The gold rush of 1876 brought all kinds of people to Deadwood, SD. It attracted pioneers and prospectors seeking their fortune, along with lawless, unsavory types bringing murder, mayhem and Deadwood’s heralded status in Wild West lore. The legendary locale — the only US town to be named a National Historic Landmark — is alive with stories of its dead residents haunting present-day hotels and saloons. There’s no better time to visit with Deadwood’s undead than at Halloween, when the city celebrates Deadweird with a Monster Ball at the Franklin Hotel and hourly haunted tours at the Historic Adams House.
Pay your respects to the most famous, or infamous, of Deadwood’s dead at Mount Moriah Cemetery, including Wild Bill Hickok, the celebrated gunslinger who was shot in the back of the head after drawing a pair of aces and a pair of black 8s at Saloon No. 10. You’ll find a handsome bronze bust of James Butler Hickok and a modest wooden marker inscribed with a personal farewell from friend Colorado Charlie Utter. Another friend, trick shooter Calamity Jane, is buried next to Wild Bill, just as she requested on her deathbed.
Deadwood’s first sheriff, Seth Bullock, who became a businessman and hotelier, rests at the top of a steep trail in Plot 99. Pause here for a panorama of Deadwood below or hike to the nearby White Rocks for even more pristine views. Back in town, you can get the back story on all these characters and their time in Deadwood at the Days of '76 Museum, which features exhibits dedicated to the town’s beginnings and an impressive collection of restored stagecoaches on its lower level.
You might encounter Deadwood’s first sheriff yourself at the Historic Bullock Hotel. Smell cigar smoke when no one is smoking a cigar? Hotel employees say that’s Bullock, who was known for his heavy cigar smoking. His ghostly form also appears in photos that are on display. But he’s not the only one knocking about in the hotel he built in 1895. Bullock took in many people during a cholera outbreak, and the small children who succumbed to the disease roam the building, moving shiny things and organizing change by denomination.
Some say there was a hanging in Room 211, and guests have seen a faint figure still hanging there. The 19th-century décor, original staircase and wooden bar provide the perfect backdrop for these paranormal tales. You can experience them on one of the hotel tours on Friday and Saturday nights. Deadwood re-enactors join in on the scary story time, too.
W.E. Adams was the second owner of the Adams House, a home like Deadwood had never seen when it was built in 1892 with indoor plumbing, electricity and a telephone. After Adams died of a stroke in the house, it is said that his wife could still hear him walking around on the second floor. She left the house and its contents untouched, so it sat empty for 50 years until it was turned into a bed and breakfast and, later, a museum.
Visitors and employees have seen a rocking chair rock on its own, encountered a shadowy man standing at an upstairs window and heard voices and footsteps in rooms throughout the house. Spirits and all, the Adams House is a perfectly preserved window into 19th-century Victorian life, from the music room with original sheet music to the medicine in the bathroom. Haunted tours take place hourly on October evenings.
The Historic Fairmont Hotel and Casino
When Ron Russo bought the Fairmont, a former brothel, in 1989 and began renovations, the ghosts had other thoughts. When Amy Allan and Steve DiSchiavi of The Dead Files visited the Deadwood hotel, they experienced an abundance of paranormal activity on the third floor, especially from a spirit Amy called “Grumpy Man.” Ron would later learn that his name was Henry, and he was still angry that his prostitute girlfriend died of syphilis. There was also Maggie, who threw herself from a third-floor window after learning that her boyfriend left her. She still lingers there. And then there are all the incidences of photographed orbs and ghostly touches.
Ron puts all of this paranormal activity in context during nightly tours, beginning with Deadwood’s hardscrabble history. Some of that story lies right next door at the original Saloon No. 10, where Wild Bill was killed. His “death” chair is on display just down Main Street at the Old Style Saloon No. 10, a modern-day re-creation of the original. After you’ve seen the chair, stay for gaming, live music and a stiff drink.