Originally Published October 28, 2010
One of the most notable mine hauntings – in a mine that only exists in tales, due to lack of census information (the mine closed the year before census statistics started being taken inColorado) is the Mamie R. Mine near Cripple Creek. While the mine had its share of ghosts, it also had the one thing Welsh, Cornish and Irish miner’s fears more than cave-ins — tommyknockers.
The Cornish saw the tommyknockers as the spirits, the souls of the Jews who were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, then sent to the tin mines of the islands to work as slaves in punishment. Because of this belief, the Cornish also believed that the knockers never worked on Saturdays or on Jewish religious holidays, making those times the only truly safe ones in the mines. They got their name from the knocking sound heard in some mines, sounding like small hammers far away.
Tommyknockers are invariably described as being about two feet talk, green, skinny, with glowing red eyes, and serious pranksters. In some cases, the knockers were good, working alongside the men, doing odd chores, even mining. However, all too often, the knockers were seen as malicious and vengeful, so much so that the sound of their voices, the knocking of their hammers, even their rare appearance struck such fear into the hearts of the miners that they would leave the mine and refuse to go back, causing the closing of that particular mine. This was the case in the Mamie R. Mine.
But the desire to become rich drove the less superstitious men to this mine, and it continued to run. The first real accident was the death of Hank Bull. Having heard what he insisted was the voice of a boy down a newly dug but as yet unshored tunnel, Bull headed down the tunnel in search of the clearly lost child, despite the warnings of his friends. After several minutes, the men heard Bull scream, and as they rushed to the tunnel entrance, the unshored ceiling collapsed on Hank Bull, killing him. The story of this event soon went around the area, and men left that mine for less dangerous mines, leaving only a small crew to work it.
Those who remained claimed to hear whispers and voices where no one was, even on occasion seeing a shape move past them, only to disappear when actively looked for. The new focus of mischief was the windlass that lifted men, ore and rocks from the mine. Attached to the windlass was a bell that was to be rung three times when a load was ready to come to the surface. Many times, the bell would ring and the bucket pulled up, only to be completely empty.
The second death in the mine was directly related to this windlass; in November 1894, the bucket fell and hit a man standing below, crushing his skull and killing him instantly. This was not an uncommon mining accident, but in this case, there was no reason that the bucket should have come loose – the knot was still tied tightly, and the rope was still intact.
Around this time, the spirit of Hank Bull, as he was found in death, was seen in the deepest parts of the mine, walking around. The second dead miner often appeared in the bucket as the men wound the windlass, his crushed head appearing over the top, his ghost disappearing as he stepped out of the bucket.
Christmas Day 1894 was the final straw for the miners. On Christmas Eve, the mine had flooded, and the men spent Christmas day hauling out buckets of water. Three men were working the windlass when suddenly, the windlass didn’t just break, it flew apart, pieces flying everywhere, including the now loose rope as the bucket fell back into the mine. One of the windlass operators became tangled in the rope and as the bucket fell, the rope tightened so quickly around his neck that he was decapitated. That was enough for the miners. Firmly believing in the tommyknockers by this point, and believing they were responsible for the deaths, the miners left and no one would work the mine. In January 1895, the mine closed for good.