A Haunted Hotel Over The Hill

by Pat Hill, photos by Zach Hoffman

The Murray Hotel
in Livingston has had many guests since it was first constructed over a century ago, and if the stories are to be believed, it could be that some of them have never left.

Originally called the Elite Hotel when it was first constructed in 1904 to accommodate railroad passengers riding the Northern Pacific Railway, its construction was financed by the family of a future U.S. Senator from Montana, James E. Murray. The railroad traffic brought a wide array of guests to the hotel, renamed the Murray after the Senator’s family took possession of the place following financial hardship by the original owner. Owners, employees and guests alike claim that ghosts are lurking in the shadows of the Murray. Dan and Cathleen Kaul have owned the historic hotel since 1991.

“The old owner, Patty Miller, told us about the ghosts,” Kaul said, adding that Miller advised her not to tell anyone about the ghosts, or people wouldn’t stay at the hotel. But Kaul said that a lot of folks actually ask for “a room with a ghost.”

Livingston has it roots with the railroad, and one of the Murray ghosts Kaul has heard about may be the mistress of a railroad magnate’s son. James J. Hill brought the railroad to Livingston and much of the Old West. His son, Walter Hill, was reportedly somewhat of a “black sheep” in the family, and the younger Hill kept an elegant upstairs suite at the Murray. The suite was first created out of three hotel rooms in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Hill leased the space, knocked down walls, and went to work. The suite he created boasted Continental furnishings, right down to the hand-painted French wallpaper, and three crystal chandeliers from the Great Northern hung from the gold leaf-painted ceilings. It was an impressive space. The hard-drinking Hill (who reportedly would even bring his horse to his suite in the elevator) also had a penchant for lovely mistresses. One of Hill’s mistresses is said to be one of the hotels haunts.

“It has been told that the mistress died quite young of a broken heart, and she’s still mad about it,” said Kaul. Hill’s former suite later became the Sam Peckinpah suite, which saw its share of wild activity when Peckinpah occupied those rooms: bullet holes he shot into the roof of the bedroom (at what, no one knows) can still be observed there.

A former female employee of the Murray who once stayed in another upstairs suite claimed the sounds of girlish giggling once brought her out of her sleep.  

“She wondered who was wandering around the hotel, and then went back to sleep,” said Kaul. “Then she heard a young girl’s giggling again. She got up and opened the door in the two-room suite, and saw a young girl, about 11 or 12, standing there in a white dress. She thought she was walking in her sleep, but then the little girl sort of faded out and was gone.” The woman was not afraid of this ghost, and sought out the entity again: though she never saw the little girl again, she heard the same giggling in the same area of the hotel.

The hotel suites are not the only place where spectral scenes occur. It is said that a woman can be observed at times in a second-story window on the Park Street side of the establishment, and upon further glance she’s gone. Of course, the room is always empty when the sightings occur.

The basement of the Murray has scared (and fascinated) more than one employee at the place. There are tunnel shafts from the old tunnel system (under Livingston) in the huge old basement, filled in but still obvious. There are coal chutes from the old days, and huge old boilers as big as rooms. And there’s the old Otis elevator (built in 1905) and the shaft that houses it. The sound of the old elevator’s movement when one is in the basement can be intimidating, and may account for moaning noises employees sometimes hear in the basement, though many claim the moans occur when the elevator is still. A former bartender at the Murray claims he’s seen a ghostly old man and an old woman together in the basement, a sight that induced him to hang prayer flags in the space.

One of the strangest stories comes from a former guest who felt compelled to share her experience with hotel staff in a letter she wrote years after the incident.

“This is most likely the strangest letter I’ve ever written,” penned the woman, from Columbus, Ohio. She had stayed in an upstairs two-room suite at the Murray with her sister in 1999. “I woke up in the middle of the night to what looked like a man in old-fashioned clothes and dark facial hair, standing in the frame of the bathroom doorway. The figure moved toward and around my bed, getting close to me. I would still believe that I was dreaming, but something else happened. My sheets and covers shot up my body toward my neck. Then I ran out of the room and spent the rest of the night in my sister’s room.”

“My friends all think I’m crazy,” the woman wrote. Kaul said that her former guest desperately wanted to know if anyone else had ever had a similar experience in that room. It seems that some guests seek out such spectral experiences, however, and the ghosts that occupy the nooks and crannies of the Murray are really good for business.

“Guests love the noises and the mystery of an old hotel,” Kaul said.

Author Stephen Byler (Searching for Intruders, Harper Perennial, 2003) first encountered the Murray Hotel in 1995, after wandering “over the hill” to Livingston from Bozeman, where he and some fellow travelers had been staying after their van broke down. He ended up purchasing the Peckinpah Suite with a specific intent in mind.

“I originally bought this (suite) as a place to write,” Byler told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle several years ago. “[But] there’s too many ghosts. I can’t concentrate.”   

This was made by

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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