Rim Country Haunts


From the Ehrenberg Cemetery to Jerome's Haunted Hamburger, ghosts abound in Arizona, and the Rim country, contrary to a new book on the subject, is no exception.

In "Haunted Arizona: Ghosts of the Grand Canyon State," Ellen Robson recounts dozens of ghost stories from around the state, but dismisses the Rim country thus:

"Payson, where legend has it that a local sheriff would chain drunk men to a tree until they sobered up enough to ride back to their ranches, didn't produce a hint of a ghost."

We don't know who Robson talked to or how hard she looked, but a call to our readers produced several bona fide ghost stories, some of which are printed here.

On this Halloween, we invite you to lock your doors, douse your lights, illuminate a solitary candle and read, if you dare, these absolutely true stories about the ghosts who inhabit the Rim country.


by Jim Keyworth, Roundup staff reporter

Don't tell me there are no ghosts in the Payson area. I know better.

In fact I had a near-firsthand experience at one of the most haunted places in all the Rim country -- the historic old lodge at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

For the few of you who have never been there, the lodge is a four-story structure that was built in 1925. It has 10 bedrooms, a spacious dining hall, and a fourth-story observation room.


Guests at the lodge at the Tonto Natural Bridge have reported strange occurrences there over the years, including a friendly ghost they've named "David."

In researching another story on the lodge a few years ago, I ran across Jan Stutzman, a former Payson resident who now lives in Prescott. She lived at the lodge for five years in the 1970s when she cleaned rooms and "did just about everything else."

I asked her if she ever saw any ghosts.

"Let me put it this way," Stutzman said. "I heard and saw a lot of strange things.

"There were times when I was there by myself when I heard footsteps going across upstairs and doors slamming.

"Once I was cleaning Room 5 and found dead flowers in the room. I threw them away and they were back the next day. I threw them out four or five straight days, and each time they'd be back the next day."

Stutzman has no idea who the troubled soul or souls might be who wander through the lodge at night.

"We always called it ‘David' for David Gowan," she said.

It was Gowan, an adventurer and prospector from Scotland, who discovered the bridge and later gave it to his nephew, David Goodfellow.

More recently, a six-person trail-building crew stayed in the lodge for several weeks during the summer of 2001 while working on the new Anna Mae (Deming) Trail.

Their leader, Chris Nez, is a Native American with deep spiritual roots. While he won't come right out and say the lodge is haunted, he saw and heard enough when he stayed there recently not to rule it out.

While Nez and his crew never actually saw any ghosts, they heard a lot of strange noises they couldn't account for.

A photo of Gowan's mother that still hangs in the lodge has become part of the legend of the place.

"There's this picture of this old lady in the dining room, and when you walk back and forth her eyes follow you," Nez said.

Park Manager John Boeck, who has also stayed in the lodge, has had the same experience with the photo of Gowan's mother.

Given the experiences of Stutzman, Nez and Boeck, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to spend a night at the lodge one Saturday night last year. There were three others who shared the experience, a park employee and a married couple.

I heard nothing during the night, but the next day the others related two incidents that convinced me that spirits still inhabit the lodge.

The bridge employee said she had left her room during the night to use one of the common rest rooms when she heard giggling and laughter coming from a rest room that adjoined the couple's room. When she mentioned to the couple the following morning that they sounded like they were having a good time the night before, the wife responded with dead seriousness, "That wasn't us. We weren't giggling and laughing."

The wife then related another experience from the night before. She said that her husband had emptied the coins out of his pocket and put them on the nightstand just before turning in.

When they awoke in the morning, all the coins had been neatly stacked by denomination.

Both husband and wife swore that neither had been responsible for stacking the coins.

You can believe what you want about all these happenings. You can call them the product of over-active imaginations if you like. You can even say the people who experienced them enjoyed the notoriety.

But I talked to all of them personally, and none, in my opinion, are the type that would let their minds play tricks on them. Quite the contrary, they are all sober, upstanding individuals who related their experiences in a subdued and thoughtful manner.

For me, the evidence is conclusive -- the lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge is haunted.


Lucinda J. Campbell, Director of Nursing, Payson Care Center

My ghost story is anything but normal. It happened at work, in the light of day, not deep in the silence of an autumn evening but smack in the middle of a bustling nursing home.

For me, he was more than of passing interest, old beyond time, wise beyond years. I was fascinated by our new arrival who I was told was a very spiritual man in his tribe. You could almost feel his peace and wisdom as he looked at you with his twinkling coal eyes.

A knowing smirk danced at his mouth as he was shown to his room. I hoped he would be comfortable. We all welcomed him warmly. Some of the staff said he was a very spiritual man, maybe even a medicine man.

Later that day, buried up to my eyes in paperwork, I had this strong sense of being crowded. I hadn't realized it until that moment, kind of like a buzz that starts as a whisper and when you finally notice it is a roar. I looked out into the hallway to the office hoping to see what all the commotion was about. Seemed like a usual day. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the rumble of many voices. I discounted it and went back to my work.

The next day, morning meeting with the staff was anything but normal. One resident reported seeing a baby in her bed. Another resident asked his nurse that night if she could see that man standing in the corner of his room. Still another resident complained about the clanking and marching in the hallway.

The staff said nothing out of the ordinary had occurred except these reports by the residents.

I thought it weird but stranger things have happened in the middle of the night when senses are keen and colored by sleep.

Needless to say, with every telling of the story the staff got hinkier. Finally one of them suggested that our new visitor might have brought a few spirits of his own.

