Tag Archives: Cripple Creek ghost stories

Cripple Creek, Colorado : A ghost seeker’s paradise

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

From the haunted rooms of historic structures to the wanton spirits of the mountains, Colorado has always been alive with ghosts of the dead. They roam the places of their former lives, invisible to most. Some seem to no longer know why they are in that half-world, wandering aimlessly and hopelessly forgotten. Others, in their quest to be remembered and finish tasks they left behind, make their presence known to a selected few of the living. Or do just a selected few choose to see what many will deny is there?

It is true, every camp, fort, village, boomtown and city in this state has its own ghastly group of tragic and sometimes frightening apparitions. The historic Cripple Creek District of Colorado in particular seems to have its own ethereal share of manifestations and specters. Random inquiries during a stroll down Bennett or Victor Avenues inevitably unearth a plethora of twisted tales, both old and new. Most natives of the district, as well as the newcomers of the last 30 years or so, can be enticed to tell of some experience they’ve had, or some experience someone else had, or even some experience they simply know of.

Some of Cripple Creek’s ghost lore can be attributed to nothing more than a promotional gag, told again and again until most believe such rot. Other of the tales, however, have an eerie ring of truth, accompanied by a chill down one’s spine. Hundreds of ghost sightings have surfaced over time, with new ones popping up regularly. The district fairly seethes with its overpopulation of the undead. This makes a most curious aspect of the ghosts and goblins in the Cripple Creek District. Why are there so many?

The answer may lie in Cripple Creek’s colorful and incredibly fascinating past. For some 130 years, people have come here seeking wealth and success that was guaranteed by promoters, developers, idealists and even friends and family. Especially in the old days, fantasy often turned to an ugly reality by way of bad mining claims, bad decisions and bad habits. Within the high rolling hills of the district, dreams were won and lost in a day. The violent and cruel hands of death visited often, and many a heart shattered beyond all repair from a variety of ailments.

It is no wonder then, that the Cripple Creek District seems rife with spirits. When the mining boom began its decline, folks who had clung so hopefully to their dreams here finally dispersed. But they didn’t do it in droves like in many other boomtowns. Rather, abandonment of the Cripple Creek District was slow and gradual, spanning over a period of ten years. As families scattered to the winds, they left behind mere shells of their former lives here.

For many decades, the numerous ghost towns in the district remained as silent sentinels. The empty buildings seemed so badly to want someone to come in and use the goods and furniture left there. But only the ghosts remained, wandering the empty rooms and treading the quiet streets, determined that the occasional visitor or remaining resident might take notice of their frustrating plight. Homes were said to be haunted, and some found themselves crossing the street to avoid walking by certain abandoned buildings.

Even those residing in business buildings were not safe from the occasional unearthly visit by a former occupant. The handful of year-round citizens came to know of certain places inhabited by spirits. During Cripple Creek’s tourist resort years beginning in the late 1940s, ghost stories became as well known as stories stating historical fact. The folklore merely added to Cripple Creek’s charm, and everyone, including several specters, seemed agreeable to this chapter in the city’s wonderful history.

Then came legalized gaming in 1991. Almost over night, Cripple Creek and the district around it was crawling with real live humans. They were excited with anticipation of what this new enterprise might bring. Old buildings were entered for the first time in decades. Their innards were removed as new carpet was laid and fresh paint stained the walls. One of Cripple Creek’s former favorite past times, gambling and drinking, was revived with vigor. Surely some spirits rejoiced as folks resumed doing what they themselves had done a century before.

This time, however, the gambling houses and sampling rooms were quite different in atmosphere. Accompanying the Victorian bar setups, glass chandeliers and flowing staircases were machines, wonderful colorful slot machines operating on electricity and making enough noise to indeed wake those of the dead who were still sleeping. The electric energy which burst into life on Bennett Avenue was enough to send Cripple Creek’s spirits into a frenzy. At last, someone was waking up the past and remembering those who had been forgotten.

