By Robert Lucke
Looking for a place to stay that includes a goodly share of Montana history, the railroad, fantastic views and Glacier Park as a back yard? How about a whole gaggle of ghosts to go with? If all that is your thing, don't look any further than the Belton Chalet in West Glacier.
First the history. Built in 1910 by Louis Hill, it was the first great Glacier Park hotel and chalet that the Great Northern Railway family constructed in the park. And due to much historic renovation along with a very peculiar set of circumstances which had no one at all in the chalet for long periods of time, staying there is not much different than in the Hill family days. Only more convenient.
It is the first of that famous Hill Swiss type architecture, and these days a stay there includes a large lodge, the original dining and tap room chalet, along with two large period cabins.
Then there are the ghosts. They seem to be all over the place.
"I had a strange experience with my dog," said chalet bookkeeper, Colleen Konopatzke. "We were upstairs in the chalet and had to come down the main stairs to go out one night and he would only go so far and then not go any further at all down those stairs. It was like he knew something was there that I could not see. You don't think my hair didn't stand straight up on end as I went down those stairs."
Dining room manager Karen Bellvomine continues the story.
"What happened to me was before we were open this spring I was here alone. The first thing that happened was that I woke up one night and heard flutes and drums. I thought I had left the radio on and came down to shut it off. It wasn't on at all. So I sat up in bed and for an hour and a half listened to drums and flutes. I didn't say anything to anyone else but later our general manager said that she had heard flutes and drums in the lodge.
"Later it was a really cold night and had snowed in, so I had to stay overnight at the chalet. I had worked late into the night and had everything spread out on the tap room bar. All of a sudden I felt really strange. Something brushed across my shoulder. I looked around and was alone. Then I saw a light outside of the windows. I thought it was a train. It sort of pulsated around the room. There were no trains and it wasn't a car on the highway. All the time I kept feeling something. It lasted for around 45 minutes. Finally I got angry at it and talked to it. Then I went up to bed, locked my door and went to sleep," Bellvomine said.
"On another night I asked the night watchman to wake me up at 5 the next morning, I had so much work to get done that day. He did and said he had been by my room and asked if I talked in my sleep. He heard a conversation between two people going on in my room. Well, I don't talk in my sleep but afterward I remembered I had dreamed about a little Indian girl who had asked me why I wore makeup. She was about 12 years old and she told me that she lived here."
Not long after that the chalet owners invited a Blackfeet medicine man there to perform a rite to calm any spirits down. As the man went on his rounds from room to room blessing each, a chalet guest asked if she could accompany him. When they opened the door to one room, this guest spoke out and said, There is a little Indian girl there and she says she doesn't want to go."
Bellvomine continued her story.
"About a month ago I was at the bottom of the lodge hauling chairs to the lobby. It was a little before midnight and about my second trip there was someone talking to me in the bottom of the lodge. Just a voice there. No one was down there. It happened three times when I went for more chairs. Just sounds, nothing I could make out."
"I was down there two nights ago and all of a sudden I felt like there was something there with me," Konopatzke interjected.
Two years ago the night auditor for the lodge didn't believe in the ghosts at all. One night, though, he had to stay in the lodge all night long. There was one guest at the far end of the lodge that night. In the middle of the night the auditor heard footsteps coming down a hallway and down the main stairs right into the lobby where he was. Only thing was there was no one at the bottom of the stairway when the creaking of the stair treads stopped. The frightened auditor went outside to get some more wood for the fireplace. Upon coming back in, he heard children laughing at him from the lodge hallways. He is a believer these days.
And the ghosts go on and on. There is the man in the old-fashioned suit and derby hat who haunts the lodge as well as the street in front of the chalet. The head housekeeper reported that the night before this interview, they had a walk-in guest who reported the next morning that a man in a derby hat had been in her room the night before along with a strange light.
Reasons for the ghosts? Awful things that have happened there? Not really.
"We have a historian from the Belton Historical Society look through old records. There are no doccumentations of bad things. We have all heard stories and rumors but nothing that can be proven," said Konapatzke.
About that point in the interview, a door going from the tap room lobby downstairs squeaked open. No one there but what else could be expected in that place?
And about those ghosts. They are not harmful, just playful if anything. Everyone agrees about that.
"Now I accept them," said Bellvomine. "I am the very last person to leave every night and every night at the top of the stairs I say, Good Night!'"