ORACLE - When Tucson restaurateur Michael McGee bought the historic Oracle Inn Steakhouse & Lounge, he knew he was getting a bargain but he did not realize quite everything he was acquiring.
There was a surprise in the deal when McGee took over a little more than two years ago.
“I’ve heard from old employees, they say there’s ghosts in here,” McGee said. “I’ve had a couple of employees say there’s weird stuff here. Two of them (employees, not the ghosts) worked here for 10 years when I bought it and said there’s a ghost here somewhere.
“I myself have felt something in here sometimes. I mean, feel it on your skin like when it’s pitch dark. I came in for three days straight at 5 o’clock in the morning and got this feeling all over my body. And then it went away. Once in a while I get this feeling when it’s dead empty, pitch dark and it’s kind of weird,” McGee said.
McGee does not claim to hear sounds or see objects fall mysteriously from the walls. Rather, just a few days after the sale, sometimes he would get goosebumps and usually when he was alone except for an incarnation perhaps.
“You see a smoky figure almost, like a ray of sun you see a shape in the dark hallways. Really weird. When I saw it the first time I got this feeling all over my body, and I was like ‘whoa, I’m not believing any of that’ and yet here it was. I came in through a door and this barrel that’s sitting out there — something was hitting it. Hit it twice. I thought what the hell, is there an animal caught under there or something? I go up to it and I kick it. Nothing. When I went past it this big vent slammed. I don’t know if it was air or not. It was weird. But then nothing again for a long time.”
Even if it is haunted, McGee is proud to be the fifth owner of the Oracle Inn, which opened in 1938 and is Pinal County’s oldest restaurant-lounge.
“The history is so cool here. I hear it daily. I stopped counting after 70, but there’s over 70 people that still live in Oracle that have been coming in here over 50 years,” McGee said. “I love it. When I walked into it and took the tour — even if he wasn’t going to mention it to me — I would’ve walked out of here saying ‘God, I want that place.’ I wouldn’t have asked because I would not have thought it was for sale.
“I should have been born in the 1880s. I love westerns. I still watch ‘High Chaparral’ daily, ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ all of ’em.”
McGee learned of the Oracle Inn because he needed an oven for one of his Tucson restaurants and saw an ad on Craigslist. Although the oven available from the then owner of the Oracle Inn was gas-operated and McGee needed an electric, the transfer of ownership was born. The former owner wanted to sell because of health issues in his family.
McGee said he was told, “I’m losing my butt in here. I’ve got to sell the place or close it.”
Negotiations continued, and “he said the value is this amount, and I said ‘I’ll give you half of that,’ and we wrote up the contracts and I took over three weeks later,” McGee said. “I got a great deal on it. We both made out and everything is good.”
“In the old days, when it was smaller before the remodeling in the ’80s, this was known as a fightin’ bar,” he said. “It was cowboys against miners. There were 11 bars/restaurants between here, San Manuel and Mammoth and they were always full because of the mines.”
The Oracle Inn also was among John Wayne’s many Arizona hangouts and likewise for Tom Mix, who died in a car crash in 1940 on State Route 79 between Oracle Junction and Florence soon after leaving the Oracle Inn.
Then there’s Buffalo Bill Cody, who died two decades before the Oracle Inn opened but was known for his mining claims in the Oracle area and being a frequent visitor.
The fifth annual Buffalo Bill Cody Days is planned for Feb. 22-23 at the Oracle Inn, much of which is a shrine to the Old West showman, who was born on Feb. 26, 1846.
“We have stuff all about him. It’s been celebrated here, the mystique,” McGee said. “When it was remodeled last time, the guy took it very seriously and did it this way. He found all this old stuff from years ago and they’re all originals that are hanging up all over here. There’s actually two canvases about his Wild West show from the original posters. They’re pretty cool.”
McGee said he’s trying to arrange for a stuntman to participate in the 2020 festival in a shooting contest against a Buffalo Bill Cody impersonator.
“It’s a really cool event. We have a tribe of Indians that come in, and they do hoop dancing and they make jewelry right in front of you and you can buy real turquoise and silver,” McGee said.
The Oracle Inn is located at 305 E. American Ave. in Oracle.