Spirits keep the living on their toes!
“A LANDMARK HOTEL WITH URBAN CHARM”
It is “the cultural landmark that anchors Downtown Tucson.”
“Unique Southwestern charm, urban and vintage!”
In 2014, Tom and I walked into this vintage, two story, slightly spooky, spirit-supervised/haunted brick building. Its wonderful historic decor was a combination of Southwest Deco and a 20s and 30s fest! In the lounge area, a red-carpeted staircase leads up to the second floor. It is truly like stepping back in time.
The lounge, bar, and patio are gathering areas for all hotel guests. The roomy, colorful lounge offers a plasma TV, and a computer for its guests to use. Guests may also participate in most of the entertainment this hotel has to offer.
In 2021, the Hotel Congress is still going strong, despite the challenges of the Covid plague. The owners of this establishment embrace their history, location, and state all the pluses of spending the night in one of the thirty-nine second floor rooms.
These rooms haven’t been fancied up, yuppified, or expanded, but are faithful to their historic decor which is simply and tastefully done with nice antiques. While the decor is vintage, it is pleasing to the eye and it meets the needs of guests comfortably. The rooms have a tranquil, relaxing aura, with no clocks or TVs, but they do have wireless internet for those who need their computers online!
“We strive to maintain the hotelʼs original ambiance from the iron bed to the vintage radio, the rumble of the nearby train to the 1930s-style phone that connects to a real switchboard at the front desk. And, unlike most historic hotels, all 39 rooms have private bathrooms and air-conditioning.”
Historically, while maintaining an aura of the past, Hotel Congress has all its economic bases covered at the same time, offering areas and opportunities for entertainment, a reception hall, a bar and a restaurant.
The historic hotel has developed a variety of ways to bring in the needed funds, to fully put this property to work, in order to maintain the old structure, and make a profit as well. Most of their income is generated from their bar, dance club, restaurant, events and live music. They spell this out quite clearly to potential guests, because the structure isn’t sound-proof.
The biggest guest complaint on Trip Advisor is about the Noise! The Hotel Congress is an urban, historic, musical entertainment hotel. “Your room may be affected by plaza, nightclub, or street noise.”
The website plainly states, with a sense of humor, which rooms are louder, which are the quieter areas and which are the just plain noisy ones. They encourage guests to register for a quieter room at the time of their reservation. Future guests are warned that the management doesn’t give discounts or refunds due to noise. Ear plugs can be provided however.
“Or, better yet, just join in the fun!”
Club Rooms: “Rooms are directly on top of the night club and are the noisiest hotel rooms in all of Tucson. While the beds do not have coin operated vibrators anymore, these rooms shake and rattle to the bass and bustling street all night long.”
Cactus Garden Rooms: “Interior full bed rooms facing our Cactus Garden Patio. While no room in our hotel could be called quiet, these rooms are a little less noisy and most cozy.”
Exterior Rooms: “Rooms facing Congress Street 5th Avenue, or our Plaza. Much louder than our Cactus Garden rooms, but less earthquake-like than our Club Rooms, Exterior Rooms can still be on the noisy side due to street or club noise depending on the day.”
2020 was a challenging time for Hotel Congress, but the owners are a tough lot and found ways to survive. They had to get creative. On their property, they held musical events outside.
When the restrictions of Covid threatened their ability to bring in funds, they stated on their website:
“Hotel Congress is about great experiences – it is fundamental to our role in the community. During this time we have had to re-calibrate how best to offer Tucson something to engage in, while doing so safely and responsibly. It’s been a formidable challenge, but we’re bringing you safe experiences with live music, great food, and refreshing drinks.”
Now that restrictions are being lifted, they are opening up their bed and butter entertainment venues, their bar and their restaurant.
Club Congress, and the 1919 historic Tap Room Bar, are located inside the hotel. While the Tap Room has been a tradition since the hotel opened, Club Congress was built inside their hotel property in 1985, as a dance and music club. It is rated highly as a rock venue.
Their restaurant, Cup Cafe, has a very talented chef, and offers a variety of good food. It is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and has long been part of this hotel.
