of the two municipalities in Nevada that prohibits gambling, it serves as a refuge from the sound of slot machines and the glare of flashing lights so common in the state's gambling mecca.

The hotel itself was named after the famous Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) and was built in 1933.  It is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.  It's a Colonial Revival style hotel located on Arizona street, in the center of old Boulder City.

The hotel has seen its ups and downs.  In its heyday of the 40s and 50s, the hotel saw many illustrious visitors including Boris Karloff, Shirley Temple, and Howard Hughes, who spent time recuperating at the hotel after wrecking his Sikorsky S-43 on Lake Mead.  On the down side, the hotel was condemned in the early 1980s and came very close to being torn down.  The landmark was saved from destruction and eventually purchased by the Boulder Dam Hotel Association.  It took over two million dollars and several years to renovate the hotel.  Fortunately, much of its original charm has been maintained.  The lobby, decorated in rich colors harkens back to the historic period of the hotel's construction.  The rooms, 22 in all, are simple and comfortable.

Like many historic properties, the Boulder Dam Hotel has gained a reputation over the years for housing a number of ghost.  Unlike most locations however, the hotel does not try to capitalize on the spirits.  In fact, it actively discourages any idea that the hotel is or may be haunted, and a warm reception can quickly turn cold if you begin asking questions related to the reported hauntings.

I arrived at the hotel late and found that the night clerk was friendly and talkative with many years experience working at the hotel.  When I turned the conversation to the topic of ghost, he responded with a chuckle and informed me that the stories of the hotel's haunting were absolutely not true.  While he was not rude about the subject like some of the staff, he was adamant and stated several times that the hotel had no spirits.  According to this clerk, there had been no murders or strange deaths in the hotel and the entire basis for tales of hauntings came from the visit of a psychic in the 1980s.  He was sketchy on the details, but did inform me that there was a book that offered more details.  The book, he informed me, was available in the gift shop at the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, housed in the hotel.

I roamed the hotel a bit late that night.  It's a small building and I found that sounds easily carry from room to room and out into the hallways.  There's a basement of course but it doesn't really stand out as anything the least bit creepy or interesting.  One other night owl was out in the hallway and greeted me with a brief hello.  His name was Dan and he told me he rarely slept more than a couple of hours at a time.  He traveled through Nevada on a regular basis and preferred to stay in Boulder City where it was quiet.  I jokingly asked him if he'd ever seen any ghost while at the hotel.  He smiled and replied, "No, and you'd think if they were here that I would have seen them since I'm up so late.  At least it would keep things interesting".

Dan was right about the quiet nature of Boulder City.  I walked around downtown that night and though an occasional car passed by but there was no one else on the streets.  It was hard to believe that this reserved little town was so close to the nightlife of Las Vegas.

The next day, I made my way to the Boulder Dam Museum and gift shop, located inside the Hotel.  I intended to purchase a copy of the book the night clerk had mentioned.  "Midnight on Arizona Street: The Secret Life of the Boulder Dam Hotel" was written by Dennis McBride.  The book contains a history of the hotel, including a full chapter detailing its hauntings.  The woman at the Museum's front desk was all smiles until I told her why I was there.  I had no sooner uttered the title that I was looking for when her smile quickly became the stern, unapproving glare of an ill tempered librarian.  She quickly informed me that the title I was looking for was NOT carried by the museum, nor could it be found anywhere in Boulder City that she was aware of.  She further informed me that they carried historical books related to Hoover Dam and coldly pointed to a shelf that displayed said titles.  Having worn out my welcome in record time, I turned to leave the museum.  I'd taken no more than two steps out of the gift shop when I overheard the woman calling the hotel manager.  Clearly irritated, she informed the person on the other end of the phone that the museum manager had removed Mr. McBride's book from the store and that the night clerk needed to be reminded immediately that the title was NOT available.

While much of the country has taken to the paranormal craze, it seems that Boulder City, at least parts of it, firmly resists such interest.  The cold attitude of hotel employees made me all the more interested to find more information related to any possible hauntings.  I casually spoke to other members of the hotel staff, careful to not make spirits the main focus of my chat.  While most of the staff stuck to the party line and gave me, almost verbatim, the same response regarding any hauntings, I did find other opinions.  One hotel employee informed me that there were on occasion strange incidents in the hotel that could not be explained.  Items moved and there were cold spots and whispered voices when no one was present.

At a nearby restaurant, I ran into a former employee of the hotel who was more open with her opinions of the hotel's ghosts.  She reported that two rooms in particular had always made her feel uneasy. 
"Rooms 209 and 219 always gave me the creeps.  I always felt like someone else was in the room with me, or that I was being watched."

So, what's the real story?  Are there indeed spirits lurking in the Boulder Dam Hotel?  Perhaps.  It's possible for any building to hold residual energy and some people are simply more aware of such things.  With the famous people and historic events that have taken place in the area, there could certainly be something remaining.  It's unlikely though that anything of a paranormal nature is going on at the hotel.  Their rude attitude towards the paranormal doesn't earn them any points but at least the owners are being honest in their belief and not trying to capitalize on false claims or manufactured ghost. 

If you're interested in an interesting bit of history, Boulder City is worth at least a day trip to see the Hoover Dam.  It is after all, one of the country's greatest feats of engineering.  If you decide to spend the night at the Boulder Dam hotel, enjoy the historic atmosphere and snap a few photos, there's no telling what you might catch.  Just don't try to get information out of the hotel's staff or you may catch a lot of flak about the Dam ghost!

Dennis McBride's book, Midnight on Arizona Street can be found on