5 spooky Utah ghost stories may or may not have heard before

Members of the Ghost Hopping team investigate the paranormal activities inside the basement of the Rio Grande Depot in October 2017. The century-old building is said to be haunted.

Members of the Ghost Hopping team investigate the paranormal activities inside the basement of the Rio Grande Depot in October 2017. The century-old building is said to be haunted. (KSL-TV)

Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

Editor's note: This article reviews Utah's paranormal history for KSL.com's Historic section. Read at your own risk πŸ‘».

SCARY LAKE CITY β€” Utah is home to plenty of ghost stories.

There are many buildings and places believed to be haunted to this day. One glance through the state's old newspapers and you'll find ghost stories are a tradition that goes back well over a century.

With this being Halloween weekend, here's a look back at some of those stories you may know and some you may not know.

The Lady in Purple

Over the years, many people have claimed to have seen a woman dressed in purple who appears angry or unhappy inside the Rio Grande Depot in Salt Lake City.

In 2017, Rio Grande Cafe manager Colleen Murphy told KSL-TV that she has seen lights come on at night in a locked room at the bottom of a stairwell with nobody seemingly there to turn them on. She also said she had been locked out of the building "on multiple occasions late at night" with no real explanation. Others have told her they've heard singing at night coming from the women's bathroom in the depot β€” even when the building is seemingly empty.

Per the legend, the woman tossed her engagement ring onto the tracks during an argument with her fiance at the depot. Deciding she had made a mistake, she jumped down to retrieve the ring when she was struck and killed by an oncoming train. That's according to longtime Rio Grande Cafe server Dicky Holt, who told KSL-TV at the time the story was first heard in the 1980s.

Ghost investigators believe the building is haunted after making a trip through the building at night. Is it because the legend of the Lady in Purple is true? Who knows. The building has, until recently, been home to the state's vast history collection. It's always possible something there is the real reason for the haunting.

The haunted Old Main

Almost everyone who has passed through the Southern Utah University campus has heard the lore of Virginia Loomis and Old Main, a building on the university's campus. The story is famous enough among locals that SUU even wrote about it on its own website back in 2016.

As the legend goes, Virginia Loomis was murdered in the late 1800s; her body was discovered on the boulder used to make many of the bricks to construct the Cedar City building in 1898. It's said some of the bricks even contain her blood. The supposed murderer, Steven Farr, later in life was hired as a janitor at the university, where revenge was served.

"On his first day of work he was allegedly lighting the old coal furnace in Old Main's basement when something caused the furnace door to slam shut on his arm," according to SUU's official account of the legend. "He burned to death, unable to wrench free, becoming the human torch that burned Old Main to the ground in 1948."

It's said the ghost of Virginia was seen "laughing in the flames" and "Virginia" was written on Farr's skull.

The dedication ceremony for Old Main on the campus of what is now Southern Utah University in 1898. The building is said to be haunted by a ghost named Virginia.
The dedication ceremony for Old Main on the campus of what is now Southern Utah University in 1898. The building is said to be haunted by a ghost named Virginia. (Photo: Southern Utah University)

For what it's worth, there aren't really any newspaper or other records from the past that really collaborate this story as told β€” although a bloody brick remains in the university's special collections.

It's referenced at least as far back as a student newspaper article in 1986. There, it talks about the spooky happenings documented from the beginning and a parapsychology expert who was brought in back in 1948 to solve 50 years of the building haunting people.

"Supernatural activity occurred so frequently after Old Main was completed that it was common knowledge among (Southern Utah State College) faculty and students that Old Main was haunted," Tom Braun wrote in the article. "Ghostly apparitions were seen nightly; unearthly lights glowed from third-story windows; floating shadows swirled around the belfry; and most famous, a quiet melodious fluting began precisely at midnight and continued until 1 a.m."

So, is it really true? Thirty-five years after that article was published, people still claim to see or hear all of those same spooky happenings by Old Main.

The inmate

There are a few ghost stories in Utah's past that haven't stood the test of time. They get lost in history. Thankfully, through the work to digitize newspapers in Utah, they have reappeared.

The Salt Lake Herald-Republican, on Jan. 8, 1905, reported a frightening tale from the Salt Lake City jail. Two women at the jail reported they had seen a ghost there, walking the halls nightly. The ghost was a man who wore a slouch hat pulled over his eyes and would peer through the grating in the building.

They told the newspaper that the ghost was that of a former inmate who had died there in a gruesome manner. On this particular night, one of the women said the ghost noise by a door. They walked up and asked if it was indeed the dead inmate.

"Ain't you dead?" she asked.

"By way of reply, the ghost began to prance up and down the narrow hall, swinging his arms and smiling and laughing and shaking his head," the newspaper reported. "The latter antics were too much for the heretofore brave woman. With a prayer that she might be preserved until morning, she crept back to her bed, covered her head in the blanket and waited for dawn."

While they never saw the man the day he died, they told the newspaper they were convinced it was him.

The 'ghost' of Red Lopez

In early 1915, Bingham miners began hearing a voice supposedly of the ghost of Rafael "Red" Lopez, according to an article in the Feb. 2, 1915, edition of the Ogden Daily Standard.

Just as a refresher, Lopez was a miner who shot and killed another miner in November 1913. He also reportedly killed Bingham's police chief and two sheriff's deputies in an ambush later that day; a week later, he then reportedly killed two other deputies amid a manhunt for him that lasted into 1914. But Lopez was never found or heard from again in Utah β€” it's still one of the state's largest crime mysteries that wasn't closed until 2003.

Back to 1915. The report stated that workers began to be "terrorized during the past few days by the shoutings of a sepulchral voice" in an area of the mine where two of the deputies were killed trying to "smoke out" Lopez. Was this the ghost of the infamous miner?

An undated image of the outlaw Rafael "Red" Lopez, a miner who reportedly killed six people in November 1913.
An undated image of the outlaw Rafael "Red" Lopez, a miner who reportedly killed six people in November 1913. (Photo: U.S. Library of Congress)

Nope, not this time. It's pure fiction. It was just a prankster messing with his co-workers.

"Investigation by the management of the mine is said to have resulted in discovery of the identity of the miner who has been amusing himself and frightening his companions by exercise of voice-projecting powers," the report concluded.

A ghostly encounter?

It's not really a surprise that many of the state's haunted areas are close to a graveyard.

One of the lesser-known graveyard tales emerged in 1904. As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune on May 2, 1904, "a young man" out to meet up with a lover on a recent night cut through the Murray City Cemetery when "his apprehensive glance encountered a sight that made his blood run cold."

The sight stopped him in his tracks.

"A few yards away a snow-white figure slowly emerged from the ground and hung suspended over a grave," the newspaper reported at the time. "The watcher could distinguish the outlines of a little child apparently 3 or 4 years old."

The apparition "gradually disappeared" back into the earth but then came back as the young man tried to flee the cemetery.

"He had moved but a few paces when the pale sceptre again rose from the tomb and hovered above the surface of the ground. Again the young man stopped and again the ghost vanished," the report continued. "The same performance was repeated a third time, whereat the youth turned his back on the haunted grave and fled without another backward look."

The cemetery's sexton told the newspaper he didn't see anything while working that night. Two days after the story ran, the Deseret News also wrote it off as "another 'hot-air' story written of a country graveyard." That report added "such a ghost story has never been going around in this vicinity" until the Tribune article was published.

KSL.com learned of this particular story through Rachel Quist's work at SLCHistory.org. Sifting through grave records, she wrote that she found "a close match" of a 2-year-old child buried near the same time as reported, per an article published earlier this month.

Was this the child the young man saw? We'll never know.

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