Murders, suicide pacts, massacres and lynchings are usually the stuff of horror films, but forget Hollywood; these morbid events make up the darker side of Boulder’s history and are said to have left behind a town full of ghosts.
John Georgis, aka Banjo Billy, regales crowds with the stories of those ghosts on his one-of-a-kind bus tours, via a 1994 school bus that he refurbished into a Hillbilly shack on wheels. With Halloween just around the corner, now is the perfect time to jump on the shack and be terrified, horrified and tremendously amused by Banjo Billy and his Ghosts of Boulder Tour.
I joined the tour on a cold, gray, drizzly Sunday afternoon — the perfect day for a ghost tour. When I saw the bus parked in front of the Hotel Boulderado, the departure point for the tours, I couldn’t help but laugh. There it sat in all of its Hillbilly glory with a pitched tin roof and wood-paneled sides. I knew I was in for an entertaining ride.
After a warm welcome from Banjo Billy himself, I settled into an overstuffed plaid armchair at the front of the bus, “the best seat in the house,” according to Georgis. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, though. Georgis has removed all but a few of the original bus benches and replaced them with comfy vintage armchairs and several horse saddles, adding to the hominess of the bus.
Georgis got the tour rolling with the story of three suicides, all committed in the same room at the Hotel Boulderado. From there, the bus traveled down Pearl Street, making stops at several historic homes, each with its own bit of history and haunting ghost story. The tour also made stops at Boulder Creek, the Boulder History Museum, the Boulder Theater and Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado campus, where a gruesome murder was committed in the 1960s.
We listened as Georgis told us about a disgruntled 46-year-old Boy Scout’s ghost; the ghost who warned a new homeowner to “Get out!” and the ghost of a wrongly hanged man seen swinging from the trees by Boulder Creek. Throughout the tour, Georgis entertained us with tidbits of history and personal anecdotes, including how he became known as Banjo Billy.
“I got tired of working for a living,” he joked. He said traveling through Europe, largely by bus, inspired him to start his own business offering bus tours of Boulder, “Colorado style.” In 2005, he quit the corporate world, bought a used school bus on eBay and serendipitously met a welder/engineer who helped him convert his newly purchased school bus into what he thought would look like a log cabin, but instead manifested itself as a Hillbilly shack. The logs that Georgis wanted to put on the sides of the bus turned out to be too heavy, so he used an old wooden fence instead. After the work was complete, a friend said, “I’ve got bad news for you, John. This doesn’t look like a log cabin; it looks more like a Hillbilly shack. Are you Banjo Billy?” And Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours was born.
Georgis didn’t miss a beat during the 90-minute tour, keeping the crowd amused with his charismatic personality, infectious laugh and captivating stories. He even kept the toddler on board interested, which is no easy feat.
By the end of the tour, I think everyone on board was looking for a ghost to appear at the window of any given building or house. That’s the power of Banjo Billy’s ghost tours.
If You Go
Ghosts of Boulder Tours start, Fridays at 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 4 p.m.
Adults, $20; seniors, $16; children (5-12). $10; children under 5, free. Banjo Billy also gives Ghost, Crime & History Tours of Boulder on the weekends; see website for a complete schedule.
Lindsay Wilson is a contributing writer for goColorado.com.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.