The Lodge at Cloudcroft, looking for answers

the Lodge at Cloudcroft

In the beginning, the ghost stories of Rebecca were not told outside of the Lodge because previous owners believed that having a ghost would be bad for business. Therefore they kept the stories quiet. Buddy Ritter, who owned the lodge between 1959 to 1973 is quoted and an El Paso Times article on October 31st, 1984 as saying many strange things used to happen at the Lodge but he never attributed them to Rebecca. “I knew of the Rebecca Legend, but I never played it up because I didn’t want to frighten anybody.” Although the ghost is not mentioned by Lodge historian Dorothy Neal in her 1969  book “The Lodge, 1899 – 1969”,  the flirtatious apparition has been seen by employees and guests alike over the years.

When Jerry Sanders purchased the Lodge in 1983, he saw the potential business a ghost might bring in and began to promote the red-haired, blue-eyed apparition, eventually naming the Lodge’s restaurant after her.

Rebecca

There are four basic variants of the Rebecca Legend. In the first, Rebecca is murdered by a railroad executive. After rejecting his advances he throws her from the tower and buries her body in the basement. A few early stories of this version also suggest that the executive is actually one of the owners or managers of the Lodge.

In the second variant, Rebecca was a chambermaid who worked at the Lodge in the 1930s. Her Lumberjack boyfriend returned unexpectedly to find her in the arms of another man. In a fit of rage and jealousy, he murdered her and buried her body somewhere in the basement.

The third variant is similar but identifies the Governor’s Suite as the site for the murder. The fourth variant is similar to the first

two except that her Lumberjack boyfriend drags her off into the woods where he kills her and the dismembers her body. The animals eat her remains, leaving no trace of her.

Typically when a ghost story has many versions, it is a strong indicator that myth building has taken place. This happens as a story is told from one person to the next. With each retelling, elements are added or deleted which creates the multiple versions. The most effective way to sort this out is to examine the stories in chronological order.

The oldest mention of the ghost that I could locate was reported in the Kokomo Tribune on October 28th, 2000. It describes a story that occurred in sometime in 1976.

 

“The Lodge has a spirit,” said Marty Mills, the hotel’s Recreation Director. ” I’m not just talking about Rebecca. I don’t know much about the paranormal, but there is a presence here.”

 

Mills, 49, has been feeling that presence at the Lodge and seeing things she can explain for a lot of years.

 

Her father managed The Lodge’s golf course in the 1960s, so she was playing in the hotel’s dimly lit and creaky corridors and searching for its rumored subterranean passageways when she was just 13 or so.

 

The stories Mills doesn’t know about the Lodge, and its ghost are the ones people have been too frightened to tell. And after thinking through all of the stories she has heard, she has come to one conclusion.

 

“If you believe in the spirit whether you call it Rebecca or whatever, the spirit will leave you alone,” Mills said. ” if you do good for the Lodge, you’re OK. But you better not push the spirit’s buttons.”

 

Somebody must be punching buttons now and again because hotel staff members and guests report seeing Rebecca’s ghostly manifestation, or tell about toilets that flush themselves, ashtrays that move by themselves and champagne glasses that shatter without apparent reason.

 

And then, of course, that was the case of mysterious mixed up golf carts.

 

“In 1976, I was 26 and had just started here as director of recreation,” Mills said. “My sister and I would come to work here in the morning, about dawn. There was the shed here about full of golf carts, and when we unlocked it, we would find that all the carts had been moved around and jammed together so tight you could hardly budge them. That wasn’t how we left them the night before.”

 

Mills was telling the story at her post in the Pro Shop at The Lodge’s Golf Course, which, at 9000 feet, is one of the highest in the world. The shop and the first tee are just a few yards out the back door of the hotel, built-in 1911.

 

It was a bright, warm Sunday morning, the kind of sunny, safe atmosphere in which even the most ardent believer can talk about things that go bump in the night and not get goosebumps while doing it.

 

Mills went on with her story, telling how she figured some prankster must have been at work and how she plugged up all the holes in the shed, bought a new lock for it, and left the golf carts lined up inside in an orderly fashion.

 

But when she arrived the next morning and unlocked the shed, she found the carts in the same jumbled mess she had found them in the day before. This happened every two or three nights for about two weeks.

