A gorgeous state-of-the art railroad depot has always been a fixture in the old west as the railroad expanded and allowed tourists and travelers to explore the wild lands beyond the Mississippi. Hundreds of stations shot up during the age of expansion, adding even more destinations that previously would have taken a months-long journey in an ox-pulled wagon. Now, those distant places were a train ride away, and those in the 1900-1910s were frequenting them with adventure and excitement. But what happens when a tragedy occurs on the tracks? Are the ghosts of the Rio Grande Train Depot in Salt Lake City upset about being grounded in one place with exploration impossible? Or do they haunt the old station to remind others to be careful around heavy machinery like a speeding train. Today on Ghost to Coast, we’re exploring the tale of the purple lady at the Rio Grande Station.
Built in 1910, the railway expansion was already well underway by the time the station opened their doors. It was estimated to have cost $750,000, over twice what the nearby Union station cost to build. The extra funding made it possible for the designers to create a truly beautiful building, with tall, arched windows and tall ceilings that made the Rio Grande feel opulent. Thousands would pass over its threshold in its heyday, bringing people and goods across the hostile western landscape to the young city of Salt Lake. It existed in a time when train robberies were still a concern to be mindful about. By the time the trains disappeared from the station, many train depots like it were being decommissioned and repurposed for other uses.
Before that, however, a tragedy occured on the tracks. Shortly after its opening in 1910, legend says a woman had a heated argument with her fiance on the platform in the station. One of the two of them threw their engagement ring onto the tracks. Distraught, the woman jumped to the tracks to retrieve the ring, an ill-advised move in any station. This woman wouldn’t be so lucky as to escape her fate. She was directly hit by an oncoming train, killing her instantly and sending her fiance into madness and dispair. She was gone, but not forgotten, and they say she never left the station at which she lost her life.
The nameless woman from legend is now known as the “Purple Lady,” named for the deep violet dress she is most often seen wearing. The Purple Lady still keeps an eye on the Rio Grande station and employees have reported her ghostly appearances all over the grounds.
Today, the Rio Grande Station has been transformed into the home of the Utah State Historical Society and the Rio Grande Cafe, breathing new life into the building, but those who work there say that paranormal incidents are common and somewhat expected. Nearly every employee at the cafe claim to have seen the Purple Lady at some point in time. If they haven’t seen the apparition, they’ve certainly felt her presence, with cold spots, lights flickering, and objects moving on their own. One cafe employee details their experience of opening the cafe early in the morning and finding what seemed to be a customer sitting at a table by the windows. Before he could scold them for being in the cafe before it opened, the woman smiled at them and promptly disappeared when he looked back to find her.
Others have reported poltergeist like activity all over the building, and some say a second ghost haunts the mezzanine and may be a former train conductor, still keeping the non-existent trains on time. Some employees say that the women’s bathroom on the ground floor is the epicenter for much of the haunting experiences. Faucets seem to turn on by themselves and stall doors may crash and slam when no one is in them. (Even scarier is when there IS someone in the stall, feeling the door open by itself at a very vulnerable time.)
Those who have experienced the haunting at the Rio Grande are convinced the building is just as haunted as it is majestic. A recent movement called “The Rio Grande Plan,” would include moving train traffic to underground, an Amtrak station being reinstalled in the Rio Grande, and millions of dollars to support the infrastructure. After decades of trains bypassing the once busy station, it may breathe new life into the station to bring back to trains. Who knows if the Purple Lady would like this development, but she certainly knows how to make her wishes known.
Efforts are in place to bring the station back to its former glory and give it a new purpose as underground trains may be coming to SLC in the future. Be sure to stop by and see the beautiful architecture while you’re in town.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.