Ghosts, Phantoms and Apparitions

Haunted Deserts

By Sandy Shaw

Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone,

Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, AZ Photo By RE Hawkins, CC BY-SA 3.0


The Birdcage Theater, Tombstone, Arizona.

My daughter stood at the doorway just inside the theater and the color drained from her face. "What's the matter, Anna? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

"I only wish you were wrong, Mom," she replied. I had never seen her so distraught as she begged for us to leave.

"You can't be serious, Anna! I just paid full admission for the both of us to come in here, and this was something we both wanted to visit! Look at all this great stuff! Just think.... Doc was here, Wyatt..."

"Mom, I want to go. Now!" Her face spoke of something otherworldly of which only she was aware. It took quite a bit of coercing to convince her it was just her imagination playing tricks and to just forget about it and enjoy the museum. But my efforts only took hold for a minute or two.



As she gazed up into the box seats where ladies had once entertained their paying customers, a look came over Anna's face I had never seen. In a flash, she fled the Birdcage without hesitation and didn't look back.

I followed quickly to catch up, letting the door slam shut behind me and echo into the silent cavern where history seemed caught in a loop. "What the heck is going on?" I demanded to know.

"We were not alone in there, Mom."

"The caretaker told me we were the first visitors this morning. But even so, it's a museum, dear. There are going to be other people arriving."

"No. Not people, Mom. Ghosts."


"Yes, Mom.... ghosts." The look on her face told me she was dead serious. My daughter had seen something she couldn't explain and felt the presence of the ghosts that haunt the Birdcage. Only after doing some research did I find out that Anna was not the first to become aware of such entities in what was, in its day, one of the wildest places in the west, with its saloon, casino, dance hall, prostitutes and theater.

The Birdcage Theater is indeed reportedly haunted. Hundreds of visitors through the years have recounted hearing people singing and talking in the box seats above the stage. There are dozens of testimonies by tourists and employees of seeing people wearing clothing from the 1800s, and there are a number of accounts of a man wearing a visor walking across the stage.

Is it no wonder the past reverberates within these walls? Sixteen gunfights, numerous deaths, and 140 bullet holes in the ceiling and walls record a reckless past. And apparently some of those who died still remain.

But while checking into the paranormal history of the Birdcage, I discovered it was not the only place in town to boast specters. For Tombstone is loaded with stories of spirits.

On a trip to southeastern Arizona, you just might want to bring your infrared film, an open mind, and plan to spend a night or two in Tombstone. Here are some of the local legends you might hope to experience for yourself... if you're lucky...

The Aztec House Antique Shop
Although there seem to be a number of different spirits drawn to the antiquities within these walls, one particular apparition of a woman in a long white dress has been seen in the street in front of the shop. This ghost has even blocked traffic!

Big Nose Kate's Saloon
Doc Holliday lived upstairs here in room 201. Today the ghosts of cowboys are sometimes observed standing in the doorways, sitting at the bar, and roaming through the building.

Nellie Cashman's Restaurant
Busy ghosts here sometimes move objects and make crashing noises. This has been observed by both employees and guests.

Wells Fargo Bank Building
Stagecoach drivers and cowboys caught in a moment of time continue to replay their past here. One particular ghost of a man wearing a frock coat crosses the street and always vanishes before he gets to the other side.

Shieffelin Hall
A busy haunt for those who just can't seem to rest in peace, these ghosts seem to be most active during town hall meetings. Perhaps they enjoy the company!

Boot Hill Cemetery
Last but not least, this graveyard, filled with colorful characters who lost their lives under less than peaceful circumstances, boasts a number of spirits that just couldn't take death as the final word. Perhaps this is how Tombstone became known as "The Town Too Tough To Die."

Tombstone, however, is not the only haunted place on our southwestern map. Employees and visitors of numerous hotels, restaurants, ghost towns and even open camping areas throughout our desert region are dead serious when they say these places are haunted. And we think October is the perfect month to visit! The extreme summer temperatures have cooled, and both days and nights are mild. And with Halloween just around the corner, there just seems to be "something in the air."

Other Haunts in the Desert Southwest

Dragoon Mountains
Between the Dragoons and the town of Wilcox, Arizona, a phantom train makes its trek across the plains. This phantom locomotive has been both seen and heard by scores of people throughout the years. Trouble is, there never was a train that ran these parts, and there is no track. It is known as the Phantom Train of Dragoon.

