The Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn



The Knife & Fork



Breakfast Club Visits Douglas, Historic Gadsden Hotel


20 Nov 2004
by Warren McIlvoy

After a weeks delay due to some questionable weather on our scheduled event date, the Breakfast Club finally make it into Douglas. This time it was smooth sailing under ideal conditions although a weather system was to move into the state much later in the afternoon, it would not influence the days scheduled activities.

After clearing through the Phoenix Class B airspace, my trusty little black box, more commonly known as GPS, had us pointed directly towards our first waypoint of San Manuel. San Manuel is a small copper mining town in a valley between the Santa Catalina Mountains that are north and east of Tucson, and the Calico Mountains that boarder the eastern edge of the valley. San Manuel was the mid point on our trip to Douglas and from there, it was a beeline to Douglas. We passed just to the east of Benson and brushed the western slopes of the Dragon Mountains that are northeast of Tombstone. The radio chatter on our air-to-air frequency was getting quite heavy and I opined a guess that we would have a pretty good turn-out for this event. I did a midfield cross-over for left traffic for runway 21. The Douglas International Airport abuts the boarder between the US and Mexico and as such, when departing runway 21, you actually fly into Mexico while turning to the west. After parking and securing the aircraft, I called the Gadsden Hotel for our shuttle to the hotel but they had already been there for the first wave and were returning for the next batch.

The far eastern portion of the City of Douglas actually sports some new home construction but quickly dissolves into the older, maybe circa 1930's vintage housing. From the exterior, it appears that many of them have been meticulously maintained. After about a five mile ride, the van driver dropped us off on the north side of the old hotel. I suggested to everyone that we walk around to the more spectacular east entry into the marble and stained glass adorned, main lobby. For those who have not been to the Gadsden before this trip, many are taken aback by the ornate marble columns that circle the lobby and the stained glass windows along the east wall mezzanine level of the lobby. I have included a little bit of the history of this historic hotel that I had used in a prior story.

The Gadsden Hotel
Haunts & History

Southern Arizona, the real old west in the year 1907. Wyatt Earp and Geronimo were still battling with blazing glory throughout this part of the country, Arizona had yet to become a state when the Gadsden Hotel first opened her doors, providing gracious hospitality to all who passed through. Named for the famous Gadsden Purchase, the hotel became home-away-from-home for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen in the newly settling territory. Nearly every Arizona Governor has stayed in the Governor's Suite, so did Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Hotel was leveled by fire and rebuilt in 1929. Purists question the tale of Pancho Villa's impromptu ride up the stairs, noting the Mexican revolutionary was assassinated in 1923, six years before the new hotel opened. Management will be quick to point to newspaper accounts that indicate that the marble stairs survived the fire, and be just as quick to show you the chipped surface on the seventh stair that people talk about to this day. The Hotel nearly died again a decade ago, this time a victim of neglect. The Gadsden was rescued in 1988 by its current owners, North Dakota wheat farmers Doris & Hartman Brekhus.

Daughter-in-law and Hotel Manager Robin Brekhus will be one of the first to tell you more of the Gadsden's interesting past as she recalls her first encounter with the Gadsden Ghost. It was 4:10 pm Friday March 13, 1991. The power had failed and she was in the basement, searching for candles. In the beam of her flashlight, she saw a faceless figure shaped like a man. "He just kind of floated down the hallway. It just looked like fog to me, but it was the shape of a person." For years, hotel workers and guests have confessed to seeing an apparition often around Lent or Christmas, and often in the hotel's cavernous basement. Sometimes it's described as headless, capped and wearing army-style khaki clothing. In her 26th year of operating one of the oldest manual elevators west of the Mississippi, Carmen Diaz saw the ghost in the basement as well. "Tall man. Black pants suit. No head." Brenda Maley, restaurant Supervisor said she saw the shadow of a body hunched over her one night as she lay on her stomach in her bed in her hotel room. She said she witnessed this immediately after a strange sensation where "all of a sudden I couldn't move." A movie crew member told Brekhus that his light turned off and on in the middle of the night, and then his golf clubs went crashing down on the floor.

Over the years, dignitaries and celebrities have been added to the Gadsden's Roster; among them the stars of "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean," "Terminal Velocity," and "Ruby Jean and Joe" actually filmed in the lobby, rooms, restaurant and tavern. Lee Marvin was said to have almost been involved in a barroom brawl and it was also said that Shelly Winters, at one time in her young career, would answer the door to her room (for room service) in the buff.

Today a 1929 manual telephone switchboard still sits behind the front desk, though it isn't used any more. It was the first of its kind in the state, according to the Arizona Historical Society. So much history was made within the walls of this stately 5 story, 160-room structure that in 1976, The Gadsden Hotel was proclaimed a National Historic Monument by the National Register of Historic Places.