Copper Hall is the Hotel Congress’ event and reception center, described as having a “historic turn-of-the-century charm, tile floors, arched doorways, copper-leafed walls, velvet drapes and Southwest elegance.”
Tom and I plan to stay at Hotel Congress on our next road trip through Arizona. We love old historic hotels, even with noise and earthquakes!
In 1919, Tucson had become a bustling center of commerce, due to the growing railroad and cattle industries.
The need for a nice, upscale hotel for train travelers, and cattlemen became evident. The Hotel Congress was built, offering a lovely place to stay and rest /recover and enjoy some R and R! The Hotel Congress was originally a three storied building, equipped with the niceties of life.
During the 1920s, new elements of the population started to stay here, besides train travelers and cattlemen.
Gamblers: Like many hotels of the time, the Hotel Congress became a magnet for poker and card games. However, not everyone was honest, and sometimes they paid the price when caught.
Gangsters “on the lam:” It figures that the era gangsters needed some rest from their life of crime, and would take a holiday in nice hotels (Baker Hotel, Crazy Water Hotel, The Rex, The Saint James Hotel), that sometimes had entertainment, to enjoy their ill-gotten gain. Such was the case with the Hotel Congress.
On January 22, 1934, a fire started in the basement of the hotel, (probably the boiler), and spread upwards through the elevator shaft, totally burning the third floor, which was never replaced. There was a quick evacuation via the hotel’s windows, with the help of Tucson’s finest; firemen with aerial ladders. A group of gangsters, who were laying low, had offered a huge tip of twelve dollars for some firemen to retrieve their rather heavy baggage, proven later to be filled with guns, and money, which piqued the interest of one of the firemen.
This firefighter, who didn’t miss much, and had an avid interest in crime, recognized the members of the John Dillinger Gang, who had also climbed through the window to safety. He told local police officials, and Dillinger and his gang were caught within a few hours, after a police stake-out at a different location; a house on 2nd Street, in Tucson.
Hotel Congress continued to serve its guests offering the 2nd floor rooms, but focusing on developing and providing entertainment on their property, after losing the rooms on the third floor because of the fire.
The owners have managed to avoid the fate of neglected properties, which ultimately suffer an encounter with the wrecking ball, unless saved by a preservation group, or good-hearted folks (Rex Restaurant).
This historic hotel, with its opportunities to bring in needed funds from their entertainment venues, will continue to flourish in 2021 now that Covid restrictions have been lifted.
People may still be complaining on TripAdvisor about the noise and the thin walls, but they know what they are getting before going there to stay in this authentic hotel. Rooms are comfortable, clean, small, nicely arranged, and have the same original thin walls, making this hotel not for people expecting perfect silence, but for those who like authentic places, with atmosphere and character.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Entities of people who found a secure space in a place like a hotel or bar, during their lifetime, sometimes choose to spend their afterlife in this same oasis from the world.
White Eagle Pub and Hotel, OR (Sam was the housekeeper who spent his entire life there).
Thayer’s Historic Bed and Breakfast, MN (The spirits of an old Sea Captain, a handyman, and two former owners are among those who called this place their favorite oasis, and are still here).
Biltmore Hotel, FL (The spirit of Thomas Fatty Welch still is happily at home here).
Hotel Congress, AZ (A long-time bar patron, a WW 2 veteran, loved to visit the bar every day. He would share his war stories with other customers, bartenders, etc, while enjoying a beer or two).
(A long-time resident male guest, Vince, who lived at the hotel for thirty-six years, suffered a massive heart attack and died in the hotel. Apparently, he never checked out).
Many who kill themselves find no peace, and continue to linger where they died.
Bethlehem Hotel, PA (Frank Smith was a businessman who shot himself after he suffered a major business failure).
1790 Hundred-90 Inn, GA (A young maid was seduced, became pregnant and was abandoned, so she killed herself).
Barnstable House. MA (Owner Edmund Howes, filled with despair and hopelessness after losing all his money during The Revolutionary War, facing bankruptcy, ended his life by hanging himself from one of the trees on the property).
