Category Archives: ghost stories

Ghost Stories of the Wild West

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this story originally appeared in Grunge Magazine.

Why do histories from the Wild West include so many haunting tales of ghosts? For one thing, the average life expectancy between 1865 to 1895 was between 35 and 46 years old. In rough and tumble towns like Dodge City, Kansas citizens faced a one in 61 chance of being murdered between 1876 and 1885. What with the absence of penicillin, aspirin and the plethora of meds on the market today, it’s no wonder that death came easily in the 1800s. Old West Daily Reader cites the three biggest killers as diarrhea, pneumonia and tuberculosis. On the other end of the spectrum were the gamblers, gunfighters and other miscreants who could easily die from lead poisoning (read: death by bullets). Calaveras County, California for instance, listed the top three causes of death as “dysentery, shot and stabbed” in 1850.

So with all these sudden, untimely deaths going on, is it any wonder that some folks’ spirits linger on today? Even Science defines a ghost as “a person’s spirit that continues to exist in some form after the physical body has died.” If that person dies with some sort of unfinished business in their life, or is murdered, or dies so suddenly they don’t even know they are dead, their ghost could hang around until it is somehow set free. That is where oodles and oodles of intriguing ghost stories are born. Here are some of the most intriguing ghost stories from years past.

Sarah Winchester’s “Mystery House” – In 1862, Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Wirt Winchester, who would become heir to the famous rifle that won the west. The couple bore only one child, Annie Pardee Winchester, who lived just over a month before dying. William died too, in 1881, from tuberculosis—just three months after inheriting his father’s fortune. The grieving Sarah relocated to San Jose, California in 1885, and purchased a farmhouse she lovingly called Llanada Villa. Beginning in 1890, Sarah began building onto the house, which eventually grew into a towering seven-story structure spanning 24,000 square feet.

Here’s the thing: superstitious Sarah built onto her house, higgledy-piggledy style, on the advice of a psychic. The medium said the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle needed a home in order to protect Sarah. She would live forever as long as she kept building onto the house. Workers toiled 24/7 to construct a mishmash of secret passages, staircases leading nowhere, trap doors and other wild additions. Work ceased when Sarah did die, in 1922, but staff and visitors have seen the ghostly image of a carpenter named Clyde, and regularly hear footsteps and voices. It’s no wonder the Winchester Mystery House is called “one of the most haunted places in America.”

Seth Bullock, the ghostly hotel keeper of Deadwood, South Dakota – In many ways, Canadian-born Seth Bullock was a typical frontiersman. He was a member of the Montana legislature, married with three children, and successful at his hardware and supply business. In 1876 Bullock moved to Deadwood, where he was made sheriff and served in the Spanish American War. But his favorite career of many was being proprietor of the Bullock Hotel, a commanding, luxurious, three-story building which opened for business in 1896. Deadwood’s first “real” hotel featured fine furnishings throughout, a bathroom, library and parlor on each floor, sixty-three rooms to rent and a large restaurant.

Bullock died in 1919, but he couldn’t resist staying on at the hotel. Dozens of visitors have seen the man’s ghost “with it’s steely stare” walking around the upstairs hallways. Ethereal figures have occasionally tapped guests on the shoulder. Whistling and footsteps are often heard, and guests have reported hearing their own name called when nobody is there. Sometimes, apparitions even appear in various mirrors as lights and appliances are turned on and off by an unseen hand. And, a cowboy hangs out in what is known as “Seth’s Cellar” in the basement. The Bullock remains a hotspot hotel even today, complete with a nice bar where you can have a cocktail—if you can keep your glass from moving around by itself.

Tom Horn, the assassin who still hangs around – In 1903, 14-year-old Willie Nickell was riding his father’s horse, and wearing his coat, when he was ambushed and killed during one of Wyoming’s infamous land wars. His killer was Tom Horn, a hired gun with a dead aim who said he mistook the boy for his father. Although he confessed to the killing while drunk, Horn was sentenced to hang for his crime. And hang he did, but Tom Horn’s ghost remained behind early on. History’s How Stuff Works cites the “frontier mothers” of yesteryear who got their unruly children to behave by telling them, “Tom Horn will get you.”

Even today, ol’ Tom still gets around: Horn is said to haunt both the Wyoming Home and the Wrangler Building in Cheyenne, both places where the murderer allegedly spent time. Visitors to Horn’s grave in Colorado claim to have seen a “cowboy ghost” hanging from some nearby trees. Even Joe Nickell, Willie’s distant cousin, supports evidence that the ghost of Tom Horn exists based on the work of clairvoyants, but also early newspapers who reported on “ghostly sounds” and other paranormal activity shortly after Horn died. At least Nickell got the last laugh on behalf of cousin Willie. At Horn’s gravesite, he managed to hop around on the mound despite a broken leg during a visit sometime back. “We all agreed I had ‘danced on Tom Horn’s grave,'” he said.

