Tycoons, nuns, too many brides, scads of children and men in black. Sounds like the cast of a B-movie. This troupe of characters, though, has a unique story to tell. Their tale is about people who died, and then lived. You can see it all played out in the real haunted houses of Utah.
As if an old cabin in the woods weren’t creepy enough — thank you, slasher films — the grisly tale of pregnant nuns and crying babies certifies it as haunting. While it’s known around Logan storytellers as The Nunnery, the 2.5-acre property was actually once called St. Ann’s Retreat. It’s Anne with an E in the tale, though, because ghosts can spell however they want.
The original house was built around 1915 by well-known local banker Hezekiah Eastman Hatch, and his son later added more cabins and structures to the property. One of the wealthiest men in America at the time, L. Boyd Hatch spent summers with his wife and kids at his mini resort, inviting politicians, actors and directors to join them. Someone wanted to be popular.
In the 1950s, The Hatch family turned the camp over to the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake to use as a youth camp — and a nefarious legend was born. Reportedly, pregnant nuns were sent to the retreat to keep their condition secret. The story varies from there. One says all the newborns were drowned in the swimming pool, another says a pregnant nun ran away to raise her child.
One of the more fantastical fables says Mother Superior hunted down the runaway nun and killed her, burying her body on the property — and leaving her ghost to roam the woods nearby. People say at night, you can hear babies crying, and you may see a nun walking with a dog.
Perhaps it was the rumors of mayhem that emboldened three security guards charged with terrorizing some local teens. Throughout the night of Oct. 10, 1997, the men tied up 38 trespassing teens and young adults — by the neck — and held them at gunpoint in the retreat’s empty pool. The kids said they were told their bindings were connected to explosives. Several of the youth were turned over to police, and the rest were let go the next morning. The guards were later arrested; their three-day trial ended in a plea deal.
Ghost hunters say running water creates electrical energy for spirits to feed on. The Benson Grist Mill — built in 1854 to process corn and wheat — has a practical spirit generator with its working water wheel.
The mill was shut down in the 1940s, which is probably when the poltergeists started squatting there. They haven’t left, despite the mill and its surrounding buildings being restored by volunteers in the 1980s. Today, three ghosts reportedly haunt the mill, including a 6-year-old girl.
Little Alice Irene Solomon drowned in the reservoir behind the mill and purportedly continues to wander the grounds. She occasionally joins other students in the nearby school classroom to throw chalk dust at visitors. No one has seen those kids, but they have heard their laughter.
A shadowy black figure has also been seen out on the bridge near the drowning site, giving rise to the story that Alice was actually killed by the man. (Para)normally, though, he lives on the second floor. He is angry, people say, and has been known to touch visitors.
The third is a woman dressed in white — of course, since flour gets everywhere. She never leaves the third floor, she just stands in a doorway and calls out to visitors. Maybe she’s just trying to hitch a ride out of there, because people have also seen her on the balcony, waving to passing cars.
Another early Utah structure, the Lion House was the home of territorial president Brigham Young. The building is now an event venue, but that hasn’t hampered the ghosts chilling there.
Utahns are known for being friendly, and the specters are no different. Some people claim they have heard a man clearing his throat, but that’s probably only when someone is encroaching on his personal space. And if any spirit bothers you, you can firmly ask them to leave you alone — and they will. Other ghostly shadows simply flit between rooms.
They’re a fun bunch, too. On Brigham’s birthday each year, the china cabinet repeatedly unlocks and relocks itself, people claim. It’s said the ghosts’ are trying to throw a party for him.
Skeptical? Lion House employees actually captured a strangely human looking ghost — dressed in a white sheet — in a video posted on its Facebook page a few years ago, which is scarily silly. So there’s that.
Several ghosts from the Young family have been seen around Brigham’s farmhouse at This is the Place Heritage Park. The home was a favorite spot of the leader, though he never lived in it, so it makes sense he likes to revisit on occasion. Brigham’s apparition has been seen in the house several times, walking around with the cane he used later in life and smiling at guests.
