Sunday, October 31, 2010


The history of "Trick'O'Treating" can be traced back to the early celebrations of All Soul's Day in Britain. The poor would go begging and the housewives would give them special treats called "soulcakes". This was called "going a-souling", and the "soulers" would promise to say a prayer for the dead.

Over time the custom changed and the town's children became the beggars. As they went from house to house they would be given apples, buns, and money.

During the Pioneer days of the American West, the housewives would give the children candy to keep from being tricked. The children would shout "Trick or Treat!".

Some U.S. cities have chosen to ban teenage trick or treating. In fact, if teens in these cities do choose to come out dressed in a costume and ask for free candy, they could face trouble with the police.

Now I have often wondered at the number of teenagers who trick-or-treat, especially when some of the girls are (ahem) mature and dressed to impress, as it were. When they say "trick or treat" am I supposed to reach for my wallet? What kind of trick am I supposed to expect?

When I was their age I was drinking beer and lying about getting laid. What's wrong with teenagers today?

But arresting them?

This year I got a group of four ladies that were very mature. I'm knocking at fifty and they were all older than me. Considerably.

Lemme tell ya, when they said "trick or treat" I was scared either way.

In Douglas, Arizona, trick or treat took on new meaning for Robin Brekhus. Robin used to amuse herself by joking with the ghosts of the Gadsden Hotel when she worked in the basement.

She was down there a lot after moving to the border town to run the old hotel. She would jokingly call out to the ghosts, asking if there was any buried gold, but she didn't believe the legends of apparitions and unexplained noises in the old hotel.

That changed on Friday, March 13, 1992, a little after 4 p.m. The hotel lost its power, and the lights went out, the clocks stopped, the elevator froze. The staff needed candles, so Brekhus picked up a flashlight and headed for the basement to retrieve some.

She started getting creepy vibes almost as soon as she got down there.

"I got the feeling that someone was watching me," she said recently, standing in one of the hotel's basement corridors. "The hair on my arms stood up. The hair on my neck stood up."

Brekhus recalled how she pointed her light down the hall. Nothing there. She grabbed candles from one of the rooms and walked back into the hall. She shined the light toward the other end of the hall, the end with no entry or exit.

Someone was standing there, calmly watching her, she said. Brekhus ran for the stairs.

"He looked like a cowboy," Brekhus said. "It looked like he had a long duster coat and a cowboy hat. I know I saw somebody. It's like he was waiting for me to acknowledge that I saw him. Then he just kind of turned and moved down the hall. It made a believer out of me."

It doesn't have to be Halloween for ghost stories at the Gadsden. Employees and guests have reported eerie tales all times of the year. There are so many stories that the issue is met with a shrug. Employees don't seem upset that their workplace is haunted. The ghosts apparently are frisky, not nasty.

"They're nice," said Brenda Maley, the assistant manager who's worked at the hotel for 32 years. "I think they're happy here."

The Gadsden is loaded with legend and history beyond the supernatural. First opened in 1907, when Arizona was a territory, and reopened in 1929 after being destroyed by fire, the ornate hotel became a home for the cattlemen, miners, ranchers and railroaders who drove the area's economy. Most of the state's governors have stayed at the hotel. Movie scenes have been shot there.

The lobby is a picture of opulence, with a white marble staircase and marble columns topped with gold leaf. Light pours into the lobby through a 42-foot Tiffany stained-glass mural on the mezzanine and through stained-glass skylights. The hotel, named after the Gadsden Purchase land deal, is on the national historic register.

"It became the social and financial center for cattle barons and mining magnates," said Marshall Trimble, Arizona's state historian. "They say million-dollar deals were made there on a handshake in the saloon."

Brekhus moved to Douglas from North Dakota with her then-fiance in 1988. His parents had bought the hotel and wanted her to manage it. She and her husband, a commercial pilot, live at the hotel. She's been hearing - and living - the Gadsden's ghost stories ever since.

She's seen hanging kitchen pans move inexplicably, and there was a report of a rocking chair rocking by itself. The hotel keeps a logbook for people to record their brushes with spiritual turbulence. There have been reports of strange happenings in Room 333, including one from a woman who claimed that a spiritual presence snuggled up to her in bed. She didn't ask for a different room, Brekhus said. The experience apparently was oddly soothing, not scary.

Not so for the Florida paramedic who checked into the governor's suite only to come sprinting into the lobby a few minutes later, claiming a woman was using his shower. Maley had given him the key. She said she knew no one was in the room. They both checked, and the shower was empty.

"It was dry as a bone," Maley said, noting that the man decided not to stick around.

There have been reports of spirits that look like cowboys, a woman dressed in fancy clothes, a Mexican soldier and a young boy. One of the housekeepers says she was once slapped across the face by something. A guest said his golf clubs flew across Room 333 one night.

Count in Rod Franklin, a computer technician and founder of the Phoenix Arizona Paranormal Society, as a believer. His group tries to help people get rid of unwanted spirits, "There are a lot of people who don't take it seriously, but they've never had an encounter," he said.

The Gadsden is one of many Arizona hotels "from Oatman to Douglas" said to be haunted, Trimble noted, adding that the supernatural sells. "If I had a hotel, I'd have a ghost, too," he said.

Brekhus is in no hurry to chase the spirits out of the Gadsden, even if they aren't everyone's idea of fun.

"It can be a double-edged sword. I've had people walk out and leave, saying, 'I'm not going to stay here if there are ghosts,' " she said. "I had a priest say it should be exorcised. He said he could hook me up with people who could do it."

She declined.

"I said, 'They're pretty darn good for business.' "
I'm not sure if I believe in ghosts, and I definitely do not believe in incarcerating teenage trick or treaters. I do believe in scary old trick or treaters after this year.
Maybe next year I'll go to the sports bar instead of handing out candy. All the servers dress up, and they're old enough that if I get caught looking I won't get thrown into a cell next to the teenagers who were busted for mooching Snickers bars.


  1. It sounds a lot like The Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone. Heck, even an old girlfriend of mine had an experience there once.

    Well, come to think of it, it actually sounds like the place where I currently work! ;o)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  2. Interesting ghost story. I never got around to buying candy this year so my wife and I just kept the lights off and hid. Peeking out now and then we did see an awful lot of pretty grown up looking people wandering the streets in costumes, including some of those young ladies like you are referring to. I don't think many of those trick-or-treaters came from our neighborhood either. I think maybe they were bussed up from Tijuana.

    Tossing It Out

  3. Stephen-

    Weren't you telling me about a hotel in Prescott that's also haunted?

    Why is it that all the haunted places are in AZ?

    Even the ghosts here are dumb-too dumb to know they're supposed to move on!


    This is the one night a year my neighbors actually see me.