Facebook Twitter

Utah’s oldest saloon haunted by its history

SHARE Utah’s oldest saloon haunted by its history

The Shooting Star Saloon is haunted, but owner John Posnien -- "Landlord John" to his friends -- would never admit it. He doesn't believe in ghosts.

John just thinks this little bar in Huntsville has stories.Opened in 1879, the Shooting Star has remained the oldest, continually operating watering hole in Utah, according to John.

It was originally run by bootlegger Holken Olsen. During Prohibition, Olsen was frequently tossed into jail, and his wife would manage the bar. They would take turns. That's commitment.

Olsen's picture still hangs by the saloon's tumblers. One night, John was talking about Holken and the photo dropped off the wall.

John thinks it was just a coincidence. I think it was Holken.

Then there's Whiskey Joe. He often didn't have enough money to buy his drink, so he would make a deal with the barkeep. He would leave a dollar and promise to pay the rest of his bill the next day. Sort of a running tab.

The bartender would tack Whiskey Joe's dollar on the ceiling. And now, hundreds of dollar bills blanket the ceiling. Names of patrons penned on each one are a sign that they'll be back for another round. It's a promise.

There is also a 300-pound stuffed St. Bernard hovering over one of the booths. Sort of.

It's Buck. And he belonged to John's friend Ernie.

When the great dog died in 1953, Ernie had Buck's head stuffed and mounted on a plaque.

John moved him into the Shooting Star. Now St. Buck greets the weary travelers who stop in, like me. Many consider him the main attraction.

Contemporary tales are just as fascinating.

People from all over find random connections to each other. Perfect strangers have common friends, neighbors and towns. People from as far away as Scotland come to see the Shooting Star just because someone told them to. It's always been like this.

A couple from New Zealand had come to the United States, bought two Harleys and were touring the country. Before they were to sell the bikes and get on a boat heading home, the couple stopped by the Shooting Star. As they were about to leave, John gave them a Shooting Star coin. In exchange, they gave him a New Zealand flag. John tacked it up on the ceiling.

Watching this was a regular named Orange Roughy who just happened to be from New Zealand -- and the very same town.

According to John, things like that happen all the time.

During the past 120 years, the tavern has pretty much maintained its soul.

John hasn't changed a thing. He's just added to the decor.

Original Coors cowboy paintings sit side by side. Two sets of Olympia beer plaques are mounted above the bar. (He's missing the third.) These are collector's items.

Then there are random rural trinkets: a French rifle found beneath a tree in the Huntsville hills (it was buried in the dirt and John thinks they still might find the owner up there, too); a handmade cowboy spur, circa the 1800's (he found it in the basement when he was doing some renovations); and the Shooting Star Cinderella slipper, a woman's boot from the same period ("waiting" for its match, according to John).

The Shooting Star is also famous for its burgers, the ones I never tasted. But I prefer to think that this saloon is best known for its spirits.

True, you may not see apparitions of Whiskey Joe and Holken Olsen, but the Shooting Star is still haunted by everyone who has passed through its doors.

You just have to pay very close attention to the money on the ceiling.