October in Colorado means cooler days and beautiful fall foliage. But this month has a fun, spookier side, with the tricks and treats of Halloween. Take a lantern-lit tour through a cemetery in Glenwood Springs, soak in some horror flicks in Telluride or visit a haunted hotel in Ouray. Here are six spooky activities to get you into the Halloween spirit.
Bizarre Tour of Crime in Boulder
Hear ghost, crime and history stories as the Banjo Billy bus rolls along Boulder’s spookiest haunts. Bus stops include the Hotel Boulderado, Mount St. Gertrude Academy (supposedly haunted by the ghost of Sister Mary Theodore O’Connor) and the University of Colorado’s Macky Auditorium (the site of the 1966 murder of 20-year-old CU student Elaura Jeanne Jaquette, who was raped and beaten to death in Macky’s west tower). Ghost tours run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October.
Coffin Races in Manitou Springs
The legend of Emma Crawford lives again on Oct. 30 during the annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races down Manitou Avenue. Costumed impersonators of Emma, a 19th-century local who was buried in nearby Red Mountain, ride on coffins pulled by teams of “mourners.” Although her coffin washed away years after her burial, she is said to still haunt the mountain town.
Ghosts and Graveyards in Glenwood
Stay at the haunted Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs and try to catch a glimpse of the ghosts. Watch for the murdered chambermaid who appears at night near the Devereux dining room or the ghost of the young girl who died inside the hotel.
For more spooky lore, take a lantern-led tour of Linwood Cemetery, where you’ll hear about Glenwood’s past in graveside tales of John “Doc” Holliday, Kid Curry and other miners and pioneers. Weekend tours begin Oct. 15 through Halloween.
Rocky Horror in Telluride
For three days, horror fans can experience the latest independent horror films in Telluride’s historic Sheridan Opera House and Nugget Theater. The inaugural Telluride Horror Show, features films, shorts and special programs, as well as gives film-goers a chance to party.
While in town, visit the Telluride Historical Museum, a former miners’ hospital that now is reportedly haunted by the ghosts of patients past.
Ghouls Night Out in Ouray
Wednesdays through Sundays in October, you can take advantage of Ouray’s spooky package for two. Take a haunted tour of Ouray, then enjoy your favorite beverage at the Beaumont Hotel – the alleged home of a murdered young woman’s ghost. After that, you can try to sleep in a comfy room for two at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs. The $139 package includes the trip to Ouray.
Spirits in the Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens was once part of the City Cemetery back in the mid-1800s. Take the Ghosts in the Gardens Tour to hear eyewitness reports from past and present gardens staff about decades of paranormal activity. The night will lead you throughout the gardens and to the old Waring House mansion.
For a first-hand look at Wild West history, check out the Blake Street Vault in downtown Denver. The restaurant’s original 19th-century architectural details and collection of Old West relics are something to see. But our favorite lure to this locale is the guided tour where guests learn the story of Lydia, a saloon girl who died in the building back in the 1860s and is believed to haunt the space to this day.
More than 100 years ago, downtown Denver was the last stop before a rough venture into the Rocky Mountains for adventurers seeking gold and miners seeking work, or the first stop on their way down from the hills with their loot. Denver’s dusty streets were no place for women and children, but were filled with businessmen and grimy laborers. Saloons, gambling rooms and boarding houses thrived as the riches of the Rockies lined the pockets of pioneers.
In the late-1800s, in what is now lower downtown Denver, Blake Street thrived with saloons, shops and restaurants, just a block away from Holladay Street, the young city’s red-light district. At 1526 Blake St., a building now home to the Blake Street Vault, there was a bustling saloon with a boarding house upstairs for men passing through town.
Five local businessmen purchased the building in 2007 and rebuilt the space as a casual spot for folks looking for a beer and a burger. Many of the building’s 19th-century charms, such as giant front doors, original wooden floors and a condemned elevator, remain alongside modern conveniences like flat-screen televisions.
