By Tim Gaynor
DOUGLAS, Arizona (Reuters) - Manager Robin Brekhus was skeptical about her Arizona hotel's supernatural history until the day she went to the basement in search of candles during a power outage and glimpsed a figure in a long duster coat and cowboy hat in the beam of her flashlight.
"It was like he wanted me to make eye contact with him and acknowledge that I saw him," she said, recalling how she then sprinted up the steps to the spacious lobby with its Italianate columns and Tiffany & Co. stained glass mural - a new believer.
In its heyday in the early decades of the last century, the lobby of the Gadsden Hotel was known as the "living room" of the remote Arizona ranching town of Douglas, hosting cattle barons, cowboys and executives from the local copper mining industry.
While many hotels in the United States claim ghosts, staff and guests at the Gadsden have recorded scores of supernatural encounters from the top floor right down to the maze-like basement - not just at Halloween, but year round.
This Halloween, the hotel is embracing its haunted history as never before, with a visiting blues band from Tennessee set to play at a bash in the lobby. Guests can come dressed up or not, and ghosts are more than welcome.
The 160-room Gadsden Hotel, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1907, but was badly damaged by a fire, and reopened in 1929. Since then, little has changed.
The lobby retains the original white marble steps leading to the large mezzanine, up which Mexican bandit-turned-revolutionary Pancho Villa once reportedly rode his horse.
Visitors ride one of the oldest manual elevators west of the Mississippi to their rooms, many fitted out with original furnishings, aging drapes and pictures that recall the hotel's bustling heyday.
Many of the alleged supernatural encounters have been recorded by guests themselves and are kept in two binders behind the front desk. Accounts include televisions turning on and off in Room 333, supposedly the most haunted, and mysterious knocks coming from radiators.
"My heart almost came out of my chest," one guest wrote of her experience. "But then I thought ‘Pray the Hail Mary,' all was fine."
In another testimonial, a guest reported hearing a key turning in a lock, then two figures walking into the room "as if they just finished a day of shopping." Then they were gone.
One woman visitor wrote of something pulling on her hair during the night, while another said she felt someone "sit on the edge of the bed, then ... felt pressure as the person laid down next to me."
"She came down the next morning and said, ‘You know what? It felt like someone got in bed with me,'" deputy manager Brenda Maley recalled as she stood in the spacious sunlit lobby.
Maley, who said a ghost once pinned her to a bed in room 114, said she apologized and offered up a new room. But the woman happily declined.
Television paranormal sleuths and amateur ghost hunters have probed the Gadsden, some toting thermal image cameras. Enthusiasts have also sent in photographs of purported paranormal phenomena, including an eerie snap of a shadowy translucent cowboy sitting on a couch in the lobby.
But not all guests are believers: "The only thing haunted about Room 333 is the toilet, which won't stop running," wrote one skeptic.
Some newer staff are a little uncomfortable. Ana Yanez, a server in the Cattleman's Coffee Shop, said she hears coffee spoons tinkling sometimes, and shudders at the thought of working the front desk "graveyard shift" at night.
But for Maley, who has worked at the hotel for 36 years, the ghosts provide company in an isolated town.
"You get used to it," she said. "You would be lonely without them."
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)