Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, NM (Ghost Stories with skeptical commentary)

The Clovis News Journal publishes the first written account of the Plaza Hotel having a ghost on March 9th, 1983.

   ” A ghost who haunts the stairwells, reminiscences of visits from Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, and a terrain which made the area a Haven for outlaws, are all part of the colorful history surrounding the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel plans to reopen later this month.

The restoration is a project of the plaza partnership of Lonnie and Dana Lucero and William and Catherine Slick. The hotel renovation is being done at the cost of approximately $2 million with the completion date expected to be March 18th. The hotel will have 39 rooms varying in price from $40 for a single to $65 for suites.

The entry lobby, located in the center of the first floor between dining room & bar, spotlights to large mahogany staircases, one on each side, leading to the second and third floors. An iron stove and an antique piano grace the intimate seating areas in the lobby while a

landscaped conservatory set off from the central area will serve as a reading room.

Gracious furniture from the past decorates the halls of the upper floors, and according to Mrs. Lucero, the pieces were purchased after a lengthy search nationwide. Some require restoration, but many were in Prime condition.

According to Mrs. Lucero, the ghost of a Mr. Mills who was once the owner of the hotel and who died in one of the rooms on the second floor still haunts the stairwells and halls of the hotel. The apparition reportedly has been seen by several of the employees of the hotel including herself and her husband. ” it is not a menacing ghost,” she said.”


The deserted tunnels under the hotel.

While the story does not offer much information, it does identify the first problem, longevity. If Byron T. Mills indeed haunted the Plaza Hotel, there would have been more recorded accounts of unusual phenomenon since the time of his death in 1947. Yet there are no written accounts, newspaper or otherwise, until 1983.

What makes this rather odd is that Mrs. Lucy Lopez, known as Mama Lucy to her friends, ran the Plaza Hotel Restaurant and Bar for fourteen years with her husband. They rented part of the hotel as a dormitory for New Mexico Highlands University students and sold meal tickets for the restaurant as an alternative to the university cafeteria. Daily lunch and dinner cost $30 a month. If there were a ghost in the hotel, if paranormal phenomenon of some type were occurring, there would definitely be stories from this period of time. There just is not any accounts of anything unusual, written or verbal.

The story suggests that the initial paranormal experiences were noticed during the renovation of the hotel. During the renovations, the building was closed, and rooms were not rented out. Empty locations like this will often have a strange ambiance that many would describe as eerie. Certain sounds may become more noticeable, and the psychological effects of being alone in these types of spaces are often misinterpreted as being caused by a ghost. The article also presents a piece of misleading information. Byron T. Mills did not die on the second floor of the Plaza Hotel. He passed away at the Elks Lodge in  Miami while attending a convention in 1947.

However, the typical spiritualist ghost hunter would claim that the remodeling of the hotel is the catalyst that “activate” the haunting.  This spiritualist belief is often thrown about when haunted places are shown to have no longevity in their stories. Of course, this notion is based entirely on sheer speculation. However, the Plaza Hotel has been through several major renovations since 1983.  The Las Vegas Daily Optic wrote about one of these in detail in 1963. This article is relevant because of the changes that were made and the work that was done. These will be very relevant in some of the stories that are told later on.

“The hotel including the coffee shop and ballroom had been closed for a couple of months while the new owners Mr. and Mrs. Eloy Montoya, were remodeling.

The first part of the remodeling job on the historic old hotel, built in 1882, on the West Las Vegas Plaza, was the ballroom. A new entrance to the ballroom from Hot Springs Boulevard has been made, and the entranceway is carpeted as is the bandstand. The ballroom floor has been completely refinished and the entire room painted. The columns in the center of the room have been revealed by removing their board coverings. The windows were un-boarded and window panes put in.

Montoya says that during the next months the front of the building will be remodeled with new windows and doors to be installed. Old brick will be used in the remodeling of the front of the building.

The Montoya’s plan to open a supper club at the old hotel around Christmas time. The Supper Club will occupy the rooms which were the old lobby and coffee shop. The partitions hiding the stairways will be removed. The kitchen will also be remodeled.

Montoya said that the bar & cocktail lounge area of the old hotel would be rented to another business. He plans to operate a bar only in connection with the ballroom and Supper Club.

After the Supper Club is finished, Montoya plans to remodel rooms in the front of the third floor and part of the second floor and open the hotel for business. Much of the back part of the hotel will be torn down and parking space provided for patrons.

The Montoya’s purchased the Plaza Hotel from Mrs. Eva Gonzalez of Santa Ana California. The transaction started about a year ago, however, the Montoya’s did not take over the hotel until this fall.

Montoya is supervising all of the remodeling work on the hotel and doing much of it himself.”

The building has changed dramatically over the years. In the 1880’s the dining room was where the bar is located today,  north of the lobby overlooking the Plaza Park. The kitchen was on the north side of the hotel where the La Fonda headboards are currently on display. The hallway leading to the Ilfeld wing was only a door that opened out into an alley between the two buildings. The current dining room was initially an area where two retail spaces were located. They were divided by a wall where the columns are now and had large doors and windows which faced the Plaza. Behind this area to the was a huge dance hall. Today it is the kitchen. By the 1970’s most of the Plaza and Bridge Street was abandoned. These major renovations occurred in the 1980’s.

The next newspaper article was entitled “New Mexico: History’s Spirit Lives On” and was published in the Aiken Standard on May 9, 1986.