"Maybe the spirits that are here feel welcome around him and are drawn out by him" she said with a completely straight face.

Ever open to new ideas I gave it a lot of thought which was hard to do as I still had that buzz in my ears, like the sound of a church before the pastor takes the pulpit, everyone talking at the same time. In the meantime, the residents were getting restless.

We called a medicine man, a friend of ours who had visited more than once to assist in our caring for our Native American residents. He was to come that night.

Next day I couldn't help but notice the silence. It was very acute. When I asked what had happened, the staff told me they had asked the medicine man to visit our resident and asked for his help with the new spirit sightings. I was told he couldn't make them go away but he could ask them to be quieter and less visible.

All I know is it is a heck of a lot quieter at work now. I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Coincidental? Maybe, still it was creepy.


by Sarah Callahan, Payson

The cabin looked neglected. Green paint peeled from the sides, and the windows were dark with dirt and wood smoke. It had sat vacant for the last two years. The previous owners said they had left because of illness. But, the neighbors confided they had left suddenly, leaving behind all the furnishings and some of their clothes. When I heard the cabin was for sale, I decided to have a look at it. I had heard the Rim country was beautiful and thought this might be my chance to own property in Payson.

I arrived late in the afternoon and, upon entering the cabin, found the electricity and water had been turned off. The inside of the cabin had knotty pine walls that were dark from age and wood smoke. Spider webs occupied every corner, and even hung from the ceiling. When I sat down on one of the wooden stools by the counter, a small, mean looking black spider dropped from the ceiling onto my arm. I screamed and brushed it off. It quickly took refuge under a board. Dust filled the air and covered everything in the cabin. Several candles and matches sat on the fireplace mantel.


When Sarah Callahan moved into her new home in Payson, she had no idea the previous tenant hadn't completely moved out. Her ghostly roommate revealed itself one night by spinning the hands of her kitchen clock backwards.

I had brought water and a quilt with me, so I decided to spend the night in the cabin. After spreading the quilt on the bed, I lay down and soon fell asleep. I had been sleeping several hours when a noise from the living room woke me. I lay listening, and the noise grew louder. I lit a candle and crept into the living room. The noise was coming from the direction of the fireplace. As I moved closer, I could tell it was coming from the clock beside the fireplace. Lifting the candle, I saw the hands on the clock spinning as fast as they would go--counterclockwise! A shiver went up my back! I looked at the clock's whirling hand for several minutes wondering what was happening. Finally, I said, "If you are a ghost, I know you won't hurt me." Then, swallowing my fear, I went back to bed. The next morning I went directly to the clock; the time was back to normal.

I bought the cabin and since have heard footsteps several times. The clock again is doing funny things, so I'm waiting to see what my ghost has in mind for me.


by Jessie and Preston, Payson

While spending an evening at a Tonto Creek waterfall (on the Fish Hatchery Rd.), my fiance and I noticed a little flash of light that appeared intermittently between a set of "V" shaped trees. I got a really weird feeling, and we both heard some strange noises nearby. My fiance scanned the area with the flashlight and we didn't see any people or animals. But, while looking around the area, we found a little wooden cross on the tree across the creek from us. At that point, we decided to leave immediately.

Returning the next day, my fiance crossed the creek to check out the area again. He noticed the backdrop to the flashing light was a hill side, so the light could not have come from passing cars, or distant campers. Plus, on the same tree as the cross was an aged picture of a young woman.

Creepy, huh?


We moved into our Payson home several years ago. The house had been vacant for two years. Not long after we moved in, our smoke alarms started going off in the middle of the night for no reason. We had the system checked and it was in working order, but the alarms kept going off every night.

The odd thing is, this only happened upstairs. Everything happened upstairs. We would hear noises in the middle of the night. We would hear loud crashing -- like a heavy pan lid dropping on the floor. We would find things moved and hear strange sounds.

I would also find lights turned on when I knew I turned them off and I was the only one home.

One day I came up the stairs and saw that the bedroom light was on. I turned it off and went back downstairs and into the kitchen. But glancing back upstairs I saw that the light was on again. I went back up and turned the light off again and returned downstairs to the kitchen. Once again the light came back on. I was alone in the house and I knew this time I had turned that light off. I went up again and turned it off. Four times that light turned on all by itself.

I kept thinking that all these things that were happening must have a logical reason. But one night, that all went out the window.

The kids were asleep and about 9 p.m. I decided to get in the Jacuzzi in our bathroom with a good book. I had just turned the water on and a large fat candle on the marble edge of the Jacuzzi began moving about seven inches right in front of me. It didn't fall or roll, it just started sliding toward me as if being pushed. I thought that water had gotten on the edge but I felt the surface and it was completely day.

But perhaps the most frightening experience in this house was one morning when my 10-year-old daughter went into the garage and saw a man bending over some boxes that belonged to a friend who had just died.

At first, my daughter thought maybe the silhouette she saw was just boxes in the shadows. But when she turned on the lights the shadow was indeed a man who stood up, turned, and looked at her with a startled look on his face. They looked at each other for about five seconds and then he slowly faded away.

My daughter said the man was wearing a bright-colored orange-and-blue striped robe that went down to his ankles with sleeves to his wrist. He was a large round man with dark hair. My daughter said the man looked as surprised to see her as she was to see him. Before this happened, I had never told my daughter about any of the frightening things that had happened in the house because I didn't want to scare her.

During these events there was never a bad feeling, like evil, just the feeling that there was the presence of a spirit.

In the end, our family called on a higher power to bless our home and the strange events stopped.

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