 

“One morning, I went down to the shed and stared at it and said, “Look, I believe you’re here. I believe you exist. But you’re feeling my life with grief, and I’m getting tired of it. I’d rather you not mess with my carts.”

 

End of problem.”

 

The oldest printed reference of a ghost haunting the Lodge at Cloudcroft that I was able to find was an ad in the Alamogordo Daily News which was distributed on October 30th, 1981.  It is only a simple advertisement for a Halloween party being held the restaurant at the Lodge (then called the Golden Eagle restaurant). It states, “Enjoy an excellent meal which may be served by Dracula, Minnie Mouse or maybe by our famous resident ghost.”

A year later the same newspaper runs a short story on local events, this time giving the ghost’s name as Rebecca.

 

Alamogordo Daily News, June 6, 1982

“One of the activities planned for the July Jamboree to be held July 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. 4 p.m. each day will be the Village Tours. Elizabeth Earthman, chairman of the tours, stated that plans are to have a minibus for two tours on Saturday and three tours on Sunday. Some of the highlights of the tour will be the Texas Hotel with a brief history on it; the Lodge with “Rebecca” the believed ghost hopefully in attendance; the churches of Cloudcroft; the railroad trestle and a few residences.”

 

The attached photograph for the article had the following caption;

 

“Cora Preslar and Sara Gilliam prepare to go up to the tower at the Lodge in Cloudcroft in hopes of finding “Rebecca” the believed ghost. The Village tour during the July Jamboree will feature the Lodge as one of the highlights of the event.”

 

The early accounts of a haunting at the Lodge are very vague. They contain only hints of the legend that is so well known today. The first detailed account of the haunting of the Lodge does not appear until  November 6, 1983, when the Alamogordo Daily News prints a story written by Al Stubbs who was the Daily News Editor. The article reads;

 

“A shimmering “cloud” with words appearing in its midst in Spanish. Doors opening and closing with no one about. Mysterious telephone antics from Room 101, the Governor’s Suite. Faucets that turn themselves on, stairs that lead to nowhere.

 

A number of people, some of which are visitors, others employees of The Lodge at Cloudcroft, swear that a mysterious presence occupies the dark rooms, halls and hidden places at the Lodge.

 

ETHEREAL REBECCA

 

That presence, they believe, is the ethereal Rebecca, who, the story goes, had a boyfriend who was a logger. But Rebecca strayed from the straight and narrow and took up with “the boss” at the Lodge. Her boyfriend, according to the undocumented story, found them in a compromising position; he shot and killed Rebecca possibly burying her beautiful body in the basement of the Lodge, probably sometime in the 1930s, and probably on August 18, whatever year.

 

VERY BEAUTIFUL

 

Rebecca reportedly was a very beautiful woman, red-haired, flamboyant, with perfect features and figure. She caused many a heart to stir. But, she met an untimely end. She almost always wore red.

 

There are those people, quite a number of them, who say or feel that Rebecca’s ghost, a lost soul so to speak, wanders about the Lodge, sometimes scaring the behootest out of employees and guests alike.

 

The Lodge is an old building, currently being restored beautifully by the new owners, Jerry and Carole Sanders. Jerry says, ” There is a mysterious force here.”

 

Ask Pancha Madrid, 1305 Canal, Alamogordo about Rebecca.

 

Her story:

 

“She is there. I didn’t see a shadow or a person,” the former head maid said recently. She told of an apparition, like a cloud, that appeared in the basement as she was washing and drying bedclothes. It appeared after she heard a door slam. In Spanish, words appeared within the cloud, “On the 18th of August there was a ghost in this place,” the words read. Pancha remembers them well, for a few moments later, she said, the same words appeared in on a shelf in the laundry room.

 

SHAKES LIKE A LEAF

 

” I ran upstairs, shaking like a leaf…” Her daughter, who worked with her, asked,” what’s the matter?”

 

“You wouldn’t believe it,” Pancha said. ” I felt like I was going to pass out. I started crying… I couldn’t sleep at night.

 

She said she asked her boss, Freddie, if she could put a straw cross on the door or call a priest. She said she went straight to the basement the next day.

 

” I did pray for her soul.” But, she said, she told “Rebecca,” ” I don’t want you to let me see you again.”