The El Conquistador Dining Room
, our target for the morning's meal, is to your left as you enter the hotel lobby. The room is not overly large and can seat maybe, 60 or so diners. The room does not lend itself well to a long string of tables so the Breakfast Club group was scattered amongst a number of tables. With the introduction of the Breakfast Club group to the room, available seating quickly became scarce. Even with this sudden onslaught of hungry aviators, we were promptly greeted by our server. Our entrees were served to us in a reasonable amount of time and the portions were ample and tasty as well. In this case, we got a great location and the good food was a bonus.

After breakfast, I urged everyone to gather in the lobby for a group photo of the
Breakfast Club group standing on the marble staircase. The lobby is not excessively lighted and a camera flash at the necessary distance to get everyone into the photo, is not that effective. The picture quality is lacking a bit and the true effect of the stained glass windows is somewhat diminished but you still might get the idea of how sumptuous this place is/was during it's heyday in the first half of the 20th Century. It is funny to think about the 20th Century as being historic as most of us can remember when we thought that the 20th Century was the cutting edge of time. After the lobby photo shoot, many of us wandered around the hotel drinking-in the history that was played out here during a time when the State of Arizona was admitted to the Union. My wife and I met with Bert & Dee Davis who had flown in on Friday to enjoy an overnight stay in one of the mezzanine rooms. The room is moderately small but neat and clean and simple in it's decor. The view out the window is that of a very small plaza between the hotel and the adjacent building. However, the mezzanine affords a close-up view of the stained glass windows and a 270 degree view of the lobby below. After wandering around the interior of the hotel, some of the Breakfast Club group went outside to get a view of the surroundings of greater, downtown Douglas. The boarder crossing is about a 3/4 mile walk to the south and was a bit more than we were interested in for a short stay. An overnight stay with, say an early Saturday morning arrival for breakfast and then a hike to the boarder crossing into the Mexican town of Agua Prieta, might be a worth while weekend endeavor.

When everyone has their fill of sightseeing, we summoned the van for the ride back to the airport. I topped-off with fuel there as it was .35 a gallon cheaper that at our home base and the attendant manning the counter for H & W Aviation, was very accommodating. After loading-up and bucking-in, we began the long taxi to runway 21. I made a right turn over the boarder fence and headed towards the town of Bisbee that is about 18 miles to the west. We passed just to the east of Bisbee but still got a good view of the town and the Lavender Pit mine. We continued on over the Mule Mountains towards the historic town of Tombstone, "the town to tough to die". From Tombstone, it was a beeline to Tucson and the "corridor" back to the Valley. I could see the beginnings of a weather change at Tucson with two strings of broken clouds at about 9500' and a high overcast further to the north. This omen meant that the balance of the weekend, would not be that great for aviating.

If you would like to view more information regarding the Historic Gadsden Hotel, you can visit their web site at

The Douglas Gang

  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 6076H, BC-1& 1.5
  • Joe Stockwell and Ed McMahan in 2433B, BC-33 & 22
  • Bob Jackson, sr & Bob Jackson, jr and Rich Krause and Paul Bakalis in 66CW
  • Harold DarcAngelo in 320HD, BC-32
  • Don Graminski in 9064V, BC-16
  • Glen & Judy Yoder in 31TC, BC-007
  • Larry & Sandy Jensen in 14LJ, BC-65
  • Roger Whittier, Travis Whittier, Stuart Flavenback, and Misty Lamons in 706CD, BC-122
  • Trent Heidtke and Terri Huffman in 4638W
  • Curt & Cindy Browning in 8287D, BC-008
  • Bob & Robbie Sternfels in 8100P
  • Jerry & Nancy Grout and Bill & Marge Bryne in 2862W
  • Bert & Dee Davis in 44806, BC-24

What's Next?

The December event, and our last event for the year, will be to Globe, Arizona (P13) and the Apache Gold Canino. This will be our first trip there since the renovations to the runway and ramp area. In January 05, the
Breakfast Club will kick-off our 12 year of flying festivities with an encore visit to Parker, Arizona and the Blue Water Resort & Casino. This event will also mark the beginning of a joint venture with the flying folks of The Scottsdale Pilots & Aviation Association. The last time that we went to Parker, we had 55 folks in attendance marking the largest turn-out of any flying event. Look for our new "Calendar" on our web site following the December event. Until then, I wish to extend to all of our members and readers, the best of holiday greetings. Remember, fly safe.

Click on the Douglas link to view photos of this fly-in event.