Saturday, June 28, 2014

Arizona: The Hotel Congress

The Hotel Congress located in Tucson, Arizona, first opened its doors in 1919. This hotel today is still a place where college students and tourists gather to hear live music. The downtown area today is known for its upscale nightlife. 

Hotel Congress, 1931
This Congress Hotel has a long and sometimes dramatic history. 

In the 1940s the hotel provided a favorite diner, tavern, and nightclub. At times during both the 1930s and 40s its' Tap Room provided a safe haven for gays.

Part of the drama that happened at the hotel is why many feel this building is still haunted.

The stories below, I first read on the Tucson Museum’s web site. Some of these stories might be exaggerated, to draw more customers to the hotel--regardless I share all of them here because they are too good to pass up.

One story states an elderly gentleman was murdered during a poker game in the hotel in 1931. His was then hidden under a bed on the same floor, and the game continued.

His ghost had been seen ever since. He is described as a “good looking” man wearing an old-fashioned grey suit with a large gold watch. He is most often seen peering out of 2nd floor windows in unoccupied rooms.

Room 242, in the hotel, is known as the “suicide room.” A young female barmaid who worked at the hotel in the 1940s took her own life after breaking up with a married “high ranking” city official.

There is only one problem with the theory; this was not suicide. The lady in question was involved in a standoff with police at midnight. Her death was actually caused by the hail of 29 bullets--many shot into her body.

Today, bullet holes from this standoff can still be seen in the closet in Room 242. Ever since guests have heard strange noises on this floor, some have seen a female walking up, and down the hall, others have seen her apparition in the room’s bathroom.

The smell of roses on the lobby stairwell is also believed to be the result of this haunting.

Another unusual phenomenon in the hotel is connected to a man named Vince. Vince was a resident of the hotel for 37 years. While alive he was known to steal butter knives from the kitchen in the 1960s and 70s.

Vince died mysteriously in 2001, when he was attacked during a full moon by a desert bobcat in the hotel’s back alley. 

Since his death, guests and hotel staff have reported finding old-fashioned knives scattered around the hotel’s 2nd floor.

Hotel Congress today
The sidewalk that runs in front of the Hotel Congress was built in the 1800s before the hotel. This sidewalk has multi-colored glass shards embedded within it. This glass was placed to let light filter down.

The reason for this is this sidewalk sits above an underground tunnel. A series of tunnels were built under Tucson’s downtown area in the 1800s to provide a way for Chinese workers to go to, and from work.

This sadly was during a time when the Chinese were forbidden to walk or mingle with Tucson’s “polite society” on city streets.

These tunnels, after dark, where used by the more disreputable population of Tucson. Saloon owners, gamblers, thieves and the ”Tucson Vigilante Committee” often used them.

People were seen going down into them, never to return. It is believed the restless spirits of those who were murdered still prowl through these tunnels.

In January of 1934, a fire broke out in the hotel’s basement when someone’s cigarette ignited some tablecloths. This fire quickly spread all the way up to the 3rd floor.

Frightened hotel guests--many barely clothed--ran out onto the streets. Some guests exited the hotel by jumping out of windows.

Among the guests on the street, were two men standing in their underwear. They pleaded with and then bribed two firemen to go up to the 3rd floor and retrieve their luggage.

When one of these bags accidentally opened it was found this luggage contained three Thompson .45 caliber submachine guns, two 30-30 Winchester rifles, five military bulletproof vests, four hand grenades, three bottles of dark Cuban Rum, a glass eyeball, a skeleton’s hand, and $38,000 in cash. Also, $7,500 in gold coins from the United States Mint were found.

John Dillinger
These two men were Russell “Killer” Clark and “The Knife” Makley. They were part of the John Dillinger gang. They and Henry “Gunner” Pierpoint and Dillinger were all laying low in Tucson.

The Tucson police eventually arrested all four men. Dillinger and Pierpoint were found later, at other locations in Tucson. They were then transferred out of state to stand trial for murder and other crimes.

The Tucson police at one time displayed the machine guns discovered in this luggage at their headquarters.

Machine Gun
Since the Dillinger gang arrests, various employees at the Hotel Congress have reported feeling a “skeleton hand” on their shoulders and necks. A glass eyeball is seen rolling along the top of the bar late at night.

In November of 1997, an old grey-haired man wearing a tattered black suit appeared at the bar in the hotel near closing time. He held an old bottle of Cubana Rum under his coat jacket.

The bartender reminded him that he could not bring his own liquor into the bar. The man then approached the desk clerk and rented a room on the 2nd floor. He paid the clerk with old U.S. currency bills.

Cubana Rum
He invited the bartender, and several other employees up for a drink in his room. This group drank together for almost an hour. The old man told them he had visited the Congress Hotel years before.

He informed them that he was going to take a shower, but they should return in a half-hour.

When they entered the room again, it was empty, and there was no sign it had been recently occupied. The glasses they had used were back on the counter and clean, and the wastebasket was empty.

They went down to the hotel lobby and the desk clerk told them he had seen no one exit the hotel in the last hour.

He checked the old man’s registration card, that he had watched being filled out, and discovered it was completely blank. When he unlocked the cash register, he found the old bills were no longer there.

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