Category Archives: ghost stories

The Mysterious Disappearance of Melinda Brolin

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Parts of this article originally appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide in 2002.

Today’s “Old Colorado City”, located due west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is filled with kitschy shops, great restaurants and comfy pubs. Most of them are housed in beautiful historic buildings, some dating back to the late 1800’s. From the time it was founded in 1859 to its annexation to Colorado Springs in the early 1900’s, Colorado City fairly howled with history in the way of saloons, gambling and giddy girls.

When Colorado Springs was founded as the elite “Saratoga of the West” in 1874, there was naturally an uproar over the goings-on in bawdy Colorado City. Liquor, gambling houses and prostitution was outlawed in the new town, but in the old town the owners of such places found plenty of ways to carry on business out of the prying eyes of newspapers and the law. One system employed involved an underground tunnel system, whereby one could enter a respectable store or restaurant, access a tunnel, and come out at a tavern, gambling den or brothel.

In time, everyone knew about the tunnels. And although some of the old tunnels survive even today, not much has been found to document what actually went on inside of them. There is one tale, largely folklore in nature, that tells of a young lady who went into one of these tunnels-and never came back out. Her name was Melinda Brolin.

At the time, there was a new rush to the Cripple Creek District, just on the other side of Pikes Peak from Colorado City. Miners were flooding into Colorado City on their way to the goldfields. One of them was Ben Kelly, who left his Chicago home to find his riches in 1899. As was common Kelly left behind the love of his life—our heroine—with the promise to send for her as soon as his prospects looked good.

Six months after Kelly’s departure, Melinda grew impatient and came west herself. She landed in Colorado City, securing a waitress job in a restaurant at today’s 2625 West Colorado Avenue, until she could afford the trek up Ute Pass to Cripple Creek. Colorado City proved to be a friendly place full of friendly people. As months went by, Melinda thought less and less of the beau who had not bothered to send for her. Eventually she found another man and made Colorado City her permanent home.

Back then, Colorado City was practically a sister city to Cripple Creek. The Golden Cycle Mill along today’s Highway 24 processed Cripple Creek ore, and thousands of people divided their time between the two cities. In time, Ben Kelly heard that Melinda was in Colorado City. He also heard about her new lover. A fit of jealousy overtook him and he hopped on the next train for Colorado City, intent on finding his cheating gal and exacting revenge.

By then, Melinda’s dedicated customers, as well as her new beau, were as loyal to Melinda as though she had lived in Colorado City all her life. When they heard Kelly was in town and looking for blood, they lost no time in informing Miss Melinda. The Irish lass quickly took refuge in the basement, disappearing into one of many tunnels underneath Colorado Avenue.

Kelly looked in vain for Melinda all over Colorado City, but nobody ever saw hide nor hair of her—ever again. Even after Kelly gave up and departed for Cripple Creek, Melinda failed to surface from the tunnel. A thorough search turned up nothing, and nobody recalled seeing a woman of her description emerge from either end.  No one ever knew what became of her, and some weeks after her disappearance the tunnel collapsed.

Melissa’s disappearance was the beginning of several strange happenstances. Local legend alleges that a week after the tunnel collapsed, Melinda’s former place of employment caught fire. Melinda’s forlorn lover in Colorado City died a mysterious death and his body was found in Fountain Creek. Shortly after that, even Ben Kelly met his end in a mine at Cripple Creek. If Melinda was around to hear of these fateful events, she never made herself known.

For decades following Melinda’s disappearance, her old workplace pretty much remained the site of generations of other restaurants and cafes. In about 1952 it was known as Baskett’s Cafe, and in 2002 was Gertrude’s Restaurant. These days, the place is an Irish pub called Alchemy. No matter the business, various owners dating as far back as 1900 have claimed there is a ghost. Perhaps in the end, Melinda never left her beloved workplace at all.

