"Haunted" Mary's Room #17
by R. E. Ross
Having seen the TV ad that a half price deal was available for weekdays at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico, my wife and I decided to “get away” for two days to this charmingly rustic town, where wild deer saunter down the main roads, and where the reputedly haunted hotel is known to have hosted many famous names from the Old West: Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, Lew Wallace, Jesse James, and many others—including possibly Pat Garrett. The region around Cimarron was once owned by Lucien Maxwell; the Maxwell Land Grant was nearly two million acres. Maxwell sold this vast property around 1870 and moved to old Fort Sumner, which he purchased outright. He died in 1875, and was buried in Fort Sumner’s military cemetery. Billy the Kid would also die and be buried in Fort Sumner. His and Lucien’s graves can be seen there to this day. The Kid was felled by Sheriff Pat Garret’s gun on July 14, 1881; and, coincidentally, in the Fort Sumner bedroom of Lucien Maxwell’s oldest son, Pete. So Cimarron has its own connection to Billy the Kid, although there is no good evidence the young outlaw ever visited the St. James in person. The hotel’s bar witnessed numerous gunfights in the olden days (many resulting in fatalities); this is attested by the better than twenty bullet holes that can still be seen in the ceiling. We had stayed at this quaint 1872 lodge on the route of the Santa Fe Trail once before—when we stayed in the Buffalo Bill Cody Room—and had experienced nothing unusual. But that would not be the case this time!
This was the slow season in Cimarron (hence the half price deal); and we found ourselves entirely alone in the old historical (and haunted) portion of the hotel. Indeed, they placed us in one of the known haunted rooms; the bedroom of the wife, Mary, of the original owner, Henri Lambert, a French chef. Mary Lambert’s room is #17; it is the last door on the left in a long second floor corridor (decked in lavish red) of the aged hotel. Right across from #17 is room #18, which is never rented out and always padlocked. This is the room where a gambler was murdered and in which his angry ghost allegedly resides, making the place risky to sleep in. Overnighting in that room has brought too many people to adverse fates, including death; so the hotel management keeps it permanently off limits. The stories associated with room #18 are hair-raising. Those associated with #17—our room across the hall—are more benign. Mary Lambert sometimes makes herself know via the sudden presence in the air of her favorite rose-scented perfume.
I went to sleep on Monday night without qualms. After all, I figured, I have never had anything like a supernatural encounter in my entire 64 years; and I would not be so “lucky” as to have anything “interesting” happen to me at this stage. I had always been a skeptic, in any case, about these supposedly haunted hotels. I imagined the stories were good for business, and that that fully explained their existence and perpetuation. I fell asleep peacefully and easily.
About 2:30 a.m. I became conscious. I was sleeping on my stomach (as I usually do) with my hands under my pillow and my head turned to the side on top of the pillow. I discovered immediately that there were two other hands under my pillow that were holding onto my hands. Two warm hands—smallish and feminine—were affectionately and gently grasping my hands under my pillow and just below my pressed cheek. This struck me instantly as incredible and very weird; but I did not, surprisingly, feel terribly afraid. The hands seemed friendly and non-threatening. Nevertheless, the weirdness of the situation was not lost on me. I thought, “This is the real thing—a haunting.” I spoke to my wife and asked her if by chance her hands were under my pillow. I cannot remember how she responded, or even if she did. Then suddenly I was awake and realized I had been dreaming. I was lying in the same position I had occupied in the dream; but now there were no hands under my pillow. I looked closely at my wife in the dark and decided not to wake her up. Then I quickly fell back asleep.
