The Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, AZ and Pancho Villa

This article is the “trivia question” of last month’s meeting by Linda J, our past President. Since no one knew the answer, I thought I’d do some research, and share what I found with you.

Here’s one story a husband and wife team documented, during their part-time explorations of the outdoors and historical sites of America.

“Douglas’ history dates all the way back to the 1500s when Spanish explorers established a route from Mexico, but its hey-dey didn’t begin until the early 1900s. The Phelps Dodge mining corporation, in operation until 1987, chose the location as the smeltering site to compliment the copper mines of nearby Bisbee, Arizona. The city boomed and had a thriving economy that could boast not only of having the largest theater between LA and San Antonio, but also of paved streets, 10 school districts, 7 churches, a large brewery, and the opulent Hotel Gadsden.

Hotel Gadsden opened in 1907 and was a popular stop for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen. Tragedy struck in 1929 and much of the hotel was burned down. The marble staircase survived, a sign that the hotel wasn’t ready to kick the bucket. The owner of Hotel Gadsden made his fortune during prohibition (*wink*wink) and was able to rebuild on a much grander scale: it was one of the first hotels to feature personal bathrooms in all 160 air-cooled rooms. By the 1980s, the hotel fell into disrepair, like the Douglas economy. In 2013-2014, Hotel Gadsden was featured on the TV show Hotel Impossible and was partially renovated for the show.

One of the hotel’s most famous legends involves the grand marble staircase, up which Pancho Villa rode his horse to the mezzanine and chipped the 7th stair (step). What he was doing riding a horse in a hotel is another story but it is said his ghost haunts the halls of Gadsden.”

Here are some photos posted in this couple’s website, “Hotel Gadsen’s Colorful History”

The chip off the famous marble block.

The Entry Way, and at the foreground, the Registration area.

Genuine Tiffany and Co. Glass Ceiling.

An authentic Tiffany & Co. stained glass mural.

Downtown Douglas

The hotel’s museum showcases its original switchboard, one of the first in Arizona.

According to Wikipedia . .

“The Gadsden Hotel is a historic building in Douglas, Arizona. It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976.. . . .
The hotel is said to be haunted, especially in Room 333, and has been in “ghost” shows on television, such as an episode of Sightings in 1995.The Gadsden Hotel has also been in several movies, including The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean with Paul Newman, Terminal Velocity with Charlie Sheen and Nastassja Kinski, and Ruby Jean and Joe with Tom Selleck.”

Pancho Villa Leaves a Mark in Douglas?
By Sam Lowe September 22, 2015

“DOUGLAS – The lobby of the Gadsden looks like it was transported from somewhere in Europe. It features an elegant white marble staircase, four soaring marble columns topped by capitals decorated in fourteen karat gold leaf, and a balcony that surrounds the entire second story.

But a lot of people who go there look for the flaw. One of the marble steps is chipped.

According to local folklore, the infamous Mexican bandit Pancho Villa once rode his horse to the top of the staircase, leaving a chip on the seventh step. There’s no one alive today who can verbally support the story, but people have been telling it for more than a century, which gives it some credibility because nobody wants to accuse those Douglas old timers of fabricating the truth.

Doroteo Arango Arámbula (June 5, 1878 – July 23, 1923), better known as Francisco or “Pancho” Villa, a Mexican Revolutionary general. (Photo) Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Villa had been fighting in the Agua Prieta area just across the Arizona border in Mexico when the hotel was built in 1907. And there are still a few Douglas residents who claim to be descendants of the people who actually saw the incident.”

Hotel History

“The Gadsden Hotel was designed by famed architect Henry Trost who dominated the architectural scene in the Southwest and designed hundreds of buildings in El Paso, San Angelo, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Tucson. This grand hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; A purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast.

The Gadsden opened for business in November 1907; the hotel soon became a meeting place for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen. We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo and Pancho Villa rode rough shod over the West.

Unfortunately, on February 7th 1928, fire ripped through the hotel leaving nothing but the elevator car cabin, the marble stair case, and marble columns. Luckily, like much of Arizona’s old west figures and culture, it was just too tough to die. The hotel was immediately rebuilt using the same architect but on a grander scale with no expense spared.

At the time, not many hotels of the day could boast about having an electric lift to reach one of its 4 floors. Travelers were amazed at the modern accommodations and to this day the lift is one of the oldest manually operated elevators still in use west of the Mississippi. The hotel was also one of the first to feature individual bathrooms in all 160 air cooled rooms.

Now in the museum is the original 1929 telephone switchboard; reportedly the first of its kind to be used in Arizona.

Famous Guests

Eleanor Roosevelt spent the night in the Governor’s Suite when visiting in 1934 with pilot Amelia Earhart to open the Douglas International Airport, the 1st International Airport

Nearly every Arizona Governor has spent the night in the Governor’s Suite

John Dillinger spent the night at the Gadsden the night before he was apprehended in Tucson, leaving a $100 and a Derringer pistol as a tip

Rumor has it Pancho Villa and his horse Siete Leguas (Seven Leagues) rode up the famous Grand Staircase of the hotel lobby and is is said to have left a chip that can be still be found this very day.”

Gadsden Hotel Ghost Story

Many employees and guests of the Gadsden have had encounters with the Gadsden Ghost. The ghost has been reported mostly in the basement and is said to be a tall man in black clothing and often with no head. Some believe this ghost is the ghost of Pancho Villa himself. At the time of his death in 1923, Pancho Villa was reported to have a hidden treasure somewhere in the mountains of Northern Mexico. The only map to this location was tattooed on Villa’s head. It is said that upon his death, Villa’s loyal followers cut off his head and buried it under the ashes of the recently burned Gadsden Hotel, in order to forever keep the secret location of the treasure concealed. 

Unknowingly, the Gadsden Hotel was re-built over the top of the skull and Pancho Villa remains wandering the dark damp halls of the Gadsden basement searching for his head and the map to his treasure.

Quoted from The Gadsden Hotel: Daughter-in-law and Hotel Manager Robin Brekhus will be one of the first to tell you more of the Gadsden’s interesting past as she recalls her first encounter with the Gadsden Ghost. It was 4:10 pm Friday March 13,1991. The power had failed and she was in the basement, searching for candles. In the beam of her flashlight, she saw a faceless figure shaped like a man. “He just kind of floated down the hallway. It just looked like fog to me, but it was the shape of a person.” For years, hotel workers and guests have confessed to seeing an apparition often around Lent or Christmas, and often in the hotel’s cavernous basement. Sometimes it’s described as headless, caped and wearing army-style khaki clothing. In her 26th year of operating one of the oldest manual elevators west of the Mississippi, Carmen Diaz saw the ghost in the basement as well. “Tall man. Black pants suit. No head.” Brenda Maley, restaurant Supervisor said she saw the shadow of a body hunched over her one night as she lay on her stomach in her bed in her hotel room. She said she witnessed this immediately after a strange sensation where “all of a sudden I couldn’t move.” A movie crew member told Brekhus that his light turned off and on in the middle of the night, and then his golf clubs went crashing down on the floor.

Update: From first hand experience, we know that Douglas is a town worth a visit and the hotel is great but we recommend using caution as you would with any border town these days. The states of Arizona and New Mexico both have declared state of emergencies on their borders. Have fun but stay very alert at all times.”

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