His 19th wife, Ann Eliza Webb, actually lived in the farmhouse for a time — before rejecting the practice of polygamy. Apparently she’s still mad about it, because she’s been seen there several times, witnessed by tour guides and visitors.
Young’s second wife, Lucy Ann Decker, appears to have no hard feelings. She continues to hang out in the kitchen. Visitors report not only seeing her happily tending the stove, but also smelling the heavenly food she’s preparing.
Brigham had 56 children, so you’d expect some of them to still be hanging around. A watchman reported hearing laughing and running around in the upstairs ballroom when he was locking up one night, but upon investigation found only an empty room. Obviously it was an anomaly — kids quickly cleaning up and going to bed when they’re told?
In the 1950s, the Wilcox family restored the home. At an open house, Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox had a long conversation with a man dressed in old-timey clothes, and even took a picture with him. But when they received the print, there was an empty space where he had stood. Brigham’s son, John A. Young, is the suspected mystery guest. The farmhouse is now — appropriately, some might say — a wedding and party venue.
Youthful specters seem to be a common thread in Utah haunted houses that are real. A 5-year-old girl dressed in 1850s clothing is known to drift through rooms in the Devereaux Mansion in downtown Salt Lake City.
Aside from being a ghost, she’s a typical kid. Kitchen staff say she moves objects around to perplex them and sometimes turns the lights on and off while they’re working. There seems to be no ill-intent, though. People claim they have seen her through an upstairs window, waving to them or singing to herself. She’s even been known to photobomb on occasion. See what we mean? Typical.
A second ghost — perhaps a former head housekeeper — is not so comfortable with intruders. She appears when she feels the home needs protecting, it seems. Witnesses said she becomes quite aggressive when she confronts visitors and has even been known to throw things. Can’t really blame her. Watching people spill crumbs on your freshly washed floor for 150 years will do that to a person.
The mansion was built by pioneer William C. Staines in 1865, although it belonged to several different families and businesses over the years. From 1904-1912, it was used as a retreat to cure addictions — opium, cocaine, tobacco … and nervousness. The ghost sightings probably didn’t help with that last one.
The Devereaux Mansion was later abandoned and stood vacant for decades, then was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1979. It has since been restored and now serves as meeting space for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the ghosts remain. Probably still trying to get that smoke smell out of their clothes.
Christmas in a McMansion may not be all it’s cracked up to be. A man not so gaily donning a black cape is often seen in the McCune Mansion around the holidays, most often peering out from one of the many mirrors.
Another child, this time a 10-year-old girl, prefers to show up at the wedding events hosted there. She’s been seen many times dancing and giggling. You’ll recognize her from a picture hanging in the home.
Even if you’re not (un)lucky enough to see the ghosts, you may feel cold spots indicating their presence. Or maybe drafts are inevitable in a house built in 1901.
The 21-room McCune Mansion was built for railroad tycoon Alfred McCune at a truly frightening cost of $1 million. It is considered among the grandest American homes built in the early 20th century. When McCune and his family moved to California, they gave the house to the Latter-day Saint Church, which then used it as a music school. That might explain why visitors sometimes hear an organ playing when no one is around.
The oldest running hotel in Utah is a bed and breakfast in the tiny town of Marysvale, near the Paiute ATV trail. It’s such a pleasant, laid back place that some guests have refused to check out. Visitors report seeing spirits sitting on the front porch of the original portion of the inn, and sometimes even in the rooms. A medium confirmed there is at least one woman and two children spirits living there permanently, but they always defer to the paying customers. Utah ghosts really are well-mannered.
We can’t promise you’ll see a ghost when you visit real haunted houses in Utah. But isn’t looking for one better than actually finding one anyway? Beware: Walking around spooky places can be fun, but the ones included here are all private property — no trespassing, please.