Hotel Congress, AZ (In 1993, an emotionally unbalanced woman shot herself in the bathroom after a high stress standoff with police and a SWAT team, in Room 242. She at first had planned to go out of this world using the “Suicide by Cop” strategy. She decided to not involve another human being in her death, and did it herself with a gunshot to the head. The bullet passed through the bathroom wall, and wound up in the closet. The bullet hole is still there, marking the spot).
(One source reported that an unhappy man killed himself in Room 214, by shooting himself in the mouth with a rigged-up shot gun).
Yellow fever and other diseases would sweep through town, taking lives of the weaker members of the population; the young and the old. Accidents also killed them as well.
Ashley’s of Rockledge, FL (A child was run over by a car).
Collingwood Art Center (Three children died here of Cholera).
Historic Kewaunee Inn, WI (Young Billy Karston died of complications of Haemophilus influenzae Meningitis, at the age of 5).
Hotel Congress, AZ (Two children died from a disease or an accident).
Emotions often run high during card games among gamblers, across the eras of time, especially if hot-headed folks or gangsters with temper issues were involved. When suspected cheaters were caught, they were treated harshly, and even executed. Big winners were killed by poor losers.
St. James Hotel, NM (The winner of a poker game was killed before he could leave with his winnings).
Del Frisco Steakhouse, TX (A big winner was murdered when he was relaxing in a bathhouse).
Brumder Mansion, WI (An Italian gambler was caught cheating during a card game in the basement Speakeasy during the 1920s. He was executed by the Mob Enforcer, Joe).
Hotel Congress, AZ (Somewhere on the hotel’s first floor, a man was shot dead over a card game in the 1920’s-’30s, when the cards were “misdealt”, perhaps in an effort to cheat, perhaps not. It could’ve been just an accident that cost him his life. Or, perhaps he thought he could get away with it).
Former owners / employees of a business or home sometimes don’t let the fact that they are dead stop them from continuing with their duties and responsibilities.
Olde Pink House, GA (The spirit of James Habersham Jr.keeps an eye on the living, making sure they are up to snuff in the hospitality department, as they are in his mansion).
Stanley Hotel, CO (The spirit of Mr. Stanley keeps a close eye on the work ethics of staff).
Monteleone Hotel, New Orleans, LA (A male entity who identifies himself as engineer Rhett still putters around, keeping an eye on things).
Hotel Congress, AZ (The Hotel Congress seems to have two spirit employees / or one spirit employee and a former spirit owner to help them).
Spirit of Vince
A friendly male spirit who is thought to be Vince has subtly made his presence known.
While he doesn’t bother the living, his apparition is seen looking out the windows of the upper floors, just enjoying the view.
Vince still likes to tinker around the hotel, “helping.”
While alive, he used to borrow butter knives from the Cup Cafe, to use as a screwdriver, which staff now still find around the second floor rooms.
Spirit of a Veteran
The male spirit of a WW 2 Veteran still stays in his favorite watering hole, the first floor bar area.
His apparition is sometimes seen out of the corner of the eye, sitting at the very end of the bar.
He loves the juke box. He turns up the volume of the songs that he likes, and turns down the volume on the ones he doesn’t like. The staff leave money for him so he can play the juke box.
A mentally ill female spirit haunts the area around and in Room 242.
A cold spot is felt right outside the door, and a dark shadow has been seen.
The apparition of the suicidal woman has been seen in the bathroom and in the hallway outside the room. She appears as a misty cloud or form.
She likes to whisper in the ears of staff, investigators and guests who stay here, perhaps sending some more sensitive guests quickly down the stairs to the main desk to check out.
When guests are sleeping in Room 242, she likes to scream and appear at the foot of the bed for chuckles and attention, or sit on the bed in a long white dress.
Others have reported hearing strange noises and having bad dreams when staying in the room.
Spirit of a Gambler
A male spirit from the 1920s / ’30s era – thought to be the gambler who was shot at the gaming table.
Dressed in a pin-striped gangster type suit, this presence has been seen mostly on the first floor, though he also likes to enjoy the view of the city of Tucson from the second story windows.
He doesn’t seem to be angry over his murder. Perhaps he finds it a consolation to continue to enjoy his favorite hotel, The Hotel Congress.
There is a lot of activity that is fun and entertaining, and maybe he entertains himself by watching the living have a good time.
