Originally Published July 14, 2009
Originally Published July 15, 2009
This summer, when we’re out and about, enjoying the beauty of Colorado, we’re probably going to run across something somewhere that counts as an historical site – an old cabin, a ghost town, a mine, a cemetery, even just an old foundation or chimney. You can help keep that site in decent shape, so the next hiker or camper who comes along can enjoy them as much as you.
Take a Picture, Leave the Rest – it’s very tempting when you find an old cabin or ghost town to go into the buildings and look around. Sometimes you can even find furniture, kitchen wares, wall paper and all kinds of other things in these sites. Please don’t sit in the chair, tear the wallpaper off, or worse, leave graffiti. Nothing bugs me – and others – more than going to an historical site, no matter where it is, and finding that someone has carved their name into the wood or rock, or spray painted some ugly looking tag. You want people to know you were there? Then take a lot of pictures and show them to friends, post them on the internet, heck, send them to me with the information about the site, and I might even post them in a photo album here on Examiner.com – giving you credit, of course.
Pack It In, Pack It Out – it’s anther pet peeve of mine to go to a known historical site and see other people’s trash on the ground, in the trees, all over the site. Truly, we don’t need soda bottles, candy wrappers, even diapers just thrown around like it was a dump. Have a respect for other visitors, have a respect for the site, and please bring along a bag for your trash.
Careful With the Trespassing – the law says don’t trespass, so you shouldn’t. Besides, you never know what’s going to be beyond that barb wire fence; some privately owned sites, like the ghost town between Gunnison and Crested Butte, are used as grazing land for cattle. And ranchers don’t take too kindly to you being in among their cattle. Given the time of year, the cows may take immediate exception to you as well. So for your own safety, you really shouldn’t trespass. But if you really MUST see what the other side of that building looks like, or what that outbuilding must have been, then don’t tell me you trespassed to get that picture! Note, I don’t condone trespassing, but allow that sometimes it does happen – knowingly or accidentally. Often, if the site is on private property, you can ask the owner nicely if you can go look at their site if you promise to be careful and not damage or take anything. The worst they can say is no. Respect that no.
Don’t Damage the Property – no matter how curious you may be, if there are boards nailed over the window, or the site is locked, please don’t force your way in. Many historic sites are actually being researched for the materials used, how long they hold up, may even be in the process of being renovated so they can be open to the public. If you were to break in, you could cause more damage than if you just wandered around the building looking in the windows. And since most of these historic sites are on private property or government land, you could get charged with vandalism.
Mind Your Own Safety – Some of the sites may be open, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Old cemeteries sometimes have sinkholes, an old mine may have fumes in it that are no longer vented, an old house may have rotting floors. It pays to be as careful as you can while exploring the site. Some of these old buildings and mines are also being reclaimed by nature; you could very well be disturbing some animals that don’t like you being in what they consider their home now. It may just be a family of raccoons, or it could be a rattlesnake or even something larger. A couple of things to be aware of when searching these things out:
– Be aware of the smell – if there is a strong animal smell, then it’s likely become the home of something big. Quietly back out and go away.
– Don’t stick your hands in anything- snakes and spiders hide in cool dark places.
– Know if rattlesnakes live in the area you’re visiting.
– Don’t enter anywhere where daylight doesn’t go – you may end up disturbing an animal best left undisturbed.
– Wear protective clothing – that plant you just brushed against with your bare legs could be poison ivy. Use common hiking sense – long pants, heavy boots, long sleeve, maybe even gloves if you’re going to climb.
– Remember that even a mouse can and will bite if cornered. Leave the wildlife alone
– Don’t go into open mines – there is no way of knowing the condition of the mine; the slightest noise could well cause a collapse.
– Don’t camp in empty buildings for the reasons mentioned above – you could well be in something’s bedroom that wasn’t home earlier. The three little bears story could take on a whole new angle all of the sudden.
– Let someone know where you will be – this is just common sense for hikers and campers. Tell a friend where you will be, leave a note in your vehicle telling what direction you went and how far you expect to go, and for how long. That way, if an accident does happen, it will be easier for you to get help. DON’T rely on a cell phone – getting a signal in the mountains is often impossible.
Enjoy The Site and The History – if you think you’ve found something that hasn’t been seen in a while by the human eye, contact the local or state historical society and tell them about it. If you have a map, try to mark the location on the map, and take lots of pictures you can pass along. In Park areas, you can mention it at a ranger station and they may be able to tell you more about the site. In the meantime, the Denver Public Library and The Colorado Historical Society have a lot of information about most sites around the state, and they have friendly and helpful staff who are very willing to help you find any information you need.
