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The Rookwood Speakeasy –
HauntedHouses.com


Haunted Place: The Rookwood Speakeasy

LOCATION

Rookwood Speakeasy — Old Butte Historical Adventures
117 North Main Street
Butte, Montana 59701

The Rookwood Speakeasy Museum is located in the basement of the old Rookwood Hotel building, now called The La Salle Apartments, located just across the alley from the old Butte City Hall Building and the old police station.

Rookwood Speakeasy page on Butte Tours web site
(406) 498-3424 • rigibson@earthlink.net

DESCRIPTION

The Rookwood Speakeasy Museum in Butte, Montana, is described as being "one of the most beautiful speakeasies west of Chicago." It is twenty-five feet long, and extends underneath the N. Main St. sidewalk. This space originally was built to be the lobby of a once very smart-looking 1912/boarding rooming house/ up-scale hotel, The Rookwood Hotel. The visitor can see why!

The Rookwood Hotel and lobby had thick terrazzo tile flooring, wooden wainscoting on the walls, marble walls and floors, a double-door Otis elevator, a wrought-iron spiral staircase, and a lot of architectural and design flourishes, including stained glass skylights, hardwood moldings and mythical griffins carved into the ceiling. This building was going for the "high class joint" style aimed at folks interested in having a nice boarding room, or perhaps this was an upscale hotel, aimed at the wealthy. The experts don't agree!

Many hotels during Prohibition had their own speakeasies. (Biltmore Hotel * The Andre * The Geiser Grand Hotel * The Rex)

This illegal drinking establishment, The Rookwood Speakeasy was well thought out. The experience of going to enjoy your favorite alcoholic drink began by going to a first door, where the potential customer rang a doorbell, which let those know inside of potential customer or trouble maker on the outside. Once the door opened, the customer finds him or herself in a foyer, complete with a coat rack, and a large, two way mirror, so the door keeper could get a good "look-see." Another masonite door had a sliding peep-hole for a closer inspection by the door keeper and/or bouncer. An added precaution was that the door was reinforced by a sturdy wood bar lock to slow down or stop efforts to kick down the door easily by police or other hostile folks, like Carrie Nation, wanting to be party poopers.

The original, ornately carved wooden bars, pool table, betting boards and some artifacts from the era were found when the door was opened after so many years. Once the museum was planned, many items from private collections were added to the stuff originally found here.

Tours are regularly scheduled, and Tom and I went for the whole sports package in 2012, and saw several other buildings of interest; like a tiny speakeasy located in the back of a barber shop, and the creepy old jail, that was closed in the 1970s. The Rookwood Speakeasy was a fascinating place! It really was a slice of the Prohibition culture. Air was a little heavy but not uncomfortable. It felt like someone else was keeping us company though.

Besides having tours, the owners hope to hold special events in this space as well. This may lead to more personal experiences and maybe even some hard evidence.

HISTORY

In 1912, The Rookwood Hotel was built by James Pratt, a businessman/merchant who operated his Red Boot and Shoe Company out of the ground floor space right next to the hotel entrance, now the home to the BS Café. Like many western/mid-western towns, there were tunnels and walkways under the city streets, and the lobby of the hotel would be underground, leaving the building above ground to have the most rooms possible; Forty-five rooms for rental.

Ellen Baumler, interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society, thinks that The Rookwood was a simple rooming house. She offers an ad that was posted in The Anaconda Standard on May 18th, 1913 that backs up her belief. "The most modern, up-to-date rooming house in the city," it reads. "Local and transient trade solicited."

Others feel because of the expense put into its classy decor and features, that the well-to-do would stay here, and think it was a swanky hotel. Perhaps James Pratt wanted to build a place that could appeal to everyone, increasing foot traffic and occupation rates. Perhaps both the politicians and people with money, as well as miners and common travelers on a business trip stayed here. The Rookwood could've had rooms for every pocketbook.

City Officials may have wanted to spend the week in Butte, during a hectic time in their political world or during the snowy blizzards if they didn't live within walking distance. Visitors who were involved with Butte City Government or the mining business probably stayed here as well. People from out of town also may have desired a nice place to live. Miners who had some success may have enjoyed staying here as well as boarders.

