TWIN FALLS — A few years ago, we learned the city planned to tear down the old Rogerson building as part of its downtown revitalization project.
Some complained about the loss of the iconic building, a monument to Twin Falls’ early heyday; others saw the old building on Main Avenue as an eyesore and were glad to see it go.
But some — me included — wondered what would happen to the ghosts who lingered within its halls after the building was destroyed.
The Twin Falls landmark, built in 1908 by Robert Rogerson, once housed an elegant hotel and restaurant. The Twin Falls Times called it “the most pretentious business structure in Twin Falls.”
The building’s historic integrity had been destroyed decades ago but some of its original pieces remained, hidden under layers of upgrades and urban-renewal efforts from the 1970s. My friend Nancy Taylor, chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, had organized a group to salvage some of its historic elements before the building was demolished.
At Nancy’s request, a group of paranormal investigators agreed to spend a chilly November 2015 evening in the old building to visit with whatever ghosts were hanging around. The group allowed Nancy and me to tag along, but only if we promised to keep the investigation a secret.
“I didn’t think (a paranormal investigation) was really needed,” Nancy said, “but because the hotel was so infamous I thought it would be interesting to see if anything popped up.”Little did we know we would hit the mother lode.I was anxious to get into the basement to see the entrance to the tunnel that ran from the Rogerson Hotel to the Twin Falls Public Library and under City Park to the Twin Falls County Courthouse, which once housed a jail. One former Twin Falls police officer who had been in the tunnel told me an underground narrow-gauge railway once joined the Rogerson Hotel and the courthouse, perhaps to carry meals for prisoners.
All utilities had been disconnected so it was cold and dark; a man who knew the building well took us for a tour so we could orient ourselves before the investigation. I suggested we start in the basement.
We donned headlamps and dived into a stairwell. It was cold and creepy as we ducked under cobwebs and inhaled musty air. Shadows loomed large as we made our way through what seemed like a maze. In the far corner, we arrived at a large heavy door. Our guide explained that the tunnel had been filled in as he opened the door which went nowhere.
A psychic with the paranormal group crawled on a plank and ducked under pipes to reach the door. The woman, a Bosnian refugee who knew little to nothing about the town’s past, began to get upset — even repulsed.
“There’s a woman here,” she said. “And she’s not right in the head.”
I looked at Nancy and raised my eyebrows. Nancy nodded.
“Oh, she’s not very nice,” the psychic said. Then she doubled over in pain. She looked like she was going to vomit.
“That’s arsenic,” I told her.
Lyda Southard, one of America’s first female serial killers, moved into the Rogerson Hotel in 1919. She waited tables at the old City Cafe — known then as the Grille Cafe — down Main Avenue from the hotel in what is now KB’s. Southard met her fourth husband and sixth victim, Edward Meyer, at the cafe.
Southard, the most infamous woman in Idaho history, is said to have poisoned her daughter, four husbands and a brother-in-law, all by the time she was 27. After exhumation, arsenic was found in all of the men’s bodies.
Southard, by then dubbed Lady Bluebeard by the press, was found guilty of murdering Meyer, a foreman at I.B. Perrine’s Blue Lakes Ranch, and was sentenced to the state penitentiary in Boise.
I have written extensively about Lyda, who is buried in Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls. Her parents, Laura and William Trueblood, and three of her victims are buried across the street in Twin Falls Cemetery. Twin Falls Sheriff’s Deputy Virgil Ormsby, the man who brought Lyda to justice, is buried near the Trueblood family plot.
After the tour of the building, we split into two groups. I made sure I returned to the basement with the psychic.
Each group had various tools of the trade: digital recorders that captured EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), dowsing rods, meters used to detect fluctuations in the electro-magnetic field, and a little box I like to call an “electronic Ouija board” only because I can’t remember the name of it.
Ghosts can supposedly talk through the box, one word at a time.
The Pine Room
After entering a room, our leader would explain the box to the ghosts, inviting them to communicate through the box. He would ask, “Where should we go?” and the box would respond with one-word answers, such as “stairs.”
“Oh, you want us to go to the stairs,” our leader would respond, and we moved to the stairwell.
Just down the stairs we found the “Pine Room,” where men drank and gambled during Prohibition.
Then the box went silent.
“She’s here,” the psychic said solemnly. “She’s threatening.”
The woman began to argue with Lyda.
“You do not have permission to hurt me or anyone else here,” she said sternly.
The ghostbusters all looked at each other nervously.
Then Lyda turned her attention to me.
“History,” the box said in rapid succession.
The astonished group looked at me.
“I guess she knows I’m here,” I said with pride.