Those Dam Ghosts! Searching for Spirits at the Boulder Dam Hotel
Recently, I spent some time at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, Nevada. Boulder City lies a mere thirty minutes south of bustling Las Vegas, but it may as well be hundreds of miles away.
As one of only two municipalities in Nevada that prohibits gambling (the other is Panaca), it serves as a refuge from the sound of slot machines and the glare of flashing lights so common in the state’s gambling mecca.
The hotel itself was named after the famous Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) and was built in 1933. The hotel is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
The Colonial Revival style building is located on Arizona street, in the center of Boulder City. Like many historic buildings, the hotel has had ups and downs. In its heydays, the 1940s-1950s, many illustrious visitors stayed at the location. Among them, Hollywood stars Boris Karloff and Shirley Temple. Business magnate Howard Hughes stayed at the Boulder Dam hotel while recuperating after the wreck of his Sikorsky S-43 on Lake Mead.
The hotel struggled in the 1980s. It was condemned and at one point came very close to being torn down. The landmark was saved from destruction and eventually purchased by the Boulder Dam Hotel Association.
It took over two million dollars and several years to renovate the historic hotel. Fortunately, much of its original charm was maintained through the process and remains today. The lobby is decorated in rich colors that harken back to the historic period of the hotel’s original appearance. The rooms, twenty-two in all, are simple and comfortable.
Like many historic properties, the Boulder Dam Hotel has gained a reputation over the years for housing a number of ghosts. Unlike many locations however, the hotel does not try to capitalize on the spirits. In fact, it actively discourages any idea that the hotel is haunted. A warm reception at the hotel can quickly turn cold if you begin asking questions related to the reported hauntings connected to the hotel.
I arrived at the Boulder Dam Hotel late one evening and found that the night clerk was friendly and talkative. He had worked in the hotel many years and knew much about its history. When I turned the conversation to the topic of ghosts, he responded with a chuckle and informed me that the tales of the hotel’s spirits were “absolutely not true.”
While the clerk wasn’t rude about the topic (like some other staff members were), he was adamant about his statements and repeated several times that the hotel had “no resident ghosts.”
According to the clerk, there had been no murders or strange deaths at the property. He claimed the entire basis for the tales of hauntings at the hotel came from the visit of a psychic in the 1980s. While he was sketchy on the details, he did inform me there was a book that offered more details. The book, he said, was available in the gift shop at the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum housed in the back of the hotel.
I roamed around the hotel a bit that night in the late hours. It’s a small building and I found that noises easily carry from room to room and out into the hallways. Such noise contamination could explain some reports of strange sounds that guests have reported.
There’s a basement, but it doesn’t really stand out as anything the least bit creepy or even interesting.
While walking around, I encountered another night owl in the halls. We greeted each other and sat down in the lobby for a chat. His name was Dan, and he told me he rarely slept more than a couple of hours at a time. He traveled through Nevada on a regular basis and preferred to stay in Boulder City where it was quiet. I half-jokingly asked him if he’d ever seen any ghosts while staying at the hotel.
He smiled and replied, “No, and you’d think if they were here that I would have seen them since I’m up so late. At least it would keep things interesting.”
Dan was right about the quite nature of Boulder City. I walked around downtown that night and aside from an occasional car passing by, there was no one on the streets and no signs of activity in the little community. It was hard to believe this reserved little town was so close to the busy nightlife of Las Vegas.
The next day, I made my way to the Boulder Dam Museum and gift shop, located inside the Hotel. I intended to purchase a copy of the book the night clerk had mentioned.
“Midnight on Arizona Street: The Secret Life of the Boulder Dam Hotel,” was written by Dennis McBride. The book contains a history of the hotel, including a full chapter detailing the building’s hauntings.
The woman at the gift shop counter was all smiles until I told her I was there to purchase a copy of the book. I had no sooner uttered the title when her smile quickly turned into the stern, unapproving glare of an ill-tempered librarian.
She quickly informed me in a chill voice that the title I was looking for was NOT carried by the museum, nor could it be found anywhere in Boulder City that she was aware of. She further informed me that they only carried historical based books related to the Hoover Dam, coldly pointing to a shelf displaying said titles.
The conversation, such as it had been, was clearly over.
Having worn out my welcome in record time, I turned to leave the museum. I’d taken no more than two steps out of the gift shop when I overheard the woman calling the hotel manager. Clearly irritated, she informed the person on the other end of the phone that the museum manager had removed Mr. McBride’s book from the store some time ago. She further insisted that the night clerk needed to be told again that the title was not and would not be available in the gift shop.
It was an unusual incident in many ways. While much of the country has taken to the paranormal craze in recent years, it was clear that Boulder City, at least parts of it, had firmly resisted jumping on the bandwagon with those interested in ghosts.
The cold attitude of the woman in the gift shop, and some of the hotel’s other employees, made me even more interested in finding information about any possible hauntings at the hotel.
I casually spoke to other staff members at the hotel, being careful not to make spirits the main focus of conversation. While most of the employees stuck to the party line and gave me, almost verbatim, the same response regarding hauntings, I did find other opinions.
One employee informed me that there were, on occasion, strange incidents in the hotel that could not be explained by logical means. Items moved on their own and there were “cold spots” that didn’t make sense. Some reports indicated that whispered voices were heard at times when no one else was present.
At a nearby restaurant, I ran into a former employee of the hotel who was more open with her opinions on the location’s ghostly activity.
“Rooms 209 and 219 always gave me the creeps. I always felt like someone else was in the room with me, or that I was being watched” she said.
So, what’s the real story? Are there indeed spirits lurking in the Boulder Dam Hotel?
It’s possible for any building to hold residual energy and some people are simply more aware of such things. With the famous and historic events that have taken place in the area, there could certainly be something remaining.
Ultimately, the jury is out on paranormal activity at the hotel. Perhaps there are more stories, hidden in the memories of employees and guests, or perhaps the hotel’s management is correct and nothing at all is happening.
While the staff’s rude attitude towards the paranormal doesn’t earn them any points, at least the owners are being honest in their personal belief and not trying to capitalize on false claims or manufactured ghost stories.
If you like an interesting bit of history, Boulder City is worth at least a day trip to see the Hoover Dam. It is, after all, one of the country’s greatest feats of engineering.
If you decide to spend the night at the Boulder Dam hotel, enjoy the historic atmosphere and snap a few photos, there’s no telling what you might catch.
Just don’t try to get information out of any of the hotel’s staff or you may catch a lot of flak about the “damn ghosts!”