The Goldfield Hotel: When Ghost Stories Are Bad for Historical Properties

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Non Residential Buildings, Old House History

Sometimes, ghost stories are good for business. Last week I wrote about the Mizpah Hotel, which is one of many historic properties that have benefited from ghost tales.  Why? Because ghosts sell.

Just take a look at this list of television shows:

  • The Antiques Ghost Show
  • Fear
  • Ghost Adventures
  • The Ghost Chicks
  • Ghost Hunters
  • Ghost Hunters Academy
  • Ghost Hunters Headquarters
  • Ghost Stories
  • The Ghost Whisper
  • The Haunted
  • A Haunting
  • Medium
  • Most Haunted
  • Paranormal State
  • Psychic Kids
  • Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts

Ghosts are “en vogue,” said Angela Haag, researcher for the Central Nevada Museum and officer of the Goldfield Historical Society and , who pointed out that even Animal Planet has a ghost show (it’s on the list).

Goldfield Hotel, photo c/o Goldfield Historical Society

I spoke with Haag, who is actively involved in several historic preservation efforts in Goldfield, to get information on the possible basis of the ghost stories surrounding the historic Goldfield Hotel. The Goldfield Hotel is another of those fabulous historic properties that have long been empty and have changed hands again and again, with each new owner promising a brilliant historical restoration. The hotel has been closed since the 1940s, but in the last decade has captured the attention of several television shows.

In 2001, The World’s Scariest Places featured the hotel.  In 2006, the Travel Channel show Ghost Hunters investigated the hotel, as did Dead Famous, apparently (add that one to the list). In 2008, Ghost Hunters jumped on board, The Scariest Places on Earth.  Some psychics claim it’s a portal to another dimension.

But according to Haag who has researched the origins behind these ghost stories, they are typically “based on someone’s paranormal experience, not based on fact.”  The basic story goes like this: woman named Elizabeth gets pregnant and is chained by a man (well-known Nevadan George Wingfield, who did have historical ties to the hotel is sometimes that man) to a radiator in room 109. She’s given food and water until the baby is born.  In some versions, the baby is thrown down the mine shaft that’s under the hotel. Elizabeth is also killed. It’s her spirit that paranormal experts claim to interact with in room 109.

However, Haag pointed out inconsistencies. First, the time line doesn’t jibe. The time when Elizabeth, the daughter of a real hotel manager, was to have lived there, George W. had sold the hotel and was long gone. Also, Haag’s research has showed there isn’t and never was a mine shaft underneath the hotel, though there is one next to it. Also, these ghost stories never emerged into the local–or national–scene until the 1980s when Shirley Porter wrote a book But You Can’t Leave, Shirley about her purchase and attempted renovation of the Goldfield Hotel (and the ghosts therein).

There was a confirmed suicide in 1915 of hotel porter J.B. Findly, and anecdotal evidence of at least one sighting of this ghost the day after his death. Haag repeatedly receives requests from people who want access to the hotel because of the ghosts. But none of these tales have benefited Goldfield–or the hotel. “I think people get so excited because they believe–they want to see,” explained Haag. But because of the supernatural claims and television exposure, vandalism to the hotel has significantly increased. It’s been vandalized multiple times since the last investigative show aired in 2008.

Not just the hotel is targeted, but surrounding historical properties as well. Haag owns one of these properties and returned from a ten-day vacation to find the back of the building compromised and one of the boards covering a window had been unscrewed. “People think it’s a free-for-all,” Haag said, describing why someone might see an old building that isn’t being lived in and trespass and vandalize the property. Haag pointed, “Everything is owned by somebody.” And the more vandalism that occurs to these old properties, the slimmer the chances of anyone coming up with the money to restore them–ghost stories or not.

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  1. 5 Responses  to “The Goldfield Hotel: When Ghost Stories Are Bad for Historical Properties”

  2. MIke
    May 17, 2013
    Several comments. First, who says it's kids doing the vandalism? Most of the vandalism of old buildings I have seen and been unfortunate enough to witness have been done by grown men usually between 24 and 30. Very seldom have I come across females vandalizing older buildings, its usually very personal when a woman vandalizes anything, with a guy, its more like marking thier territory or saying "mine's bigger than yours" an ego thing. Next, I don't think that it's necessarily the paranormal media attention thats been bad for the hotel, I think it's the shear amount of attention. I would love to get all the details on the deaths and such that did actually happen there and thier causes for a book I am compiling of mostly true stories of the american southwest, still not sure of the title but I cover native american legends all the way up to myths and legends that take place in the 1950's. It is a shame that places like the Goldfield and other historical sites are left to crumble to dust due to bad management or lack of funding, much like the Hester-Lenz house in my home town of Benton Arkansas which is the primary reason I am writing the book, I wish to purchase and restore the property but the man who owns it is a direct descendant of the folks that built it and will not return any phone calls and is never home. I believe these kind of stories and legends can be benificial to properties as long as they are managed well, ie. rare and limited access to them, the harder a place is to get into, the more interest it generates kinda thing.
  3. Nancy Miller
    Oct 1, 2012
    It is a shame that parents let their kids run wild and do not teach them to respect other people's property. There are better ways to see a place. Ask permission and pay a fee so a little more money can go toward saving these historical landmarks. These kids vandalize places and they need to go to jail and contribute many hours fixing the damage they do. I have no sympathy for bad kids that think it is ok to tear up what is not theirs. I wish cameras were cheaper to install so these vandals could be caught easier. I hope the Goldfield is restored. Virginia is so dedicated and does a good job at the Goldfield. I will be sure to stay a few nights there with my husband if it ever gets restored.
  4. Annette
    Aug 29, 2011
    I am so suprised that this place is not on any of National Historic Register's Lists... Some one should save it.. If for nothing more than the fact it is a vital piece of Nevada history.. It was grand and hosted presidents in it time, ghosts or not I'd love to see it restored to it's former glory! Or at least fixed up enough for tours ;-)) If the courthouse in Belmont can be saved. Why can't we save the Goldfield Hotel?? It's so sad to see it year after year become so sad and dilapidated...Someone should start a campaign to get it on the NRHP! you can count me in!! ;-)
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    I was part of the group with Ghost Adventures that enjoyed being part of the last "legal" group of investigators back in 2009. The time lines don't jive at all and I wrote a little about it in my page http://www.squidoo.com/goldfieldhotel I am upset that this majestic building is being targeted and vandalized. It is sad, disrespectful and it ruins it for those who have appreciation. As far as the comment before mine, I would hate to see this building torn down. Ghosts or not, the history that this building has seen is worth it's own weight in gold (or silver)
  6. Frank
    Aug 29, 2011
    Many old buildings need to be torn down, but the cost to do so is too expensive for owners that have already given up on the property. There should be a government program that allows abandon buildings to be cleaned up and the raw land used for local farming. This way you get rid of the vandals, and grow food for the locals!