Prohibition was an ill-conceived idea that declared that all alcohol was bad and forbidden. From 1919-1933, a defiant public were offered places called "Speakeasies" to go and imbibe in their favorite drink; some cities more than others. In Butte, a mining town, there were 250 illegal bars, according to one source, that moved under the streets of Butte, or in hidden rooms of businesses. The local police simply looked the other way, especially if the speakeasy paid them a fee. Even an above board business pays fees to the city in order to have a business license.

Much of the banned alcohol was smuggled over the Canadian border by booze runners, because Canada is Montana's northern neighbor. Many townspeople also made their own drinks for their private use, using mash and stills, to the point that the pipes of the city were being clogged with mash! Other entrepreneurs like bootlegger Curly McFarland had a skill in making moonshine, and sold his contraband to some of the Speakeasies in Butte.

The Speakeasy that was created in former underground lobby of the beautiful Rookwood Hotel reflected the grandeur found in the floors upstairs, making it very attractive to folks with money to spend, with patrons of the hotel, as well as miners with a sense of fashion and appreciation for the finer things in life!

To pad their income, this bar also offered gambling to take care of the money that was burning a hole in their customer's pockets, which means they had someone on staff to make sure people paid up when they lost. This same tough fellow probably was the bouncer/security man who also did the job of throwing unruly folks out, and perhaps helped to screen the people through the two way mirror and peep hole.

The Rookwood Speakeasy was raided only twice by Federal officials, determined to show the strong arm of federal law, but it didn't last long. "It is estimated," The Butte Miner reported, "that 150 gallons of whiskey, 1,500 bottles of beer and 30 gallons of wine were destroyed by the hue and cry." However, in one of these raids, they managed to arrest bootlegger and moonshiner Curly McFarland, who probably wound up in federal incarceration, to set the example and put fear into the public, for at least an instant.

No one knows how long this Speakeasy was open, but it was sealed and locked at some point, leaving everything as it was during the 1920s-1930s, creating a time capsule of sorts. It was forgotten for a long, long time.

In 1950, the building was transformed into the La Salle Apartments, but the building slowly went downhill into a funky state, as the mines closed, and newer places sprung up to take care of the needs for hospitality. Finally, Jeff Francis bought this historic building along with several others with plans to restore them. He knew of the bar in the basement, and asked Mike Byrnes, co-owner of an Uptown tour company called Old Butte Historical Adventures in Butte, to explore the basement. Perhaps, Jeff could work out a deal with this Tour Company to put this space to work, in order to raise some funds for the restoration of The Rookwood Hotel building, that needed a boatload of money to do so.

Mike did indeed find a door with a doorbell in the building's basement. This door led to the foyer that had a coat rack and a large, two-way mirror. Then, a second door with a peephole was the next obstacle to entry. After kicking in the second door, he found NOT ONLY the expected "falling plaster, cobwebs and 30 buckets worth of debris," but a real step into the past, with artifacts and furniture, and lovely, if dusty decor. This was the perfect place to clean up, restore and set it up like the Speakeasy it once was. This Rookwood Speakeasy Museum would become a profitable tourist attraction; in essence, putting this space back to work.

After two weeks of restoring, with the help of his partner; the late Denny Dutton, plus gathering donations from others and donating from his own collection of artifacts, they set up The Rookwood Speakeasy Museum, and began tours. Some spirits seem to be pleased that the living have finally fixed up their special place in this world, and perhaps for providing some entertainment by leading the people down to the spirits' favorite place to stay.

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS:

No one knows yet why the spirits in this place would be still here. We can make educated guesses though.

Because of the nature of Prohibition Speakeasies, mostly being controlled by shady elements of society, who had their fingers in the illegal black market distribution of beer, whiskey and moonshine, a lot of hauntings come from this period. Bootleggers, perhaps some mob representation, speakeasy owners and their bouncers/security men did this illegal enterprise to make money while providing a service and illegal drinks that people wanted to have despite what the Federal Government had forbidden, in the best interest of its people.

Rules were brutally enforced, with no mercy shown.

