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The Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee introduces living guests to permanent, ghostly tenants

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Posted at 5:09 AM, Oct 30, 2023

It's a cool, quiet Wednesday morning in Bisbee. On a weekend, tourists would throng the narrow streets of the unique town, exploring the kitschy shops and dining in the surprising variety of restaurants. Now, the locals go about their days; stopping for coffee, opening their shopfronts, taking to corners with instruments and cases repurposed as tip jars.

This unique town pulses with history and that flavor that you only get from small communities where everyone knows everyone else. That's readily apparent stepping into the Copper Queen Hotel, a centerpiece of the town since opening in 1902. From the elevated roadway into Bisbee, complete with a pull-off to take the obligatory scenic photo, the eye can't help but be drawn to the iconic lodging that has hosted Harry Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Wayne among thousands of vacationers of lesser celebrity.

Stepping through the double doors and into the lobby you are hit by a creeping sense of nostalgia. Dimly lit, with tiles floors and antique furniture flanking a staircase that might as well have a sign that announces "Hi, this place is haunted", the Copper Queen immediately pulls you into its history. The only real indication that the 21st century is happening beyond its doors is the computer at the desk.

One of those antique pieces...the original safe found behind the front desk

Before speaking to Jenna Lampinen, the daughter of the owner who has a special interest in the spiritual history of the hotel, I meet Jesus (lovingly nicknamed 'Roach' by the staff), a caretaker who knows every nook and cranny of the building. As I'm unpacking the camera equipment for Jose's interviews, he pulls out his phone and shows me a picture. It's the dining room to our left, the large room hosting a party. The kids in the picture are smiling, enjoying themselves, unaware of the uninvited pair of young girls standing behind them. It's vibes of The Shining, and regardless of whether the picture can be debunked or not, I can't help but feel goosebumps forming on my arms.

I've had a fascination with ghosts from a young age. Not Casper or Slimer or any of those friendly sorts either. Since elementary school, I've read books on hauntings, watched the TV programs regardless of credibility, and pursued the beyond myself. In speaking with Jenna later I bring up my connection to The Bellevue-Biltmore Hotel, a now demolished piece of Gilded Age Florida glamour that stood in Pinellas County near Tampa. As a child touring this aging structure in the early-2000's, it left the kind of impression some might have seeing Giza or the Eiffel Tower. I think on it often, the wood paneling, the wallpaper...it's the kind of place I return to in dreams sometimes. Jenna mentioned I have a connection to the place, perhaps spiritually, and that same feeling of haunting comfort drapes the Copper Queen. Is it years of media that influence the mind that a place with flowery wallpaper, shiny wooden pillars and a piano is bound to be the abode of the left behind? I don't really know.

José is more skeptical than I am. Following interviews with the general manager and a local historian, which you can read about here (along with more on our tour of the entire building), we sit down with Jenna about my item of personal interest: the ghosts and their inevitable attraction to The Copper Queen's clientele.

Jenna's worked every position at the hotel and stayed in nearly every room. Right now she does more directing, event planning and HR. From personal experiences to those of folks staying the night, Jenna has plenty of paranormal stories to tell.

José and Jenna discuss the spirits of the hotel

"There's absolutely their stories that are like, oh, we head a bump in the night. Or we got a spooky feeling. And then there's stories that are like...we walked in the room and furniture was flying across the room or I woke up in the middle of the night and there was a woman on fire standing in front of me."

Workers are on a first name basis with some of the ghosts. They include the likes of Billy, who haunts the fourth floor. Legend says the boy died by drowning in a nearby body of water.

"When I did stay in his room, I woke up in the middle of the night, three nights in a row hearing running back and forth and it was, you know, when a kid goes back and forth back and forth...at the foot of bed," Jenna told me. "And I left candy on one of the sides of the bed and then in the morning the candy looked like it had been dragged under the bed. So that's my experience with Billy."

Staff leave toys for Billy, including a vintage-looking red car that Billy is cordial enough to share with Jenna's baby, who seems to quite enjoy the miniature as well.

The vintage toy car Billy enjoys playing with

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the spirit of Julia Lowell, a prostitute who hung herself after her confession of love wasn't reciprocated.

"They say she tickles men's feet at night and does little things her and there."

One less playful spirit seems to call room 401 his home. Jenna describes a darker energy there that is more keen on the ladies. She had some disturbing experiences in the room, feeling watched as she spent time in there. It was only after her menacing time in the room she found out an interesting piece of the hotel's history.

"Someone did pass away in that room and it was an old owner of the hotel from many, many years ago and I don't know the exact details of it but he passed away (making love to) the maid and he had a wife and someone walked in. And he had a heart attack on the spot in that room."

There are also legends of famous spirits stopping by for a stay. They include Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Houdini, both of whom have been tracked in the Copper Queen's ghost journals. Inside you'll find all the instances of a guest calling down to the front desk with an uninvited visitor.

The ghosts are a major draw for the business. Over a decade ago Zak Bagans and his team investigated it on the popular Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures. And in just the last month a Hulu original series, Living for the Dead, had a crew investigate the building.

With the growing interest in this facet of the business, Jenna hopes to bring ghost tours back to the Copper Queen.

"I'm thinking about it being like how it has in the past. A package deal, kind of like a room and you get the ghost tour. But yeah, I'm not really sure of the details of that yet."

José feels the energy in the back alley

Jenna took José and I on a mini tour to see if we might feel the presence of Sal, an entity said to haunt the kitchen and back alleyway.

"People are scared of him," Jenna told us, "and he's grump by he's not evil. He kind of runs back and forth between the kitchen and this alleyway at the back. So I've seen him in the back of the kitchen late at night."

Jenna believes Sal to be a kind of protector and takes us to the alleyway to see if we experience anything.

An alleyway is generally a disconcerting place to spend any amount of time. They're usually dark, there's probably a dumpster or other detritus scattered about, and our collective conscious tells us an alleyway is a great place for bad things to happen. I say all this to engage the skeptic in me who would like to write off the feeling I got in this alley.

Perhaps alley is the wrong word...it's almost like a cave, where the back of the Copper Queen meets a rocky hillside, creating a tunnel. Adorned with spiderwebs and terminating in a dead end lit by a lone, dangling bulb that casts a yellow aura in the darkness, you can't help but be unsettled. As Josè stepped toward the light, he stopped a moment to peek toward a barred window. Anymore, that portal has been closed up and painted black, along with the bars. Later I too would stop and look there, into this bizarre dark maw. Maybe it's the fact there is a window here, not allowing you to see in, nor out, in a cave with little sunlight breaching it...why is it there? The fact it is there just adds to the unsettled ambiance.

A view from The Copper Queen's front porch

A view from The Copper Quuen's front porch

José stopped beneath the bulb to take it all in, allowing himself to get a feel for the energy of the place. Contemplatively standing beneath the bulb, he looks like a cartoon character suddenly struck by a bright idea. But is he feeling something?

As I go down to shoot some B-roll I'm also struck by unease. Whether from the location itself or a presence...I won't speak either way. Nor will José, who maintains an open but skeptical stance on his experience in the alley.

That open frame of mind is what Jenna would like everyone to have when coming to the Copper Queen:

"I tell everybody just all I ask is that you have an open heart and open mind. Just come in and let yourself experience it for yourself. Take it in. Just stand in the space and take it in and see if you feel something."

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Sean Newgent has been with KGUN9 since January of 2020 and is Good Morning Tucson's executive producer. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. He is a critic and cultural commentator. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing sean.newgent@kgun9.com.

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