The Ghosts Of Yellowstone National Park

Do ghosts roam the balconies that overlook the massive fireplace inside the Old Faithful Inn? NPT file photo.

Editor's note: A version of this story ran in past editions of the Traveler. It seems fitting that it be resurrected in honor of All Hallows' Eve.

There is perhaps no more ethereal place than the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. There, when the night skies are thick with scudding clouds taht filter the moonlight, ghostly phantoms promenade on the geysers' drifting zephyrs. But do these wraiths truly exist, haunting the park's geyser fields, forests and lodges, or are they merely conjured by the whooshing geysers and sputtering fumaroles?

There are certainly stories that won't die -- eerie tales of macabre hauntings, such as the bride who stalks the upper reaches of the Old Faithful Inn with her head firmly tucked under her arm, a victim of a honeymoon-night decapitation decades ago. While one of the inn's caretakers, mindful of guests' appetites for the morbid, confesses to creating that gruesome scenario, there are some unexplained mysteries that confound explanation.

Not too many years ago, a woman who stayed with her husband in Room 2 at the creaky Old Faithful Inn awoke to find an apparition floating at the foot of their bed. She immediately roused her husband by digging her fingernails deeply into his shoulder. "Don't you see it?" the woman cried, pointing at a woman dressed in 1890s garb.

And, along with the usual suspect ghost stories about things that go bump in the night, is the tale of a housekeeping employee who watched a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall of the inn's "300" wing execute a 90-degree turn and then drop back to its original position.

Strolling through the majestic log inn, guests find it's easy to envision ghosts drifting along the inner balconies of the 85-foot-high lobby, or down the dimly lit hallways of the "Old House," the first portion of the gabled lodge built during the winter of 1903-04. More than a century of hands have rubbed smooth and shiny the dark log railings that run up the stairs and skirt the balconies. Too, the wooden floors are worn heavily in places where visitors have paused to gaze up at the balconies or the massive stone chimney that commands one corner of the lobby. At night, jigging shadows created by flames dancing in the fireplace dash across across the rough-hewn walls, while wailing winds send shudders through the inn.

If indeed Yellowstone is haunted by ghosts running wild at night, and not imaginations, whose shadows are they?

Could it be that Mattie Culver, who died during childbirth on March 2, 1889, at the now-gone Firehole Hotel once located several miles north of the Old Faithful Inn, fretfully stalks the geyser basin, heart-broken over not living to see her child grow up? When Mrs. Culver died, the hotel's grounds were too frozen to yield a grave, so her body was placed in two pickle barrels and buried in a snowdrift until spring thaw. Today, not far from her grave, is Dead Maiden's Spring.

According to Lee Whittlesey, the park historian and author of Death In Yellowstone, "The grave was later fenced and maintained by the wife of a park concessioner, and Mattie's 18-month-old daughter was sent to live with relatives."

Or perhaps one of the apparitions is that of L.R. Piper, a cashier from the First National Bank of St. Mary's, Ohio, who, on July 30, 1890, stepped out of the now-gone Fountain Hotel to enjoy an after-dinner cigar -- and vanished. U.S. Army troops stationed in Yellowstone at the time searched a month for Piper, and his brother-in-law spent the month of September that year looking for him. At one point, he slept under the stars hoping that coyote howls would lead him to Piper's remains. In his book, Mr. Whittlesey offers his own opinion of what befell Mr. Piper:

I believe he walked out into the night and inadvertently stumbled into one of the many hot springs that were and are located nearby. Persons who fall into hot springs disintegrate, and there is often no recovery of them. Two hot springs there, Gentian Pool and Deep Blue Geyser, are very large and very deep, and I believe that a search of them or other springs there, could it be done, would yield Piper's silicified bones perhaps covered over by years of spring deposits.

Maybe Charles Phillips is doing the haunting. He was a ranger stationed at Old Faithful during the winter of 1926-27. He died after eating water hemlock he mistook for wild parsnip. According to Death in Yellowstone, the ranger's body was found on the floor of the ranger station.