Cheating at the gambling games, or short-changing the establishment, or not paying debts from gambling could end in getting shot or getting cement shoes for the river, or being buried in cement: ( The Rex Restaurant * The Biltmore Hotel * Alberta Bair Theater * Brumder Mansion- Italian gambler )

Rival turf wars or grudges between rival factions not only caused the deaths of these shady elements of society but sometimes innocent bystanders who were in the wrong place at the wrong time: (The Wabasha Street Caves * Saint Valentine's Day Massacre * The Bar Next Door * Coyote Ugly Saloon * Portland's Shanghai Tunnel — Speakeasy Slaughter of innocent party-goers)

Being too friendly with a mob soldier's/bouncer's girlfriend could end your life: ( O'Henry's Roadhouse building * County Line BBQ Restaurant )

People who knew too much or threatened their operations were often shot by these shady elements of society sent to take care of business with people that could testify in court against them. It didn't matter if these people had been loyal and had done everything that was asked of them.

( Brumder Mansion — Joe the Enforcer * Kahler Grand Hotel — Helen Vorhees * The Comedy Store * Portland's Shanghai Tunnels — death of a prostitute )

People who work in risky occupations can die from the risks involved in their job. ( USS Lexington * Albany Capitol Building * Wabasha Street Caves )

One of the male entities seen resembles a tough guy who may have been on the security/bouncer detail. Whether he met his end because he worked in an illegal business, or because of personal conflicts or a stay in prison, or even by natural causes, it is possible that it was the line of work that he liked could've put him into dangerous situations, but we are just theorizing.

People who ran, did business with or worked at an establishment while alive, enjoying their time in a place, perhaps suffered hardship or death because of circumstances connected to this place. They may decide to stay there after they pass from this world; especially if their favorite place is restored to its former glory.

( Brumder Mansion — Mike * The Bar Next Door * Tavern at Clinton * General Wayne Inn )

Curly McFarland, wearing the straw hat could be one of the entities.

Why? If it is Curly, perhaps he was probably the major supplier of his kind of alcoholic drink, and he probably loved The Rookwood Speakeasy. He had suffered in prison while in this world, because of his illegal way of making a living, and he may not have made it out of prison alive. Knowing that The Rookwood Speakeasy has been restored, he is probably eager to come and remember his good times here, perhaps trying to work on letting go of his bad experiences in federal prison.

Because of the lack of antibiotics and vaccines that we are blessed with today, children who lived in the first half of the 20th century were sometimes victims of infections or of epidemics that swept through towns. Others died from accidents, physical ailments or from abuse.

( The Collingwood Art Center * Moss Mansion * Stranahan House * Monteleone Hotel * Lafitte's Guest House * Rose Hills Cemetery — Somersville/Nortonville )

The entity of the little boy could've been hired to watch who was coming through the two way mirror.

The little boy could also be from an earlier time, and could've been the son of the hotel manager or a miner who lived in the building.

MANIFESTATIONS:

Many people have felt cold spots, and felt the strong presences watching them intently.

Two Male entities: who seem to be friends or in a business relationship.

In Karen Steven's book, Haunted Montana, she describes what one tour guide experienced, soon after the Rookwood Speakeasy Museum opened.

After taking his group to the museum, he saw them out the door, and went back down to shut off the lights and to lock up. Imagine his surprise to see two men, solid like the living, dressed in "pin-striped suits from the 1920s, one with a fedora, the other a flat straw hat." They were sitting at one of the round tables, with hands around the two glasses set up on the table. The tour guide was thinking, "Who are these guys? The tour is over, but I didn't see these two in my tour group; dressed in the 1920s attire."

Suddenly, one of them snapped his head around and stared hard at the tour guide. Seeing the eyes and the lack of color in his face must have told this young man that these men were not flesh and blood. Needless to say, the frightened tour guide broke the record going up the stairs where he called his boss, who came down immediately. After a thorough search, no one living was found. This was probably the source of some chuckles for these two entities.

People have felt being intensely watched while in this museum. Cold spots have been felt as well.

One boy entity — dressed like a miner's son. As there were not many child labor laws, children could've been paid to watch the door through the two way mirror.

Or, he could be from an earlier age of the hotel; perhaps he lived here with his family.