After a short time I became conscious again and realized there was someone in the room with us: it was a priest, or a monk, or a friar from bygone days. He wore a brown robe, had a beard, and had his long hair pulled back in ponytails. He seemed to be blessing our bed and may have been sprinkling holy water. He seemed benign, but then I realized he should not have been in our private and locked hotel room. I sat up on the edge of the bed and said loudly “Father, what are you doing in our room?” He turned, walked quickly away, and vanished into the bathroom. I heard the water begin running. I stood up and crossed the dark room to the door of the bathroom while asking again loudly, “Father, what are you doing in our room?” I asked that question several times. When I got to the bathroom door I looked in and saw that no one was in there, but the water was running. I decided to flip the light switch on; I reached for the switch and suddenly felt my hand forcibly arrested in its motion. My fingers were inches from the switch, but I could not force them any farther forward. I wanted very badly to turn that light on—I craved the light—so I fought to move my hand forward. Finally my fingers reached the switch and I flipped it up, but the light did not come on. Strong fear was building in my gut. Suddenly I was awake and lying in bed next to my sleeping wife. The intense fear I had felt toward the end of the nightmare lingered with me and kept me awake for the next two hours or so. Although I wanted very much to tell my wife what I was going through, I did not wake her: I did not want to ruin her night’s sleep also. I lay in that dark room “spooked” and “creeped out” for what seemed a very long time. I felt then that the experiences were too strange to be merely fortuitous; something unusual was “going on.”
Just before dawn I fell back asleep briefly. I woke shortly later from another nightmare in which odd music was playing loudly. I can only vaguely remember that dream and music. If I were going to try to describe the tones I heard, I would say they sounded like raucous music from an old dance hall; or perhaps like organ music from an old church; or perhaps like the strident music one might hear in a silent film at a tense and scary scene. It was strange music. And that was the third weird nightmare in a row! I had never in my life had so many nightmares in one night; nor had I ever had dreams of that particular sort: they had all unfolded in the room I was sleeping in. I would wake up in the very location where the bizarre dream events had been taking place—that is to say, in the bed in my hotel room. Even the final dream of uncanny music seems to have been occurring in the hotel. The music seemed to have been coming from the bar downstairs.
I told my wife about these experiences in the morning; and she was delighted with the whole business. She also claimed she had woken up at one point and smelled rose-scented perfume in the air. She has a very sensitive and accurate nose. Otherwise, she had slept well.
The next day I left my wife in the room and went out into the hotel to take photos of the building’s interior. I took some shots in our hallway and noticed that a strange shadow fell across doorway #18 (the doorway of the angry male ghost) in the first photo* I took of it. I still cannot determine where that shadow came from or what could have thrown it. While I was out taking pictures, and long after I had left our hallway, my wife heard someone trying the doorknob of an adjacent room. She heard the rattling and scrapping sound of an old knob rotating. She came out quickly into the hallway to see if it was me trying to scare her. The hall was empty. She told me this story when I returned later.
Tuesday night we both took sedatives to help us sleep. I had wanted to move to a different room, but my wife insisted we stay with Mary Lambert. My wife is a bit more adventurous than I am—at least with regard to ghosts. I had a hard time getting to sleep. I listened intently and remained alert for a long time. Finally I slept until about 4:00 a.m., when I woke up and began listening again. Nothing further happened. I guess they had had their fun with me the first night.
When we were leaving the hotel on Wednesday, I discovered, as we were getting into my Tacoma, that one of my books had disappeared. I had to check the key out again from the desk and return to the room to look for it. I located it at the foot of the bed, wedged between the frame and the mattress. Neither my wife nor I could imagine how it had gotten there. We had found out in the meantime from the hotel manager that there was also an impish ghost in the hotel who occasionally moved things around and played jokes of that sort. We left that hotel feeling that definitely and for the first time in our fairly long lives we had been “haunted.”
So that’s our story. I must admit I would think more than twice about staying another night in #17, the Mary Lambert room. Now, of course, the diehard skeptic will undoubtedly assert that it was the subconscious mind up to its usual tricks; or the imagination working overtime. But I just don’t know. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend the St. James Hotel. (You can always request a non-haunted room, or stay in the modern wing.) The bar and restaurant are beautiful, and the food is superb. They had the best breakfast sausages I’ve eaten in this life! The hotel staff is as friendly as can be; and the service is great. The wild locale of Cimarron is so uniquely lovely and fascinating that visiting there is an unforgettable adventure. You can’t quite pet the deer in the streets, but they are amazingly unafraid; I’ve never seen anything like it. Don’t miss the St. James in Cimarron!
*..doorway #18 (the doorway of the angry male ghost)