The story of the haunted St. James Hotel

Posted at: 10/31/2012 10:05 PM
Updated at: 10/31/2012 11:36 PM
By: Gadi Schwartz, KOB Eyewitness News

It was a dizzying game of poker, the stakes higher then ever underneath the bullet-riddled ceiling. The Cimarron miner looked at his hand, looked over at his opponent and then glanced around at the decorated walls of the Lambert Inn. The cards told him all he needed to know. "This place is mine," he thought.

With a grin he said "all in" and the miner, T.J. Wright, won the rights to the St. James Hotel.

Drunk from his victory, and from saloon whiskey, Wright headed up to his room on the second floor. No sooner had he seen the number 18 on his door, he heard the crack of a pistol and felt the hot pain of a bullet slam into the meat of his back -- Wright dropped to the floor.

Well, at least that's how the legend goes.

A hundred years later the T.J. Wright story has taken many different forms. In one version he was shot for cheating at cards, in another he is cheating with the proprietor’s wife. The common theme in all the stories? Wright and Room 18 are intertwined in Cimarron lore.

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KOB Eyewitness News reporter Gadi Schwartz: My sleeping bag is packed as we barrel across the dark plains south of Raton for the off chance that I can convince those who run the hotel to let me spend the night in Room 18; an area usually off limits to the living.

It's around o'clock, the sun has gone down and my producer Jeremy Fine’s face is glowing from the light of a new ghost-hunting iPhone app he just downloaded for this occasion.

“See, Gadi, this page of the app will say random words,” Fine tells me as a spooky green screen flashes streaming letters that are supposed to help you communicate with ghosts.

We laugh, and joke and soon pull into the parking lot of the Old Lambert Inn, now known as the St. James Hotel.

Ground lights now gleam upon the two story Victorian walls that tower over what used to be the old Santa Fe trail.

As we walk inside and burdened by camera gear, we find ourselves in an old west parlor with antique roulette tables and big game trophies mounted on almost every wall.    

The hotel manager Judy Kahlor greets us and politely fends off our offers to pay $1,000 to stay in Room 18.

 “They just won’t do it,” Judy tries to explain while shaking her head.

She tells us that when Room 18 is disturbed bad things begin to happen all over the hotel; like fires or unexplained physical attacks on guests.

Instead they offer us rooms known to be frequented by a ghost named Melissa.

 “She is a lady of the night,” The girl working at the front desk tells me. “She likes gentlemen… guys say she will tickle them in the back of their ears and blow one their necks.”

Jeremy and I laugh and get two separate, adjacent rooms.

Our KOB crew is joined by two well known Ghost Hunters, Cody Polston and Greg Elbring, who will occupy a room closer to #18.

After checking in, Judy gives us a tour of the St. James, beginning in the Saloon. The ceiling is pocked with bullet holes that Judy tells us are from the old wild days of the west when Henry Lambert owned the Hotel.

Judy tells us during an early renovation in the 1900’s, over 400 bullets were found in the oak wood that separated floors.

She also shows us old diagrams that detail the shootings of dozens of men inside the saloon, complete with names and where people were standing.

Judy also shows us rooms associated with historic guests like Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James and Wyatt Earp.

As the night wears on, Judy agrees to allow two of us to go inside Room 18 for a few minutes and respectfully ask questions.

She unlocks a padlock, now in place after a former guest tried to kick down the door.

Greg and I go inside.

The room is musty. Greg hooks up a device designed to read electromagnetic frequencies and sets out two audio recorders.

I reach into my pocket and activate my ghost hunter app.

For several minutes we ask questions directed at no one into the dark and peer around at shadows.

An old desk is littered with dusty shot glasses, empty whiskey bottles and notes to T.J. Wright that say things like. “I’m sorry for disturbing you,” or “I’m sorry for your murder.”

Neither my camera, the recorders or my iPhone pick up anything out of the ordinary; but a fully charged battery dies as soon as I walk out of the room.

Judy thanks the Ghost of T.J. Wright for behaving and padlocks the door.

As my producer and I shoot video of the door we notice what appears to be a very unnatural swinging of the lock on the door.

We start timing the swing and after three minutes Jeremy has seen enough.

“Feels like a lock,” he says as he stops the movement with his hand.

We try and replicate the swing and after a few minutes grow bored and chalk the entire experience up to science.

Judy leaves and we begin holding electronic monitoring sessions in rooms throughout the hotel, We try the Saloon, other rooms upstairs, but there is no place like Room 18 to capture our fears and imagination.

Eventually, I decide that it might be a good idea to thread a microphone through a crack in Room 18’s padlocked door.

We place the receiver on a ledge above the door and walk away.

Two minutes later the microphone inside the room picks up a loud thump and then goes quiet.  

For the next three hours we try to capture more noises and become very excited when we come across a faint recording of what sounds like chimes emanating from Room 18.

It turns out to be a clock directly below the room on the first floor.

Finally around 4 a.m. We call it a night.

Before getting in bed I set up cameras in both my room and Jeremy’s in case Melissa decides to make an appearance. I also move a large arm chair and a chest with a wicker basket in front of two closet doors that creep me out.     

It should also be noted that Jeremy, the “skeptic,” decided to sleep in the clothes he was wearing and lay down outside of his covers when trying to get some rest.

About 10 minutes later as we both began to drift off, I suddenly awoke to a loud "thunk" that sounded like it came from a door near the trunk in my room. I called Jeremy on the phone and he told me he had heard it as well.

After talking each other down and trying to rationalize what we heard we tried to sleep again.

And right before we dozed off, "THUNK"! Again! This time it sounded like it came from a room down the hall.

I don’t know how Jeremy and I were able to fall asleep after that. But we did.

The next morning our ghost hunters met us downstairs and reported an uneventful nights sleep.

They also brought out a pair of century old census reports they claimed may debunk the legend of T.J. Wright.

The census reports showed a T.J. Wright living in Cimarron near the time that he was believed to have been murdered.

But twenty years later, the 1900 census showed another T.J. Wright with all the same descriptors living in Albuquerque with a newly married wife.

Cody told us the dates just don’t match up with the legend and he believes T.J. Wright likely died somewhere else years later.

Judy said she had trouble believing the legend of T.J. as well, saying the former proprietors would have never been able to run a successful establishment if they shot a patron in the back.

But Judy says that doesn’t mean Room 18 isn’t haunted and tells us that room will continue to only be reserved for ghosts. 

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For more information about the St. James Hotel, visit the Southwest Ghosthunters Association's website.