Friday, June 10, 2011

A picture of Bertha Gifford

On Wednesday after work I did a slow and leisurely hike up Bear Canyon. We’ve been on minimum day schedule this week at school due to final exams, so I was able to hit the trail by 2:00p.m. I moseyed along, watching for snakes… and didn’t see one until a juvenile rattler lethargically slid off the trail just before I reached Bear Flat, my destination. In the pine-scented meadow, I sat on a large boulder in the warm sun, ate some grapes, strawberries and pumpernickel pretzels, and wrote in my journal.

The program, Ghost Hunters, will do a segment on the Morse Mill hotel this summer. If you are unfamiliar, some, er, paranormal investigators will walk through the hotel at night with electronic equipment and be filmed as they do so. At some point, someone in the group will exclaim, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” or “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” I know. I’ve watched the program many times. I have no issue with what they do (while I do question their methods—Really? Ghosts only appear in dark time? What are they afraid of, exactly?). But it does bother me on a personal level that this mythology of Bertha haunting the hotel persists. Of course, the mythology is perpetuated by the owner of the hotel—because now he’s charging fifty bucks a person for ‘paranormal tours’ every weekend, claiming that Bertha murdered many people there.

The truth is (in case anyone rational is listening), Bertha Gifford ran the hotel for awhile before she was Bertha Gifford, when she was married to Henry Graham… and long before she was ever accused of poisoning anyone. Bertha Gifford, in 1928, was charged with giving arsenic to two people. One charge was later dropped for lack of evidence, and she was tried for the murder of Ed Brinley. At her grand jury hearing, folks came forward and said she may have given arsenic to others. None of those claims were ever substantiated. And by then, Bertha had long since moved away from Morse Mill. So connecting her with hauntings at the hotel is ludicrous. Oh, I’m not saying there aren’t ghosts there. I’m sure there are, in one form or another…. But they have nothing to do with my great-grandmother.

In advance of shooting the show, the producers of Ghost Hunters or one of the cast will interview historian (and my close friend) Marc Houseman on Tuesday. Would love to be in MO for that. As it turns out, I’ll be there a week later. The producers had no interest in postponing the interview for a week so that they could speak with me. Of course not. I would just spoil everything, wouldn’t I?

In the meantime, apparently folks are still trying to find a picture of Bertha. This blog has seen dozens of hits in recent days from people who are finding it through a Google image search for Bertha Gifford. Thus my subject line. Fooled ya! Ha!

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from living on the mountain is that you always need to watch where you tread, as a snake may appear in your path unexpectedly….


  1. Yes, you did fool me! Can't believe they won't interview you.

  2. you would spoil nothing,,,how is the new story coming about? Hope you are having a good day.

  3. You know how i feel about Bertha and who was really to blame for the deaths of those people! However, are we debating about whether or not her ghost haunts Morse Mill? That's just funny to me. Ghosts aren't real. And even if they were, maybe she might want to hang out there... ;)

  4. They are real and Bertha DOES reside there! If you are a non-believer, the Morse is the place to go. You WILL believe!