Southeast Montana is steeped in history, and it seems that every nook and cranny of the region has a story to tell. For some places, however, that story is one that is glimmering with mystery. Eerie tales of unexplainable paranormal occurrences are stutteringly all too common—the tales of Southeast Montana otherworldly citizens linger just outside the realm of reality and exist firmly in the unknown. Whether you are a believer or getting into the spooky spirit of Halloween, settle in for some of our favorite tales of haunted happenings in Southeast Montana.
KEMPTON HOTEL – TERRY
The town of Terry, Montana, exists today because of the railroads. In 1882 the Northern Pacific Line started construction, and the Milwaukee Line followed in 1908. The Kempton Hotel was built in 1902. It has been said that benevolent spirits occupy the hotel. Today’s owners Linda and Russ Schwartz share stories of unexplainable activities on the grounds, as told to them by Russ’s grandmother, who worked at the hotel almost a century ago.
Mischief in the Halls: Shortly after the hotel was built, two young rancher’s children, sick with typhoid, came into Terry to see the doctor who lived at the Kempton Hotel. The children, ages 6 and 7, passed away upon arrival. Immediately following their untimely deaths, people began to report sightings of children looking out the windows from inside from the upper floor, but there were never any children to be found within. Sightings of the two children continued for decades into the 1980s, always without explanation. Footsteps and sounds of children running through the hallways have also been recorded. Upon taking over the hotel, Russ Schwartz thought that local kids might be sneaking in through the fire escape and running through the halls, causing the complaints, but no children have ever been caught… And the fire escape doors lock from the outside.
Caring Hands: In 1918, the world experienced an epidemic: Spanish influenza took the lives of between 20-50 million souls worldwide, with over 1/3 of the world’s population being affected. One night in 1918, a nurse stepped off of a train and onto the platform of Terry. While seeking a room at the Kempton, a local doctor requested her help— the hotel housed the hospital’s overflow of sick patients. The nurse stayed for almost three months to help before she, too, was claimed by the deadly virus. Immediately following her death and still to this day, guests share tales of the woman in white who watches over the Kempton’s upper floors. Guests wake up to the image of a smiling woman who sits perched on the edge of the bed and then stands and disappears into the walls.
Boots & Spurs: Bernie Kempton, the son of the original builder of the hotel, traveled the world with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows, and in 1908 he took over the hotel with his wife, Martha. Martha and Bernie lived and worked for years at the hotel until 1949 when Bernie died peacefully and quietly in the lobby, sitting in his favorite rocking chair with his boots and spurs on his feet. Sometimes, when the lobby is quiet, the sounds of spurs and footsteps and the dragging of furniture can be heard upstairs—the spirit of Bernie Kempton keeping up his hotel.
O'FALLON HISTORICAL MUSEUM – BAKER
The historic O’Fallon Historical Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is housed in the old Fallon County Jail in Baker, Montana. Built in 1916, the building is, according to locals and employees, most assuredly haunted. In the kitchen, doors will slam spontaneously, or open suddenly without any explanation, at the sound of inappropriate talk. In addition to bumps and noises that one would expect with an old building, patrons attune to metaphysical occurrences report unusual sounds and feelings of overall eeriness. But one story in particular sends chills up the spine: the story of the suicide of Sheriff Andy Andolshek.
In July of 1947, Sheriff Andolshek’s fiancé arrived in Montana and requested that they delay their wedding, so they could be acquainted better. The sheriff, who met his fiancé while serving as a soldier in World War II, was undergoing personal financial troubles as well. He left a note for his sister before shooting himself in the heart with a sawed-off shotgun in his office in the old jail. Recently, a patron who was sensitive to paranormal activity smelled gun smoke in a particular room of the museum, not knowing the story of Andy Andolshek and unaware that the very room was the same one in which he shot himself almost half a century before.
