In 1907, young Irene Houghton enjoyed playing with her many siblings on the third floor of what is now Guthrie’s Stone Lion Inn — until she was diagnosed with whooping cough and passed away.
Irene was 7 at the time, and Stone Lion’s third owner, Becky Luker, still gets customers reporting paranormal experiences.
“I had no idea about the history of this place when I bought it,” she said. “I’m a skeptic, but some things are hard to look past.”
The Stone Lion Inn in Guthrie sits on an average street corner, but towers over the homes around it. The looming aura of the home’s Victorian style catches the eye more than any of the surrounding houses. The red brick sidewalk stretches across the front of the stately mansion and looks as if it hasn’t changed since 1907. The worn wooden pillars in the front give it a rustic look, perfectly reflecting the home’s mysterious history.
It doesn’t look old; it’s weathered with stories to tell.
The home gives off a strange first impression. The floor creeks at every step. A piano in the living room looks unplayable, but the room’s bizarre ambiance makes the visitor wait for it to play on its own. Every chair in the room is drastically different from its neighbor, and the packed bookshelves capture the home’s oddity.
The first owners, the Houghton family, started out in a house next door, but commissioned this house to be built in 1906. It was finished in 1907.
Irene’s parents also died in the home. When the remaining Houghtons fell on hard times, they moved to Enid for a retail opportunity. They leased the home to a group who turned it into Smith’s Funeral Home in the 1920s.
The second owners, the Walker family, bought the home in the ’50s and owned it for many years until Luker strolled into town with a love for restoration.
Before moving to Guthrie, Luker lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she taught high school English and History. Luker soon found a new love in historic restoration and real estate development.
Luker knew a lot about Guthrie from her history studies and knew it was a top site for historic restoration. The town didn’t have a bed and breakfast, and many of the locals didn’t exactly know what that even meant, but were anxious for the tourism.
“We wanted to stay in a bed and breakfast, but because they didn’t have any, we stayed at a Best Western,” she said. “The next morning, I woke up, saw a picture of a house on a real estate window and ended up staying for three days working on a contract for the property.”
No one told her anything about the history of the site or that many people have thought it to be haunted.
When the paperwork was done, Luker traveled back to Sante Fe to grab a crew to work on the Guthrie location. Luker’s mother didn’t think a woman moving into a home with eight men and a few kids would fly over well in Guthrie, so she came along as a chaperone.
On the day Luker closed on the house, she was walking around the house with Mrs. Walker. All of the furniture had been auctioned off except for one table. She was an elderly woman who carried a heavy southern drawl and short, bright blue curly hair, which was a fun sign that Sante Fe was in Luker’s rear view mirror.
“I really didn’t know what it was at the time,” Luker said. “I said, ‘Aren’t you going to take this table?’ She says, ‘No sugar, we don’t have room for that.’ I asked if it was a baker’s table, and she said, ‘Well no I’m not sure what it’s used for, but use it any way you see fit.’ She knew damn well it was an embalming table.”
Today, one of the first things a visitor will see when entering Stone Lion is a long white table with a tray of Coke products and an ice bucket on top — a clear reflection of the home’s strange past and the friendly, carefree people calling it their own.
Not long after Luker and her crew arrived to start restoring the property, strange noises made themselves known throughout the house.
“Steps going up and down the stairs, doors opening and closing, but when you’re living with that many people, you’re thinking someone must be getting up to go to the bathroom or having a cigarette on the front porch,” she said. “When everything was done and my mother and the workers went home, we still were hearing the noises. Then I began to think, ‘This house has issues.’”
Luker tried to put it on the market, but the real estate agent said she was crazy for thinking she could sell the property after buying it for $95,000 and sinking just as much into the home. It would be years before the real estate market would pick up again in Oklahoma.
The noises started weighing on Luker, enough to where she called the police on several occasions thinking someone had broken into the house. One day, she heard her youngest son talking to Michelle Smith, Luker’s business partner for 28 years, about the home.
“He said, ‘Just make me some breakfast, and I’ll go back upstairs when she’s done,’” Luker said. “I walked in and asked, ‘Who are you talking about?’ He said, ‘No mom, it’s the ghost.’ The dreaded ‘G-word’ had been thrown out there. We figured out the kids were trying to protect me just as much as I was protecting them.”
Whether it’s the feeling of a child trying to wake them up, or the constant attempts to scare fellow guests, overnight visitors have a history of reporting odd activity. Luker said one woman even walked out of the room and woke everyone else up because of how much she was frightened by a child waking her up in the middle of the night.