Room 214’s Male Spirit
The unseen presence here is thought to be the man who killed himself.
This spirit has been seen looking out of the window, wearing a seersucker suit.
He seems to still be agitated and restless.
A bloody hand print has been seen in Room 214.
This spirit doesn’t like the sound of the vacuum, and has been known to pull out the plug.
When music from the 1920s is played in this room, the atmosphere becomes calm and happier, soothing the mood of this spirit, so that the vacuuming can be finished.
A Female Spirit
She is possibly a former owner or hotel manager.
This seen presence is a happy, pleasant woman, dressed in early 20th century clothing, including “a dark, high button up collar and long wool skirt.”
She brings the scent of roses when she is present.
She loves the staircase, probably because she can see the first floor very well from there.
She likes to keep an eye on the front desk area, perhaps supervising the living on duty.
The Spirit of a Maid
She goes about her work, diligently carrying linen down the hallway entering and leaving each room without having to bother to open the door.
Guests sometimes find that their beds have been turned down by this entity.
Spirits of a little boy and little girl who are about seven or eight years old have been seen playing in the halls of the second floor, when no children were in the building. (Stanley Hotel).
Perhaps they are the children of the spirit of the maid who still works on this floor. (Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee AZ)
Perhaps they were children of guests, or from the town, or were the children of owners.
Staff and guests alike have had personal experiences with these spirits mentioned above for a very long time. Besides warning guests about the noise, the Hotel Congress also has a page that describes some of the activity reported in Rooms 242, 214, and 220.
Haunted Historian Conner Gossler reports in an article on KVOA Channel 4 News on October 29th 2020:
“I personally spoke to one of the employees here saying that prior to two AM and after that that they have had guests that come down from their rooms claiming that people are standing over their bed, they’re feeling uneasy, someone is watching them, odd noises out in the hall”, Gossler said, “So much that in the middle of the night they end up running out and leaving Hotel Congress. And every staff member that currently works here has first hand knowledge of encountering.”
There has been a lot of hard evidence caught over the years. Here are just three of many successful paranormal investigations.
2020 – The most recent work that was shared on You Tube by paranormal investigators Jeff and Pam of Haunted Encounter Adventures shows what they caught on their SLS camera; two spirits in Room 242, one spirit on the staircase, and two spirits in the common room on the second floor. One of the spirits in the second floor common room calls herself Evalyn.
2012 – On October 31st Tucson’s Finest Paranormal did an investigation in room 242, the suicide room, and caught some interesting evidence on their cameras, and had other personal experiences with their lights, etc.
The Tucson Fire Department inadvertently caught evidence of spirits when they put cameras in each of the forty guest rooms as part of some sort of city program to help business owners.
2009 – Some hard evidence was caught by Southwest Ghost Investigators in room 242 in their investigation. On their website, they offer an animated gif (far left) showing the sequence of photos taken there while investigators are reading a D/C electromagnetic field of 38 HZ, 7.2 milligauss. A misty form moves from the hall into the room.
The spirit of the suicidal woman is definitely still there. A lot of hard evidence points to her existence. Many people have had personal experiences in her room, and many have been frightened by her antics, which must have given her some chuckles. Room 242 is always the last room rented, probably with a warning to potential guests who choose to stay there.
Other spirits mentioned above are also staying or visiting this hotel. Many personal experiences with these entities have been reported over the years. Besides the many personal experiences of guests and staff, some hard evidence has been caught by paranormal investigators and the fire department, pointing to the likely existence of spirit people calling the Hotel Congress their after-life home or vacation spot where they like to visit.
311 East Congress Street
Tucson, Arizona 85701
520-622-8848 * 800-722-8848
Hotel Congress can be found near the corner of East Congress Street and 5th Street, in historic downtown Tucson, Arizona. East Congress Street, a one-way street that runs WEST, is parallel to East Broadway Boulevard, a one-way street going EAST.
5th Avenue connects these two streets. The Hotel Congress isn’t far from the railroad station. The Hotel Congress also has a great view of the city of Tucson, long enjoyed by its guests and staff, as well as by its spiritual residents and visitors.
- The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide, by Rich Newman, pg. 21, Llewellyn Publications, 2011.
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr