Rapid City: a beautiful hotel with unexpected guests
In 2012, I decided to go on a solo trip through South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. In this blog post I’ll start telling you about this trip, starting from my stay in Rapid City, South Dakota. I had already been to Rapid City when I was a child but couldn’t remember much so I decided to come back as an adult: I wanted to visit epic monuments and places such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse again and actually remember them! Before I’ll get into all the tourist stuff, I must tell you about the hotel I stayed at, my “home, away from home”.
I arrived in Rapid City on August 27th, 2012 and was staying downtown at the Alex Johnson hotel. I chose this particular hotel because of its heritage.
The Alex Johnson Hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The hotel opened its doors on July 1st, 1928. The hotel played host to several presidents, countless celebrities and a few spirits of its own. Among its notable guests, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. But the hotel is also famous thanks to a movie. As a matter of fact, the Sheraton-Johnson Hotel is mentioned numerous times in dialogue in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest (for my Italian fellows, the movie in question is “Intrigo Internazionale”) as the hotel where the mysterious George Kaplan will be staying. Hitchcock, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint stayed at the hotel while filming at nearby Mount Rushmore.
As of 2015 the Alex Johnson Hotel belongs to the Curio – A Collection by Hilton. Curio includes a series of hotels that are unique, well known and that in some cases, are considered as local legends. Each hotel in the Curio Collection is a masterpiece that reflects the best of its surroundings.
The hotel is amazing: the handcrafted décor leaves you feeling that every step you take is a step back in time, while the amenities and services immerse you with modern comfort and luxury. It’s a stunning hotel with a mysterious allure to it. Alex Johnson, the first owner, was known for his love and admiration for the Sioux Indians. When he designed the hotel, he took his love for the Indians of the Plains and his consideration for the immigrants from Germany and meshed them to create a beautiful structure that everyone who would come to experience in person would love for a lifetime. Fun fact: the hotel construction started just one day prior to the beginning of the project on Mount Rushmore.
Did I mention that the Alex Johnson is also known for being one of the most haunted places in the US? This is where my story begins! As soon as I checked in, I headed to my room (n.812). I am always curious to read other people’s opinions on the places I visit so I opened my Foursquare app and I proceeded to read some comments about the hotel left by previous guests. That’s when I found out that my room was known for being haunted! The most popular and reported ghost story of the Hotel Alex Johnson is that of the Lady in White. During the 1970’s, it was reported that a young bride committed suicide by jumping to her death from the window of room 812 (yes, that was exactly my room): she was still wearing her wedding dress. People claimed there was foul play involved as she was too much of a happy person to commit suicide. On top of that, she was to inherit a large sum of money, something that only added fuel to the fire. Yet, no one was ever convicted of her murder and the suicide ruling stood firm. Today, guests claim the young bride wanders the halls of the eighth floor in a white gown, searching for those responsible for her death. It has been reported that the window of room 812 is often found open in the morning and that dresser drawers are taken out, turned upside down and put back in place. Once a lady found “help me” written on the bathroom mirror after taking a hot shower (this might be a prank from a previous guest though).
As Haunted Places To Go recounts, “If you visit the Alex Johnson Hotel, it is important to make certain that you explore the 8th floor. Above all, this floor appears to be the most active. It is not unusual to hear the faint sounds of ghostly piano music filling the corridors, to hear distant conversations that cannot be pinpointed, or even to hear the faint sobs of a female that is extremely unhappy. It is not unusual to see an apparition floating by, or standing at the foot of your bed. Many objects have even been reported to move on their own – without the assistance of the living”.
The spirit of the Lady in White is not the only ghost known to be roaming the halls of the Alex Johnson Hotel. Some guests have reported seeing the ghost of Alex Johnson himself. It is thought that since his death in 1938, in room 304, he has stayed on the premises to ensure operations are still running smoothly. Other guests staying on the eighth floor have reported that the ghost of a young girl would knock on their door, night after night, only to disappear in the hallway. She’s also been heard giggling down the hallway. It is said that this might be the spirit of Alex Johnson’s daughter who died in room 305 after catching pneumonia: it was 1931 and she was only 8 years old. The reception received about 1000 calls from guests complaining about a young girl paying outside of their room between 1 and 3 am. The place is so haunted that SyFy actually filmed an episode of Ghost Hunters there!
I reckon that the reception staff probably thought that this Italian girl had come a long way for the thrill but, being alone and quite susceptible, I wasn’t looking for any close encounter with any paranormal phenomenon, no sir! 🙂 After reading about all of the scary ghost stories, I went down to the reception and asked to be moved to a “ghost free room” (yes, I actually said that!), possibly on another floor. The girl at the reception was very nice about it and moved me to another room on the sixth floor. I wonder whether I’m the only person that didn’t want to stay in that room!!! 😅 And no, I didn’t experience any paranormal activity during my stay (may I say thank God as I would have died there and then!!!) and I had a great time nonetheless!
The hotel looks amazing and it’s in a great location downtown, close to about everything. At the Alex Johnson you’ll find the Vortex Sky Bar on the rooftop, Paddy O’Neill’s pub off the lobby (named after the first guest who stayed at the hotel) and a Starbucks Coffee Shop. The hotel just underwent a complete renovation! As Rapid City Journal reports: “all guest rooms in the 11-story hotel were stripped to the bare walls and completely rebuilt, with modern amenities such as walk-in showers, new furniture, fresh décor and bedding installed”. So if you’re looking for a place to stay in South Dakota, check out the Alex Johnson and if you’re looking for a thrill, you can book a Ghost Adventure Package.
Have you stayed at the Alex Johnson hotel? I want to hear all about your experience there!
Don’t forget that here you can keep track of my travels through South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Stay tuned!