 

And Rebecca didn’t.

 

Much of Rebecca’s activity, so the stories go, centers on the Governor’s Suite, which, heavily draped, faces toward the White Sands and which is at the end of a long hallway.

 

Glenda Bonnell, who with her husband, Ken, were involved in the Lodge management and ownership for a time, tells of when she was hanging drapes in Room 101.

 

She was holding the drapes, which had just been cleaned, over her arm when she heard the door to the suite open. She called, thinking it was her husband. Silence. She heard Footsteps in the hall. She said she knew there was no person around. She felt her skin crawl.

 

“I dropped the drapes and came off the ladder,” she said. She felt the “presence.”

 

MYSTERIOUS CALLS

 

Ann Carney, who Sanders says is his ” right-hand girl,” and senior desk clerk for many years says that frequently and for days at a time calls would come to the switchboard from Room 101. She would answer, and there was always silence after the rings. Even after the switchboard was changed out, Mrs. Bonnell said, the mysterious calls continued. At one point, Ms. Carney said, she figured that because of the mix up on the switchboard, the calls might be coming from 103.

 

“We checked,” she said. “There was no one in 103 either.”

 

Ms. Carney said she often worked late into the night at the Lodge, keeping books and such. ” I would get the strangest feeling… there were chills up and down my back. The hair on my neck was “bristling,” “” she said.

 

The stories abound. The fireplace in the Red Dog Saloon, part of the Lodge, suddenly came alive, with flames flashing up the chimney. There was no fire in the fireplace at the time. There hadn’t been for some time. It was a summer day.

 

CANDLES LIT

 

Supposedly one group left the Red Dog empty; when they returned a short time later, candles on the tables were lit. There was no one who claimed to have accomplished the deed, except perhaps Becky.

 

Another time, the bartender, Woody Woodcock, is quoted by fellow workers as saying he saw “Rebecca” materialize out of a brick wall. She walked over and turned off the Jukebox, and he is quoted as saying.

 

Dr. Gene Shakely, of Colorado City, Texas, who has a townhouse near the Lodge, is quoted as saying “Rebecca” followed he and his wife from the Lodge to his townhouse one night.

 

Ashtrays float across a room. Faucets flow. The stories continue.

 

Sanders said he and his wife stored furniture in a large room in the basement when they were waiting for their house to be finished. They were working in that room when they suddenly heard “water splashing” from beyond. They went into a room that was formerly maid’s quarters and where two wash basins are located. There is no entrance to the room except through the door they entered. Four faucets were flowing full blast into the basins. Sanders can’t explain that.

 

MYSTERY ROOM

 

There is one other door into that room. It’s high on the wall, about the size of a large medicine cabinet. Behind that door a small room, complete with a door frame and heavy door, with the door leading down five steps “to nowhere.” The steps end in dirt, at an embankment. There is no other entrance to that mysterious room.

 

Recently a group of men, businessmen, were having dinner in the dining room, with the wind howling outside. A shutter was banging up against the wall, and Sanders came over to shut it to keep the noise level down.

 

About that time one of the men said something to the effect that ” there is no Rebecca.” Suddenly the shutter came loose again, knocking over a heavy flagpole with an eagle on top. The metal eagle barely missed one of the men’s head.

 

Now he’s not so sure about whether or not Rebecca still roams the Lodge. There are many other people who aren’t so sure. Talk to Pancha.”

 

 

The mystery room is located in the basement. The  doors to the Red Dog Saloon are straight in front of the staircase landing and the public bathrooms are on the left. The door immediately on the right is a service hallway for the boiler room. The next door to the right is the laundry room. It contains a couple of washing machines and dryers plus a big laundry sink in the back left corner with an electricians box above it. However it is not actually an electrical box. It conceals the partially bricked up “mystery room”, which contains the old servants staircase.

Another fascinating ghost story about Rebecca occurs in the Red Dog Saloon sometime in the 60’s or 70’s. It was rather late in the evening, and the bar was closed. The final customers of the night, a table of four men, sat at a table close to the bar finishing their drinks while the bartender cleaned up. As the bartender was washing glasses, he was facing the mirror on the back wall of the bar. He happened to glance up to see a woman who was swaying back and forth in the center of the dance floor as if she was dancing to a silent tune. He said,” I’m sorry ma’am. We’re closed.” The patrons could see her in the mirrors on the wall as well, but when they all turned to look at the dance floor, no one was there. Oddly enough when they turned back, she was no longer visible in any of the mirrors.

