Exploring the Goldfield Hotel

Goldfield High SchoolIt used to be the biggest town in Nevada. That was a long time ago, when there was still gold in the hills. Now it’s a nothing place, a dusty town you might accidently drive 
through on the way to somewhere else. How many people live in Goldfield today? A few hundred?

But the hotel, it’s still there. The stately, decaying Goldfield Hotel remains standing in the middle of the almost-ghosttown, four stories of red brick and dusty windows. Once it was called the most spectacular hotel in Nevada. Once people flocked to it, an unlikely oasis of luxury and glamour in the middle of the desert.  

Now the people who seek out the Goldfield Hotel have a much different purpose. They come for the ghosts.  

I hate to get all hipster, but I cared about Goldfield before it was popular. Before it was on all the ghosthunting shows and lists of haunted places. Do a Google search of Goldfield today and you get hit with masses of information. That’s not how it was when I was researching, and falling in love with, the Goldfield Hotel. Back then it felt like my secret.

It’s also safe to say that, for a while, it turned into my obsession. But how could it not? It’s what I’d spent my life waiting for. All those years of reading ghost stories, dreaming of haunted places, cursing the city I live in where nothing is allowed to get old. It was like something straight from my imagination.

Abandoned in GoldfieldThe Goldfield Hotel was my first abandoned place. And like all the major firsts, it’s one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

My Nevada History class led me to the hotel. We had to do a project on something that had happened in Nevada within a certain timeframe. I wanted something different from the expected Indian wars or wagon trains. I loved scary things, why not find an old Nevada ghost story? That’s how I discovered Goldfield.

I read everything I could find. How many hours did I spend looking at pictures of that magnificent hotel? At night I laid awake thinking of it. I dreamed of exploring the dark hallways. I dreamed of owning it, restoring it. I dreamed of being magically transported back in time, seeing the hotel in its glory days.

Imagine this: Mahogany paneling and black leather. Gold leaf ceilings, gilded columns, crystal chandeliers. And telephones and electric lights, even an elevator. Meaningless today, but not in 1908 when the hotel opened. What people must have thought of it! The music that must have played there at nighttime! The dresses the women must have worn! It’s said that during the opening ceremony, champagne flowed down the front steps.

Abandoned in GoldfieldAnd sure, I can admit, it reminded me of another hotel, a half-fictional place where a winter caretaker and his family were so mercilessly haunted. I couldn’t have The Overlook, but I could have The Goldfield.

One weekend my friends and I made the three hour drive to Goldfield, Nevada. For research. My project was due the following week. But was I thinking about my project at that point? Did that really factor in at all?

I can still remember coming through the mountains and seeing it for the first time. It wasn’t hard to spot. There wasn’t much left of the town, and what building could compete with the majesty of The Goldfield Hotel? I pressed my hand against the brick wall and felt like the entire history of the place was flowing into me. An instant connection, the hotel drawing me in, promising to tell me all its secrets.

Because what hotel doesn’t have secrets? What hotel doesn’t have ghosts?

The most famous Goldfield legend claims that George Wingfield, the owner of the hotel, got a prostitute pregnant. He kept her locked up until she gave birth, then murdered both her and the child. (And this is why legends can’t be trusted- why not murder her before she went into labor, what could possibly be the The Goldfield Hotelgain in waiting?) They say the prostitute still walks the halls, sometimes you can hear the baby crying.

But that’s not all! There’s the women who hanged herself, the man who jumped out the third floor window. There’s a prankster midget ghost and two giggling children by the staircase in the lobby. There’s an angry ghost in the dining room, that’s the one you need to watch out for. And, of course, the roster wouldn’t be complete without George Wingfield himself, never able to fully leave his hotel, making himself known by the smell of his cigar smoke.

My friends and I wandered the town. We talked to people who lived there. We heard so many stories, each more fascinating than the last. Some kids we met took us home to meet their parents. In Goldfield it’s not like Vegas, where people hesitate to even make eye contact. We were invited into the kids’ home, their parents sat us down at the table. And oh, they told us so many stories.

“I’ll show you how we used to sneak in when we were kids,” a woman, the mother, said.

The Goldfield Hotel

But the way was closed off, probably a long time ago.

“There’s something blocking this door,” the woman said. “But I bet it could be opened from the inside.”

This was in the back of the hotel, which is u-shaped. The door in question was at the base of the “u”. Had it been unlocked, it would have opened on the lobby. The two wings, on both sides of us, were the guest rooms.

Now. I’m not saying this happened, but what if one of the guest room windows was open? Not all the way open, just barely, and nailed into place so it couldn’t be forced any further? What if it was open just enough for someone small to boost themselves up to it, and squeeze through? Someone like me.

What if?

What if there was a moment where I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but in the end I did, and then just like that I was
inside the Goldfield Hotel? Alone inside of it while my friends and the nice woman from town watched from the other side of the window.

