October 2011


Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton, Montana

Founded in 1847, Fort Benton is known as the "birthplace of Montana." The town has everything: a picturesque location on the Missouri River, a monument to a devoted dog (Shep) whose lonely vigil captured hearts all over the world in the early 1940s, a partially-restored fortified trading post, an unsolved mystery involving the disappearance in 1867 of Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher from a steamboat docked at the levee, and a violent past. 

It also has an historic, and haunted, hotel, the magnificent Grand Union. Built in 1882, the Grand Union is the oldest operating hotel in Montana. Ghostly hoofbeats are reputedly heard on the main staircase at times, perhaps echoes from the time when a drunken cowhand tried to ride his horse up the stairs and was shot and killed by the bar manager.

Not long ago, a food supplier who drove past the hotel called the chef to ask what was going on at the hotel. He had just seen people dressed in old-fashioned costumes watching him from a room above the kitchen. The chef ran upstairs to that room immediately but no one was there. 

Housekeeping staff had an eerie experience while making up the beds in a second-floor room. They had finished the first bed and begun work on the second bed. By the time they were ready to leave, the comforter and pillows on the first bed had been flipped onto the floor. No one else was there.

During an investigation by the Great Falls-based Montana Association of Paranormal Studies, tape recorders picked up ghostly voices, a flashlight repeatedly rolled around a table by itself, stopping on request in front of various team members, and photos showed a man in a long coat looking out of a window in room 306.

Guests in room 202 have also encountered the hotel's spirits. Two ladies told a waitress that they'd spent most of the night watching beautiful blue lights dance around the room. Neither felt the slightest fear, only a sense of awe. Another guest saw a man wearing a black frock coat and top hat walk into the room through the locked door. He sat down on the sofa and appeared to watch the television for a few moments before vanishing. He has been tentatively identified by a descendant as Charles Rowe, who managed the hotel from 1891-1899.

For more about historic Fort Benton and the ghosts of the Grand Union, read "Hoofbeats on the Stairs" in More Haunted Montana, available at most bookstores and from amazon.com and riverbendpublishing.com