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