Originally Published July 30, 2009
While searching the newspaper archives at the Denver Public Library yesterday, I noticed, as I paged through, the prices of common items and thought you might like to see what the differences were.
- Toothbrush – 3 cents
- Four bars of bath soap – 7 cents
- Socks – three pairs for $1.00
- Boys cotton shirt – 12 ½ cents
- Ladies Tea Gown – $5.48
- Man’s Suit – depending on quality, anywhere from $8.50 to $18.00
- Cotton fabric – 5 cents a yard
- Eggs – 3 cents a dozen
- Full set of Curtains – $4.55
- New Iron bed frame and mattress set – $3.25
- Large eggs, one dozen – 51 cents
- Kraft Miracle Whip – 37 cents
- Northern Bathroom Tissue – 7 cents a roll
- Campbell’s Soup – vegetable based – 12 cents a can, meat based – 15 cents a can. Interesting varieties that no longer exist.
- Velveeta Cheese – 79 cents a block
- Hot Dogs – 45 cents a pound.
- Peanut Butter – 42 cents a pound
- Diamond wedding set – engagement and wedding ring – $49.50
- Complete bedroom Set (double bed frame and mattress, vanity table and chair, dresser) – $189.00
Out of curiosity, I also checked the wages for 1947- secretaries could earn $140-$170 per week, and a college educated executive could earn a salary comparable to today. Of course, there were ads, just like today, in sales positions, promising an income up to $250,000 a year. I’m betting the likelihood of that being reality was just as plausible then as it is today.
Originally Published August 1, 2009
Originally Published August 1, 2009
Amongst my grandparents things were items they inherited from their ancestors; tin types, samplers, dishes, furniture- and two little sewing birds. What the heck is a sewing bird, you ask? Why this is:
Originally Published August 9, 2009
I decided to put several items together this time, because it seems that they were so commonplace that trying to find the first time they were used, or who invented them, or even the item in an old catalog is nearly impossible. Yet just about every house had one!
As always, I cannot give any sort of value to these items, but I hope you enjoyed seeing some more of the unique items that were commonplace to our ancestors.
Originally Published August 17, 2009
Since I have been learning the hard way how to find some of the towns of Colorado’s past myself, I thought I’d pass along a few tips to shorten your research time and help you find as much information as you possibly can.
Your town probably had several names. You may know the name of your tow in 1890, or may know the current name, but you’re having trouble finding the information on the town – it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Likely your town had more than one name before it settled. As I have been looking, I’ve been finding towns with five different names! Two excellent books, which you should be able to find in your local library (if not, they are at the desk on the fifth floor of the Denver Public Library)
Originally Published October 28, 2010
As the Halloween Season draws to a close, I know that I have hardly started to touch on all the mysteries and ghost tales here in Colorado. I said nothing of the more widely known stories, such as the ghosts who wander Chessman Park, or the Columbine Lady of Central City and her visits to the grave of a young man, I’ve barely spoken of the ghosts that occupy all the mining towns – you’ll just have to wait until next year! But in the meantime, in case you cannot wait, here is a list of books on the subject. Some of them are older and may be harder to find, others are readily available in most of the libraries and many of the bookstores throughout the state. This list is not comprehensive; just a list of books I was able to easily find in my local libraries- and on my bookcase already.
If you have any other books that you can recommend, that you think should be added to the list, feel free to send me a message and I’ll get them added.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present you – Ghosts and Mysteries of Colorado:
Colorado Ghost Stories by Antonio Garcez
Northern Colorado Ghost Stories: True Stories from Estes Park, Fort Collins, Glen Haven, Livermore, Longmont and Loveland by Nancy Hansford
GhostHunt: a guide to ghost photography & field investigations. Featuring true stories & photographs from Colorado & the U.S. by Dee Chandler
Mystery and Miracles of Colorado by Jack Kutz
The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill by Phil H. Goodstein
The Phantom Train and Other Ghostly Legends of Colorado by F. Dean Sneed
Twilight Dwellers of Colorado by MaryJoy Martin
Ghost Stories of the Rocky Mountains, volumes one and two by Barbara Smith (these stories encompass the entire range, but many Colorado stories can be found in these books, especially the first volume.)