DUDE RANCHER LODGE – BILLINGS
Annabelle Goan and her husband Percy built the Dude Rancher Lodge in 1950 using bricks from the former St. Vincent Hospital and the Washington School in Billings. Annabelle and Percy lived on premises until 1962 when her husband died in a car accident. She moved into the hotel and died in 1983.
Since her death, there have been numerous reports of Annabelle’s spirit lingering in the Dude Rancher, and the staff have experienced events that they cannot explain. One staff member’s mother stayed in the hotel, where she claims to have met Annabelle’s ghost in her room. This particular room, located further away from the reception desk than any other room, has a door with a mind of its own. One guest was particularly angry with hotel management when he realized that all the locked doors, including the sliding chain and deadbolt, were all unlocked while he was inside the room. He assumed that someone from the hotel has entered his room, even though it is impossible to open the chain and deadbolt from the outside.
Another instance occurred years later. A housekeeper was locked out of the room, and after trying the handle several times made the long march to the front desk to get a spare key. Upon returning, the door was unlocked, and the key was inside. Apart from the room, there have been countless reports of children haunting the Dude Rancher. One guest recalled hearing a woman saying, “Do not run inside,” and staff and guests alike have heard children running in the hallways, even when there are no children staying at the hotel. During a ghost tour several Halloween’s ago, two women brought a recorder to see if they could catch waves of paranormal sounds and activities. One woman asked the other when the trolley would arrive to take them to their next location, and the recording caught the sound of a child saying, “It just arrived.” The voice was loud and clearly belonged to a small child, but there were no children on the tour. The commonly-believed theory attributes this to the lingering spirits from the schoolhouse bricks.
MONTANA BAR & CAFE – BROADUS
The Montana Bar & Café was built in the 1940s and many locals and former bartenders swear that it’s haunted by former proprietress Emma Sterling. Emma and husband Bob lived in an apartment in the basement of the bar for many years. To this day, some of their personal effects, including clothing, are still there.
Bartenders have to enter the basement to change out kegs, and throughout the years many have returned with tales of unusual and paranormal activity. The presence of Emma’s spirit is so prevalent and so widely acknowledged by staff members that some have gone so far to strike deals and understandings with her lingering spirit.
MOSS MANSION – BILLINGS
Completed in 1903, the Moss Mansion, now a museum, was home to the Moss family for over 80 years. Preston Boyd (PB) Moss moved his family, including wife Maddie and her parents, to Billings from Paris, Missouri, in 1892, where he soon became the president at First National Bank. Six members of the Moss family have died in the Moss Mansion, most notably PB and Maddie's youngest child Virginia, who was born at the Moss Mansion in 1902 and died of diphtheria at the age of six in 1908. While friendly and benevolent, the spirit of Virginia Moss has gained the most notable attention to staff and visitors who report paranormal activity in the mansion, particularly surrounding the banister and staircase leading to the upper story of the home.
There have been numerous instances of a blue orb on the staircase landing hovering on the second floor landing, the same floor where young Virginia died. Also, during a production of A Doll's House, numerous cast and crew from Backyard Theatre saw the outline of a shadow of a young girl peeking around the staircase at them, without explanation. One summer when the heaters were on nonstop because of repairs, paranormal activity spiked. Four different workers on four different days saw the slow, steady rocking of a rocking chair in one of the upstairs bedrooms without being touched and without any direct air flow or drafts from the heaters that might cause it. This unexplained phenomenon started to engage the wonderment of the nonbelievers who worked at the mansion, even those who consider themselves nonbelievers in paranormal sightings and events.
Perhaps the strangest incident at the mansion happened over the summer of 2019 when two people were posing for a photo on the staircase. As iPhones do, a box appeared around both of their faces; however, a third box appeared around the height of where a young child's face would be. The photographer, thinking that the light must be impacting the face recognition feature, asked the people to move to another area for their photo. However, when they did, the box also moved, picking up yet again a face at the height of a small child. It seems that the friendly spirit of Virginia Moss wanted to be in the photo too.