The Ghost of Jesse James – The story of Jesse James being killed by Bob Ford in 1882 is well-known to history buffs: James was dusting some pictures on the wall in his own living room. Ford shot him in the back of the head. That was the end of the famous outlaw—or was it? Soon after James was laid to rest, the locals started seeing what they claimed was his ghost, wandering around the family homestead in Kearney, Missouri. Even today, unseen voices and weird photographs captured at the farm are attributed to the spirit of Jesse James.

And there is more. Several ghost-hunters claim that staff working for the Jesse James Museum at the homestead have heard the sounds of “restless horses.” Also, mysterious lights have been seen inside the house at night, turning on and off by themselves. Is Jesse’s ethereal presence limited to the family farm? Those who know of another house James’s uncle once owned outside of Paso Robles in California say that “phantom horsemen” have been spotted galloping along in the moonlight who are perhaps Jesse and his brother Frank. The sightings are backed by a claim that the boys spent time at their uncle’s property.

The Congress Hotel in Tuscon, Arizona – One ghost at the historic Congress Hotel in Tucson, Arizona is only known as a young woman who shot herself to death in room 242. Other spirits haunt the hotel as well. According to co-owner Shana Oseran, they enjoy walking the halls and lobby wearing their “old-fashioned attire” and tend to do “the same things over and over again.” The ethereal visitors appear to be guests, but also people who have worked at the hotel since it was built in 1919.

Even so, room 242 remains at the top of the intrigue list. Nicknamed the “Suicide Room,” the story goes that at least one visitor, Aric Allen, was there the night the lady killed herself. And, some film footage actually shows a ghostly light leaping off the bed. One urban legend identifies her as a barmaid who had just broken up with some important official, and says she died in a hail of 29 bullets during a standoff which “was called a suicide.” The bullet holes allegedly remain in the closet, but the girl’s name, and official news stories about her death, remain unknown.

Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado – On Thanksgiving Day in 1892, a young, rather melancholy woman calling herself Kate Morgan checked into the five-star Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Five days later, Kate decided she would never check out, and shot herself to death. Even the police were puzzled as to her real identity, for several items in the girl’s possession included the names of other women. Kate’s body lay at the morgue for several days before she was officially identified. In the end, it was ascertained that Kate was the unhappy wife of an Iowa gambler who, for reasons of her own, decided to end her life.

One story about Kate states she told the hotel housekeeper she had stomach cancer. After her death she was buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery under the names “Kate Morgan” but also “Lottie A. Bernard.” The problem was, however, that Kate’s unhappy spirit stayed on at the hotel. Guests in her room on the third floor have reported that lights and the television flicker on and off. Items move on their own at random, chilly breezes blow through the room, and there are sounds of voices and footsteps. Some guests even see “shadowy phantoms”, while downstairs in the gift shop items also move around.

The amorous ghost of J. Dawson Hidgepath – In the wild town of Buckskin Joe, Colorado, finding a lady to court among hundreds of  miners wasn’t easy for J. Dawson Hidgepath. The lovelorn miner doggedly pursued about every woman in town without success. And when he fell off a cliff in 1865 while picking flowers for his newest crush, the ladies of Buckskin perhaps breathed a sigh of relief. But Hidgepath remained romantic, even in death. Shortly after he was buried in Buckskin’s cemetery, his bones began showing up in the most unusual places, namely at the homes of the ladies he loved.

Indeed, the boney would-be boyfriend first showed up on the porch of a woman who had spurred Hidgepath’s advances in life. The poor thing fainted. No woman was safe; from the bed of a young dance hall girl to an old woman who mistook the skeleton for soup bones, Hidgepath made his ethereal self known all over town. Each time the bones appeared, they were reburied, only to show up again. At last, the wise men of the town found a solution. Surely not even a skeleton would court a woman smelling like an outhouse, and that is where the bones eventually wound up. The ploy seemed to work, until years later when an unsuspecting woman was using the outhouse. As she hovered in the partial darkness, she heard Hidgepath’s signature greeting, whispered in his most tender Mississippi monotone: “Will you be my own?”

