Great Falls, as an early Basecamp for Adventure in Montana, is home to hair-raising stories from our early settlers to turn-of-the century residents. The dead among us have given Great Falls amazing stories that reverberate throughout the soul of the city even today. The following are a few stories collected from Great Falls historians that are presented every year in full, gory detail on the Great Falls Ghost Tours. If you’re brave enough to take the ghost tour, you’ll ride the Great Falls Trolley to visit the locations featured in these stories, and a ghost might visit you along the way! Contact the Downtown Great Falls Association for information on tickets for this spooky event!
The Gibson House
The home of Great Falls founder Paris Gibson is known to be one of the most haunted in Great Falls. In 2010, the Travel Channel filmed an episode of Dead Files in the home to investigate reports of paranormal activity whether rumors of ghostly hauntings were true. A psychic with the show felt the presence of a female spirit. Valeria Gibson, wife of Paris Gibson, is believed to be the spirit in the home, which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the home. It is alleged that Valeria was pushed down the stairs, killing her. What happened next will raise the hair on your arms!
It was 1889, just two years after Cascade County was declared a county, and western settlers began pouring in. Among these settlers was a family from Nebraska who came in covered wagons with all their worldly possessions and lofty dreams of a new life. Along the way they met a man, James Wilbur, who told them he knew where the best land was. Instead of helping the settlers, Wilbur shot the men and women, dumping the bodies in the Judith River. Days after the brutal murders, a group found the bodies and an investigation was launched. James Wilbur was brought to Great Falls and placed in the Cascade County Jail. What happened to Wilbur shortly thereafter has been a subject of debate among historians for over 100 years.
JJ Ellis House
In 1890, James J Ellis, president of the Montana Brewing Company, commissioned the building of a grand home in Great Falls’ northside neighborhood. 20 years later, the home was purchased by Chief of Police Robert Pontet, who who remodeled the 3rd floor for his family’s living quarters and converted the 1st and 2nd floors into apartments. Soon after, a fire broke out that was later blamed on faulty wiring. A brave tenant on the 2nd floor, Alfred Peterson, heard the cries of Pontet and ran up the flame-engulfed stairs to help him. What happened next is a great example of the bravery and care Great Falls residents have for one another. If you are very quiet as you pass the house, you will hear a mysterious sound.
The Lobby Bar
The Lobby Bar in Downtown Great Falls was originally built as the Davenport Hotel in 1914 by JG Anthony and is considered one of the most haunted places in Montana. The staff has many stories of liquor cabinets opening on their own, ghostly visitors, the scent of cologne, and eerie sounds. During Prohibition, the Lobby Bar was a rumored speakeasy and brothel. One of the ghosts you will encounter is a working girl that who died in the November 1925 fire that destroyed part of the Hotel. There are over one dozen spirits inhabiting the building; will you see one?
The ghosts of the Square
Paris Gibson Square is full of ghosts, including that of a boy that drowned in 1916 when there was a swimming pool in the basement. In 1930, a young girl died in the building, and can be seen in the hallways. When a group of ghost hunters visited the Square, they caught the voice of a young boy telling them to get out. When the building was a school, the music room was on the 2nd floor. Often, staff hears signing coming from this room and when they investigate, no one is there. Staff and employees regularly experience occasional paranormal activity from the sounds of children in the hallways, faint singing, or the jangle of keys. Ghostly apparitions have been sighted, and you might see one as you wander the halls of this historic building.
The Christmas present
An unassuming house near downtown Great Falls was the sight of one of the most gruesome crime scenes in Great Falls’ history. In 1918, 3 days after Christmas, police found Julius Ness’ body and the mattress he died on stained red. The walls around the bed and the ceiling were splashed with blood. After Julius and his wife got into a fight, Josephine Ness bludgeoned her husband with a club, and cut his body to pieces with a long, sharp carving knife. His torso was covered with countless cuts, deep into his body. His face was mutilated beyond recognition, his eyes gouged out. Shortly thereafter, Josephine was taken to Columbus Hospital where she met a grizzly fate.
Tracy’s Restaurant was the site of a 5-story building that housed the Stanton Bank building on the ground floor and offices in the upper floors. The building burned to the ground in December 1928. 10 years later, Hank’s Hamburgers was built on the old foundation, and in 1952, the building was leased by Tracy Redoe, and renamed Tracy’s Restaurant. In 1981, Tracy passed away. A few hours after his passing, employees reported that the neon sign had quit working and again went out when Tracy’s son passed away a few years ago. To this day, several employees have seen a ghost wearing a blue sweater; will you?!
If ghost tours are not your thing, the City of Great Falls hosts the Waking the Dead tours every spring. These tours highlight the history and legacy of Great Falls, and the people that built Great Falls. The tours, in honor of Paris Gibson, are a unique part of what makes Great Falls Montana’s basecamp for art & adventure, and a preferred destination for history buffs. Every story is painstakingly researched for authenticity and accuracy to ensure each person’s legacy is respectfully honored. When available, family members are the tellers of the stories!
There are countless stories that are a part of the city’s history, and as Montana’s basecamp for Art & Adventure, you will always find a Great Falls Champion to tell their favorite story of the dead among us and of our city’s history. We invite you to explore Great Falls and learn about the adventures that have built this great city!