Originally Published October 21, 2012
Upon going to my favorite bookstore and perusing the large volume of history books, great and small, I found a small book called “Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek” by Chas S. Clifton. I bought it, thinking I couldn’t let October pass without sharing a ghost story or two from our state!
Mr. Clifton writes of a several ghosts; the ghost who lights candles in the dining room of the Palace Hotel and the ghost presumed to be that of Kitty Chambers, a former owner of the hotel who died on the premises in 1908 and is seen in a long nightgown of the period.
Then there is the story of Maggie, Cripple Creek’s most popular ghost, who inhabits the large building at the corner of 3rd and Bennett. Many things over the years – restaurants, stores, a mortuary, art gallery – now it houses Big Jim’s Gambling Hall and Saloon. Maggie has manifested as a series of blue lights that trail down the stairs from the second floor, footsteps on the second and third floors, even sightings of a young woman with clothing and hairstyle popular at the turn of the 20th century. According to former owners, Maggie is quite amenable to requests – I wonder if the casino has the same experiences with her?
The book talks of several other ghosts and manifestations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area, some much more eerie than the story of Maggie. But the story that intrigued me the most wasn’t a ghost story at all – it was the tale of the reenactment of Cripple Creek’s most famous Madame, Pearl DeVere. In 1977, 81 years after the popular Madame’s original funeral – a grand procession with marching band and attended by many from the town – the parade was held again, leading from Homestead House, Pearl’s brothel, to the cemetery where she was buried. Homestead house is now a museum, but it was once one of the best and brightest brothels in the west.
A bit of research led me to more information about Pearl DeVere. She arrived in Cripple Creek in 1893 from Denver (when she was known as Mrs. Isabelle Martin), and had her house built after the fires of 1896 that devastated the red light district of Cripple Creek as well as other parts of the town.
Homestead House quickly became the leading brothel, exceedingly exclusive. The house was purported to have had electricity and running water, even a telephone (which was possible because Colorado Springs had opened their first exchange in 1880). Men had to apply – literally – to even be considered as a customer of Ms. Deere’s girls. Once a client was properly and fully vetted, he was allowed to visit the house, but paid a hefty financial price for the honor; $50 for a short visit, $250 a night. She maintained a staff unseen in other establishments of the kind, and was known for her generosity to miners and even girls who did not work in her house. However, she was short lived in Cripple Creek – on June 5th, 1897, she died of an overdose of morphine. Whether it was accidental or suicide is not clear. Mr. Clifton continues the story (which I have not been able to substantiate) that Pearl died broke – which is unrealistic, if she ran the most expensive and profitable brothel in the area – and that a sister of hers, upon hearing news of her death, came to town, only to leave immediately and with haste upon finding out her sister’s chosen career. The town then decided to auction off Pearl’s famous $800 ball gown in order to fund her funeral. An anonymous $1000 donation was received, with instructions to bury her in the gown.
Pearl was accompanied to her gravesite in Mount Pisgah Cemetery in full pomp; the undertaker’s carriage, the 20 piece Elks band and four mounted police. Though her ghost apparently never existed in the town, she is mentioned in Mr. Clifton’s book for the unique honor she received, buried once, and then reenacted for the entire town and many tourists to experience. Pearl Deere’s grave still exists in the Mount Pisgah Cemetery, the original wooden grave marker replaced in the 1950s with a heart shaped white marble headstone with her name on it.
Of the sources I used for this story of Ms. DeVere, the dates do not coincide- one says she was buried soon after her death in January; the other puts her death in June. All agree her death was at an early age – 32 or 33.
So, while this is not a ghost story, it is interesting. The rest of the book holds several other interesting ghost stories, so see if you can find a copy of it! And take a trip to Cripple Creek to see the history of the area.