Ghost lights of the graveyards – Western ghost stories are not complete without the dozens of cemeteries at which various colored lights can be seen bouncing around from gravestone to gravestone at night. In an article by New Scientist, with the tongue-in-cheek title “Graveyard ghosts are a gas,” it is explained that two gasses, phosphane and diphosphane, are emitted from the intestines and can ignite when they meet air. Eeeeeew. And baloney, if you believe in mysterious cemetery lights. Because for well over a century, the phenomenon has kept ghost hunters everywhere intrigued. Take Elizabeth Polly of Kansas, for instance. A victim of cholera circa 1867, Elizabeth is better known as the “Blue Light Lady” who floats around in her blue burial address atop a hill.

There are more: Westcliffe, Colorado’s historic graveyard has long been known for its intriguing lights, which vary in color, size and speed as they flit among the tombstones. The later the evening, bigger and more numerous they get. At the cemetery in Anson, Texas, a single white beam light will travel towards your car if you turn off the engine and flash your lights three times. Lights don’t always come from graveyards. The luxurious Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, Oregon features “Granny” Annabelle, who also favors floating around in a luminous blue gown, hovers around the grand staircase, plays with the guests’ jewelry and nibbles from the mini bar in their rooms, and pinches the derriere of anyone daring to sit in her favorite chair.

Tombstone’s timeless spirits – If all of the ghosts in Tombstone, Arizona were to stand up at once, there would be one heck of a population problem. It is known that a stroll down Allen Street at night just might reveal the ghost of  Virgil Earp who was seriously wounded following the famed shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, in 1881, or Billy Claiborne who was killed by Buckskin Frank Leslie in 1882, or even the ghost of a lady in her white nightie as she floats across the street. Inside haunts include the infamous Bird Cage Theater, where ghostly prostitutes and their men are often spotted wandering around.

Indeed, the Bird Cage (which is now a wonderful museum) is said to be home to upwards of twenty-six ghosts, and its reckless past is evidenced by around 140 bullet holes in the walls. Ghost tours are available daily, but a nightly tour sounds even better for the less faint of heart. Between the nightly events and Tombstone’s numerous drinking holes, doing an overnight stay at the Burford House bed and breakfast might introduce you to a “jilted groom ghost” named George Daves, who in life objected to seeing his girl with another man. Daves shot the woman to death before taking his own life. Ladies beware: George not only wanders the halls and appears in the mirrors, but also favors smacking the fannies of female guests and, sometimes, yanking their covers down in the night.

Ghosts of the Sand Creek Massacre – In the early morning hours of November 29, 1864 Colonel John Chivington of the U.S. Army and his soldiers viciously slaughtered a group of Cheyenne and Arapaho Natives as they slept in their village near Sand Creek in Colorado. The victims were mostly women and children, 163 in all, whose bodies were then mutilated before Chivington and his men were honored with a parade in Denver. But the callous colonel was later believed to have “fabricated a reason for the attack.” The grounds were made a national historic site in 2007, but in the years before and after, visitors to the massacre site have seen and heard some mighty interesting things.

Writer Russell Contreras once recalled his wife’s grandmother telling him “I shouldn’t visit unless I’m ready to meet ghosts.” Others have echoed her sentiments that in the silence of the remote massacre site, the voices of those killed will whisper on the wind. Others who have camped near the site have claimed to have seen the spirits of wandering in the area, and sometimes screaming has been heard. Visitors please note: the Sand Creek Massacre site is sacred, so please show your respect when visiting. Camping at the site is forbidden. Visitors should check in with the National Park Service for information. And if you pack it in, be sure to pack it out.

Nevada’s haunted Yellow Jacket Mine – In 1859, the Yellow Jacket claim in Storey County, Nevada was just one of many mines popping up during the gold rush era. Early on, the mine was fraught with disputes over the claim, but by 1863 everything was settled as a new shaft was dug. A mere six years later, however, the Yellow Jacket suffered one of the worst mining accidents in Nevada history. At the 800-foot level below ground a fire started, trapping some miners as the timbers collapsed and toxic gasses filled the shaft. Over 35 bodies were eventually retrieved, but others of the dead were left underground as the fire remained burning for quite some time.

As early as 1888, The Two Worlds reported that the mine was so haunted that even investors occasionally pulled out or sold their shares. One of the many mine employees who was scared half to death on the job was W.P. Bennett, who was working alone when he heard “heavy footsteps coming tramping over the planks directly toward him.” The startled man called out “Who’s there?” The answer came in two shovels Bennett held, which were suddenly yanked from his hands and thrown about twelve feet. Stories like Bennett’s reverberated over the years. Visitors today can still hear the cries of the dying men, and a cabin below the mine can be rented from the Gold Hill Hotel.

