Clowns, Miners, and Tonopah Cemetery
A Desert City… Filled with Clowns?
What’s on your top 10 creepiest list – clowns, ghosts, or cemeteries? How about all three… at once. Cue Tonopah Cemetery in Tonopah, Nevada. A once-booming mining town, Tonopah has died down due to the typical booms and disasters that most mining towns encounter, to a small desert town of only 1200 residents, not all of them living. Tonopah owes its existence to a donkey – yes, you read that right – a wayward donkey that wandered off during the night, leading prospector Jim Butler to search for it. The animal found shelter under a rock outcropping, where Butler picked up a rock, noticing it was extremely heavy for its size. The rock turned out to be from the second richest silver strike in Nevada’s history. Soon after, he began mining the area.
Historic Tonopah Cemetery
As for Tonopah Cemetery, it was founded in May of 1901 with its first burial being of John Randel Weeks, a local man. It remained active until April of 1911 when the number of dead outgrew the miniature plot. Three hundred people are buried there, including a handful of Tonopah’s original residents. Many of them fell victim to the mysterious “Tonopah Plague” which ravaged the area in 1902. An article from the Los Angeles Herald in 1905 stated that “It is not the black plague, nor any other kind of plague. It is simply an acute pneumonia of a very severe type. The sickness is believed to be due to the lack of sanitary conditions. The disease, strangely enough, only attacks grown men.”
But the horrors didn’t start with the cemetery. The curse of the town started with the Tonopah-Belmont Mine Fire. The tragedy happened on February 23rd, 1911, and killed 17 miners in the process. The way that the mine was constructed, there were two shafts, one upcast and the other downcast. The fire was noted around 5:50 am and after about an hour of searching, miners noticed a fire burning some timber that was piled near the bottom of the shaft. A lit candle was thought to be to blame. When the fire was first discovered, the superintendent that day told everyone to go to work, since the fire was in a totally separate area. Most of the men protested, but being Slavic immigrants, the threat of being fired was enough to push them into the mines. After a while, when the superintendent noticed the flames spreading, men were told to withdraw everyone from the mine except for those actively fighting the fire. The men were scattered, untrained, and did not obey orders properly, resulting in many of them being trapped in the mine with the smoke and flames. A reversal of air currents through the mine spread the fire and smoke faster than they could escape. Fourteen of those men that perished that fateful day are now buried at the Tonopah Cemetery.
So, you may be asking, what does any of this have to do with clowns? Take a peek next door of the Tonopah Cemetery, and you’re met with one of the most unexpected and obscure sights in the west…
The Clown Motel
The what…? The Clown Motel! What else would you build next to a cemetery filled with bodies of tragedies past? Named ‘America’s Scariest Motel,’ The Clown Motel sits right next door to the Tonopah Cemetery plot in ghost town Tonopah, Nevada. Midway between Vegas and Reno, the sleepy little town sits comfortably on routes 6 and 95. The Clown Motel has a battalion of glassy-eyed circus dolls, its owners swear it’s a fun and safe place to sleep. Catering to long-distance travelers, the Clown Motel is the only place for rest on unbroken stretches of Nevada desert. Truly, it must be because the motel is akin to an oasis, but why else would a creepy clown motel stay in business for so long? It’s almost as if the watchful peepers of these circus creepers serve as a warning rather than a draw to come inside.
From the moment you step foot into the motel, you’re greeted with hundreds of clowns of all sizes. Some of them life-size, some miniature, all creepy as heck! As you walk from the office after check-in, (no one past 11 pm!) you may notice an arch hanging over the Tonopah Cemetery entrance. Just beyond that is a century-old miner’s graveyard, made up of stone and wooden markers. When you think ‘haunted cemetery,’ this is what comes to mind.
Visitors to the Clown Motel swear it is haunted. Legend states that the clown statues give the miners, some of which cannot accept their death, a vessel to travel the earthly plane. Almost like a possession. Apparitions have been seen coming from the graveyard, and EVP or electronic voice phenomena has been captured with voices stating, ‘we mined’ and ‘we died that day, 17 men.’ Even if you go back far enough in history, the Pueblo Native American tribes used to dress up in clown-like attire, releasing their own personalities and welcoming possessions by spirits nearby them. Maybe clowns, with their identities ever-changing, allow for portals into the spirit world. Even the motel’s owner, Hame Anand, with his love for clowns, tells that he hears footsteps and knocking from unoccupied rooms.
Apparitions of a man have been seen leaving the cemetery and walking around the area at all hours of the day. When one of the previous owners of the motel attempted to make contact with the wayward spirit, he froze and promptly disappeared. Even more, clowns have been seen leaving the cemetery as well, balloons and all. But the cemetery isn’t the only place where ghosts have been spotted, the motel itself is host to a couple of spirits as well.
Visitors to room 108, which has a life-size mural of Pennywise the clown on the wall, experience strange encounters, disembodied voices, their belongings moving around the room, things going missing… all thanks to a spirit known as ‘The Trickster.’ This spirit is said to come from the cemetery, taking the form of a clown to joke around with visitors.
Other patrons have reported seeing a 7-foot-tall clown standing at the foot of their bed while they wake up in a cold sweat. Some visitors report nothing, saying that while the motel is creepy, it isn’t haunted. Others disagree, stating they hear knocks on their doors only to check and see nothing around. Voices are heard throughout the night, and scratches on walls have even been reported. (Who pays for damage done to rooms by ghosts?)
Many paranormal research teams have visited the cemetery as well as the Clown Motel, finding themselves in a strange and almost otherworldly environment. Collecting EVPs at the cemetery, and seeing shadow figures outside of their motel rooms in the dead of night, this area continues to be rich with history and seeping with spirits.
But Wait, There’s More!
But the Tonopah Cemetery and Clown Motel aren’t the only haunted locations in the town. The Mizpah Hotel is home to the elusive ‘Lady in Red,’ who was strangled to death in the hotel by her jealous ex-lover between rooms 502 and 504. She is said to haunt the 5th floor and well as the elevator. Spirits of several others have also been reported in the hotel, from children on the 3rd floor to murdered miners in the basement. According to USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Awards, the Mizpah is considered the nation’s number one haunted hotel.
It seems as if Tonopah is steeped in paranormal history. The unassuming central Nevada desert town is home to tragedy, obscure history, and death. Perhaps it’s the miners that make this area so active. Or could it be the clowns… with their painted faces and larger than life smiles? One thing’s for certain, Tonopah will never run out of terrifying attractions, those of which have been drawing visitors in for years.