Bisbee is a town abounding with ghost stories and colorful tales. Some of the most enduring can be found in the town’s famous centerpiece, The Copper Queen Hotel. Opened in 1902, it has been a stopping place for travellers, business tycoons, crooks, gamblers, celebrities and tourists for more than 100 years. As an iconic and distinctive part of a colorful mining town, the hotel has become known for more that its charm and hospitality.
Ghosts reside there as permanent guests, at least according to tradition. There are three for sure: an elderly gentleman, a young boy and one of the town’s ladies of the night. The older man has been seen wearing his long hair under a top hat and appearing, often accompanied by the aroma of cigar smoke, in doorways or as a shadow on the fourth floor, near the Theodore Roosevelt room.
Little Billy, as the boy is known, was said to be 8 or 9 years old when he drowned in the San Pedro River several miles west of Bisbee. He may have been the son of one of the hotel’s employees though no one knows for sure. Like all young boys, Little Billy is mischievous. He spends his time on the building’s west side on the second and third floors. He is never seen, only heard. Guests have reported that objects are sometimes moved from table to table in rooms; some feel his presence when running water in the bathroom. Others say they hear running footsteps or an intoxicating giggle in the hallways. Billy apparently enjoys playing the poltergeist.
The most famous of the three resident spirits is Julia Lowell. She was a prostitute who kept a room at the hotel that she used as a business address. She fell in love with a client who rejected her and refused to leave his wife for her. Julia committed suicide out of despair. Like Little Billy, she wanders around on the west side on the second and third floors. Some guests report that she appears as bright white smoke. Men sometimes tell of a female whisper in their ear, though no one is around. Julia is such a part of hotel history that her old room is named for her. The presence of the ghosts is permanently intertwined with the Copper Queen. Guests are invited to report their encounters in the ghost register kept at the front desk. There are many entries in the book.
But ghosts stories are not the only ones that are told about the Copper Queen. One tragic tale involves the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. E. O. Rouzer was a young and popular Bisbee businessman who managed the hotel at that time. He’d been there for three years and was respected by everyone in the community. He met a young woman, Mary E. Smith of Phoenix who often visited her aunt, Mrs. Buxton, a resident of the town. E. O. and Mary got married and went west for their honeymoon.
As fate would have it, they went to San Francisco for a few days but travelled south to Monterey the day before the earthquake. They checked into the Del Monte hotel which had two bridal suites, both available that night. Mrs. Rouzer chose room No. 97. Early the next morning when the shaking started, the hotel’s massive chimney collapsed onto their room carrying the newlyweds, still asleep, to the floor below. E. O. Rouzer was killed and his bride died later that day. The other bridal suite was untouched.
When news reached Bisbee, the town was stunned. The Copper Queen’s poolroom and buffet were closed and the building dressed in mourning. The staff was shocked and saddened. Mayor Craven issued a proclamation in remembrance of the couple and asked that businesses, as far as practical, close from noon to 4pm that day in their memory. Ironcially, Bisbeeites would read of the efforts to contain the raging fires that followed the earthquake in San Francisco. Those efforts involved dynamiting buildings, a tactic that would be used just two years later in attempts to stop the fire that destroyed much of Bisbee’s business district.
The hotel became a movie star in the 1950’s. A film noir B movie, Violent Saturday, was filmed almost entirely in Bisbee and the Copper Queen, along with downtown streets and other structures featured prominently. Starring Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine among others, the movie brought the town to the attention of the wider world and Hollywood.
As the years passed, the hotel continued as a prominent stop for visitors to town. The Copper Queen Annex, just next door, was used by the mining companies for VIP guests and to accommodate the lawyers who frequently came to Bisbee on company business. Though a separate structure, the annex is still in use today containing four rooms, one a complete suite with kitchen.
The poolroom off the lobby has been replaced by a charming saloon. The restorations of the 1970’s stripped away some of the modernization of intervening years returning the old building to what it must have looked like a century ago. The lobby with its high, wood beamed ceiling still features the massive leather couches and chairs that filled the space from its earliest days. Over the years it seems that the more the old building has changed, the more it has remained the same.
The Copper Queen was built because Bisbee needed a place for visitors to stay and over the years it earned a reputation for gracious hospitality and comfortable accommodations. It has survived for that reason—people are still coming to town and still want a great place to spend a night or two. It’s a good bet that the oldest continuously operating hotel in Arizona will be here for a long time to come.