Spirits of the St. James Hotel
By Mara Sobral
The exploration of old hotels,
especially those with a history of haunting, has always been fascinating to me.
I checked into the history of the St. James Hotel and discovered it originally
started as a wildly successful saloon, built in 1872. Henri and Mary Lambert,
the founders, were so pleased with their lucrative saloon that they decided to
add 30 guest rooms. In 1880 the St. James Hotel and Saloon opened for business.
Cimarron, a Spanish word for “wild” and “untamed”, was
established in the 1840’s. On the Santa Fe Trail, it was a favorite watering
spot for drovers pushing herds of cattle between Leavenworth, Kansas and Santa
Fe, New Mexico. This town was also a stage stop and a welcome respite for weary
The hotel and bar lived up to the name
of its town with a rough and rowdy crowd of patrons. News of its reputation
spread throughout the west, bringing more of the same clientele, genteel and
unsavory alike. Many of the old west famous gunfighters made the St. James a
regular stop and often stayed in the same rooms during each of their visits.
These included Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie
Oakley, Jesse James, Bat Masterson, Kit Carson, Pat Garret, Zane Grey and Clay
Allison who allegedly danced naked on the bar. I imagine that with his
reputation as a gunman, no one objected!
With a list like this along with all of the unknown wild
and crazy cowboys, it’s no wonder that this hotel asserts a violent history.
There were at least 26 men killed in gunfights and multiple other mysterious
deaths at the St. James. Hence, multiple ghostly sightings and paranormal
activity have been reported over the years.
Room 18 is
known as the most haunted and is occupied by the spirit of an angry, evil and
malicious man named TJ Wright. Born in 1859, he met his demise in 1881
following a late night of poker in the 2nd floor card room. Whiskey probably
did most of the talking and the game was getting hot. The stakes were rising
and as some players folded it was finally down to the hotel owner and TJ
remaining in the game. They were both confident of winning. The hotel owner
bet The St. James and TJ called his bet. When the cards were shown, TJ won.
Delighted and proud of his win, TJ left the card room to retire for the night.
Just before reaching the end of the hall to his room, he was shot in the back.
He managed to drag himself into Room 18, closed the door and was found dead in
Room 18 is so malevolently haunted that no one is allowed
into this room. The door is kept padlocked and the window shades are always
drawn. If someone enters the room, TJ’s angry ghost becomes enraged. Hotel
staff has reported that when anyone goes into the room, horrible and bad things
happen in the hotel. In fact, before permanently closing the room for overnight
guests and visitors, over 20 mysterious deaths occurred in this very room. To
try and appease TJ’s discontented spirit, a bottle of whiskey is kept in his
room. Only the hotel owner has a key to the padlock on the door, so every
Halloween he enters and fills up TJ’s shot glass. Surprisingly, the shot of
whiskey is gone by morning. This has been a ritual for many years and recently,
on All Hallows Eve, the shot glass mysteriously appeared on the floor in the
hall just in front of Room 18, waiting for it to be filled.
Room 17 is also a ghostly haunt. This ghost is a
gentle and kind spirit. This room belonged to Mary Lambert, wife of Henri
Lambert, builder of the St. James Hotel. Her strong connection with the hotel
is understandable as she gave birth to her children, sat watchful as two of her
children died, raised her family and eventually died there herself in 1926. She
is known as the “protector” of the hotel and continues to watch over the hotel
and even the people in it. Her presence is detected by the rose scent of her
perfume and many guests, myself included, have reported it. Guests are allowed
to stay in her room and there have been multiple reports of tapping on the
window glass if it is left open. Guests are awakened in the night to this
tapping, which is relentless until the window is closed.
Other hauntings have been
reported in the Kate Lambert Room, which is directly across from Mary Lambert’s
room. Also there are cold spots in the hotel, and things fall or move on their
own. Cameras, computers and video equipment work unpredictably. Ghosts have
been sighted in the dining room, which used to be the main saloon. Guests have
seen the reflection of a cowboy in the mirror over the bar, only to turn and see
there is no one else in the room.
