Ghosts of the Prairie
ghosts of the Navajo county courthouse
Built in 1898 and in service until 1976, the historic Navajo County Courthouse is located in Holbrook, Arizona along old Route 66. The courthouse was placed on the National Historic Register some time back and today holds the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce, a visitor’s center and a museum... and of course, a ghost or two.
The resident haunt is believed to be a man named George Smiley, the first prisoner legally hanged in Navajo County. The hanging took place on November 11, 1899 and in honor of the grim event, Sheriff Frank Wattron sent out 50 invitation that were designed to resemble invitations to a wedding. Filled with light-hearted prose, they were duplicated in the local newspaper and then reproduced by the Associated Press in newspapers around the country. The “grim humor” sparked a letter of rebuke from President William McKinley to Arizona governor Nathan Oakes Murphy. He, in turn, took his embarrassment out on Sheriff Wattron. New invitations were then sent, more tastefully designed in black and white.
Unfortunately for prisoner Smiley, he ended up keeping his date with the gallows that day and ever since that time, he has been reported to be “hanging around” his former place of confinement. According to the Historical Society staff, he wanders about the building, pacing up and down the stairs, making noises, shutting doors and moving objects about the place.
One Halloween, the directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society brought a Ouija board into the courthouse to see if they could make contact with the ghost. The stories say that soon after the planchette starting moving about, it spelled out the name “George”! Soon after, a commotion of some sort supposedly took place and both of them left the building in a hurry!
And Smiley may not be the only ghost who haunts the place. One night, a former tourism director and his family were driving past the courthouse and happened to see some lights had been left on. After parking in the back of the lot, the director went inside to turn them off. As soon as he went into the courthouse, his wife reported later that she saw a woman looking out of one of the windows. She rushed inside to tell her husband and together, they searched the building. However, there was no one inside! The accounts claim this ghost is “Mary”, a former prisoner who literally died inside of one of the cells while she was looking outside.
Is there really no escape... even after death?
(C) Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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