Investigators found that he had apparently come out of the bedroom into the kitchen and fell forward, striking his head above his left eye on the table. Dirt on his hands indicated he had crawled on the floor for awhile, probably in agony, and he exhibited the vomiting and frothing at the mount which are characteristic of hemlock poisoning.

On your next visit to the Old Faithful Inn, stay up late one night and test your belief in the afterlife, which seems more restless now that the mournful howling of wolves once again hangs in the air.

Comments

I love hearing the stories of ghosts/hauntings in National Parks. It's a wonderful part of America's folklore. Has anyone heard any stories about Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks?

As an employee of TWServices during the summers of 1986 and 1987 at the Old Faithful Inn location, I can verify some of the stories from the Inn. I worked as a line cook at OFI. I became friends with the security guards because I would get off work late and then hang around in front of the fire place or go to the second floor to write letters from the small tables in the public area. I marveled at the Inn and the geyser basin at night because I got to roam it without thousands of tourists (tourons) interupting. It was the summer of '86 that my experiences began with the unrested souls. On a routine watch with one of the guards we walked the halls of the 3rd floor something called my first name. I kept walking and continued to hear it several times until I asked her if she had heard anything. She said yes and that "they" do it to her quite often. Later that night we made it down to the 300 wing. It was the newer part of the hotel. I was told it was built on 2 unmarked graves. I pretty much shrugged it off, but thought it to be odd. In the months following several odd things occurred, many that took my nerve resulting in me running away. The 300 wing was intersected by 4 hallways and and a refreshment closet. I saw the fire extinguisher mentioned above. I saw the fire hose wheel turn and fill up the hose. I saw the short stairwell steps flatten causing my friend to stumble. I felt the unrested souls pass by me in the hallways. A sweet fragrance was present. I felt my hand squeezed. I saw the ice machine fill up then dump ice on the floor. I saw...

Hi, has anyone heard any ghost stories about Glacier National Park or Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada? I'm the author of "Haunted Montana: A Guide to Haunted Places You Can Visit" and have been asked to collect ghost stories of Glacier-Waterton for a new book. True encounters and spooky campfire tales are all welcome. You can contact me at

Thanks!

It has been many years since I've been to Yellowstone but I found this site and wanted to share an actual story that by no means is made up. When I was younger I decided to take the trip with a church group. One of the stops we visted was old faithful and we had alot of time on our hands before the gieser went off, so me and a friend decided to check out the inn. Most of the inn looked comfortable and people where checking out the gift shops and what not. We walked up to the top of the inn and then got all the way to the end of the western side of the inn. My friend kept saying i wonder if this place is haunted. About the third time he said that he only got to say i wonder if this place is hau... then all at once the two pull string lights went off and on at the exact same time as well as two or three doors on the left side of the hall and 3 on the right open and close violently all at the same time. You can believe what you want but to this day i still think about it.

I am not usually one to believe in ghosts. After our recent trip to Yellowstone (and the Old Faithful Inn), I am a bit more inclined to open my mind to the possibility. Nothing dramatic, but here is our story for what it is worth.

We stayed at the OFI in mid-July. We stayed on the floor just above the reception area. We were the first door in the hallway as you come up the stairs and off the balcony area. After leaving the kids to read in the room (it was 11pm or so), my husband and I sat out on the balcony overlooking the fireplace for about 20 minutes. We returned to the room, found that the kids were asleep and went to bed ourselves. It was very quite in the Inn that night and nobody was out when we returned to our room. I turned the lights out, but kept my eyes open as I wasn't really tired and was processing the days events. Within minutes, I saw a white "orb" (that is the only way I can describe it) move quickly across the room towards the door. The door then rattled 5 or 6 times. It became very quite after that and I sat up and asked my husband if he had just seen and heard what I did. He said "yes...just close your eyes and go to sleep...that was creepy".

That was it. Nothing spectacular, but enough to make me wonder!

By the way...that was our second visit to OFI in 15 years...and we will return!

Ive never been to Yellowstone or OFI but my aunt has and when she back she had a book about Yellowstones ghost stories it's pretty interresting i would reccommend people read it.

I heard there's a ghost in room 4040 at the inn. Anyone else hear that? Check out this book made for iPad: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-inn-at-old-faithful/id537407828?mt=11