Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Of Lumberjacks and Ghosts

As the story goes, lumberjacks celebrating the 4th of July, 1876, nailed a U.S. flag to the top of a tall Ponderosa Pine, thus giving the settlement its name -- Flagstaff. In 1882, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now the Santa Fe) arrived and assured the community's growth.

So, we began our walking tour of Flagstaff with a stop in the Visitor Center, housed in the Tudor-style Santa Fe Railroad station. In the short time we were in the historic downtown, four l-o-n-g freight trains lumbered through the district.

Three hotels played major roles in the emergence of Flagstaff. In 1892, the McMillan Building housed a bank and a hotel and was called the Bank Hotel. This hotel became the terminus for the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Stagecoach. The McMillan Opera House, located on the ground floor, became the premiere place in town to host plays, dances, and other events.

On the very first day of the new century, the Weatherford opened its doors. This grand hotel would welcome presidents and gunslingers and would house Flagstaff’s first telephone exchange company, various restaurants, a theater, radio station, and a billiard hall.

Opening on New Year’s Day, 1927, the Hotel Monte Vista has a history that could be described as "colorful" and "interesting," but both terms would not do the hotel justice. Opening during the prohibition era didn’t stop the Hotel's lounge from ignoring the law and running a profitable bootlegging operation out of Flagstaff’s most popular speakeasy. However, in 1931, the place was raided by local officials and shut down, only to resume business two years later when prohibition finally came to an end.

For five years between 1935 and 1940, the hotel lounge and lobby also offered its many guests a wide range of slot machines to choose from, the only ones ever in Flagstaff.

Then there are the stories of the ghosts. John Wayne reported seeing one of the hotel’s first ghosts in the late 1950’s. The ghost of a 1970s wounded bank robber is said to re-visit the bar in which he died. Both employees and guests have heard band music coming from the second-floor lobby, when there is no band playing. A phantom bellboy knocks on the door of Room 210 with the statement that room service has arrived. Other stories involve ghosts in Room 220, 305, and the Gary Cooper room.

Flagstaff seems to be having success combining its history and the character of the past with the energy and creativity of a younger generation. During the winter months, Flagstaff is host to countless skiers and snowboarders.

Many of the old route 66 hotels and auto shops, constructed of native rock and brick, still stand in downtown Flagstaff.

At 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is also one of the highest elevation cities in the United States.

And having a diner downtown makes it a fine city to visit.

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