A ghost hunter’s fantasy, Central City harbors bodiless souls around every corner and in many of its historic buildings. The town, founded in 1859 during the Gold Rush, has had its share of fires, floods, disease epidemics and harsh winters, resulting in plenty of untimely deaths. Tragic mining accidents and the inevitable violence of a 19th-century mountain town add to the number of souls who remain restless in this small town and its outlying areas.
Residents aren’t spooked – paranormal activity is an accepted part of living here for most.
“The apartments above what was the original Tollgate Saloon had certain inhabitants and the lights and the water would be turned on and off – and not by the tenants that were living there,” says Marty Fast, director of the Gilpin Historical Society.
She tells of one tenant who “would circle the block a few times. He had left all the lights turned off and he’d come back around down the street and a couple of lights would be turned back on.”
Business owners tell of ghostly pranksters who regularly hide papers and move items, only to return them later to an obvious place. Hotels have one or more rooms where ethereal beings are often spotted or heard. Homeowners laugh about the pros and cons of cohabitating with a spirit.
Mayor Ron Engels speaks candidly about a former owner’s insistence to oversee renovations being done on his historic home. No, this wasn’t someone who had simply moved down the street. The man had passed long ago and was simply hanging around to ensure the job was being done right.
Of course, visiting Central City doesn’t guarantee a ghostly encounter. If you’re actively seeking a supernatural experience, however, there are a few ways to increase your chances while increasing your adrenaline.
Consider visiting two of the town’s landmarks – the Central City Opera House and the Teller House. At the Opera House, the spirit of Mike Dougherty, a miner turned performer, roams backstage when the curtain is down. Don’t be startled to feel a hand on your shoulder – he’s said to be a friendly fellow. Floating orbs and sudden cold spots have been reported, along with footsteps believed to be those of a female patron who departed long ago.
The Teller House, once a grand hotel and famous for its mysterious painting of a woman’s face in the floor’s center, was an esteemed establishment that hosted an assortment of patrons, including President Ulysses S. Grant and wealthy investors. It is thought to still be hosting patrons from its earliest days. Be sure to introduce yourself to Billy Hamilton, once a caretaker there – he has been known to taunt those who refuse. “He regarded it as his home,” says Fast. “After his death, he was there to protect it.”
For a comprehensive tour of the city’s haunts, catch the Creepy Crawl, hosted each fall by the Gilpin County Historic Society. On the walking tour you’ll learn the history of some of the more famous residents while visiting numerous haunted buildings and sites.
And, of course, you must visit the Cemetery District.
At the top of a hill overlooking the town, an array of cemeteries include a Masonic, Catholic and Knights of Pythias, with others intermixed in such close proximity that boundary lines can be difficult to determine. Time and time again visitors report strange happenings, including children peeking out from behind trees, figures standing in the distance watching them before vanishing, unexplained smells and lights, and other hair-prickling activity.
Visit the Masonic cemetery on April 5 or Nov. 1, dates each year when an unidentified young woman is said to appear at the grave of John Cameron, a 28-year-old bachelor who died in 1887, and leaves columbines at the stone’s base. In another part of the Cemetery District lies a woman believed by her fellow townspeople to have been a witch. A green mist is said to hover near her gravestone.
If you’d rather not explore graveyards on your own, the Gilpin Historical Society hosts a Cemetery Crawl each August. Costumed guides lead visitors through the winding paths, stopping along the way at tombstones to hear the history from the graves’ residents themselves. Well, maybe not from the actual occupant. Actors are dressed to represent the deceased and are prepped with in-depth information, sharing “first-hand” stories of their lives and demise in an eerily realistic fashion.
As you pass by you might consider touching the performers’ arms – just to make sure they’re real.
If You Go
Sheri L. Thompson of Denver is a freelance photojournalist and editor who regularly contributes to gocolorado.com and goworldtravel.com.