Guests will also find their glasses on the other side of the room or in the bathroom. Luker says they swear and down they put them there and can’t get up without them.
Luker and her family, including Smith, have lived in the home so long that they all have their own stories to tell. Smith often will notice she’s been locked in the basement while doing laundry.
“The first time, I was doing laundry down there, and the door locked on me,” Smith said. “I sat down there for a while before someone came home and heard me. It happened a couple more times, but I remembered to use another exit I forgot about the first time whenever it happened again. I prop up things against the door so it won’t happen again.”
One day during the acquisition of a second bed and breakfast down the road, The White Peacock, a rancid smell developed on the first floor of Stone Lion. Luker and company scrubbed the floors and used bleach on everything they could, but the stench never wavered. Smith finally confronted Luker about it, stating that when she left for the day, Luker needs to sit down and explain to the house what they’re doing.
“I did just that,” Luker said. “I sat down on the staircase and told the house we weren’t leaving for good and we would be back on the weekends, and it stopped. We call it the house, and not the ghost.”
Luker is still a skeptic about the presence of paranormal activity. When customers started coming to her with their experiences in the late ’80s and early ’90s, she always tried to find a logical explanation, but would never jump to the “ghost” conclusion.
Luker will do her own investigations, testing different lighting angles and trying to recreate a certain noise by walking around to calm a shaken customer.
“Even though I question the hauntings, there are some pictures that are downright eerie,” she said. “One of them was a couple that was sitting in a chair in the living room during the murder mystery night, and it looks like a head is rising from in between them with a hat on. It’s freaky. It looks like it’s a man with shoulders. It’s fuzzy, but it’s hard to ignore.”
When the Internet started gaining momentum and guests started sharing their stories online, the Stone Lion’s haunting reputation quickly spread, and it was hard for Luker and Smith to deny some of the more popular occurrences, such as little Irene playing upstairs.
“There is something in this house,” Smith said. “Becky will try to reassure us there isn’t, but there is something here. The doors will open and close in sequence. When you’ve been in this house as long as we have, you know which door is opening or closing from anywhere in the house. It’s always in the same order when it happens.”
Smith has children of her own, and they’ve had their own experiences in the house.
“Ebony, my daughter, was 5 at this time, but she would be the only one who went upstairs to play by herself,” Smith said. “I asked her what she was doing once, and she said she was playing with that little girl. I said, ‘What little girl?’ She said, ‘The girl that plays upstairs.’”
The oddity of Ebony’s experience only escalated from that point. Later that night at the Smith residence, Michelle’s brother started getting on Ebony’s nerves.
“If you don’t behave, Mama Red is gonna whoop your butt,” Ebony said.
Smith was shocked to hear Ebony even mention Mama Red, Michelle’s deceased grandmother who passed long before Ebony was even born.
“I asked her how she knew about Mama Red,” Smith said. “Then she started explaining what she looked like. After experiences like that, you won’t find me running around upstairs looking for little ghost girls.”
The Stone Lion Inn receives around five phone calls a week from “paranormal groups” wanting to come perform their own investigations, but this attention can be a negative where business is concerned.
“We’ve had to be careful, because we are a bed and breakfast with customers, and we don’t want to disturb them,” Luker said. “This is why we don’t publicize the hauntings. On the website, the word haunted is used once, but we don’t go into depth about anything.”
Murder mystery nights are the main event at the Stone Lion Inn, bringing in the majority of the home’s income. Luker says the ghost doesn’t make any money, so letting these “investigators” run around screaming all night during our murder mysteries doesn’t help business.
Murder mystery nights saved the Stone Lion Inn.
Every Friday and Saturday, 40 people come in — 20 of which stay the night. The events are sold out every weekend. A week beforehand, Luker emails the guests their character and what part they will play with a scenario. It starts with a cocktail party, and then moves to a seven-course dinner when something eerie happens.
Then someone dies.
Then the group begins an investigation with a certain theme. A popular one is telling everyone the river is flooded and no one can leave, so they must discuss the issues at hand and figure out what happened. They all have clues, and each person is given a pamphlet when they enter the home to help them through the process.
“The first year I did this, I thought it would never last,” Luker said. “We went broke that year. I remember sitting in the kitchen saying my children are going to starve, and I’ll be a bag lady in New York. I heard people were doing this out east, and I thought, I can write, so I wrote one.
“This bed and breakfast and the murder mystery night provided me money to raise my kids and send them to college.”