The first thing I would say about The Virginian hotel in Medicine Bow is that it feels a little out of place. Secondly, I’d say that the staff and clientele are welcoming and friendly. I’d driven past the imposing building many times on the way to Casper, but finally, one day, I decided I’d stay the night there. It was early November and the blizzard kept any other guests from staying the night in the old hotel. When I slept there, I was the only one in the entire building, staff excluded.
You see, the reason I drove to Medicine Bow and stayed the night in the Virginian was specific for a few reasons. One, I was chasing ghost stories told by the musicians and artists that played there occasionally. Secondly, I was and still am a huge fan of Owen Wister- the author of the first western novel. The Virginian is named for the famous cowboy that bears its name, the hotel going up only a few years after the book was published to capitalize on the publicity coming to Medicine Bow, the setting of the book and many film adaptations.
There’s another charming thing about Medicine Bow. They have a comprehensive museum in the old Train Station that used to bring cowboys and entrepreneurs out west. The same train station in the opening pages of Wister’s novel, as the narrator arrives in Medicine Bow and meets The Virginian, a cowboy working at a local ranch. I was given a private tour of the museum, mostly because it was November and no tourist would be caught at a museum during a blizzard. The museum had an entire wing dedicated to The Virginian and its effect on pop culture and western films. Next, there was a wing dedicated to the air mail route that once flew across the country with pick ups near the bustling Wyoming town. Finally, a tribute to the trains that have long ago stopped their passenger service to Medicine Bow.
The town sits on the old highway that was replaced by I-80, drawing most of the tourists away from the small town on the prairie. It serves primarily as a way point between Casper and Rawlins, or Laramie. Hundreds of people have driven past the three story Edwardian building, but a select few have stopped to stay the night.
The first ghost story I heard about the Virginian was from two musicians who had played at the hotel on multiple occasions. “He’s a chivalrous ghost,” the woman said. “He always opens doors for ladies.” This is the ghost of the old cowboy that allegedly loves the TV room on the third floor.
I asked the proprietors of the hotel to put me in the “Most Haunted Room,” and they delivered, placing me both right across the gentleman cowboy’s TV room and the window where the most tragic ghost story replays over and over.
In the heyday of the town, a young woman was staying at the Inn, waiting for her fiance. The legend says that, when the fiance didn’t show up, she took her own life by jumping out of the third floor window. The fiance arrived just two days later, having been delayed up the tracks on his way to Medicine Bow. It’s said that people can see this woman, dressed in period clothes, walking towards the window again and again.
The staff of the Virginian were more than welcoming, and especially eager to tell me of their own ghostly experiences. “Everyone who works here has had at least one experience,” the lady working at the Cafe told me, pointing at the stairs up to the higher floors. “I saw a woman dressed in white walking down those stairs, before she disappeared before my eyes.” Excitedly, I asked if she had more information about who the spector was in life, but very few of the Virginian’s ghosts have a specific origin like that.
One ghost that everyone knows is that of a former employee who used to live behind the saloon. After his untimely passing, many staff and patrons say to have seen him sitting on his favorite chair. The bartender showed me a ghost photo they’d captured with a fuzzy figure of a man on the same stool. I had a few drinks with the locals, absorbing their ghostly experiences as I absorbed a Jack and Coke.
When it was time for me to go back up to the third floor to sleep for the night, I was greeted with a spooky surprise. First, a book was open on the stairs. It wasn’t any specific book, just a classic paperback romance novel. Next, a stool had made its way into the center of the corridor. A plant was leaning on my locked door, with the room across from me completely ransacked with all of the cabinets open and the sheets flung about the room.
I’ll admit, first I was terrified. Knowing the bathroom was down the corridor and I’d need to emerge from my room at the very least to document the “ghostly” activity. It wasn’t until I laid down to sleep, bundled in gloves and a scarf due to the piercing cold- the heaters didn’t reach the third floor, apparently, that I realized I’d done a poor job of keeping my intentions secret. I’d been excitedly asking about ghosts and I was excited to be in the most haunted room.
A while before I made my way from one kind of spirit to another, two teenage girls had been playing pool in the saloon the whole time I was sitting there, talking about ghosts and hauntings. I have no evidence, of course, but it occurred to me that a locked door wouldn’t have stopped a ghost from ransacking my own room to make a point. I believe those girls tried to give me a scare and give me the ghosts I was looking for, and for that I’m grateful. I did say that the ghosts at the Virginian are chivalrous and welcoming.
Late that night, however, when the hotel was silent and I was bundled under the cowboy themed sheets, I saw a figure. Just from the glass window above the door, a figure passed towards the third floor window. I never saw that figure go back the other way, and I pulled my covers up tighter as I realized I’d seen something spooky. I can’t say it was a ghost, but I can certainly proclaim that it wasn’t a prank orchestrated by two teenagers.
My accommodations in the Virginian were rustic and antique. The whole hotel keeps the doors open for a chance to see into history and see the various rooms that were empty except for furniture and comfort. If you decide to stay, ask for the most haunted room (but do it in the summer, the winter was brutal.) Ask the locals to tell you their ghost stories, and if you’re feeling particularly daring, head up the hill to see the cemetery, filled with graves left by railroad workers and cowboys on the plains. Maybe you’ll even find grave of the chivalrous ghost who opens doors for ladies in the hotel. Maybe you’ll find the unfortunate lovers, or the woman in white. You might even catch a glimpse of someone in the Virginian’s window from the high vantage point of the cemetery. Maybe it’ll be empty like the time I stayed there. But the Virginian is never truly empty, not when so many spirits stick around in the elegant hotel and make their presences known.
If you want to learn more about The Virginian, both the novel and the hotel, check out our podcast episode.