No one knows for sure where the ashes of Miss Kate rest in the Sheridan Inn, but many have told tales of the ghostly caretaker ever since her remains were placed behind one of the historic hotel’s walls.
The intriguing story of Miss Kate is just one of many ghostly tales surrounding Wyoming’s most famous hotels.
The Irma Hotel in Cody, for example, is said to be haunted by its founder, Buffalo Bill Cody. Some guests report seeing a ghostly figure pacing the halls. At the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, some guests, and even hotel employees, report seeing a child ghost who peeks at guests from behind a door, inviting them to play an otherworldly game of hide and seek — except that when you peek behind the door, no one is there.
To date, there’s been no comprehensive study of Wyoming’s most famous hotel ghosts. But now a University of Wyoming student named Debbie Cobb has begun an academic study of five of Wyoming’s haunted hotels.
Cobb herself has never had a supernatural experience or encountered any ghosts, she told Cowboy State Daily, but that hasn’t stopped her from being a little obsessed with ghost stories from a very young age.
“I watched maybe too much haunted history on the History Channel when I was a kid,” Cobb said. “It’s always been a subject that fascinates me.”
Now They Believe
Cobb’s study will evaluate eye-witness accounts of paranormal experiences at the Irma in Cody, the Occidental in Buffalo, The Virginian in Medicine Bow, the Historic Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, and the Sheridan Inn.
“I can’t tell you any specifics of what people have been telling me yet, but I can say that the responses I’ve gotten have been really fascinating,” Cobb said. “I’ve gotten responses from people who have seen ghosts, and people who have had experiences (at these hotels) that they can’t explain. Some of the people didn’t believe in ghosts before that experience.”
Sometimes people weren’t aware their hotel had any ghost tales, before their experience, that is.
“Like at the Occidental, people hadn’t really heard the legends of the hauntings there, yet they still experienced things that went along with what employees say has happened,” Cobb said. “I’d love to have a few more people tell me about their experiences. If anyone else wants to tell me their ghost stories, I will lend my ear to listen.”
Cobb’s study isn’t assessing whether the ghost stories she’s being told are true or false. She has another end goal in mind.
“I’m studying how people who have had those experiences, how it changes their perspectives on things,” she said. “You might have someone who never believed in ghosts, and then suddenly saw one at the Sheridan Inn and now they’re a believer, that kind of thing.”
Cobb could say, however, that some of the stories she’s been told during the study have been “downright chilling,” even though the teller may not have found their brush with the supernatural terrifying at the time.
That in itself is intriguing to Cobb.
“What I’m really interested in is not so much what we can learn, but what everyone learns about themselves when confronted with the paranormal,” she said. “So, I’m asking people questions about what their beliefs were before they experienced it, how it changed their views on the world and, like, the afterlife, and what happens to people after they pass over.”
Some truly fascinating revelations come from the shift in paradigm before such an experience and after, Cobb added.
“There’s not many things in the world that can change your mind as quickly as experiencing something that you can’t explain,” she said. ‘As a researcher, I’m looking to make those patterns and connections to see how it affects people as a whole. Every story has been unique, and I love hearing how people cope with those experiences and how it changes their worldview.”
Not For Lack Of Trying
Cobb herself has never had a definite paranormal experience, despite a lifelong fascination with and interest in ghosts.
She did, however, see something recently at the Sheridan Inn that she cannot quite explain. She was on a summer internship with the Alliance for Historic Wyoming and had the opportunity to tour the Sheridan Inn.
“Right before we left, we were checking out the restaurant, which hadn’t opened yet,” she said. “And there’s a door that was being held open by a door stopper.”
All of a sudden, the door that had seemed solidly held in place moved against its door stopper, pushing it between 1 and 2 feet closer in. It was as if something were trying to shut the door.
“We looked at each other and we’re like OK, I think it’s time to go,” Cobb said.
But she doesn’t feel she can definitely classify that as anything supernatural.
“I’ve been writing about Miss Kate for a long time, so a little part of me thinks maybe she’s just saying ‘Hi,’ but I don’t know if I can count that as a paranormal experience because there’s so many other ways to explain it,” Cobb said. “It’s an old building, and there are hardwood floors there. So maybe we created a divot that pushed it forward.”
Still, it definitely made Cobb’s Sheridan Inn tour a little more interesting, and it is fuel for a fire that already has her frequently staying at the Cowboy State’s most haunted locations.
Among her many travels was a recent stay at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, as well as The Virginian in Medicine Bow last year. At the latter, she asked to stay in the hotel’s most haunted room, which was on the third floor.
“The heat didn’t reach all the way up to the third floor and it was November,” Cobb said. “So, I was certainly shivering for one reason or another.”
While at the hotel, she did see several things scattered all over the hallway leading to her room. At first, that was disquieting in the dimly lit hallway of the freezing, third floor.
“But I also know there were some people who heard me talking about ghost stories the whole weekend,” Cobb said. “So, I suspect it was just a prank.”
From Ghost To Coast
Cobb has been writing little ghost stories for the past year, publishing them at her website blog, Ghostlandia, where she has chronicled a couple hundred stories from “ghost to coast.”
For her, there’s a purpose beyond the fun of telling new ghost stories.
“I snag people in with (the ghost stories), but then I sneak a history lesson in about each location,” Cobb said. “And that’s my favorite thing about all these hotels that I’m studying is each one of them has ties to various things about the Wild West.”
It’s easy to weave the tales of ghosts into pivotal moments of Wyoming’s history, Cobb said, whether it’s the Johnson County Cattle Wars, building out the state’s railroad lines, or famous authors like Owen Wister writing a book that brings Wyoming to life on a national stage.
“They’ve all got these really cool stories from the Wild West, and each of them has their own cool ghost stories, too,” she said. “That makes this study really kind of a combination of a lot of my passions, which is the history of the Cowboy State and its ghost stories. It’s exciting to be able to study it in an academic way, instead of just writing my own little blog posts.”
The other secret little hope Cobb has for her ghost-chasing study is that it will encourage more people to visit the especially cool historic hotels in their own state, just for the fun of it.
“I have stayed in most of them, and they are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “I want people to visit them not just for the ghost stories, but for the history.”
Cobb is still accepting participants for her study at this point. Anyone with a ghost story about the five hotels she’s looking into can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.