Dragoon Mountains in Arizona. by DenisTangneyJr from Getty Images Signature

Dragoon Mountains in Arizona. by DenisTangneyJr from Getty Images Signature

Located in the copper mining town of Bisbee, the Clawson House Inn claims four ghosts. Mrs. Clawson is said to haunt the grounds, as well as three miners who were murdered at the small inn in the 1890s. Besides the Clawson ghosts, the Oliver House Bed and Breakfast is the residence of five spirits. Originally a mine office, this building became a boarding house and a colorful history evolved. Reportedly, most of the ghostly activity takes place in the area surrounding Room 13.

There is a good reason that Jerome is known as a Ghost Town. A number of buildings in the town are haunted, so if you are up for a day of ghost hunting, this would be a good place to look. The United Verde Hospital on Cleopatra Hill is loaded with apparitions and unexplainable noises. Moans and other frightening sounds reverberate through the hallways, and ghostly figures float through the corridors.

Phelps Dodge Mine near Jerome State Historical Park is home to Headless Charlie, the ghost of a miner who apparently "lost his head." The Community Center has so many ghosts that it is locally known as Spook Hall. The Old Company Clinic houses ghosts of former patients, doctors and nurses. And often, just around dusk, a phantom spirit is seen standing in doorways of the Old Episcopal Church.

In 1928, 22-year-old Leone Jensen, distraught over a broken love affair, jumped to her death from the roof of the then new San Carlos Hotel on North Central Avenue. Her white, floating form still roams the grounds. There are also reports of children running through hallways, and the sounds of laughing children coming from within the rooms. This might be explained by the fact that the hotel was built on the site of the first elementary school in the city.

Superstition Mountains - Lost Dutchman State Park. Photo by Jim Brown from Getty Images.
Superstition Mountains - Lost Dutchman State Park. Photo by Jim Brown from Getty Images.

Superstition Mountains
The famous Lost Dutchman Mine has countless stories and legends of not only prospectors searching for gold, but of early Spanish explorers, Mexicans in their quest for treasures, and of the Thunder God the Apaches say lives in a cave of gold. More than 75 people have lost their lives searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine through the years, some of them tragically and involving murder. Ghosts abound in the Superstitions. The Lost Dutchman Mine State Park is located outside of Phoenix, five miles east of Apache Junction on Highway 88.



The ghost of Tom Kelly has been seen in the Bottle House of the once prosperous mining-town-turned-ghost-town Rhyolite, Nevada. Several other spooks make their presence known here at times, especially around the empty vault at the old ruins of the Cook Bank Building. Rhyolite is approximately 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas off U.S. Highway 95 on Highway 374.

New Mexico

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is another city loaded with ghostly lore, almost too numerous to list. Hauntings are reported at the La Posada Hotel on East Palace Avenue, the Night Sky Gallery on Canyon Road, the Laguna Pueblo Mission, the Grant Corner Inn (especially Rooms 4 and 8), the Church of San Miguel, La Fonda Hotel, the Three Sisters Boutique and the Legal Tender Restaurant and Saloon located in the central part of town. A phantom headless horseman is reported to roam Alto Street, riding down to the Santa Fe River.

Along U.S. Highway 666, also known as the Highway to Hell, a ghost car has appeared during full moons and reportedly run other cars off the road. Another apparition of a mad trucker roams the highway, and the phantom of a girl in a nightgown vanishes from sight when motorists stop to help her. Extra caution should be taken when traveling on this spooky route.


Death Valley

The ghost of old Joe Simpson, hanged by a lynch mob for murdering the town banker, wanders what is left of the town Skidoo. The only items marking this gold mining town now are a cemetery, a mill, the abandoned mines.... and Joe. Skidoo is located off California Highway 190 south of Stovepipe Wells.

Joshua Tree
Besides being a lively area for UFO sightings, ghostly apparitions have been reported wandering the the sacred Wind Cave near Barker Tank in the Moronga Valley.

Quite a different ghostly tale, there is a phantom of a very large 7-foot-high deer that has been spotted time and again by hunters in the Kelso Valley area. This giant stag makes no sound and leaves no footprints.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
There are many haunted desert sites in California, with a great number of them located within the confines of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. For the full story of apparitions and spirits haunting this area of the Colorado Desert Click Here.

With a little luck, you might have more than a ghost of a chance this Halloween season of running into one of our desert's apparitions. Happy Ghost Hunting and Happy Halloween!

Angel Nellie Cashman
Haunted Desert
Wyatt Earp



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