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Haunted and/or historic: 4 of Utah's spookiest sites

By Robert J. DeBry & Associates | Posted - Oct. 29, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.



Whether it's because of large numbers of children or families just looking for fun, Halloween has long trailed only Christmas as Utah's most popular holiday. And there are plenty of spooky stories and spooky sites for those who like haunts and ghosts.

With Halloween just days away, here are some of the Beehive State's sites associated with the scary and supernatural.

Tooele Hospital

While Tooele is recognized in Utah circles as the town with a name that's hard to pronounce, it used to be more known for the city hospital located not far from the city cemetery.

Now a haunted attraction known as Asylum 49, the old hospital has an involved history. Formerly called the Tooele Hospital, the center served as a place of healing for the sick—including the mentally ill. The building has served many purposes over the years. The original owner, Samuel F. Lee built it as a home for his family in 1873, says Utah State History. After the family moved out, it became a home for the elderly, then the local hospital. In 2001 when a new hospital was built elsewhere in the county, it reverted back into a nursing home.

Not only does the site have historical and supernatural relevance, but Hollywood has a claim to it as well. Utah State History reports that "The Stand" and "The Fastest Indian" were both filmed at the old hospital.

In 2006, Kimm and Cami Andersen bought the site, which still had full-furnished hospital rooms and equipment, notes a report by the Travel Channel. At first, the pair didn't believe in much of the folklore about the building, but it didn't take long for them to change their minds.

The Travel Channel interviewed nurses who worked at the nursing home that was actually located in the hospital in 2011. Many of the staff have stories of paranormal interactions, and they refused to walk the halls at night because of those spooky experiences. The nurses also say many patients in the home would claim a nurse in white already tended to them, but the nurses on staff never wore white. This nursing home has since shut down, reports the Travel Channel.

In a second Ghost Adventures episode filmed at Asylum 49, owner Cami Andersen said she and some of her employees were walking down a hallway when she felt somebody walking behind them. Thinking it was one of her other employees, she turned around to look. Instead, she says she saw a black figure behind her that crawled up onto the ceiling.

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Old Cottonwood Mill

What once was "a source of pride for the whole community," is now a burned shell of what used to be. The Cottonwood Paper Mill still stands today but is nothing but a relic. According to an article in Deseret Weekly, a publication in early Utah's history, this pride and joy of the community gave Utah residents the chance to print their own newspapers and publications from their local mill. An 1884 Deseret News article says the mill produced five tons of paper per day—30 tons per week.

According to a 1969 document filing for historical status, the paper mill burned on April 1, 1893, rendering it unusable. In the 1920s, the mill was partially restored and used a nightclub scene for nearly two decades. And in the 1970s and 1980s, "during the Halloween season, it intentionally became a haunted house, soon renamed the Haunted Old Mill," notes a report in the Cottonwoods Heights Journal.

The article also states, "Whispers of the Old Mill being haunted have been heard for years. Many individuals — residents, neighbors, workers and visitors — have reported doors opening and closing on their own, lights being turned on and off long after the building was disconnected from electricity, cold spots, a woman's voice, a barking dog and general eerie-ness.

The current owners do not have the property open to the public, according to recent Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee Meeting minutes.

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Utah State Hospital Haunted Castle

Originally founded in 1885 as the Territorial Insane Asylum, the facility near the foothills east of Provo later became known simply as the Utah State Hospital. And difficult as it is to imagine in today's politically correct world, beginning in the 1970s, patients and staff at the institution for the mentally ill staged a haunted castle open to the public for more than two decades.

The castle was a stone and mortar amphitheater on the hospital grounds.

"They took the scary factor seriously," reports an article in Atlas Obscura. "Over the years, the castle would include brutal torture scenes and savage gorillas; chainsaw murderers and mad scientists' laboratories; a swamp monster that popped up to scare people as they walked over its giant water tank."

The haunted castle proved to be a popular attraction. In fact, according to a Deseret News article, it generated about $100,000 annually budgeted toward recreation for hospital patients. By the mid-1990s, there were people who recognized that having mentally ill patients participate in a spook alley was bad optics.

In 1998, the director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Micael Malloy, sent a letter to then Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt stating that the ongoing practice perpetuated a stigma against mental illness.

"I do not know which is more offensive - the fact that this horror show is allowed to continue or that the hospital administrators admitted to knowing that part of the draw each Halloween is the public's fear of mental illness," Malloy wrote.

Soon after, the Utah Board of Mental Health voted to discontinue the hospital's haunted castle, according to the Atlas Obscura article.

Rio Grande Railroad Depot

The old Rio Grande Railroad Depot in downtown Salt Lake City has long had a reputation for paranormal activity.

One of the best-known ghost stories is the story of the "Purple Lady." As the legend goes, a woman and her fiance were standing on the platform shortly after the depot's completion, waiting for a train. They got into an argument which resulted in her engagement ring being thrown onto the tracks. Inconsolable, the woman went down onto the tracks to retrieve the ring, only to get hit by the oncoming train.

Employees at the Rio Grande have had hair-raising encounters with the apparition, claims a KSL article. Some people hear singing, crying or wailing coming from a women's restroom on an upper floor. Others say they've been locked out of the building late at night with no explanation.

An investigation by a ghost hunting team in 2017 found evidence of unexplained phenomena, according to the KSL report. The team carried a device that measures changes in atmospheric pressure that could be associated with paranormal activity. The machine showed several anomalies.

Robert J. DeBry & Associates

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