Violence at the St. James Hotel in New Mexico – In 1872 a French chef, Henri Lambert built the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico, right along the Santa Fe Trail. Anybody who was anybody stayed there, including such notables as Annie Oakley, Black Jack Ketchum, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and author Zane Grey. As one might guess, there were numerous violent incidents over time—like the murder of T.J. Wright, who was shot in the back on the way to his room after winning big in a poker game. Even Lambert’s own son, Johnnie, died after some unknown accident at the hotel. As a result, the St. James has its own special set of specters who never quite got around to checking out.

Aside from the usual cold spots, electrical energy and items moving around, several psychics over time have identified various spirits at the hotel. They include Wright, little Johnnie, the ghosts of two other children, a “gnome-like man,” and even a “pleasant-looking cowboy.” Most prominent is Lambert’s wife Mary, who died in 1926 in room 17. Mary’s presence is indicated by tapping on the window when it is open, the smell of flowers, touching guests as they sleep, and in one case, a “hideous scream.” Sweet dreams.

Busting Through Snowdrifts: the Ghost Train of Marshall Pass, Colorado

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

At 10,846’ in elevation, Marshall Pass remains among one of Colorado’s most precarious roads. The pass, located in the Sawatch Range between Salida and Gunnison, was discovered by Lieutenant William Marshall in 1873 as he was making a mad dash in search of a Denver dentist for a bad toothache. But Marshall’s painful trip was nothing compared to the wild ride experienced by Denver & Rio Grande Railroad engineer Nelson Edwards, and engine fireman Charles Whitehead.

The D & RG was built over Marshall Pass during 1880-1881. Shortly after the rails reached Gunnison, however, stories began circulating of a “ghost train” on the pass, the sight of which had caused other engineers to quit out of fright. Nelson and Whitehead had paid no heed to the tales, making several trips over the pass over a two month period without incident. One evening, however, Nelson guided a passenger train towards the pass with a feeling of foreboding. Perhaps it was because of a weakened bridge and a defective rail, both of which lay ahead on this snowy night. Others would later say that Nelson’s heightened sense of danger was due to the hair-raising specter he was about to see.

The train had just passed through a snowshed when the men heard the warning whistle of another train. The signals continued as the unseen train came nearer, and when Nelson heard the conductor’s signal to stop, he brought his train to a stand-still. Next, the conductor appeared, demanding to know why Nelson stopped. “What did you pull the bell cord for?” the engineer responded. “You’re crazy,” the conductor answered, “now pull her wide open, there’s a wild train a-climbing up on us!”

Edwards opened the throttle as the wheels struggled for a purchase on the rails and Whitehead shoveled coal madly into the fire. Over the next several minutes, the men listened in terror as warning blasts came from the approaching runaway. The D & RG cars were now rocking precariously, awakening panicked passengers and breaking through icy snowdrifts as they sped down the tracks. As the runaway came into view, Edwards was horrified to see a “white figure” atop one of the cars, waving wildly. A short distance later, the engineer vainly veered onto a side track as the runaway train came up on his side. Glancing over, Edwards saw “two extremely white figures in the cab. The specter engineer turned a face to him like dough and laughed.”

Alas, Edwards was going so fast that the runaway could not pass. As he guided the train back in front, the “ghostly fireman” in the other engine maniacally sounded the whistle. Now, the D & RG train was approaching the damaged bridge, but miraculously sailed right over it. A minute later, Edwards sighted a dozen or so section workers, toiling over the broken rail ahead. There was no time to slow down; when the man applied the brakes, he felt the wheels stopping even as the train continued gliding along the icy rails. The train ran right through the workers, whose forms parted like wisps of powdery snow. Edwards looked back just in time to see the runaway hit the broken rail, jump the track, and plunge over the embankment.

When their hearts ceased pounding, Edwards and Whitehead puzzled over what they were sure was the phantom train so many had spoken of before. The men’s hearts thudded again, however, when they spotted a cryptic and badly-spelled note etched in the frost of the fireman’s window: “Yeers ago a frate train was recked as yu saw—now that yu saw it, we will never make another run. The enjine was not ounder control and four sexshun men wore killed. If you ever ran on this road again yu will be wrecked.”

To date, no documentation supports the death of four section workers on Marshall Pass, although a wreck in November of 1888 did kill two men on the train, including the fireman. As for Nelson Edwards, the engineer quit his job the minute the train reached Green River, Utah, and went to work for the safer, and ghost-free, Union Pacific Railroad out of Denver.

Pictured: A Denver & Rio Grande Train on Marshall Pass, as captured by William Henry Jackson.

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.