These days, eerie occurrences spook people in the building late at night. Light switches flip off with no explanation, and certain sections of the restaurant fall ice cold for no reason, only to be room temperature again in a few seconds – classic signs of a haunted space, some say.
Just ask bartender Kyle Burns. He was at his post behind the bar one Friday night, chatting with the wife of one of the owners who was seated with her back to the booths against the wall. He caught a glimpse of a woman wrapped in a black shawl, sitting expressionless in a booth where the top of the staircase in the two-story building used to be. Just as he looked, the woman he was with turned, as well. The hair stood up on their necks as they looked at each other wide-eyed. They both had seen her, but just that quickly she had disappeared.
A few weeks later, at the same time of the evening, Burns was talking with another woman at the bar. Once again he caught a glimpse of an expressionless woman wrapped in a black shawl looking at him from the same third booth on the wall. Once again his friend turned to see. The ghostly woman disappeared just as they gasped.
“The hair still stands up on my arms every time I even talk about the day I realized the place where I saw her sitting is exactly where the top of the stairs used to be before the renovation,” Burns said, showing the prickly hairs on his forearms as he spoke.
Blake Street Vault owners called in paranormal investigators to check out the situation. Burns’ glimpses of the ghostly figure were the last straw. The unexplained movement of the light switches and the chills that would fall over the space had been eerie enough. And there was also the vault.
Twenty or so years after the building’s construction, it was expanded vertically, and an addition was built on the back to include an elevator and a large walk-in vault. Banks of the Wild West weren’t exactly secure: robberies were frequent and business owners often built secret vaults to secure their riches.
The vault was hidden behind a brick wall, and you had to slide down a secret trap door from upstairs to enter the narrow hallway that led to the vault door. The vault had been sealed for decades when the Blake Street Vault owners renovated the building. They tore down the brick wall, struggled for weeks to determine the combination of the lock, and finally opened the heavy door to reveal a nearly empty vault, save for a few legal documents dating to around the turn of the century.
They traced their fingers over the walls of the sealed room and discovered fingernail marks, hundreds of grooves clearly marked by a person’s four fingers, all over the ceiling and top of the walls in the vault. Although the vault is equipped with an air hole in case someone accidentally got locked in, a person could perish from dehydration if trapped in the vault for days. The current owners believe someone may have been trying to rob the vault, were caught in the act, and locked in until their demise.
Paranormal investigators examined the restaurant with infrared cameras, electromagnetic field meters and digital voice recorders. After a long night of recording the minutia of sights and sounds in the restaurant, the team of investigators left to analyze their findings.
The investigators listened to hours and hours of digital voice recording, and found nothing. At the end of the tape, as the male investigators said goodbye to the men of the bar who’d hosted them, the machine recorded this: “Goodbye guys, we’ll be talking to you soon.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.”
And a woman’s voice softly said, “You’re welcome.”
If You Go
Blake Street Vault
1526 Blake St.
Denver, Colorado 80202
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
The sprawling, stately hotel, built in 1909, was the inspiration for Stephen King’s scary book “The Shining.” The author got the idea for his novel while staying in Room 217, where paranormal occurrences have been reported.
Other areas in the hotel have had hair-raising happenings, too.
The spirit of a little girl named Katie is said to visit the remnants of an underground tunnel that once connected the buildings on the property, a tale that was greeted with wide-eyed wonder by my own daughter of the same name, as we stood in the dimly-lit tunnel.
“The ghosts and spirits here at the hotel are not just a story we tell at Halloween,” director of operations Leslie Hoy says as she leads us on a tour of the hotel. “This is part of what the Stanley is all about.”
Elsewhere, an upstairs room reportedly has the presence of a maid who worked at the hotel when it opened: Guests have had their luggage packed or unpacked, and beds made, when nobody had been into the room. And the piano in the Music Room has been heard playing when the room is empty, reportedly by the wife of F.O. Stanley, who built the hotel.
