Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death Valley and the Maiden

Magnet # 381:  Death Valley Basin Photo


Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell


Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Sometimes, I have to wonder if Congress doesn't have a sense of humor, because this one is worthy of a joke.  What National Park was established on Halloween?  Why, that would be Death Valley, of course!  Yep, tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of when it became the National Park.  Prior to then, it had been a National Monument since 1933.  I'm not sure if the particular date of its conversion to a National Park was intentional, or just a coincidence.  In another odd twist, the settlers who first made it to Death Valley and gave it that forboding name entered on Christmas Day of 1849.  And it was just three days shy of becoming a National Monument on Valentine's Day - instead, it happened on February 11th.  Just what is it with Death Valley and holidays?

Despite its rather unsettling name, Death Valley is apparently not haunted.  At least, I couldn't find any tales of visitors having unusual experiences there.  However, in nearby Death Valley Junction an old structure known as the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel stands.  And this place has made it on lists of some of the most haunted hotels in the country.  It was built in the 1920s as part of a company town, where pretty much all of the buildings were owned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which mined in the area.  The opera house started off as a Civic Center for the town and was constructed in a U-shape.  While it had hotel rooms and offices, it also included a great variety of activities for the miners, including an ice cream parlor, a gymnasium, and a billiard room.  Perhaps its largest feature was Corkhill Hall, located at the northeastern end of the complex. A large hall, it was used for all sorts of gatherings - dances, town meetings, movie viewings, church services - and even funerals at times.  By 1927, the Civic Center had been remodeled and renamed the Amagarosa Hotel.  But by the mid-1960's, it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.  As the story goes, actress, singer, painter, and dancer Martha Becket came to the place by chance at that time when she and her then-husband when they got a flat tire during a road trip.  She was able to catch a glimpse of the theatre inside the dilapidated Spanish Colonial Revival style adobe building.  And she was inspired to rent the hall, restore it, put on performances there, and begin a four-year long process of painting an incredibly involved mural on its walls.  She renamed her creation the Amargosa Opera House.  Becket often ended up putting on performances there that nobody saw, as Death Valley Junction really is a ghost town - it currently has a population of about 20.  But word caught on about the determined artist, particularly thanks to mentions in National Geographic and Life.  And with assistance and legal advice from friends, she was able to purchase her hall and hotel, and through the Amargosa Opera House, Inc., she bought the town of Death Valley Junction.  Beckett continued to perform there until the end of the 2008-09 season.  Now 86, she still remains very involved at the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel.

Try as I might, I wasn't able to find as much information on the hauntings at Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel as I'd have liked.  One of the ghosts which may haunt it is that of a young girl who drowned at one of the buildings toward the back of the complex.  In the hotel, Room 9 supposedly has the most unusual activities going on.  And Room 24 has been nicknamed the "baby crying room," as so many guests have complained that they've heard a wailing child in it, even though none are checked in.  Others have apparently heard phantom conversations going on, and felt ghosts moving through their rooms as they're trying to sleep.  Some guests have gone do far as to flee in the middle of the night.  There's even an abandoned section of the hotel that's not been renovated.  It looks rather forlorn and the staff have dubbed it "spooky hollow."  And in the theatre, a spectral cat is said to have come onstage during Becket's performances, interrupting her.  The Ghost Adventures crew have actually checked out the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel for themselves, but the episode hasn't aired yet.  It's scheduled to on November 19th, and I'll be watching, interested to see just what they've found out about the unusual stories and occurrences at the historic site. I certainly hope they interview Martha Beckett during their time there - the investigation just wouldn't be complete without her.  I think Becket herself has plans to join the spirits of her beloved Amargosa someday.  She's even painted a mural depicting herself as a ghost dancing in the ruins of the structure.  Her life is very clearly divided into two halves - one, before she saw the decaying buildings at Death Valley Junction, and the other has been her time spent there.  Her love for this place is so great, it's hard to imagine even death will keep her away from the Amagarosa Opera House and Hotel and its harsh, desert surroundings.

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