The Historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo has been serving guests for well over 100 years.  Its ledger is filled with the likes of Butch Cassidy, Buffalo Bill Cody, and other colorful characters of the Wild West.  And, if you ask some of the staff, there are also the ghosts—er, guests—who loved the place so much they never left.  From covers flying off of sleeping guests to heavy vault doors closing on their own, the Occidental is home to more than its fair share of ghost stories.


Perhaps the most commonly encountered ghost in the Occidental is Emily, the spirit of a young girl who died of an illness while her mother was working in the hotel’s bordello.

Jennifer Johnson, the historian of the Historic Occidental Hotel, has had many experiences with Emily.

“She’s more playful, so you have more interactions with her,” Johnson said.  “And, people are less intimidated by her and therefore more receptive to having an interaction with her.”

Encounters involving Emily, are often fairly generic.  She likes to play with guests’ hair, tap them on the shoulder, and touch their hands.  Others will hear laughter or a ball bouncing down the hallway.

At times, the touching extends for long periods of time.

Johnson can recall one night when she wished Emily was a little less energetic.

“All night long, Emily was just playing with my hair… to the point where you’re like, ‘Just stop,’” Johnson said.

Almost any time someone in the hotel feels someone toy with their hair or touch their arms, Emily is the staff’s prime suspect.

Others have more direct experiences with Emily.

“Some people—like younger kids who stay here—will have dreams about her,” Johnson said.  “They’ll see her with long, flowing hair and a blue ribbon across her waist.  And she just says the same three things: ‘I’m lonely,’ ‘Will you play with me?’ and ‘I’d like an orange cat.’”

Because of these dreams, Emily has amassed a collection of plush cats, pictures, and other gifts left by those who love her.  For many of the guests, it’s a surprise purchase.

“This summer, we had a family stay with three little girls, and they actually went across the street to Margo’s and purchased a little glass cat—an orange one—to put up in her room.”

Most gift-givers have no clue who Emily is before their heads hit the pillows that night.

“We started doing our [ghost] tours last year, and a lot of those gifts supersede that,” Johnson said.  “They’ve been here a while.  You learn about Emily when you come.”

Of course, a few make their pilgrimage to the Occidental with a toy already picked out.  Johnson highlighted an incident involving a young child and a plush turtle.

“This kid came up with his grandparents, and he had been waiting the whole year to drop that off here,” Johnson said.

For a ghost with such popularity among guests and staff alike, some people believe that Emily may not be who she says she is—or, at least, not every action attributed to Emily is really Emily’s doing.

Absalome Paranormal founder Kara McCoy said that her experiences lead her to believe that Emily isn’t a little girl.

“I think Emily is actually a man entity who loves the attention it’s getting,” McCoy said.

McCoy’s hypothesis ties back to an incident occurring in the room holding Emily’s gifts.

“When I was in that room… I blatantly asked, ‘So, you say you’re Emily, but you’re not Emily, are you?’” McCoy said.  “The camera died, and then the door shut. It was just weird.”

McCoy’s experience is far from an answer about Emily’s identity, but regardless of who Emily really is, she seems friendly enough— especially if you’re nice enough to bring her an orange cat.

The Little Boy

While McCoy remains skeptical about Emily’s existence (or, at least, her identity), she has several stories about the ghost of a young boy she encountered while investigating the Occidental.

“Everyone’s talking about Emily, but there’s this little dude,” McCoy said. “He’s quiet.  He does like to cause some mischief.  I asked one of the housekeepers, ‘So, you find blankets on the floor a lot?’ And she laughed and said, ‘How would you know that?’  And I said, ‘Well, he just did it right now.’”

“Who just did that?” the housekeeper asked McCoy.

“The little boy in the tunnel.”

McCoy had followed the apparition down the stairs and into the laundry room.

“At first, I thought it was her child,” McCoy said.  “That’s how vivid he was.”

During another moment of the investigation, McCoy sensed a presence coming near one of the old radios the Occidental staff keeps scattered around the hotel.

“I didn’t say anything to anyone, but I just didn’t want to go near that radio,” McCoy said.  “So I walked away.”

A few minutes later, another investigator left the room.

“She came out and said, ‘I need to talk to you…they told me you walked away from that radio,’” McCoy recalled.  “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not touching that. I don’t want to be near it.’ She said, ‘Huh… there’s someone there.’”

Later in the night, an investigator caught an EVP of a little boy near the radio.

It could be the same boy McCoy followed to the laundry room, but McCoy isn’t sure.

“Maybe,” McCoy said.  “He kind of just roams the place.”

The Dark Cowboy

Perhaps the most mysterious ghost of the hotel, the dark cowboy doesn’t have interactions with the living often.  But, when he does make an appearance, he makes his presence known.

“You kind of feel his presence a little bit more, and sometimes you’ll smell cigarette smoke before you’ll see him,” Johnson said.

The dark cowboy will often loom by the bar on cold winter nights, appearing long after all of the customers went home.  He doesn’t speak; he only stares.

“He’s kind of antisocial,” Johnson said.

Occasionally, the cowboy becomes more than a stationary presence.

Two people were alone in the hotel one night when one of them saw a cowboy walking up the stairs.  Suspecting that the cowboy was an intruder, the caretaker followed.

“Bob, who was a nonbeliever at that point, started chasing him up the staircase, all the way through the hotel… and down the back stairs to the parking lot,” Johnson said.  “When he got out there, there was absolutely no one there. I’d say, at that point, he became a believer.”

The Occasional Bump in the Night

Below are some additional stories that can’t be attributed to any one ghost.

  Two staff members were alone in the hotel on a snowy night when they heard a crash in the adjacent room.  They entered the room to find all of the silverware dumped in the middle of the floor.

  A state representative and his wife were staying in the hotel, and the couple had been enjoying the establishment’s alcoholic refreshments.  The wife took her mixed drink back to her room and placed it on a counter.  When she glanced down at it, the stirring stick was moving on its own.

  A group visiting the hotel was being loud and using profane language while at the dinner table.  An oil lantern, which had been resting in a stable position, fell over and shattered.

  A family reserved the bunkhouse but cancelled the reservation after going to the room.  The parents saw nothing wrong with the room, but the daughter refused to enter it.  “There is a man there,” she said.  “He is staring at me. I’m not going in there.” 

  A heavy vault door swung shut.

  A door, which the staff member never close, was found locked with a skeleton key popping out.

By: T.J. Parks for 82801

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