Rapid City's haunting reputation

By Tom Lawrence


10/31/06 - Black Hills Pioneer

Halloween will do that to you.

Rapid City is also filled with places where weird events supposedly happened. People swear they saw something pass by them in a hallway, or they heard disembodied voices in an empty room.

These spooky stories are based in locations across town. Some places embrace "their" ghost and even give it a name; others scoff at the notion that a spirit is hanging around.
These ghostly addresses include:

The Elks Theatre has been a local landmark; it opened as an opera house on June 6, 1912.

The theater soon became a movie house and has been completely remodeled in recent years. But one old tradition stayed with the place: Jimmy the ghost.

Jimmy is reportedly a benevolent spirit and doesn't cause too many chills to run down the spines of employees or customers. The theater refers to him on its Web site and said he, along with the living staff, wishes patrons well.

"There's a lot of people who believe in Jimmy," said theater general manager Curt Small, who doesn't, despite seeing a few odd things, such as seats flipping up on their own. It's an old building, and old buildings make noise, he said.

Customers often report seeing a ghost, Small said, but they are usually smiling when they do so.

Ellsworth Air Force Base is supposedly a place where both airplanes and spirits make a stop.

People have reported moving objects and shadowy figures at the base and many legends of eerie events exist.

Reports of a "haunted hangar" at the base persist, although Tim Pavek, a civilian who works in environmental engineering at the base, said he has researched the matter and feels most of the tale is unfounded.

Pavek said reports of a "ghost building" came from rumors that a building used for weapons storage that appears to be two stories is only one because a person died on the second floor and the floor was filled in to cover up the body and the death.

But Pavek has located the original drawings for the building and said it was always intended to be one story with a thick concrete ceiling.

"It's not much of a ghost story," he said.

Hooky Jack's and Phatty McGees Restaurant and Bar are located in the oldest building in Rapid City, built in the late 1800s.

Employees and customers tell of pool balls that move by themselves, of people talking, footsteps, and chairs moving around. But when they check, no one - or at least no living person - is there.

A surveillance camera captured some mysterious glowing lines and other weird happenings are reported. Many people attribute the spooky stuff to "Hooky," a miner whose hands were blown off in an explosion who became Rapid City's first policeman and a beloved local figure.

Perhaps Hooky just doesn't want to leave Rapid City.

Call them school spirits. Dakota Middle School was once the old Rapid City High School and some people report strange things going on there.

The theater room is said to be haunted and the third floor gym is supposedly haunted as well.

It's not the only school where things go bump in the night.

Rapid City Stevens High School is reportedly haunted by a ghost called "Sparky."

Principal Katie Bray said "Sparky" is a well-known figure who reportedly plays jokes in the theater. He snaps lights on and off and opens and shuts doors, rattling staff and students.
"We do have a ghost in our theater," Bray said. "He's been here for years."

There's a long history of sadness and tragedy at Sioux San Hospital, which was originally a boarding school for Native American children, and was later used as a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients.

The voices of frightened little children supposedly still echo in the halls, and some people have reported seeing visions of the Native children who missed their homes and families. Some never made it home, and their bodies are interred in graves scattered around the grounds.

Reportedly some night security guards heard and saw too much and quit their jobs.

The old Hanging Tree on Skyline Drive is a favorite stopping place this time of year.

The stump of a large old oak tree is reportedly all that remains of Rapid City's original "hanging tree." Whether or not that stump is the actual hanging tree is debatable.


According to historical records, however, several people were indeed hung from an oak tree high on Skyline Drive for all to see.

Duane Baumgartner of Rapid City shared a few ghost stories from Hangman's Hill.

According to Baumgartner, a woman staying at a home on the hill saw a ghostly cowboy pass through a hallway, and later one of the house's owners heard a voice command her, "Get out!"

Was it the ghost of a cowboy who was hung at the hill a century ago? He claimed his innocence and may be trapped at the site to this day, protesting his execution.

Baumgartner said at a party people heard a horse rush past, breathing hard as it struggled through the snow. No tracks were left behind by the spectral steed. Dozens of people "heard" the horse, Baumgartner said.

The Hotel Alex Johnson is said to be haunted by many ghosts - including the original owner, Alex Johnson.

The Weekly News looked into the ghostly legends last fall and learned of employees who saw, heard and felt threatening things. There was the story of the little girl ghost and the football player, or the ones told by the maids and other employees who saw things that didn't make sense ... unless something from another dimension did it. Alex Johnson himself supposedly still roams the halls of the hotel he built and named for himself.

And of course, there is the famous woman in white, possibly a new bride, who plunged to her death from the hotel. She is supposedly seen in the hallways and rooms from time to time.

We spent a night alone on the Eighth Floor with keys to the two "most haunted" rooms and frankly, it was a bit eerie. Thankfully, none of the spirits appeared, although we left before 6 a.m.

The AJ offers a Halloween package for those who want to experience the chills and thrills of Eighth Floor themselves.

Many of these stories came from Chad Lewis, the co-author of "The South Dakota Road Guide to Haunted Locations."

For more ghostly tales, go to www.unexplainedresearch.com.

Share your spooky stories with other Halloween lovers at www.rcweeklynews.com

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