Climbing the steep steps to the 2nd
floor, there is a crystal chandelier over the landing. During restoration of
the hotel in the 1980’s, the new owners found that after turning the chandelier
lights off, it would be on again by the time they reached the parking lot. This
happened again and again, even though electricians rewired and rechecked for
electrical problems. To solve this problem, the owners decided to just leave
the chandelier turned on 24 hours a day.
experiences at the St. James started on a beautiful autumn afternoon.
drive into Cimarron was a very relaxing and scenic journey along Highway 64,
after leaving I-25. It’s also a short 50 mile drive out of Taos, NM. The hotel
lobby and the rooms are finely decorated with beautiful antique period
furniture. The lobby itself is comfortable and warm, with the fine dining area
visible in an adjacent room. The pressed tin ceiling extends throughout the
lobby and dining area, which used to be the saloon. There are still multiple
bullet holes in the tin ceiling in the dining area, leading one to imagine the
wild antics played out in past times. The fine old west style bar, adjacent to
the dining room, is a favorite of locals and guests alike.
The old creaky wood floors are apparent throughout the
hotel, despite the lush carpet. Every step, even lightly tread, is audible.
There’s no sneaking up on anyone, so if you hear a knock at your door and you’ve
heard no footsteps, beware!
Other features of this fine old world
hotel include an outdoor patio, gift shop and a coffee shop that serves an
awesome breakfast. If you’re in for relaxation, this is the place. There are
no TV’s or phones in the rooms, although my cell phone worked fine. Rooms were
remodeled in the past and include singles, doubles and family rooms with private
or shared baths. A new annex was built in the 1980’s and if you need all the
modern amenities (phone, cable TV, larger rooms, no ghosts) then this is the
place to stay. However you will sacrifice the experience and ambiance of a hotel
that is firmly anchored in the old west.
There is a rich history at the St.
James that makes your stay a wonderful walk in the past. I stayed in the
Buffalo Bill Cody Room, which was spacious and beautifully furnished. It
overlooks the street, has large lace covered windows with fine drapes that can
be closed at night. And in case you were wondering, no ghosts visited me during
experiences all occurred on the second floor in Room 17, Mary Lambert’s
room. I was fortunate to receive a private tour so I could have some moments of
solitude while there. As the key turned in the lock, my anticipation rose. I
wasn’t sure of what or who was waiting on the other side. I was relieved to see
a bright and beautiful room that had a gentle, warm and friendly atmosphere.
husband was taking pictures from the doorway. No unusual activity yet. I
walked over to the large window, which has a wide sill and sat so I could look
down at the street below. I imagined that Mary Lambert used to do this same
thing. Then ever so subtle, the smell of roses was present around me. I
thought it might be a fragrance spray, but could locate no plug-ins and no scent
on the curtains. I sat and just experienced it. My husband entered the room to
take more , but his expensive digital camera stopped working and just
displayed the word “Busy” on it’s readout. The camera is a professional grade
Canon and this had never happened before! He stepped back into the hall and the
camera started working. Back into the room another “busy” and out into the hall
again, it worked. Finally as he came back into the room, the rose scent met him
in the doorway. Once I gave him permission to photograph me on the windowsill,
the camera mysteriously became functional again.
This is truly a hotel to experience and I would recommend
it to those travelers who like to get off the beaten path. Whether you journey
to the St. James for a restful visit or to participate in one of their Murder
Mystery Weekends, or even one of the Entertainment Dinners, it is well worth the
Words to the wise: when you make your room reservations,
be sure and make your fine dining reservations as well since the restaurant has
limited seating and fills up quickly with locals. Also this may be the only
restaurant open in town depending on the season.
The St. James Hotel is at an elevation of 6,430 feet and is
situated at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Outdoor activities
abound and include skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, wild life
viewing, photography, bird watching and star gazing.
Nearest commercial airport: Albuquerque, NM
From Albuquerque take I-25 North to NM 64 and NM 58 head east
The St. James Hotel is on NM 21 about a half mile south of the intersection with
NM 64 in Cimarron.
Travel by car: 3.5 hours NE of Albuquerque
1 hour east of Taos, NM
2.5 hours from Santa Fe
4.5 hours from Denver, CO
4 hours from Amarillo, TX
St. James Hotel
Route 1, Box 2
Cimarron, New Mexico 87714
1 866 472 5019 (toll free)
505 376 2664
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