I’d make a terrible ghost hunter, or maybe a really good one

(Photo courtesy of The University Inn and Resort “A Fun Place to Stay”)

When the organizers of the conference I attended earlier this month included a link to our meeting location, I took one look at the place and then closed the tab on my browser, resolving not to do any more than look up the address until I was home again.

What I mean to say is I wish I’d closed the tab. I didn’t. When I saw we’d be staying at a 100-year-old college-turned TB hospital-turned hotel-conference center, part of my brain was screaming “close the browser! Close it! You’ll never sleep!” and the other part was all “Ooh! Scooby Doo vibes! Yay!”

I would be staying in the Gooding Inn for two nights.

Assuming I could make it that long.

When it comes to anything even remotely spooky – books, movies, TikTok videos, whatever – I am the world’s biggest fan. Give me a good, slow-burn Japanese horror film, a novel set in a haunted mansion, or video clip of a shadowy figure on a deserted, backcountry trail. Load me up on ghost tales of all kinds. I’m all in … provided it’s at arm’s length.

Really, I think I’m fairly dense in my sense of the paranormal. I’ve never experienced anything remarkable when it comes to ghosts. What I do have is a colorful imagination and I’ve consumed a massive amount of material to fuel it.

I tried to distract myself on the drive out with an audio book and the scenery. It was all good until Exit 141. When has there ever been an exit 141 here? I’ve lived my whole life in this state, crossing the Snake River Plain hundreds of times. I haven’t ever noticed you could leave the interstate right at this spot. Not long after that, there’s nothing but farmland stretching out as far one can see for a good 20 miles or so.

I realized we’d be remote. Waaaay out in no-one-can-hear-you-scream country.

Ours was a small group, renting out the entire building with room to spare. I’m guessing there’s not a ton of mid-week hotel business on the outskirts of Gooding.

Our rooms had been labeled with names on whiteboards. Mine was at the end of the west wing, second floor, furthest from the bathroom I knew I’d have to visit two or three times a night––traversing a long, wide hallway with squeaky floors––but closest to the emergency exit and a rickety fire escape in case I had any cause to leave swiftly, so that was good.

Or NOT good, depending upon how well one’s imagination can conjure up late night children-of-the-corn-type visitors creeping up to see who’s staying over. Visitors who would know me by the name written in red dry-erase on the board on my door.

There were homey touches all over the place: toll-painted “live, laugh, love” type signs and random silk plants. A little library with a table for puzzles. Valiant efforts to make this former TB hospital seem cozy.

There were also signs that something was a little … off. Okay, one sign in particular: the stairway to the third floor was boarded up. Why? Was the final phase of remodel postponed? Or had they abandoned the entire top level of the building for a reason, quickly tacking up large sheets of plywood to close off the entire staircase?

Just what did they want to keep us out of? … Or … keep away from us?

I don’t know if it was something I said that started the talk within our small group. I do know there was a constant low-key chatter and nervous giggles both days about whether one should take care wandering the halls alone or visiting the basement rec room unaccompanied. And then there were at least two members of our party who disappeared without explanation after the first night.

… and by “without explanation” I mean without telling me right away. Turns out one had another meeting to attend, another had concert tickets.

Uh huh. Sure.

I’m told a nice family with a bunch of kids owns and operates the building. There was playground equipment and toys on the east side where they live. I never saw any kids, but maybe they had better stuff to do than to play outside in the beautiful spring weather and make the kind of happy-kid noises that would put my overactive imagination to rest.

After safely coming home from the conference, I dove into whatever information I could find about the place, which included streaming an episode of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures that features the Inn.

If I ever found anything remotely creepy about the place, that show blew it for me. It was just a couple of guys wandering the same, wide hallways in the middle of the night without ever turning the light on. They had head lamps and night vision goggles and whisper-yelled things like “wait, what was that?!” at each other and pointing out weird shadows and flashes of light that didn’t look like much of anything to me, and replaying audio slow enough that any ambient sound would of course come across like satanic messaging on a backwards-played Beatles album.

Then again, I’m untrained in the ways of hauntings.

They talked about visitors hearing footsteps, about the visage of an angry ghost. They interviewed a housekeeper who was sure she’d seen someone in the mirror, regarding her with an angry expression, but when she turned around there was no one there.

They did get to explore the mysterious third floor. Turns out it is blocked off because someone did indeed need a break from the remodel.

Beyond that show, there are a few articles about the place, but all retell similar accounts, as thought multiple different sources have picked up the same press release.

Ultimately, the place was interesting, and a great location for a conference if you want to keep folks from skipping out on sessions for local attractions.

But haunted? I don’t know. Again, while I have a flamboyant imagination about these things, my actual paranormal senses are probably as blunt as they come. I don’t disbelieve, but I’d make a terrible ghost hunter.

At the same time there was a moment at the inn that has stuck with me. It’s probably nothing. You decide:

Right after I brought my bags to my room. I was arranging things and considering what to take back downstairs with me. I had opened the curtains to let early afternoon sunlight stream in through the south-facing windows. The light was bright enough to make my eyes water.

In the half second before I turned, I had a sense of someone standing there, regarding me, just beyond the open door. I turned with a smile to say hello and introduce myself, assuming it was the woman I’d heard entering her room across the hall moments before. “Stephanie” was the name on her door. I hadn’t heard the floors creek, but I was sure there was someone there.

There was no one there. The doorway was empty.

P.S. I didn’t sleep that night. Not very well anyway. The mattress was a little soft for my taste.

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