The Ghost of Lizzie Greer

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

It was a rather eerie night on the streets of Denver, Colorado. The type of night when the few lit windows along dark alleys cast eerie shadows along narrow paths and against the walls of dingy buildings. Underneath crooked stairways were unseen creatures, mewling and groaning quietly as they sought shelter from the cold. Trash cans were scattered about, their refuse overflowing and blowing about along the cold and gloomy pathway.

Into this grim scene sauntered a man, on his way home from the closest tavern. His creeping form stumbled and swayed as the night’s libations took their toll. There wasn’t a soul to be seen in the alley, at first. But as the inebriated gentleman neared the undertaker’s parlor, something caught his bleary eye. At the back door lingered a single figure, seemingly waiting for him. The ethereal being was wrapped in a white sheet.  There was no hat, no scarf, no shoes to protect against the cold, only the sheet, whose worn edges floated about in the chilly breeze.

Upon closer inspection the man realized the person in the sheet as Lizzie Greer, a fancy sporting woman he had once known well. In her time, Lizzie was quite wealthy and well-known in Denver, until drink had got the best of her. Relief flooded through the gentleman as he recognized his long lost friend. “Lizzie?” he uttered, “Is that you?” The woman did not answer, and as the man came closer, she turned uncertainly. Deep inside his drunken mind, the man was beginning to remember something else he knew about Lizzie, something quite disturbing. As Lizzie’s form hurriedly stepped into the dark shadows and disappeared, the memory hit the man full-tilt: Lizzie Greer had been dead, for some years.

Indeed, Lizzie Greer was once one of a healthy handful of wanton women who worked in Denver. Her adventures were many: after arriving in the fledgling Queen City in 1861, she quickly made lots of money as one of the only harlots in town. Her paramour, for a time, was gambler Charley Harrison—a known outlaw who formerly romanced Lizzie’s fellow brothel companion, Addie LaMont. Charley was a killer, too, but he did look so very sleek in his all black suit and his well-groomed beard. His pearl-handled revolvers made a nice accent to the outfit, swinging from his hips in a menacing way.

When Charley finally got into enough trouble to merit leaving Denver, Lizzie and Addie watched him go with a sigh. Charley Harrison was just another in a long line of men the ladies knew, intimately. The women saw no reason to let him come between them, even though he first scorned Addie and then left Lizzie high and dry. But each woman had a demon haunting her that was far worse than the likes of Charley. Its name was whiskey, or absinthe, or beer, depending on the day. Both women found themselves fraught with drinking problems, whose roots reached much deeper than most people could understand.

In the years after Charley Harrison left, Lizzie tried to bring her life back into balance by starting a new, two-story brothel up on North Clear Creek near the Bobtail Mine. But it was no good; within a few years she was back in Denver, scrambling to regain her wealth. One night she hatched a devious plan to invite one of her customers, John Lowry, to come over to her place. Lowry was loaded, and Lizzie conspired with her friend, Elmer Hines, to get her share of his pocketbook.

A neighbor, Mrs. S., remembered seeing Lowry knock at Lizzie’s shanty. The harlot opened the door immediately and yanked the man into her house. A pistol shot rang out as Mrs. S. saw the man fall inside. Next, she watched in horror as the man suffered two hearty blows with an axe. Who held the axe was unknown, but Elmer Hines left just a short time later. After awhile, Mrs. S. saw a Mexican man she knew pulling Lowry’s lifeless body from Lizzie’s house.

Lizzie served time in jail following Mrs. S.’s testimony, but she was soon out and bent on another murder. This time, Addie LaMont witnessed Lizzie shoot one George Maguire in her room. Maguire was not expected to live. Lizzie may have escaped the law this time, but she could not escape herself. Within a few more years, she was a familiar site in the back alleys of Denver, buying liquor whenever she could get her hands on some money, and eating from the garbage bins of local restaurants.