“There’s No gambling in the hotels of Las Vegas, not this Las Vegas, anyway, but there are resident ghosts.  According to New Mexico legend, Byron T. Mills, one of the original builders of The Plaza Hotel, is renowned for switching on the lights when no one is looking. And if one searches carefully, he or she might just run up on the ghost of a long-ago town dentist, Doc Holliday.”

This is the first and only mention of Doc Holiday haunting the hotel. The fact that it appears in an out of state newspaper is highly suggestive that the ghost stories are now being used to promote the hotel. The problem that occurs when this happens is that it creates an ideal environment to induce myth-building. The stories themselves become more important than the facts. Anything that is perceived as unusual is promptly “blamed” on the ghost.  This is due, in part, to the power of suggestion. If a place is rumored to be haunted, people visiting that place will expect to experience some strange event, even if the event itself is mundane. The legitimacy of the “haunting” is never questioned.  This becomes apparent on  October 30th, 1988, when an article about several of New Mexico’s hauntings was published in the Albuquerque Journal. It contains several more ghost stories from the Plaza Hotel. While reading it, consider some of the possible alternative explanations for what is occurring.

” Late at night, when the lobby of the Plaza Hotel is eerily silent, the glassware in a Cupboard along the gloomy back hallway sometimes starts to tinkle.

The hall is next to the staircase and is partially shielded from the lobby by the rear of the cupboard. It has been demonstrated that the only way to shake the wooden floor- enough to make the cupboard and its contents rattle- is for a hefty person to trend heavily along this hallway.

The first night he distinctly heard the glasses clinking, Mike Williams was at the registration desk in the otherwise vacant lobby. Williams tiptoed a dozen paces, diagonally across the room, and peered into the hallway.

The tinkling stopped.

No one was there.

The only other door, one that leads outdoors the opposite end of the hall, what still locked.

There was no open window, no errant breeze, and the street outside was deserted.

Williams says the tinkling unnerved him even more than did the falling transoms, the swinging doors, and the sudden chills.

Toni Lujan, who also works evenings at the desk, says that last summer she saw a courtly and austere gentleman, dressed impeccably and a black suit, descending the stairway on the other side of the lobby.

A number of casually dressed guests were about, she says, and she thought the man looked somehow odd and out of place. She was distracted for a few seconds ” and when I looked back,” she says, ” the man had vanished.”

The speculation is that Lujan saw the ghost of Byron T. Mills, one-time part owner of the hotel. He died, apparently from natural causes, in one of its rooms sometime in the 1930s. Little is known of his past.

According to the accounts of some guests, Mills favored the second floor of the west wing.

Katherine Slick, a partner in the hotel, that’s a woman who slept in one of those rooms told her she had experienced a violent nightmare in which she saw herself killing someone. The following morning, the woman said, she awoke to find her clothing strewn about the room and all the towels stained with a chocolate colored substance. No evidence of blood or of chocolate was elsewhere in the room, not on her body, not on any of the furniture or on the floor. The woman packed and fled.

Despite this story, Mill’s ghost is evidently a benign spirit and means no harm to more worldly residents.

Slick, a businesswoman who is also a partner in a enterprise that restores historic buildings and Las Vegas, says Mill’s ghost is blamed for the destruction not long ago of a large, glass vase.

The vase, heavy and itself, was partially filled with water and an arrangement of fresh flowers. It sat in the middle of a table near the center of the lobby.

One clear afternoon, the double front doors suddenly flew open and something, witnesses say it is best described as a wind, swept through the lobby. The vase hurtled off the table, crashed to the floor and shattered.

Both sets of the double door to the lobby swing to the outside.

Last spring, Williams was reading a book during his night shift at the registration desk. About 3:30 a.m., he says, the latch was tripped on one set of double doors, and they swung open.

Well, he was pondering this curiosity, he says, the doors closed and the other pair, across the room, opened.

” I thought something strange was going on,” he says. Although he saw nothing, he says ” it was as if someone had entered, walked across the lobby and left through the other doors.”

Williams had scarcely recovered when the transoms above the doors suddenly dropped open with a bang. ” I got the chills,” he says, ” but I got up and closed the transoms. I was so upset that I went through the swinging half doors to the office and sat on the desk. While I was sitting there, one of those doors swung open, and the air around me got colder than a refrigerator.”

The story is full of assumptions, and there are many alternative explanations for what the employees experienced. We will start with Mike William’s account of the glassware tickling in the cupboard. The newspaper article does provide a very vital clue.

“It has been demonstrated that the only way to shake the wooden floor- enough to make the cupboard and its contents rattle- is for a hefty person to trend heavily along this hallway.’

So the direct cause of the phenomenon is vibration. If a “hefty person” walking down the hallway can cause the glassware to make noises, so could any other type of vibration of a similar magnitude.  This could be caused by passing vehicle traffic outside, but more than likely an earthquake is a culprit. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), small earthquakes are frequent in Northern New Mexico.  These earthquakes typically have a magnitude of 2.0 to 3.2.  A 2.0 earthquake is tiny, and it will not usually wake someone up. Trees may sway slightly, and small ponds ripple. Doors swing slowly. However, you can’t tell that an earthquake is to blame. Earthquakes with magnitude of about 2.0 or less are usually called microearthquakes. They are so small that people do not commonly feel them. However, a microearthquake of this size could cause the glassware to rattle. In fact, given the sheer number of microearthquakes that hit Northern New Mexico every year, it is probably the culprit of the majority of the phenomenon that was published in this newspaper article.

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