His image was caught in a photo taken of the big mirror. On the other side of the mirror from the photographer, there was a chair, and it is thought that the spirit kid was standing on the chair. Perhaps because he was in spirit form, his face was seen on this side of the mirror though he probably was on the other side of the mirror. While the flash is seen a little in his eyes, he doesn't react by closing his eyes. Perhaps the energy from the flash gave him the energy to appear solid and life-like.

He also may be the cause of some of the cold spots felt.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

Eric Pomeroy has posted some pictures on Mine City Paranormal's Facebook page that he took of the two-way mirror in The Rookwood Speakeasy Museum in the foyer. He got a clear picture of a little boy, and a misty figure of an annoyed male spirit: some see a white face, dark eyes, dark mouth nose and forehead; probably the bouncer or enforcer who worked in this speakeasy. Also, some think that another face of a male is seen above both of these entities, peeking around the door.

Investigator Eric Pomeroy, who captured this evidence, explains on his Facebook post, "It was taken here in Butte Montana, at the old Rookwood Speakeasy. A lot of Miners went there in the early 1900s, so it would only make sense. He has a old hat like they used to wear. There were no little boys there at that time."

Sarah Pomeroy — "The mirror is a two-way mirror and there is a small chair on the other side. As well I don't know if that has anything to do with it but I think he may be standing on it because the mirror is high. Not to mention having a child work a speakeasy secret door isn't unheard of back then."

Another person observed: "Look at the size of the boy's head, in comparison to the body of the cameraman. Standing the same distance from the mirror as the cameraman, which is the only way the boy wouldn't actually be seen from behind in the picture, the boy's head should look comparably smaller than it does. So, the only way this isn't real is if it's a straight-up Photoshop, and those pics are easy to check for these days. The owner should have it verified as not photo-shopped, as if it passes the test, it really IS amazing!"

Some see the flash in the boy's eyes, but he doesn't blink; perhaps because he is spirit.

STILL HAUNTED?

Probably So to a Yes Indeed, depending on how much proof a picture can provide.

As to be expected with pictures, some investigators discount pictures as being "fake", Photoshopped, or an example of "matrixing or being a dirty mirror," though it is hard to discount the picture of the little boy. I personally believe that the investigator did indeed catch a unique photo into a mirror and caught two, if not three spirits! While I see why the other two male spirits could be from matrixing or even a dirty mirror, there is something not of this world about the boy's face. His eyes are a little creepy. Check it out for yourself.

Apparitions often appear with missing parts. I only see one ear that sticks out. The other ear isn't visible, and it should be, which means that it could be a spirit.

One investigator from Paranormal Parazone commented, which is probably more reliable than my gifts of discernment. "I would like to see the original version to make an analysis, especially to test ELA. There are a lot of differences in the region colours. This may indicate slight digital enhancement or it may indicate a few re-saves, which then loses its high-frequencies. Original photos should have almost equally bright low-contrast edges and high-contrast edges. Scaling an addition to a photo or rendering through a graphics program like GIMP or Photoshop usually auto-sharpens the edges. For me, this is inconclusive, though the ELA is fairly uniform, so it can't be entirely ruled out as anomalous." ~Wulf

Even without these photos, the two male entities were seen in life-like detail by a tour guide when he came back down to turn off the lights and lock up. Personal experiences have just started to be reported to the public, and the tour guide's startling encounter sure is a great beginning pointing to the existence of spirits still enjoying this speakeasy setting, remembering good times, and trying to forget the unpleasantness that keeps drawing them into this world.

The more that the living use this space, the more they will witness all of these characters. Hopefully, experienced and/or gifted paranormal investigators will be able to gather more hard evidence like EVPs, and psychic mediums will fill in the details of anyone in the spirit world who hangs around this place.

Sources Include:

Haunted Montana
by Karen Stevens

Riverbend Publishing
2007


Rookwood Speakeasy page on HauntedMontana.com

Rookwood Speakeasy page on Butte Tours web site

Mining City Paranormal page on Facebook

Photo by Eric Pomeroy of Mining City Paranormal: Two spirits — the little boy and the angry man in misty form

Photo by Eric Pomeroy of Mining City Paranormal: Apparition of a man peeking out of the doorway behind him reflected in the mirror.

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