I found this old article that I wrote about 11 years ago for a paper in Reno around Halloween. It features Virginia City, Nevada, which is the setting for my Love in the Sierras Series. I thought it would be fun to post it here. Enjoy, and as the title says, every word of it is true….
Thursday night came and the snow followed it in thick sheets. I pulled into the parking lot of the Sugarloaf Mountain Motel and realized that silence had settled over the town along with the snow. The stores were closed, the streets abandoned, and the parking lot empty. Virginia City, Nev. may have more than 1,500 residents, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a ghost town. In fact, some would argue exactly the opposite.
The Sugarloaf’s owner, Joyce Hinzpeter, said she bought the motel seven years ago with her husband Don when they moved from Winnemucca, Nev. to Virginia City and that they were unaware of the motel’s ghostly residents at the time they bought it. However, it has been an added bonus for the couple who has spent many vacations traveling the south and eastern parts of the U.S. perusing centuries-old cemeteries and other places said to be haunted.
The motel, which rests 3,000 feet above abandoned mine shafts, has a history of more than 130 years. It was built in 1870.
“This area was kind of the rough end of town, even though they had a school,” Hinzpeter said.
Amidst brothels and boarding houses, Hinzpeter said that the original four rooms, numbers 1, 2, 3 and 14 whose original metal shudders still hang, were once a market and a butcher shop, and that the other four units of the motel were brought over from South
Lake Tahoe in the 1940s, shortly after the place became a motel and was named after the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.
A stable and garage once stood where the motel’s convenience store now stands, and the foundation of a 5-story boarding house peaks up through the ground when the gravel gets low in the parking lot.
Hinzpeter and her husband entertained me with stories of the motel’s hauntings. She said that a woman who stayed in Room 1 had complained the next morning of the bed covers constantly being pulled off throughout the night. A truck driver who lodged in the same room on a different night had woken them in the middle of the night, asking for another room.
“My husband had asked him what was wrong with the room, you know, in case there was a problem,” Hinzpeter said. “The truck driver said: ‘I just don’t feel alone in there.’”
Mr. Hinzpeter told another story of a group of lodgers who had taken a brick from the foundation of the boarding house before leaving. Weeks after they had gone, they returned with the brick along with stories of the bad luck they were experiencing since taking the brick, including nearly two car wrecks, sicknesses and shortcomings at work. After the brick was replaced in its original position, a follow-up phone call was received from the lodgers, explaining that everything had returned to normal.
Hinzpeter said that every year in October, a group of people from throughout the U.S. come to Virginia City and stay the night in a few of the haunted motels and hotels, the Sugarloaf being one of them.
“They bring with them cameras and all sorts of equipment and check out the activity,” Hinzpeter said, and added with a laugh, “They’re sort of like Ghostbusters.”
She said they have detected up to 15 ghosts that roam back and forth between Rooms 1 and 3, and that the ghosts do not appear in human-like forms, but instead come in the presence of light orbs.
Avon Leonard said she has been searching for ghosts consistently for the past eight to 10 years.
“I pretty much make this my life,” Leonard said. “I don’t believe anyone can be an authority on ghosts, but I know just about as much about it as anyone can know.”
Leonard, who has been featured on the History Channel’s “Haunted Nevada” segment on Virginia City, as well as having been on Radio-Free Europe and featured in newspaper articles, said she has been roaming the streets of Virginia City during both day and night, camera in hand, since 1999 to investigate the spirits.
“Every year I get photos that will knock your socks off,” Leonard said. “I’m very well-versed in what’s going on up there.”
Leonard, who is currently investigating the Silver Queen, said that she and a friend stayed in the Sugarloaf’s haunted Rooms 1 and 3 several times. She said that when she stayed in Room 1, she heard voices speaking and that although the voices were loud enough, she could not discern the words because they were somewhat garbled. However, she said that she did hear her name being spoken very clearly in that room.
While she and her friend were in Room 3, sitting on the bed talking and looking at photographs, Leonard said they could see light orbs darting through the air and through the walls.
“They zip with the speed of a jet airplane,” Leonard said. “We know the difference between them and insects. If you say that you can see them, then they dart through the walls because they can hear you.”
I, along with two of my friends, decided to see for myself.
The snowstorm began in the early evening and lasted through the night, yet the space between the brick walls of Room 3 offered little comfort and little sleep. The room was stifling. Atop the blankets and restless, I watched the clock on the bedside stand tick on to midnight then 1 a.m. and finally to 2 a.m.
I felt a slight pressure on the small of my back. Slowly, it strengthened and finally pushed, ramming my 160-pound body over the side of the bed and crashing onto the floor. I peered through the darkness for the source of the push. It was only me in the room, but I was not alone.
I crept back onto the bed and waited without taking a breath. The scent of flowers filled the air. I reached out toward the place where I had been lying seconds earlier. My hand swept through the air and then struck something solid. I applied pressure to it, and it pressed back.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness, revealing my solitary hand suspended in mid-air. I saw it retreating back to my body while feeling the push that made it do so. I panicked and thrust both arms toward the invisible culprit, propelling it away from me.
I sat in the middle of the bed, stunned and panting. I calmed and waited. Seconds seemed like hours, and I finally reconsidered sleeping again. I let out a sigh and the next
breath caught in my throat as what felt like two arms gripped me around the neck from behind, constricting and preventing me from breathing.
My hands went to my throat to pry the arms away. My body began to feel weightless as I realized I was being hoisted off the bed. My toes slid across the blanket, then felt it no more. Opposite the bed, I met my reflection in the mirror above a desk. My levitated body thrashed and writhed against a force I could not see even in the mirror.
“Stop,” I choked. “Stop.”
Gasping against the collapsing walls of my throat, fear seized me. The pressure grew and I pleaded once more.
My eyes flew open. Beads of sweat trickled down my face. My chest heaved with every intake of breath as I lay on my back. I rolled onto my side to confirm that my companions had not left the room. A sigh of relief escaped me at the sight of two sleeping bodies. My breathing eased into a calm rhythm.
“It was a nightmare,” I thought as I smiled in the dark.
I turned, facing the wall and closed my eyes to sleep. A sweet and floral fragrance wafted up to my nostrils. I opened my eyes, shuddered and decided that sleep was not an option.
A camcorder sat facing the wall adjacent to the front door and the inside of the bathroom recording film throughout the night. Upon investigating the tape the next day, our eyes greeted a multitude of spherical objects zooming in and out of the camera shot. Some shone, some were dull, but all raced with smooth and distinct movements.