SALT LAKE CITY — Of all the local "haunts," few lay claim to a ghost story as well-known as the one that surrounds the historic Rio Grande Depot and Rio Grande Café.
The “Purple Lady,” as workers call her now, has been the apparent source of numerous ghostly sightings and unexplained phenomena over the decades at the landmark train station, originally constructed in 1910.
According to lore, the woman was an ill-fated lover whose ring wound up on the train tracks during an argument with her fiancé.
Longtime Rio Grande Café server Dicky Holt regularly recites the spirit’s story as it was originally told to him in the early 1980s.
“Realizing, ‘Oh, I’ve made such a horrible mistake,’ (she) went out to go get it. Kersplat!” Holt explained of the subsequent collision with a train.
Since that time, there have been numerous reports of lights turning off and on, doors slamming, objects being displaced overnight, and paintings in the building appearing crooked after they were left straight the night before, he said.
Café manager Colleen Murphy said she also has noticed lights coming on at night—apparently on their own — in a locked room at the bottom of the north stairwell.
Additionally, Murphy claims to have been locked out of the building on multiple occasions late at night with no explanation.
Reports over the years from those who say they've actually seen the Purple Lady suggest the woman appears angry or unhappy.
Workers maintain the epicenter of the ghostly accounts is the women’s restroom, Holt said.
“Some people have heard singing in the ladies' restroom when there’s nobody here at night,” he said.
Holt said he witnessed one occasion more than a decade ago when the taps were running full force and refused to turn off. A hostess had run out of the restroom and asked him for help to address the problem, he said.
According to Holt, he grabbed a plunger and barely touched the tap when it turned off on its own.
Utah Department of Heritage and Arts spokesman Josh Loftin said more experiences have been reported away from the café, including footsteps coming from the upstairs balcony.
“There are reports of the old station master maybe haunting the lobby,” Loftin said.
And there have been ghostly sightings upstairs, he said.
“(They’re) seeing apparitions usually at the far end (south end of the building), sort of hovering at the end of the (north) hallway,” Loftin explained.
The basement also has left security guards unnerved, he said.
“(They hear) alarms going off,” Loftin said. “They’ll even hear talking or music playing.”
With so many accounts of unexplained events, KSL-TV recently brought in the Ghost Hopping team to investigate.
Point man Marcus and his crew have been investigating purportedly haunted sites across the country.
“We’ve always kind of been fascinated by the questions of (the paranormal) and we’ve gone after it enough and experienced it enough that it keeps you wanting to know more,” Marcus said.
The group was equipped with a device known as the “Paranormal Puck 2,” and it quickly yielded some unexpected results in the women’s restroom near the Rio Grande Café.
“(The Puck) takes changes in atmosphere and converts it into answers, so you kind of ‘text with ghosts,’” Marcus explained. “We said, ‘How many spirits are there?’ And without hesitation, it gave back the number ‘7.’”
Still, other than some chilly feelings when some of the investigators were in the bathroom by themselves, no other significant activity was detected in the restroom during a pair of investigative sessions and an additional 40 minutes of video and audio surveillance.
The basement of the depot, however, was far more active.
As soon as the investigators stepped out of the elevator, the Paranormal Puck began to chirp out results.
“Devil,” it read, followed moments later by “screw … living,” each word listed sequentially and on separate lines.
The device also spat out several words that could be interpreted as drug slang and drug references, including “dime” (bag), “speed” and “compound.”
The Puck sequentially read out “traffic … seize … dollars,” raising questions among the investigators as to whether an entity may have at some point had drug money seized.
As the investigators tried to make contact with supposed spirits at the south end of the hallway, multiple people heard noises come from a utility closet.
As Marcus opened the door, two light anomalies were caught on camera appearing to materialize and disappear on screen as they left the closet.
Minutes later, Marcus asked if a spirit was still there, and a man’s voice replied out of a white noise-generating device known as the “Spirit Box,” “Yes.”
“Are your remains here?” Marcus followed up.
Once again, a man’s voice seemed to come through the device and said “Yeah.”
Also of note, the Paranormal Puck generated the word “cesium” during the session.
Loftin noted that the basement houses old televisions that are believed to contain cesium. He also said a paleontology lab used to be located in the basement where cesium was also apparently once used for research.
After the investigation, Marcus said he believes the investigation was successful.
“I think there’s definitely something here,” he said. “Maybe these are spirits who really enjoy the energy of this place still being open.”
The significance of some of the responses that came from the devices couldn’t be ignored, Marcus said.2 comments on this story
“For as many times as it kind of doesn’t make sense, there’s sometimes where it comes through just so clearly with a direct response, you can’t really deny the relevance of it,” he said.
Living with ghosts?
Holt has remained a skeptic throughout his decades of work at the café, but he acknowledged there may be something more to the paranormal activity.
“I don’t think that if there are spirits here that they’re bad or they have evil intent,” he said. “If there are spirits here, they like me and they like the people at the Rio Grande. They just have a weird sense of humor.”