Ghosts of Colorado by Dennis Baker
Ghost Stories of Colorado by Dan Asfar
Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek by Chas F. Clifton
Haunted Boulder: Ghostly Tales from the Foot of the Flatirons by Roz Brown and Ann Alexander Leggett
Mysteries and Legends of Colorado: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained by Jan Murphy
Another interesting source for ghost stories is the newspapers. Even though the Rocky Mountain News started to refuse to print them starting in the 1880s, many of the smaller papers continued to print them for many more years.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Originally Published October 28, 2010
The most haunted area, and the most musical, was the town of Brownsville, also known as Browns Gulch, a mining town near Silver Plume. Brownsville wasn’t a particularly prolific mining area, but by all reports, it was a happy one, and a singularly musical one. Almost everyone who came there to mine, run a business, or otherwise work in the area could play a musical instrument, and if they couldn’t play an instrument, they could sing. Many an evening the surrounding hills resounded with the sounds of violins, banjos, all sort of musical instruments; many a day the inhabitants all took part is singing an opera across the valley at each other!
Even though it was musical, it was also most haunted. Mad jack, mentioned in the last article, accidentally blew himself and his mule up, creating the first ghosts in the area. Stephen Pierce, ghostly guardian of the Mammoth Mine, was murdered on October 23, 1877. Seen by every miner in the area at one time or another, Pierce saved many lives in the mines, and even saved some men during a fire in the mine bunkhouse.
Two mules were added to the ghostly repertoire in May of 1879. Peter Moody was leading the heavily mules up the slope to the Montreal Mine when the lead rope broke and two of the mules tumbled down the side of the slope, dying instantly. After that, the braying of the mules was often heard in that area.
In 1884, a locally famous singer died and returned as a ghost as well. This singer was Kerry, a blue terrier, the beloved dog of A.E. McBride. Kerry died of intestinal distress, and his distraught owner claimed he had no right to die and ordered him back. Kerry, an ever obedient dog, came right back and was often heard making a humming sound when other music was played.
The ghosts continued to pile up. On July 4th 1885, Louis Ohio was shot and killed, his ghost later seen by some girls walking home from school. On July 31st of the same year, a former Confederate soldier named William Neff, unhappy with life in general, killed himself by blowing his head off with a stick of dynamite he’d taken from the Telephone mine. Undoubtedly the area’s most unhappy ghost, his spirit was often heard crying inconsolably in the cabin where he’d died. His lamentations were so severe that the miners considered his cabin unholy and avoided it thereafter.
The most memorable and most often heard ghost – even today – was Clifford Griffin, a violinist who could play the classics to perfection. Griffin died on June 19th, 1887 and was buried near the Seven Thirty Mine. Being so popular, rumors about his death and his life abounded, though the true story of either appears to be unknown. In time, a nine foot tall stone memorial was placed on his grave for the entire town to see and remember their favorite violinist. He was seen every year at the time of his death standing near his memorial, dressed in his finest clothes, the ones he’d been buried in. Flowers, once sent by his brother, continued to appear at the base of Griffin’s memorial even after the brother’s death. And of course, on any given breezy day, Griffin plays his violin for the valley and all who can hear him. Even today, his violin can be heard on otherwise quiet days and evenings in Silver Plume.
And still the ghosts came. On February 22nd, 1899, an avalanche took out the ore house at the Seven Thirty Mine and a nearby cabin, killing Ben Nelson, John Anderson and Dan Fitzpatrick. One year to the day later, the ghosts of these men showed up at the Seven Thirty Mine and its buildings, doing the standard ghostly things – moaning, shaking things, rattling doors.
By the turn of the century, the mines of the area being pretty well played out, only 100 residents remained in the town. In 1892 and 1895, loosened by spring runoff, the Seven Thirty Mine’s tailings had slipped down, the first load destroying mine buildings and sealing tunnel entrances, the second destroying some of the houses, the Terrible Mill and the Lampshire boarding house, but leaving the rest of the town intact. However, in 1912, the remainder of the 800 foot run of tailings finished the job. June 24th, loosened again by spring runoff and rain, the whole tailings pile started to slip, bringing not only the tailings but the log supports and other rocks down on the town. Moving slowly, it allowed the townsfolk time to escape with the clothes on their back but nothing more. In the end, the entire town was buried and only two men were missing – John Custer and John Williams, who had shared a cabin.
But the ghosts remained. In 1957, while working on a road improvement crew, a man claimed to have heard the Lampshire’s piano being played.
And while the town no longer exists for us, for the ghosts of Brownsville, it will live forever.
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.