 

This was a famous story that is often retold in multiple magazine and newspaper articles in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. In 1993, country musician Michael Martin Murphey directed his video for the song “Dancing with a memory” on location in Cloudcroft at the Lodge. The song was inspired by the legend of Rebecca, and the accompanying video features Murphey dancing with Rebecca in the saloon and chasing her ghost through various rooms of the Lodge. With the celebrity attention, it is easy to see how the legend grows.

The 85th anniversary of the Lodge occurs in 1984, and several articles in various newspapers feature stories about Rebecca and the paranormal occurrences that have been reported at the mountain resort. One of the most notable appears in the New Mexican on October 30th. It was written by Marilyn Haddrill, a member of the El Paso Times Staff. The title of the article is ” There’s a presence at Cloudcroft Lodge” and is noteworthy because of the interview with owner Jerry Sanders.  It reads;

 

   “The owners of The Lodge at Cloudcroft say they have met their resident ghosts, Rebecca, shortly after they arrived.

 

Owner Jerry Sanders chuckles when he tells Rebecca stories. And he cheerfully admits to exploiting her, renaming his restaurant “Rebecca’s” for her.

 

But when he and his wife, Carol, recently took over the lodge, they had an experience that Sanders describes with more sobriety than usual.

 

He escorted the Rev Hal Banks, a Roswell psychic researcher, to the Lodge basement where he reenacted the events of that night more than a year ago.

 

Jerry and Carol Sanders have been living in the hotel until they could find a home. Furniture from their previous residence was stored in the basement, where the windows were barred. They had the only key to the lock on the only entrance.

 

Late each night, the couple would go to the basement to retrieve clothes they would wear the next day. The chests were arranged on one side so they could get in and out easily. When they went to the basement one night, they saw several chests had been moved. A light glowed from the adjoining cleaning sink area just around the corner. They stared, uneasily wondering if they had surprised a burglar.

 

Then a sound like a burst water pipe shattered the silence. Sanders ran to the cleaning sinks. Water was gushing from faucets that had been turned on in two of them. If the water had run for more than just a few seconds, the basins would have overflowed. But they were still only partially full.

 

Sanders stood in the same bathroom and pointed through a window in a wall. Beyond is a room now mostly walled-off. The room has a dirt floor and a stairway leading to nowhere.

 

Sanders told Banks that this was the room he had brought a psychic and that it “was one of the places she definitely felt an overwhelming sense of presence.”

 

A heavy musky smell, probably from the dirt floor of the room beyond, seeps through the open window. The basement once was the maid’s quarters in the Lodge. The present structure was built in 1911, although the original Lodge was constructed in 1899.

 

According to the stories Sanders has been told, Rebecca was a chambermaid in the early 1930s. She was a beautiful, red-haired blue-eyed woman whom her jealous lumberjack boyfriend ” caught in the arms of another.”

 

Afterward, Rebecca disappeared. Some say the jealous lover killed her with an ax or knife and buried her body at the Lodge.

 

The only place at the Lodge with a dirt floor is that room just beyond the basement.

 

Sanders emphatically refuses to dig it up.

 

“I think we don’t want to confirm or deny any of the strange goings-on,” Sanders said. “It would be a sad thing in my mind if I found something really there. It would be like I found the source of a mystery that I really don’t want to understand.”

 

Greg Adams, an employee, is nearby, completing maintenance work in the basement. He looks up as the group starts to leave.

 

” It’s not a bad ghost,” he says. “It’s a friendly ghost. I work down here all the time.”

 

Sanders leads the way to the nearby Red Dog Saloon, where many a bartender over the years has reported seeing or sensing Rebecca. The most famous story concerns a beautiful red-haired woman in a long gown dipping and moving gracefully in a dance.

 

And it was there that Sanders overheard a customer telling his friends huddled over drinks at a table about what he had witnessed in his room the night before:

 

“It was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. I looked over, and my watch was floating from my bed stand to my chest.”