On a cold night in January of 1881, a policeman found Lizzie, sickly and frail, sleeping in Lewis and Wheeler’s lumberyard. The officer took her to the County Hospital, but it was too late. Lizzie could not recover from her illnesses, and died. Her body was turned over to the undertaker, who charged his standard fee of $2.50 to the city for burying paupers. Lizzie’s spirit, however, apparently did not want to be buried. Hence, the gentleman in the alley that dark and dreary night was not the only witness to her ghost. In time, several more stories came forth. Each was the same: Lizzie appeared wrapped in a sheet, and fled when approached.

Eventually, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News got wind of the story and came creeping down the alley in hopes of seeing Lizzie. The man was making his way quietly through the shadows when he heard the sounds of footsteps. Was it Lizzie, coming his way? It couldn’t be, for she was reported to be barefooted. The reporter stopped in his tracks, listening carefully. Every sound, every clink, every whispering scuffle and shuffle became louder and louder as the man was overtaken with the feeling of being watched. Suddenly, from the corner of his eye, the writer saw a dark form quickly moving towards him. With a yelp, he turned to face the phantom—and encountered instead the undertaker’s assistant.

When the reporter’s heart stopped pounding, the assistant explained what he was doing in the alley. The undertaker, it was revealed, had indeed received his fee from the city for taking Lizzie’s body. But the cunning man found he could make an additional $30.00—over $750 in today’s economy—by selling bodies to the dissecting room. In these morbid laboratories, bodies were cut open for research, their parts and pieces eventually thrown out with the refuse. Accordingly, the assistant had been sent in search of Lizzie to make sure she was dead, and if she wasn’t, to make sure she “stayed dead” so the undertaker could reap his thirty bucks.

That was about the last time anybody heard of Lizzie’s ghost lingering in the alleyways of Denver. Perhaps she too wanted the thirty dollars, so she could continue drinking and dancing her way through the demimonde just a little bit longer. This time, however, the money quite literally slipped through her translucent fingers. Maybe she lost interest and finally found rest, or maybe not. The undertaker’s rooms of old Denver are long gone, perhaps replaced by a laundry or even a bagel shop. Behind these buildings, Lizzie’s ghost could easily be mistaken for nothing more than steam drifting into the still night air.

Manitou Spring’s Mystic Sisters and Redstone Castle

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

Photo credit: Rufus Porter

Manitou Springs, Colorado has long been known as a haven to hauntings and the supernatural. It is no wonder, when one considers such odd and wonderful treasures as the Redstone Castle. As one of Manitou’s many intriguing landmarks, the castle and its history exude the macabre charm that embraces the city even today.

Redstone Castle’s charming history begins with the mysterious Crawford sisters, Emma and Alice. Emma and her mother first appeared in Manitou during the late 1880’s, residing on Ruxton Avenue. Like so many, young Emma initially came to Manitou seeking relief from tuberculosis in the high mountain air. Her fiancé, one Mr. Hildebrand or Hiltbrand, was working as a civil engineer for the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad. Recuperating by way of much rest and little exercise, Emma spent much of her time concentrating on her psychic powers. The occult was a vivid fascination in the Victorian era, and the fact that Emma and her family were professed psychics was thought more intriguing than strange in a place like Manitou.

One day in 1890, Emma claimed her Indian spirit guide had enticed her to climb nearby Red Mountain, a feat she accomplished despite her illness. Evidence of the climb came in the form of Emma’s red scarf, which she tied to a tree at the top. She died that summer, just before she was to be married. Wanting to fulfill Emma’s dying wish to be buried on Red Mountain, her fiancé tried to buy some ground atop the mountain. Unable to do so, Hildebrand hired twelve friends to carry the casket up there anyway, and Emma was buried at her beloved spot. Soon, stories of Emma’s ghost wandering around Red Mountain began circulating, and her grave became such a popular attraction that fellow spiritualists wore a trail to get there.

