As the evenings grow darker and the nights grow cold, residents and visitors might be inclined to delve deeper into the mysteries and history of some of Great Falls most well-known citizens.
To start off your journey you don’t have to travel any further than Highland Cemetery to observe and feel the history that lies beyond the gravestones. With autumn and the Halloween season fast approaching, it’s very interesting to peek into the spookier side of Great Falls history.
Most famously known as the founder of Great Falls, Paris Gibson was a man shadowed in mystery. One of the most famous tales of possible murder and ghost sightings revolve around Paris and his wife Valeria and his sons Theodore and Philip. Theodre was accused of murdering his mother by throwing her down a flight of stairs. Her murder was then attempted to be covered up, caused a huge scandal in the early days of Great Falls. Legend alleges that unknown people took her corpse form the Gibson home to an underground tunnel system that lead to the New Park Hotel. Her body was then thrown out a window on the top floor, framing her death as a suicide. Residents and history buffs still like to speculate what could have happened that day and who could have helped Theodore frame the death as a suicide.
Infamous western artist Charles M. Russell passed away due to natural causes in the Fall of 1926. His passing had a huge effect on the community. Children were let out of school early and majority of the citizens of Great Falls attended his funeral.
While Charles Russell doesn’t have as much mystery surrounding his life as Paris Gibson, he did have quite an interesting funeral proceeding. The painter is famously known for his dislike of automobiles, so naturally after his passing he was transported to the cemetery in a horse drawn carriage.
There have been reports of Charles Russell’s ghost being seen wandering the halls of the Charles M Russell Museum. It’s possible he’s checking to make sure his hard work is still being displayed and appreciated by the community.
When exploring Highland Cemetery, it’s hard to miss the unique tombstone of George Montgomery. In a sea of average looking tombstones, Montgomery’s stands tall as a life size replica of the man himself. Montgomery grew up in Great Falls and was one of fifteen children in his family. When he reached young adulthood he moved to Hollywood where he achieved fame as a country western actor. He’s known for starring in films such as Riders of the Purple Saga (1941) and Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942). In 1963, Montgomery’s private life made headlines when his housekeeper was charged in a failed attempt to kill him. Allegedly suffering from a fanatical attraction to her employer, the woman planned to shoot Montgomery, and then take her own life.
Robert Vaughn was one of the most influential ranchers in the early days of Great Falls. He was a Welsh immigrant who traveled to the Sun River area where he homesteaded the Vaughn Ranch. He was heavily involved with the founding of Great Falls and was friends with Paris Gibson. He built the Arvon Block of Great Falls that housed a hotel and stable. Today travelers to Great Falls can stay in the Hotel Arvon to feel a modern influence on Vaughn’s original western hotel. After he passed away at the age of 81, he was buried under a large obelisk in Highland Cemetery near Great Falls.
Cemeteries are often overlooked for being a place of great history. I urge you to take a trip to our cemetery to feel the spirits of the past and reflect on how their hard work in the early life of Great Falls lead to the Electric City we know today. Who knows you might be so fortunate to see a ghost or two. Great Falls offers a variety of opportunities for those interested in historical tales of ghosts and more in the form of the cemetery trail and the Downtown Historic Ghost Tours.
Guest Blog by Colton Haddenham
Colton is a Great Falls resident and outdoor adventure enthusiast. Halloween is of his favorite time of the year and he enjoys a good ghost/haunting story.