Paris Gibson was a man of many achievements; magnate, city founder, Senator. But few people know what Gibson was known for later in his life until his death in 1920; the alleged accomplice in his wife’s death/murder. In honor of Halloween and with help from the History Museum and Downtown Great Falls, Great Falls Montana Tourism presents a side of our city’s founder that few knew, and a different legacy he left; one of the most haunted houses in the city.
Born in Brownfield, Maine on July 1st 1830, Paris Gibson graduated Bowdoin College in 1851. After a series of business failures, Gibson, being a true pioneer, headed west and settled in Fort Benton in 1879. In 1880, he visited Great Falls and quickly recognized the potential for producing hydroelectric power along the 5 falls. By 1882, Gibson became the city’s first mayor, was a delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1889, and in 1890 elected to the Senate where he served until 1905. As the city’s founder, Gibson is best known for designing Great Falls along a grid, making it easy for residents and visitors to find where they need to go. This grid design makes it easy to travel throughout the city. In Great Falls, due to Gibson’s design, you’re no more than 20 minutes from anywhere else in the city limits.
Paris married Valeria Goodnough Sweat in 1854 when she was just 16. Together, they had 4 children; two died at an early age. Their sons Philip and Theodore lived to adulthood, but were no luckier in life than their siblings. In 1912, Philip was sent to Warm Springs, a state mental hospital for ‘exhaustion of paresis’ (today known as Syphilis), where he died. Some time later, Theodore suffered a similar mental problem and was sent to Warm Springs, where he later died.
The Gibson home was built in 1890 along Great Falls’ famed ‘Millionaire’s Row,’ the epicenter for the best homes in Great Falls. The current owner purchased the house in 2009 and renovated it back to its original stately grandeur. In 2010, the home earned an Historic Preservation Award from the city of Great Falls. Today, rumors swirl about the Gibson House and is known to be one of the most haunted house in Great Falls. In 2010, The Travel Channel filmed an episode of Dead Files to investigate the home and to find evidence of a haunting or paranormal spirit. Amy Allen, a psychic with the show, felt the presence of a female spirit that had lived in the house under threat of an an abusive presence. Even in death, a dominant male figure would not allow her to leave the house and forbade her to talk to anyone. The tortured soul is believed to be Valeria Gibson, and the abuser is believed to be Theodore Gibson (their youngest son).
In August 1900, an unknown incident pushed Theodore to madness and in his rage, grabbed Valeria by the neck and pushed her down the stairs. The fall broke her neck, killing her instantly. After being pushed to her death, her limp body was carried out of the house through an underground tunnel to the New Park Hotel, which was owned by Paris Gibson. To cover up her murder, her body was thrown out of the window of their Park Hotel suite. The official cause of Valeria’s death was listed as a suicide. In the Gibson House, there is an arched doorway in the southeast wall of the basement that is bricked off, giving sway to the tunnel story. Frequently spotted in the house are the spirits of a former Nanny, along with Paris and Valeria’s 2 children that died in infancy.
What strikes me about this story is Gibson’s desire to protect his son from public outrage or prosecution, but I also wonder how a man that was a well-known city founder and public servant could be complicit in the cover-up in his wife’s death. In my opinion, psychic reading notwithstanding, there are elements to this story that are true. Gibson owned the very hotel Valeria fell from (posthumously or otherwise), Gibson had a tunnel linking his home to said hotel (less that 1/4 mile apart), and this happened during an era when powerful people could get away with murder with nary a visit from investigators. While Gibson was never tried for his role in his wife’s death, the rumors dogged him until his passing in 1920. The Paris Gibson that few really knew left this world bearing the truth of a dark secret and mystery; one that will never be solved.
Every October, ghost tours give brave passengers a ride on the Great Falls Historic Trolley, where they hear this tale of Paris Gibson, along with other ghosts that haunt the city, including the story of a ghost that haunts the halls of one of the first building in Great Falls, named after Gibson himself. There’s a story around every corner in Great Falls waiting to be discovered.
Today, the legacy of Paris Gibson endures in Great Falls.