 

Sanders is the first owner of the property to publicly acknowledge the ghost stories and the legend of the murdered chambermaid. It is also the basis for the second variant of the story where Rebecca’s body is buried in the basement.

His account of the ghostly activity offers several clues which are essential to note. The first is his unwillingness to have the “mystery room” excavated. If there was a human being buried there, shouldn’t that person be entitled to a proper burial? Or perhaps such a search would turn up nothing and jeopardize the Lodge’s new media gimmick?   One of the more uncomfortable elements that have to be considered is the possibility of a hoax. There is a monetary motive and solving the mystery could potentially harm that. It could also debunk the psychic that felt an overwhelming sense of presence there. However, on the believer end, if something were found and removed, would the haunting stop?

Although it is evident that the Lodge has monetized its ghost, from a business perspective it is best to just leave it alone.  Besides, others would soon come forward to question the validity of the legend.

The first occurs two years later in another article published by the Alamogordo Daily News in 1986.  Although the article repeats the various elements of the legend, it does contain a rather interesting piece of information.

 

“Legend has it that someone was killed there, a lover’s triangle, and that was Rebecca,” said Marie Wuersching of the Sacramento Mountains Historical Society.Mrs. Wuersching has researched Rebecca’s story, looking through newspapers and dusty records to document such a murder. “But as far as I know, it’s only a legend. I really wish I could find something on it.”

 

Mrs. Wuersching is not the only researcher that has come up empty-handed. The Otero County sheriff conducted a thorough search of missing person records in the early 1960’s. He went through all of the police and missing person files of the 1930’s but found no records on anyone named Rebecca or Becky. So the identity of the “ghost” remains unknown, and the ghost stories are looking more like an urban legend.

One of the most destructive things that Rebecca has ever supposedly done occurred in 1986.  An unnamed skeptic seated himself in the dining and was busy scoffing at the story of Rebecca’s ghost when, suddenly and inexplicably, an empty wine glass on his table exploded. The story was told by the restaurant manager Judy Montoya in the Albuquerque Journal on October 30th, 1988.

   “This gentleman and his wife were in the dining looking at the menu, and he read the little story about Rebecca,” Montoya says.” He called me over and said he thought it was terrible that a menu would include this piece of propaganda and that some people would do anything for publicity. He was very negative about it.

 

The table he was sitting at had been cleared, and he was getting ready to order dessert when the glass shattered. No one touched it, no one dropped anything on it, no one moved it. It was at least a foot away from the center of the table, setting where it had been the entire meal. The man did not order wine.

 

Every part of the glass broke into little pieces, the base, the stem, and the bowl. The man leaped up from the table and accused us of making this happen.

 

We were busy replacing dinners of the people who had been sitting near his table. We were concerned that some of the pieces of the glass had fallen into their food.

 

I bought the man a drink in the lounge and apologized, but I explained to him that neither I nor anyone on the restaurant staff had caused the glass to shatter.

 

None of the diners were injured but bits of glass shower the room. The restaurant had no choice but to entirely replace about half-a-dozen entrees.”

 

The explosion of the glass has several logical explanations and is actually quite common.  Glasses can develop “fatigue” as they are repeatedly washed due to the exposure of hot and cold during the cleaning process. Over time they can weaken. If the glass receives a small crack or chip, it can escalate the fatigue dramatically and is prone too shattering.  In its cold state, when it was placed on the table, the stresses and strains occur by random chance and are unfavorably high if a small crack was created by wear. The glass fractures without warning due to its brittle nature and the crack expands quickly to release the stresses that have been in it since being tempered, efficiently looking like an explosion.

Due to the timing of the conversation and the glass shattering, the event appears to have a paranormal origin. Incidents such as these are often attributed to the ghost as they are often a scapegoat for anything that seemingly occurs out of the ordinary.   Ghost hunters call these types of events quasi-normal as they are explainable phenomenon that happens rarely or under specific conditions. Due to their unusual nature, they create more ghostly experiences and help propagate the ghost stories, keeping the paranormal claims current and seemingly relevant. This is vital as the stories fade if they are not being told.  On occasion, the propagation of the claims come from sources that are related to the location of the claims but are not explicitly focused on the paranormal tales.

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