Emma’s mother remained in Manitou after her daughter’s death. She was eventually joined by Emma’s younger sister Alice in 1908. Alice was a budding actress whose career had been interrupted by a marriage. Upon her arrival in Manitou, Alice sought comfort from her impending divorce from her husband, a man named Snow, by renting Redstone Castle on top of Iron Mountain. The remote mansion, located only a short distance from Emma’s grave, was just the ticket for getting one’s head together.

Or was it?

Redstone Castle was actually constructed in 1890 as a model home for the Manitou Terrace housing development. Built by brothers Robert and William A. Davis, the sons of developer Isaac Davis who first arrived in 1874, the castle was meant to draw real estate investors and residents to Manitou. The three-story exterior consisted of native red sandstone and included a beautiful turret with tiny gable windows in the top and two beautiful covered porches. Eighteen rooms with ten-foot ceilings and six-foot high windows allowed for a spacious and well lit interior. Nine tower windows provided breathtaking views of Manitou and Garden of the Gods. Woodcarver Sam Yarnell was commissioned to install the beautiful woodwork inside. It was a truly exquisite home.

Despite the grand prototype, however, no lots were ever sold at Manitou Terrace. Builder William Davis was probably the first occupant of the castle, but it was being leased out by the time Alice Crawford arrived. Despite her dead sister’s fame, nobody seems to have thought much about Alice and Redstone Castle. But when the eccentric divorcee began hosting seances, stories of eerie goings-on and ghosts at the castle became rampant. Some theorize that Alice’s acting abilities helped her stage her seances, which included mysterious sounds, odd lights and dancing furniture. One regular attendee was W.S. Cosby, one of the dozen men who had carried Emma Crawford’s casket to the top of Red Mountain. Cosby remembered “tables and chairs walking all over the place and all sorts of funny sounds coming from different places.” Alice’s mother also claimed to hear Emma playing the grand piano on numerous occasions, even though her daughter had never lived in the castle.

The wild tales about Alice Crawford and her dead sister did little to enhance the actress’ career. In 1910 the lonely lady tired of life and attempted suicide at the castle. It was a badly bungled attempt. Alice only succeeded in shooting herself in the knee and setting her bed on fire. The media jumped on the incident in typical dramatic fashion with a headline reading, “Woman in Flames and Shot in Bleak ‘House of Mystery.’” Not long afterwards Alice left Manitou forever, leaving behind a debt of nine months’ rent.

Incidentally, neither Alice or her mother appear in census records for 1900, nor 1910. Emma also fails to appear on record, although a 1969 newspaper article featured her photograph. The only clues to the Crawford ladies lie in a mysterious woman named Jennett Crawford, who appears in the 1900 census as a boarder with William and Emma Hooper. Curiously, the record neglects to give any information about her, including her age, birthplace or occupation. The first name of Mother Crawford remains unknown. There is no record of Alice’s divorce and where the women even came from is still a mystery.

In the wake of Alice’s departure, Emma’s grave once more gained notoriety when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad made a failed attempt to build an incline railroad to the summit of Red Mountain in 1912, complete with a casino. Emma’s burial spot was in its path, so her casket was exhumed and moved to the south slope of the mountain. Then in August of 1929, two boys found part of Emma’s skull exposed after a particularly rainy summer. Authorities gathered the remains and stored them at Manitou City Hall while trying in vain to find her mother or sister. In 1931, Emma was buried a third time—this time, in Manitou’s Crystal Valley Cemetery. The grave is unmarked and no trace of her sister or mother was ever found, adding to the mystery surrounding the Crawford girls and Redstone Castle.

In the years since, Redstone Castle has been the subject of ghost lore and high school dares while serving as a private residence and occasionally, a bed and breakfast. It is also amazingly well preserved, its various owners recognizing its beauty and significance. They say the ghost of Alice Crawford is still there, despite her unhappy experiences while living in the castle. As for Emma, she is remembered each Halloween when Manitou Springs hosts its annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races, a tradition since 1994.