By Sherry Jackson
The small town of Bisbee, nestled in the Mule Mountains in Southern Arizona, has been heralded as an artsy enclave, winning multiple awards.
But there’s a darker, more mysterious side to Bisbee lurking within its historic streets and buildings. Bisbee is full of ghosts.
In a copper mining town founded in the 1880s, one expects to hear some ghostly tales. After all, many a miner died in the small town while working to find his fortune. It was a rough-and-tumble kind of town and gunfights in the street were frequent. But this city doesn’t just have one or two eerie tales; it’s chock full of them. Ask almost any the 5,200 or so residents about the not-quite-of-this-world residents and they’ll have a story to tell.
The best way to learn about these Spooktacular stories is with an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. The one- to two-hour walking tour gives a pretty good history of the mile-high mining town with guides making stops in front of historic buildings and sharing ghostly tales by lantern light. Almost every building in downtown Bisbee lay claim to fallen souls from the past.
At the Bisbee Grand Hotel, it’s said that ghostly apparitions have been reported in all its 13 rooms. Items are overturned, towels misplaced, and unexplained noises all emanate from the former miner boarding house. At the Bisbee Inn/Hotel La More, a lady in white is said to appear and straighten pillows and rooms and leave them smelling like lilac. The historic Copper Queen Hotel boasts three resident ghosts roaming its rooms and hallways. Guests at the Copper Queen are even encouraged to record their haunted tales in the ghost ledger at the front desk.
But it’s not just hotels where the city’s ghosts maintain residence. In the famous brewery gulch district, where prostitution was once legal, there have been eerie sightings. Miners from another era are said to be spotted walking the streets and hanging out in the local bars. At a nearby abandoned park, kids can sometimes be heard playing when there are no children around.
A visit to the Queen Mine, where visitors don hardhats, lights and safety vests and descend 1,500 feet into the former copper mine, has guides regaling visitors of ghostly tales of miners who have never left the hundreds of caves and shafts of the mine.
Put ghosts aside for a little while and dig more into the history of the town at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Located in the former offices of the Phelps, Dodge and Company, which also owned the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, visitors learn about the copper camps, mining and minerals of the area. The museum also lays claim, and therefore bragging rights, as the first rural affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
For more of Bisbee’s haunted tales, take in a show at the Bisbee Séance Room where Magic Kenny Bang Bang (yes, that’s his stage name) mixes magic and Victorian parlor tricks along with a theatrical séance.
During the day, Bisbee’s somewhat Bohemian vibe permeates the downtown area where visitors can pop in to watch local artists at work in their galleries or shop at local boutiques, such as Tumbleweed Gypsy and Black Sheep Imports, where shoppers can pick up souvenirs with sayings like “stay wild” or “be yourself.”
For such a small town, there’s a surprisingly good selection of local restaurants. Have dinner at Café Roka where made-from-scratch food pairs nicely with hand-made cocktails. At Contessa’s Cantina, family recipes and homemade Mexican fare are a favorite. Not to be without a ghost story, there’s rumored to be a friendly ghost that roams Contessa’s long after diners have left.
Looking for somewhere to lay your head that doesn’t have ghostly guests? The Letson Loft Hotel and Canyon Rose Suites are both comfortable and spacious ghost-free zones located downtown along Bisbee’s historic Main Street.
Whether you’re a true-believer in ghosts, a cynical or casual observer or just looking for a weekend getaway in a walkable, artsy town with local artists, boutiques and restaurants, Bisbee is the perfect destination. It’s surrounded by mountains and copper mining history, and you’re sure to come home with a ghost story or two.
Headed to Bisbee in October? The annual Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb will be held Saturday, October 20, and is one of the most unusual and challenging events in the world. The 4.5-mile course features nine staircases (over 1,000 total steps) connected by winding roads. While enjoying the challenge, runners and walkers see some of the most scenic parts of Old Bisbee. Registration is required at Bisbee1000.org.
For more trips out of Phoenix, visit our attractions page.