Doors to GoldfieldIf that had happened then I would have left the room and made my way towards the lobby. Down a narrow hallway, rooms on each side. Weak sunlight filtering in through the dirty windows. So silent, like a tomb. Four stories, a hundred and fifty rooms, and I was the only one inside. Have you ever been alone inside a building that size? An old, old building with peeling wallpaper and so many ghosts? Had I ever felt so alone before, and so alive?

All those days and nights dreaming of Goldfield, and finally I was there, alone inside my hotel. It belonged to me and only me.

Or it would have, if any of that had happened.

And what if I made it to the lobby, that grand, broken lobby, and pulled the big desk from the door (for a moment I thought I wouldn’t be strong enough, and how, how could I get back out that window?) and let my friends in? And what if after that the woman from town took us on a tour of the hotel, every single floor, telling us stories along the way?

My favorite unconfirmed Goldfield Hotel legend: somewhere in the basement there’s an entrance to a tunnel that used to lead to a nearby brothel. So the wealthy patrons could visit prostitutes secretly. Hidden tunnels! How amazing!

Goldfield Main StaircaseWhat if later on that evening the woman from town gave us flashlights and my friends and I explored the hotel, alone, in the dark? What if that woman watched for cars driving by, and alerted us to when we should turn our lights off?

I guess if that had happened, the woman from town would be my hero.  

The Goldfield Hotel at night. So dark. So creaky and whispery. What if during the daytime exploration we skipped the basement, so the first time we went down into that twisting labyrinth was at night? So many old artifacts. The gaping elevator shaft.

Up staircases. Into the room where the prostitute was murdered. Down hallways that seemed to stretch forever. If any of this had happened, it would have been one of the most magical moments of my life.

The grand, imposing, terrifying, wonderful Goldfield Hotel.  

So, yeah, I got an “A” on my project.

Goldfield CemeteryAnd then life went on. Not that I forgot the hotel. But it was too far to casually drive to. I read about the new owners plans to renovate it and cringed. Slot machines?!  He clearly didn’t understand the hotel, not like I did.

About a year after my Goldfield adventure I was wandering the paranormal section at the library and a title jumped out at me: “Goldfield Hotel: But You Can't Leave, Shirley” by Shirley A. Porter. What?

I consumed that book at record speed. It was written by a woman who’d bought the hotel in (I think) the 70s with the intention of restoring it. She and her family lived there. Lived there. Alone. Just them in that massive hotel. Oh, to own all those mysterious rooms! How must she have felt? I can’t even describe the depths of my jealousy.

The book followed their attempts to restore the hotel despite financial struggles, amidst all sorts of ghostly happenings. It was very Amityville Horror. Probably made up, sure, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief.

There were two things that stood out most to me:

Goldfield Cemetery1. The author made cagey mentions of something secret in the hotel, something she was always on the lookout for. Finally she found it in the basement, but it was covered in concrete and she didn’t have the money to tear it up. She wouldn’t say what it was though. It was hers, and one day she planned to own the hotel again and she wasn’t sharing her secrets before then. Could it be? The secret tunnel to the brothel?!

2. This woman felt the way I did about the hotel. It was a bad decision to buy it. But she had to. She kept losing money, but she held onto it. Despite everything that had gone wrong, when she was finally forced to give it up, she did so bitterly. And vowed to return. She loved the hotel. She felt it belonged to her, the same way I felt it so deeply it belonged to me.

I thought about trying to find and contact Shirley A. Porter. Naturally my shyness prevented me. Where is she now? Is she even alive?

And if Shirley A. Porter is alive, what does she think about what’s happened to the Goldfield Hotel in recent years? Because today the hotel is a little bit famous.

It was featured on a show about haunted places. Some ghosthunters from Las Vegas did a episode about the hotel. Those ghosthunters eventually became pretty popular. Then there were more TV shows. Articles. Mention in books. Suddenly The Goldfield was one of Americas “most haunted hotels”. And boy, does it annoy me.

Goldfield Hotel Because I feel like I understand the hotel in a way none of those other people do. They don’t get it and they don’t belong there. I’m willing to bet Shirley A. Porter would agree.

Supposedly the hotel is being renovated. But that’s been the rumor for ten years now and so far nothing’s happened. I guess The Goldfield Hotel might be destined to sit there as more and more people move away from the town. Falling down a little more every day. Attracting ghosthunters who hope to get in and explore, hope to find a first floor window open just enough for someone small to squeeze through.

A couple years ago, on the way to San Francisco, my fiancé and I took a route that went through Goldfield. The hotel was just as I remembered it. Still magical. How desperately I wanted to go inside. I haven’t seen it again since then. Who knows, maybe I never will. And even if I do, most likely it’ll only be seeing. I’ll never step foot inside. 

Or maybe I’m wrong and one day the hotel will be restored to its former glory.

Or maybe it’ll be abandoned forever, but by some incredible chance I’ll get to explore it. Maybe even find out what’s hidden in the basement. Stranger things have happened.  

But no matter what the fate of the Goldfield Hotel, I’ll always love it. After all, it was my first abandoned place.