Photo Caption: The ‘Tis Building 1896

You may not be alone … a visit to local historic buildings can be haunting

by Darlene Wilson, A Haunting Experience Tours, Haunted Prescott; co-written by Patti Ortiz of the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery

Our story begins with Prescott’s oldest and Arizona’s first tallest building, the’Tis Building, now home of the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery. Once known as the Knights of Pythias Building, it was originally constructed by local attorneys John C. Herndon, John J. Hawkins and Hugo Richards for their law offices and was officially dedicated in 1895. It housed retail on the first floor, attorneys’ offices on the second floor, and the third floor served as the meeting hall for the Prescott branch of the Knights of Pythias fraternal lodge.

It is one of three 19th century buildings Ann Carson Dater rescued during her lifetime that were destined to become cultural centers for the arts she cherished: The Ariel Theatre in Gallipolis, Ohio; the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery and the Elks Theatre and Performing Arts Center, both in downtown Prescott.

In the early years of the building, the ghostly activities were so frequent one attorney had difficulty getting employees to work after hours to handle complicated cases. He called in a local priest, Father Pyke and asked him to perform an exorcism. Father Pyka blessed each floor, said prayers and sprinkled holy water. Soon after, the paranormal activities calmed down.

In 2009, with the remodeling of the building complete and the businesses up and running, the spirits were back in action. A bill collecting agency began calling the phone line with hopes of contacting a person named James Fleming … an uncanny coincidence perhaps?  In 1897, the train robber and outlaw James Fleming Parker shot and mortally wounded Prescott’s popular Assistant District Attorney Erasmus Lee Norris during Parker’s jailbreak. Norris’s office just happened to be on the second floor of the ‘Tis building. There has been longtime speculation that Parker’s spirit roams the building.

Upon occupancy, the new attorneys in the second-floor offices reported sightings of a ghostly figure at the top of the stairs leading from the street to the second floor. They frequently found the newly installed elevator opening and closing on its own and the faucets in the second-floor kitchen turning on by themselves. On another occasion, one of the paralegals sighted a ghostly face staring back at her through the second-floor window.

Several spirits still linger: a Chinese laborer, who worked as a janitor in the building during the early 1900s; a cowboy; a former owner of the first-floor mercantile, who was quite possibly a member of the Knights of Pythias; and a little boy whose spirit has been detected playing in the third-floor banquet hall.

The 1927, the Hassayampa Inn was designed in Spanish Colonial Revival style to serve the needs of travelers. It was erected on the former site of the Congress Hotel, which burned down in 1923.

Since its beginnings, the Hassayampa Inn has had its share of paranormal activity. The most famous is a spirit known as Faith. In early 1928, on their wedding night, Faith and her much older husband checked into room 426. He went out to get cigarettes and never returned. Faith wandered the lobby for several days and in an act of despair hanged herself from the balcony outside of room 426.

Guests who stay in the room, as well as paranormal investigators, have come away claiming someone indeed died violently in there.

Darlene Wilson, of A Haunting Experience Tours, has had her own experiences. The hotel manager took her on a tour where he pointed out a smell emanating in the hallway and in Faith’s room. The aromas were of floral toilet water, the type of perfume used in the 1920s. The manager went on to say that in all the years since Faith’s death, they have tried to remove the scent, yet the same floral aroma always comes back.

Later while in room 426, Darlene was telling friends of the story of Faith, when something or someone started pulling on her pant leg … could it have been Faith?

A paranormal group from California stayed at the hotel to debunk the stories without much success. Their experiences included hearing sounds like a sigh or exhale of breath. A shadow figure appeared, and a growl was heard. An apparition of a boy was seen, and there were sounds of running footsteps.

The Night Watchman is another known spirit who occupies the lobby. A hostess, when closing the dining room late one night, sighted a man in a brown coat sitting in the dark at the round table by the pianos. She asked if she could turn the lights on for him and when she flipped the switch, he simply vanished.

The Hassayampa is a hotbed of paranormal activity. You never know when you may get tapped on the shoulder or see Faith wandering the lobby. One might see the Night Watchman patiently waiting for his lost love or the little Chinese boy searching for his family.

Enter these swinging doors and you go back in time to 1901 after the Palace Saloon was rebuilt following the fire of 1900. “Serving Arizona’s toughest customers since 1877” is the motto.

The Palace Saloon is the most active paranormal building in Prescott. One of the spirits is thought to be the unfortunate Jennie Clark, aka Nellie Coyle. She was a prostitute, and Fred Glover, her gambler, opium-addict lover, killed her by beating her to death inside the bar. They were surrounded by other patrons and no one stopped him.

Another is the spirit thought to be of Frank Nevin, who owned a mortuary, which he lost to Sheriff George C. Ruffner in a poker game. There is speculation he remains in the saloon to repeat that poker game with the hope of a better outcome.

At the top of the stairs, once was a porcelain mannequin dressed in period clothing. One morning she was inexplicitly found shattered beyond repair on the floor below. The new mannequin, now known as “Annie,” is frequently found with her head turned as if she is watching the crowds below. 

There have been numerous reports of chairs and bottles flying across the room via unseen forces. In particular, the condiments in the buffet fly off the shelves. The spirit of an unknown woman has often been sighted standing at the bottom of the stairs.

In the basement, which is off limits to the public, there was once a speakeasy and an opium den. There are remnants of the temporary jail cells that were used while new ones were being built at the courthouse. The energy here is very heavy, which makes it difficult to breathe. The cells are gone, but the bars are still up on the windows.

The 1905 Elks Theatre and Performing Arts Center was built for Prescott’s Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 330. 

It was the venue for numerous plays, operas, concerts, political rallies, boxing and wrestling matches and church services. From 1910 to 1983, it was primarily a movie theater.

The paranormal activities within are numerous. A theater manager often heard faint operatic voices singing when she was in the theater alone.

In 1912, a Russian immigrant named Professor Stanislaus Scherzel played classical music on his violin each evening before the motion picture played at the theater. The professor was seriously depressed, and one Sunday afternoon he shot himself to death at his home following a fight with his wife. Is it a coincidence that cleaning staff working after hours report hearing violin music coming from an unknown source? 

There are also reports of unusual activity in the lady’s room. Ladies using one particular stall often hear unbeknownst voices and experience outside attempts to open the door with no one else in the room.

Shortly after the 2010 restoration of the theater, an usher witnessed seeing a man dressed in period attire sitting in one of the restored box seats watching the show. On a second glance the man vanished.

Other reports include inexplicable foul odors in the theater, the sensation of having hair pulled, the apparition of a man dressed in black and another in cowboy attire. Staff members named one particularly active spirit, “Fillmore.” A cleaning lady in the theater claims she spoke with him. He told her he thought the nickname of Fillmore was cute but that his real name was Robert.

There are legendary stories of tragedy at the theater that could explain the hauntings: a despondent actor who hanged himself on the stage one night, a little girl who fell to her death from the balcony, human bones found inside one of the walls during restoration.

Prescott — this beautiful “Old West” town is full of stories, historical and haunted. These stories are just a few of the many haunted locations in Prescott. So, don’t be surprised if you feel a cold chill or someone tapping you on the shoulder when no one else is around, or should I say, anyone you can see.  Prescott’s spirits seem to be friendly and harmless and, on occasion, a bit mischievous.

Darlene Wilson is the owner of A Haunting Experience Tours and co-author of “Haunted Prescott.” Patti Ortiz is the marketing and art education programs manager for ‘Tis. They share a common interest in old buildings, their history and stories.