An area at the center of the hotel, on one of the upper floors, is known as the vortex; visitors and the hotel’s resident psychic, Madame Vera, have reported feeling a variety of sensations in this zone.
Hoy relates the early history of the hotel, saying Stanley came to the Estes Park area on the advice of his physician. He had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and it was recommended that he spend time in the mountain air. Stanley settled in with his wife, Flora, and quickly realized the potential for the area. Construction of the main building took about two years and included the creation of underground tunnels that connected the main hotel, the manor house and Stanley Hall, a present-day concert venue. A portion of the tunnels collapsed, but some remain and are a popular component of the hotel tours.
The Stanley opened on July 4, 1909, becoming the first fully-electric hotel in the country. Other cutting-edge amenities included bathrooms in every guest room, and the first telephone party line in the county. Initially open only in the summer months, the hotel was a hit with elite travelers, who would come to spend weeks at a time, enjoying the hotel and the surrounding region. Room rates varied from $5 to $8 a day, with a group rate for conventioneers of $3.50.
These days, the Stanley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and plays year-round host to thousands of guests who come to enjoy the elegance and comfort of days gone by. Vintage architecture and fine furnishings and décor make a visit to the Stanley special, along with modern-day upgrades.
The hotel grounds encompass nearly 55 acres, with just a portion of that in use for guests. The main hotel houses 97 rooms, along with the dining options and meeting rooms. Nearby, the manor house, a 2/3 scale replica of the main building, offers 40 rooms and houses the full-service spa. Down the hill, Stanley Hall hosts concerts and special events. Adjacent to the hotel, the presidential cottage is a private, five-bedroom luxury getaway. The Cascades restaurant serves Colorado regional fare along with an extensive wine list and specialty beer and whiskey selections.
Inside the main building, tall ceilings, ornate woodwork and period décor await. A grand staircase leads guests to the second floor. A brass Otis elevator also stands at the ready: “The elevator originally operated on hydraulics,” Hoy explains. “It would periodically lose pressure and ‘sink’ down to the main floor.” Floor-to-ceiling lobby windows offer sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and Estes Park, and large fireplaces set off by plush leather furniture are a respite for travelers.
Stanley, along with his twin brother, founded the Stanley Steamer motor vehicle company, using funds they had received from the sale of their photographic process invention to the Eastman Kodak Co. One of the steam-powered cars holds a prominent place in the lobby.
Expansive meeting rooms each have a story to tell, from the Georgian Revival-themed Music Room, to the MacGregor Room, where the orchestra scene from the ABC-television production of “The Shining” was filmed. The Stanley hosts more than 150 weddings a year, often with several taking place at the same time; the 16,000 feet of conference space ensure that every bride has her special day.
Upstairs, the rooms are simple but comfortable, with classic grandeur along with modern-day updates. The spacious closet is a surprise, until Hoy reminds us that the hotel was built as a summer retreat, meaning guests needed space to store several weeks’ worth of belongings. The large flat-screen television on the wall is a nod to the present-day.
Back downstairs, the Ghosts and History tour is wildly popular at the Stanley; the 90-minute tour takes visitors through the public and private spaces and around the grounds, with guides relating tales of the many personalities who have passed through over the years.
“We have more than 50,000 people take this tour every year,” says Hoy. Famous guests have included Theodore Roosevelt, Molly Brown, Stephen King, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Cash.
If You Go
The Stanley Hotel
333 Wonderview Ave.
Estes Park, Colorado 80517
Special rates Sunday-Thursday offer 20% off rack rates.
The hotel hosts special events, including holiday dances, murder mystery weekends, and beer, wine and whiskey pairing dinners. Check the website or go to the Stanley’s Facebook page for updates.
Contact the hotel to reserve a space on the popular Ghosts and History tour, a 90-minute visit through the hotel and grounds, $15/adult, $10/child 5-10. Space is limited.
Kelly Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Denver.