We spent hours driving north through the Arizonan desert, crossing over old native Indian reservation land to reach Flagstaff. You can reach the town much quicker via Highway 180, but we’d decided to take the historic Route 66 which, although a lot longer, was much more picturesque and authentic for our roadtrip. For the most part, we were on the long roads alone – yellow lines ahead and vast landscapes out the windows – apart from the odd Harley Davidson and pick-up truck.
We were only staying in Flagstaff for one night, stopping over on our way to Sedona. Mum had booked us into the famous, historic Monte Vista hotel which towers above the corners of Aspen and San Francisco Streets in Downtown Flagstaff and promises to give you a true glimpse into the spirited lifestyle of the Great American West. When tourism was on the rise during the mid-1920’s, residents agreed Flagstaff needed first-class accommodations, and so fund-raised the money needed to build the hotel. Historically, The Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge was the first speakeasy in Flagstaff, welcoming everyone from celebrities and law-breakers to skiers and river runners. During prohibition, the Cocktail Lounge opened and was successfully running a major bootlegging operation in the very same location as today!
The Hotel Monte Vista was the premiere lodging choice for many Hollywood stars, colorful characters, and other notables. In the 40’s and 50’s, western films were on the rise turning the wheels for more than a hundred movies to be shot nearby Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. During these filmings, the Hotel Monte Vista hosted such famous guests as Jane Russell, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne and Bing Crosby. The hotel has even been featured in Hollywood scenes, notably Casablanca and Forrest Gump. However, the hotel is now even more famous for its many reported ghosts that are rumoured to haunt the building.
After we’d checked our bags in, we wandered down the street to get our bearings. Flagstaff is a very authentic, old-fashioned American town which has colourful shop-fronts and still displays the original shop name painted on the brick walls. It has a train station in the centre of town, so every so often, the gates will come down over the street and a train will whistle past (much to Dad’s delight). The trains in America are ridiculously long, and Dad spent a few happy minutes counting the carriages on one particular train that went past (after 100 carriages had gone by, I walked away to look in a shop window). We stopped off at Downtown Diner for a slice of cake and a drink and, as was becoming custom, enjoyed chatting to the waitresses there.
We were planning to go to The Museum Club for our dinner that night, but thought we’d first sit in the hotel cocktail bar for a drink before heading out. Mum was in a really weird mood and couldn’t seem to settle in; she asked if maybe we should just stay in tonight. Eventually, despite warning glances from Dad, she revealed that she was unhappy with William and I staying in the Jon Bon Jovi room since she had just read in the guidebook that it was the most haunted room in the hotel. As William and I looked at one another in glee, she went on to explain that an old woman had died in the creepy rocking chair by the window. Did we want to sleep in their room tonight? Yes, our room was a little creepy, with the rocking chair and an old tinted mirror and huge creaky beds with layers of blankets and green sheets. But William and I have watched pretty much every horror film ever made, and thought it was our turn for something spooky to happen. Besides, a rocking chair is the ultimate terrifying object – especially after watching The Woman in Black and Annabel – so we couldn’t really pass up this opportunity.
A quick look on the website has revealed the following story on the room: “Once featured on the television show “Unsolved Mysteries,” room 305 is by far the most active room in the hotel. There are numerous reports of seeing a woman in the rocking chair near the window. Guests and housekeeping have reports of seeing the chair move by itself and knocking coming from inside the closet! History tells us that years ago an elderly woman who was a long-term renter would sit by the window for hours on end. No one knows what she was looking at or looking for. Could it be she is waiting for someone to return, even in death?”
Some of the other ghost stories at the hotel include three bank robbers who were caught in the cocktail bar downstairs and subsequently killed, and two prostitutes who were murdered and then thrown from the second floor to the street below. After convincing Mum that this was exactly the kind of action we wanted to see, we decided to continue our evening as normal and hope for the best that night.
We had read about The Museum Club just out of town, a 1930s western bar along Route 66 with plenty of atmosphere. We were keen to get our first experience of a proper American bar, particularly one that had once been billed as ‘the world’ largest log cabin’, so we drove over and, as soon as we stepped in, it felt as though we had stepped back in time. The walls are full of memorabilia, from autographs of the old bands who’ve played there (including Willie Nelson) to taxidermy animal heads. Neon signs glow against the wood-plank dance floor polished smooth from decades of boot soles dancing in the night. We ate our dinner in a booth at the back of the dancefloor, just as the first country band started playing. We were treated to some Latin American music from the next band and then, as the final band started playing, some country dancing from a few people in their Stetson hats and cowboy boots.
Sadly there was no spooky activity in Room 305 that night, although I did feel a little scared to open my eyes once William had fallen asleep before me. Just a really comfortable bed, cosy blankets and a dodgy drama on the TV. The next morning we went to Macy’s for breakfast, a gorgeous little cafe over the railway tracks that had been recommended in the guide book. We sat outside in the sunshine, people-watching, eating the most amazing waffles and drinking coffee. Everyone was young and bohemian-looking, and lots of people had cute, fluffy puppies that got lots of attention. We also noticed a lot of native Indian American looking people, demonstrating the strong heritage of the area and how generations of families have chosen to call Flagstaff home. A man received the wrong order, had to pay more for his correct breakfast, and then caught his leg on a bench as he stepped out – completely stacking it to the ground but managing to keep his coffee intact. He stood up with a laugh and wandered off: a testament to the good-natured American spirit that we had so far encountered on our trip. We then walked along to the visitors centre at the old railhouse, watched another train go by and blare his horn, before deciding that it was time to move on.