Whether the historic buildings in Glacier National Park are as haunted as the legends claim was an intriguing prospect for Billings author Karen Stevens.
So intriguing, in fact, that she has kept coming back to Glacier for four decades to hike and search for stories of the “uncanny and mysterious.”
The result of her exhaustive paranormal probe is a new book, “Glacier Ghost Stories,” just off the press at Riverbend Publishing in Helena.
Stevens said she interviewed hundreds of people through the years about alleged hauntings. She quizzed park rangers and winter hotel caretakers and also talked to a lot of hikers and tourists along the way. And whenever possible she asked to stay in the hotel rooms where previous guests had reported hair-raising incidents.
Many Glacier Hotel on Glacier’s east side may be the most haunted place in the park, Stevens speculates in her book.
“Its large size and long history and its spectacular, remote location make it a perfect place for the paranormal,” she said.
Stevens tells about the time a 9-year-old boy from Great Falls saw an unexplained apparition of a woman in a red dress in his room. Then there are the puzzling noises from Room 308 that often sound like a loud party is going on, even though the room is unoccupied.
Several guests at Many Glacier have recounted the distinct feeling of someone sitting on their beds as they were abruptly awakened from their slumber.
Stevens interviewed Many Glacier winter caretakers through the years, including Steve Lautenbach, who spent several winters overseeing the remote hotel before his untimely death in 2008 at age 37.
“Lautenbach knew about the hotel’s ghosts before he took the job as caretaker, but he wasn’t particularly worried,” Stevens notes in the book.
He didn’t believe in ghosts and attributed most of the creaks and groans to the wind howling through the place.
“Still, that couldn’t explain the scent of a lady’s perfume or the ghost of a man in a top hat,” she said.
One day while making his rounds, Lautenbach found an empty wine bottle in a hallway, then found the glass doors of the locked wine case open, with an empty slot on the rack.
“When reporters asked him if there really were ghosts at Many Glacier, Lautenbach’s answer was always the same: ‘If I say yes, then I’m crazy. If I say no, then I’m a liar.’”
The Belton Chalet at West Glacier earned its own chapter in Stevens’ book for an ongoing series of escapades of a mischievous ghost the staff has nicknamed “Bob.”
Marketing and Lodge Manager Noreen Hanson’s own experiences with Bob are detailed in the book, and as Stevens points out, not all guests react to an encounter with Belton’s ghosts as matter-of-factly as Hanson does.
“He does play tricks all the time,” Hanson said during an interview with the Daily Inter Lake. “I spend a lot of time here, and I hear noises and steps. Today my keys were missing. It doesn’t bother me. I just think it’s hilarious.”
And it’s not just Bob who pulls the paranormal pranks.
In the book Hanson shares a guest’s experience when she was working early one morning in August 2009: “A woman came into the lobby and said that when her husband was showering, he turned around and there was a small girl in white standing in the shower. He yelled and jumped out. Shortly after that they both came to the front desk with their suitcases, gave me the key, and left. His hair was still wet. I went into the room but didn’t see anything.”
Visitors typically seek out Belton Chalet either because they’re interested in historic buildings or they’re looking for a ghost encounter.
“The chalet is on a lot of the hotel [TV] shows about ghosts,” Hanson said.
Room 30 and 37 at Belton Chalet are said to produce the most ghostly activities.
Robert Lucke, a former Glacier Park red-bus driver who now lives in Havre and who spent years gathering ghost stories from hotel night clerks and other employees, shared many of his tales with Stevens.
“I was telling her too much, I think,” Lucke said with a laugh.
A born promoter and storyteller, Lucke worked through Glacier Park Inc., the park concessionaire, to establish walking tours of the various hotels that incorporated some of the unusual details and lore of each historic building.
“As I did the research I kept bumping into ghosts,” Lucke told the Inter Lake. “I kept falling into more stories, but that’s what people want.”
About 10 years ago Lucke and Lake McDonald Lodge Manager Todd Ashcraft mulled the idea of daily tours at that lodge. Since that hotel seemed to be the only park lodge without a resident ghost, Lucke coaxed summer employees into donning a white sheet. On cue, the “ghost” would make its way across the third-floor balcony of Lake McDonald Lodge, moaning as it swept the expanse of the hotel.
It made for good theatrics during the tours, but the apparitions were fairly short-lived.
These days, Ashcraft said the lodge appears to remain ghost-free.
Still, there was one alleged encounter in summer 2008 that Lucke told about in Stevens’ book. A woman dressed in old-time clothes was seen by a security man and night auditor many times looking out the lobby windows that open to the lakeside veranda. Some guests heard people arguing loudly on the balconies, though there was no one there. And a night auditor felt something run its fingers through her hair one evening, Lucke said.
“Whether or not I inadvertently hauled those ghosts from another location to Lake McDonald or they were always there and there were just people more in tune to feel their presence, I do not know,” Lucke wrote. “I do know that for those who saw the ghosts at Lake McDonald Lodge the summer of 2008, they were as real as the bellmen stoking the lobby fireplace.”
It isn’t just the lodges that seem to be haunted, Stevens said. Mountain peaks, hiking trails and even Going-to-the-Sun Road itself all have mysterious encounters that have become part of the park’s intrigue.
Jerry Black, the grandson of St. Mary pioneers Hugh and Margaret Black, told Stevens about “an old grizzled guy who’s been seen walking back out of Going-to-the-Sun Road by visitor center personnel at St. Mary.
“They thought he looked rather strange, so they turned back for another look and he was gone,” Black shared with Stevens. “It happened once or twice a year, late at night just before they shut down ... his clothing was definitely dated and he had quite a beard.”
Stevens’ ghost stories encompass the park from one end to the other, from Apgar Village Inn to a mysterious cave at Belly River.
Are these accounts fact or fiction? As the stories are told and retold around the campfire or in the fireside lounges at the park’s magnificent lodges, guests are left to ponder whether Glacier’s ghosts are real or not.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Belton Chalet in West Glacier is one of the haunted spots described in “Glacier Ghost Stories.” Noreen Hanson, the Belton’s marketing and lodge manager, remembered a spooky encounter that involved this empty rocking chair rocking violently.
Room 37 is one of the haunted spots in the Belton Chalet.