Billings author Karen Stevens’ interest in ghosts started in her childhood in what she describes as a haunted house.
She took readers on a tour of haunted spots in Montana in her 2007 book, “Haunted Montana,” whose popularity has spurred four reprints.
In that book, Stevens created a “travelogue” of sites, such as old buildings in Virginia City, that folks could visit. And, in “More Haunted Montana,” she returns with even more locales that have inspired ghost stories.
Among her 34 spooky tales in the new book are four about Billings sites — The Rex restaurant, Rocky Mountain College’s Losekamp Hall, Alberta Bair Theater and the Dude Rancher Lodge.
She quickly debunks some of the misinformation swirling about the purported Losekamp hauntings. Some think that the ghost of early Billings businessman John D. Losekamp is the image sometimes seen flitting about the building’s “creaky wooden steps” and brushing past visitors.
But tales that the philanthropist who took keen interest in the college had slain his wife and then killed himself in the building are far from true. He had never married and did die of natural causes.
Still, Stevens finds truth in some of the elements of stories about the Losekamp ghost, including librarian, photographer and mystic John Riffe’s impression that “There’s definitely someone here. … A male, not well educated but intelligent and interested in education.”
All points true about the man for whom the building is named and fitting with others’ sense that the spirit in the building is far from malevolent.
Stevens and members of the Big Sky Paranormal Investigation group set up cameras, recorders and other ghost-hunting gear in the old building and got a bit of a surprise.
As at Losekamp, where RMC dramas were staged, the Bair’s link to the high emotion of the performing arts may be the inspiration for its supposed hauntings.
The long histories of the Rex and Dude Rancher may play into their legends of ghosts.
For the Rex, talk of “men’s voices and bar stools scraping on the floor when the restaurant is closed,” a “ghostly figure” on the stairs, an unknown presence in upper-floor offices and a vanishing female customer may tie to the building’s Prohibition years.
And those are only the start of the stories that Stevens reveals.
She writes of “Ptomaine Joe” in Conner, the “Klondike Ladies” in Dillon and the spirits at the Philipsburg Opera House.
The stories incorporate the history of some places that would be interesting to visit, haunted or not.
But Stevens adds an extra element with her interviews with people who live or work at the sites along with what she and ghost-hunting friends have found in their personal investigations.
Some of the stories include the rich flavor of the Old West, as with the hauntings at the Iron Horse Saloon & Casino in Forsyth:
“The ghost of an unknown cowboy wearing chaps and hat has occasionally been seen leaning on one end of the bar, and another ghost, a man wearing a baseball cap, has been seen at the other end of the bar. A third ghost, this one described as a tall thin man wearing a white dress shirt and bolo tie, was also seen floating in the casino.”
One of my favorite stories involves the Livingston Depot, a historic structure built in the 1880s to serve the Northern Pacific Railroad and restored as a museum a century later.
The ghost there has been identified by old railroaders as Harold a long-ago dispatcher who “was fired and kept coming to work anyway.”
This ghost likes to play tricks, which seem especially fitting set against the ghostly train whistles reported at the site.
Stevens uses the research skills from her years as a librarian at Parmly Billings Library and as a co-author of “Billings, A to Z” to shed light on the past. And her own interest in ghost hunting provides ideas for readers’ own investigations into the paranormal.
She’s known for revealing ghostly tales on her ghost tours of Billings and her lectures.
And readers who enjoy history, want to get ideas for interesting nearby spots to visit or want to just get a few shivers are sure to find her new book a treat.
Contact Chris Rubich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1301.