Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Night I Slept in a Ghost Town

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt. Escape into  Creative Worlds.

I peered out the tall window and across the wide, deserted street to a collection of dilapidated buildings, including one just large enough for a door and window that boldly displayed a weathered sign: Shaniko Bank. Shadows lengthened toward dusk and the horizon bloomed with the colors of sunset, but heat blasted me without mercy and the air did not stir.

My fantasy of sleeping in a ghost town somehow hadn’t included being baked alive in a hotel room without air conditioning. Ah, the joys of reality!

1910 photograph of the Columbia Southern Hotel, now the Shaniko Hotel , Public Domain Image
I’d first discovered Shaniko while on something of a zany ghost-town-hunting vacation in the high desert of eastern Oregon. My family had spent countless hours navigating winding roads through barren hillsides, peering in the windows of locked buildings, worrying about stepping on rattlesnakes, looking for gold near an old mine, and driving onto private property (with the puzzled farmer’s permission) in search of what turned out to be a couple of swaybacked buildings too dangerous to enter. Ghost town hunting has its share of pathos but it also can reward the diligent with unexpected moments where history comes alive.

This was one of those. Daydreaming caught me up. Who else might have looked from this very window, watching the sun go down in a similar heat wave? What stories did the empty rooms tell? No concierge had greeted us when we arrived, and no one was on duty now. Check-in had been through the hotel’s restaurant, which was now closed. From the silence, we were the only guests.

The historic Columbia Southern Hotel (built ca. 1900), located at the corner of 4th and E Streets in Shaniko, Oregon, United States, is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The hotel, currently named Shaniko Hotel, also lies within the NRHP-listed Shaniko Historic District.

Image by Ian Poellet (User:Werewombat) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons:
Shaniko’s bent toward tourism had come as a surprise on that earlier trip. We’d stopped to eat and learn a little about the town. Shaniko, built on sheep farming, was once the wool capital of the western United States. An interesting fact about the town is that spring water pumped from the Cross Hollows canyon to the south was kept in two wooden tubs in the water tower and distributed to the town through pipes. 

Although I prefer ghost towns in an arrested decay state of preservation, when I discovered you could actually spend the night in the hotel, the idea took hold of me. I promised myself I’d come back someday, and now, years later, I'd returned. 

I reflected on the intervening years. So much had changed in my life since my younger self had entered this hotel. What had happened to the ghost towns we'd visited on that earlier vacation? Was the leaning stamp mill in Susanville still standing or had time erased that remnant of the past? Had the farmer’s canting buildings finally collapsed? 

An awareness of the fleeting nature of time ached through me. Perhaps this was why I’d come back to Shaniko, to reconnect with my own yesterdays in this place of history.

For more of Janalyn's ghost town stories, visit Historical Worlds
Note: Shaniko Hotel is currently closed and not available to the public.


  1. Sleeping in a ghost town- what an adventure!!

  2. This looks like a wonderful place for a historical author to visit. I enjoyed looking at the old buildings. I hope you were able to get some sleep in the hot hotel room.

  3. Shaniko is a great place to visit to learn about the history of the area. Some of the buildings that I wanted to explore (like the school house) were locked up, though, in need of enough restoration so visitors could walk through them. Still, you can see how the streets were laid out and get an idea of life in a western town in its heyday.

    I didn't sleep that well, as I recall. Besides the heat, there was the excitement of being in such a location. I had to catch up later while traveling in the air conditioned car.

  4. Oh how fun! That sounds like a great adventure. :) I might just have to investigate Susanville for it's name alone!

  5. I hope you do, Susan. Here's a link to start you off:

  6. Interesting blog. I love to tour ghost towns, but don't think I would like to spend the night in one. Enjoyed the video!


  7. I loved this, Janalyn, because Shaniko is located about 1 1/1 hrs from my home. I visited there with a friend a couple of years ago not long after the hotel closed. I was on a research trip as I planned to set a series of historical romance novels in Shaniko. I didn't get to tour the hotel (only peer in the windows) but a local gal was able to take us inside the old schoolhouse for a tour and to see dozens of old photos stored there. I have yet to finish the first novel and shop it, as I got busy with my current series, but I hope to one day. I loved your photo gallery and this reminder of Shaniko.

  8. This was great, Janalyn, as it brought back a lot of memories of a very fun day with a friend. Shaniko is a little over an hour from us and I spent a few hours there while researching for a historical romance series set in 1903, shortly after the railroad came to town. My friend lives in a nearby town and knew a lady who had the keys to the old schoolhouse, so we were able to view the inside and see a large number of very old photos of the town. I plan to return there someday if I get back to writing the first book. I never shopped the series as I got immersed in the current one I'm writing. Thank you for the trip down my own personal memory lane!