If you're looking to really be scared this Halloween, then put away those rented horror movies and throw away your tickets to the local school turned haunted house. Instead, travel to a place where headless ghosts roam free, abandoned prisons remain almost untouched and ghost towns are alive with spirits. For a truly terrifying and frighteningly fun Halloween, come to Arizona, where its “Wild West” history has made it a hotbed for ghostly activity.

Arizona’s Haunted Hotels

The Gadsden Hotel, Douglas

The Gadsden Hotel is home to a headless ghost who has been seen in the hallways and in the basement. Some believe it to be the ghost of Pancho Villa. The five-story hotel was built in 1907 and later burned, only to be rebuilt in 1929. In 1988, it was restored and it was at about this time that the ghost started showing up. Employees, staff members and guests alike have seen a rather startling apparition wearing old-fashioned, khaki army clothing and a cloth cap perched on its headless shoulders.

The Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff

The Hotel Monte Vista opened on New Year’s Day of 1927. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was a popular spot for Hollywood guests as more than 100 Westerns were filmed nearby. Some guests included Bing Crosby, Jane Russell, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and many others. One of the ghosts here is that of a phantom bellboy who knocks on doors and then vanishes. This annoying phantom has been experienced by dozens of guests over the years and he is joined by the ghost of a woman who has been seen outside of the Zane Grey suite and a man who endlessly paces in one of the rooms. He is often reported coughing and clearing his throat. Another ghost, a former bank robber, is said to haunt the saloon. 

San Carlos Hotel, Phoenix

The hotel was built in the 1920s on the site of the first elementary school in Phoenix. Some believe the place is so haunted because of a well that was dug for the school in 1874. This well tapped into a spring that had been considered sacred by the Native Americans for centuries. The well still operates in the hotel basement today.

One resident spirit is believed to be that of Leone Jensen, who committed suicide at the hotel in 1928 by jumping off the roof of the seven-story building. She is encountered as a white, cloudy figure who is often accompanied by an eerie moaning noise. And she is not alone.... the noisy ghosts of three young boys have been reported running through the halls and the inexplicable sounds of children playing are sometimes heard coming from within empty rooms.

Arizona’s Haunted Prison

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Yuma

The first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma, Arizona on July 1, 1876. They were locked into cells that they had constructed with their own hands. In the coming 33 years, a total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived in the prison. Their crimes ranged from murder to polygamy, with grand larceny being the most common. During that time, 111 of the prisoners died, mostly from tuberculosis, but even so, the stories say that some of them never left this place, even in death.

Remains of the prison include cells, an entrance gate and a guard tower. A museum at the park houses artifacts and interpretive displays of prison life a century ago. Park hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Entrance fee is $4 for visitors 14 or older. Those 13 or younger get in free.

Arizona’s Ghostly Towns

Williams

Williams, coined by the International Ghost Hunters Society as “Arizona’s Living Ghost Town,” was founded in the late 1800s by ranchers, railroaders and lumbermen. The town developed a reputation as a rough and rowdy frontier town by the turn of the century. Its saloons, brothels, opium dens and gambling houses catered to the cowboy, logger, Chinese laborer and railroad worker seeking entertainment. Many of these businesses of vice and pleasure were restricted by ordinance to Railroad Avenue's “Saloon Row.”

While bunking down at the Red Garter Bed & Bakery you will not only sleep alongside a rich history, but perhaps a resident ghost. The century-old building that houses the Red Garter has been a saloon, a bordello, a rooming house, a general store and more.

Guests and staff have reported signs of ghostly activity, such as the sound of footsteps when no one is around, doors mysteriously slamming and strange “clunking” noises heard throughout the building. Some guests have even reported seeing the mysterious visitor, describing her as a Hispanic girl with long dark hair and dressed in a white nightgown.

Bisbee

Bisbee is thought to be one of the most haunted towns in Southern Arizona. Founded in the late 1800s as a mining town, Bisbee has seen its share of mining accidents, barroom brawling gone bad and tragedy in general. This has paved the way for a veritable cornucopia of hauntings, sightings and other miscellaneous paranormal activity.

Visitors can take a walking tour of the 125-year-old town. The 90-minute guided Old Bisbee Ghost Tour tells the stories of local haunts, including Nat the miner who owed money and paid with his life, and the lady in white, who saved three children’s lives. Private tours are available upon request.

(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2009)