Is The Rio Grande Depot in Downtown SLC Haunted

Salt Lake City has its share of ghost stories, and one of the most persistent is the story of the Purple Lady at the Rio Grande Depot. Is she real or do we just like scaring ourselves?


Ghost Tour of The Rio Grande Depot

I don’t know what was more weird — being on a ghost tour while headed to my workplace, or being on a ghost tour with a bachelorette party and a tour guide named “The Preacher of Truth.” It was 2014 and I was researching ghost tours for an article.

It was dark as the van pulled up and we spilled out onto the sidewalk. The Rio Grande Depot looked ominous, lit up against the night. The Preacher of Truth loudly broadcasted the story of The Purple Lady who supposedly haunts the building. 

The Purple Lady

We’ve all heard the story, but in case you haven’t — after fighting with her fiance, the Purple Lady threw her engagement ring on the train track. She changed her mind, dove for the ring, and was run over by a train. Now, she wanders the halls and the ladies’ room of the Rio Grande Depot in all her purple spookiness. 

The bachelorette party was captivated and a little scared by the Preacher of Truth’s performance, but I wasn’t impressed. My day job was inside that old building. If the Purple Lady were real, she would show herself to someone who would appreciate her — like me! 

The History of The Rio Grande Depot

Built in 1910, The Rio Grande Depot is one of the most beautiful buildings in Salt Lake City. The impressive exterior of the Rio Grande Depot hints at the grandeur within. I loved everything about this historic building, from the tall ceilings and wide windows accented by sparkling chandeliers, to the huge furnaces that greeted you as you walked inside. 

The beautiful interior of the Rio Grande Depot before reconstruction. Photo by RAILSR4ME/FLICKR.

Every October, we are inundated with Salt Lake City ghost stories and The Purple Lady is always at the top of the list. What bothers me is that we never get to hear the full story. Someone’s spooky haunted building is another person’s boring work space. For every tale of haunting, there are thousands of non-hauntings! 

Investigating the Ghost Story of The Rio Grande

I reached out to a few former and current co-workers, asking for their Rio Grande Depot ghost stories. Marjorie Moore claimed to not have had any experiences with the supernatural, but then she said, “…we went through a phase where the second floor north end bathroom water faucet was randomly turned on in the mornings when I’d get to work, and the elevator randomly would be extremely cold.” This made me jealous because I’d never experienced either of those things when I worked there. 

“I personally didn’t have any experiences with The Purple Lady, except the mannequin that was stuffed in the old phone booth by the Rio Grande Cafe staff,” admits Geoffrey Fattah, who worked in the building for four years. “Still, you couldn’t help but feel the energy of the building’s history. So many lives passed through that station. It’s bound to leave something behind.” 

This next quote is from an archeologist, and I feel like archeologists can properly identify ghosts. “I worked in the Rio Grande Building for 22 years, including many early mornings and late nights with nobody else around,” said Kevin Jones. “No purple ladies or other unexplained phenomena. Creaking and clanging pipes, train noises in the earlier years, homeless people moving around outside, but no ghosts. Some of the historians I worked with were rather creepy, but appeared to be among the living.” 

In the name of journalism, I posted on Utah’s Haunted History Facebook group, asking for experiences at the Rio Grande Depot. I only got one reply: “I was a tour guide for the Salt Lake City ghost tours. The tour opened at the train station with the story of the purple lady,” says Julie Barnson. “On my first tour, a bunch of my friends and neighbors came to support me. Hearing all about the lady, ghost hunting, and other things, after the tour, they went into the bathroom there at the depot, turned off the lights, and tried to scare each other. One friend, hearing about EVP and other ghost-hunting tricks, hit record on the voice recorder app on her cellphone. On the way home, she played back the conversation, and in the middle of all of my friends talking, you can hear a woman give an angry little scream. Nobody responded to it. Nobody heard it.” 

Returning to The Rio Grande

It will be 2027 before we can get back into the building to experience (or not experience)  paranormal activity. The 2020 earthquake caused severe damage to the Rio Grande Depot. The Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement was forced to relocate, but they’re planning to be back in the building in early 2027 after seismic upgrades and renovations are finished, says Katherine Potter, Deputy Director. I didn’t ask her about ghosts because she is my boss. 

One day I hope to see a ghost; I just don’t think it will be in the ladies’ restroom at the Rio Grande Depot. And besides, I heard The Purple Lady was a story made up by the historical society, so there’s not a ghost of a chance that she’s real. Probably.

Featured image by John Taylor.

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