Before long, casino workers were reporting unexplained incidents left and right. Tip jars were moving, sometimes dashing right to the floor in a terrific bloom of glass and money. Voices, footsteps, squeaks and grunts were being heard. Fleeting glimpses of unknown creatures were constantly caught from the corner of one’s eye. There were cold drafts in hallways and unseen physical forces on stairwells. Perfume wafted up in empty rooms, and music was heard when there was none playing. One casino even caught an incorporeal visitor on a security camera, sitting at a slot machine in the wee hours of the dawn!

Now, some 30 years after gaming has come to Cripple Creek, the city is slowly changing. The ghost town look of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is evolving back into an appearance more like the city had a century ago. Notable is that some historic structures have fallen in the wake of this progress, with newer buildings taking their place. But one thing is sure: Cripple Creek will not disperse its ghostly residents. They’ve already been rattling about for over a century, and the clanging and banging of a newly awakened town can only strive to bring them out even more. The spooks and spirits are here to stay, and they will remain long after we are gone. It is only when we pass to that other mysterious world ourselves that we might get a taste of what it’s like to be a ghost in Cripple Creek.

Image: Look closely at this photo of modern day Cripple Creek, and you might just see some ghostly folks from the past. Image enhancement by Jan MacKell.

Ghost Stories from Victor, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

A reckless day once passed through the streets of Victor, once a booming mining town high on the backside of Pikes Peak. It was a time before flu and polio vaccinations, a time when the chilling fingers of winter easily wrapped themselves around one’s neck. It was a time when teams of horses trod down the streets careless of pedestrians. When miners in deep shafts sometimes forgot to holler before a blast of dynamite went off. Dangers lurked menacingly around every corner, exercising no prejudice for those who fell victim.

When Victor settled into silent submission for a number of decades in the early 1900’s, the past was somewhat forgotten as folks died or moved away. Among those who stayed, a condescending smile surely passed over their faces as newcomers arrived as the tourism era began some years ago. Visitors drank in the town’s ethereal charm and yearned to hear stories of what they had missed. For while the physical population of Victor had dwindled, more than one spirit arose to meet new generations. Many bewailed a tragic or bewildering past while others simply drifted about, here one moment and gone the next. A handful of new stories soon mixed with the old, weaving an unseen pattern into the fascinating fabric that is now Victor.

It is hard to say which story of Victor’s afterlife is most fascinating. Hardly a building in Victor, it seems, is without its share of eerie noises, fleeting shadows and apparitions. Most of Victor’s prominent buildings—the former high school, the Gold Coin Club, the Victor Hotel and a healthy handful of downtown business blocks—claim some spirit or another. As almost any resident, regular visitor or others who carry on a love affair with this charming town will tell you, ghost stories are many in Victor. Some have been passed down for generations, but the restless spirits wafting through the buildings and down the streets seem to have increased in time with the growing population over the last several years.

Some of the tales are no more than passing folklore, such as that of the petrified remains of a cat which were once found at the District Museum in nearby Cripple Creek and somehow found their way to the Victor Lowell-Thomas Museum. One time curator Mike Moore always claimed the cat became “unhappy” when Cripple Creek legalized gambling over twenty years ago, and somehow spirited its boney little body over to Victor. Thankfully, the mummified beast no longer appears in the upper story windows of either museum.

Other stories bear more explanation, including the likeness of a man who occasionally appears in an upstairs window of the Miner’s Union Hall. Most tragically, that building burned this last summer but the front facade remains intact as preservationists scramble to save what is left. No reports have surfaced, however, as to whether the man still appears.

Stories of the ghost of Eddie McDermott at the Victor Hotel are much more solid. For years the hotel was the finest in Victor and once sported a bar where the said Eddie liked to drink. As the mines around Victor slowed, the hotel became a semi-permanent home for miners like Eddie, who inhabited Room 301. When the historic hotel was first restored to its former glory in 1993, an increasing number of guests began complaining of a man who was hanging around Room 301. Former manager Bill Kemp once recalled a geology professor who said he was repeatedly awakened by the vision of an elderly man wrapping on the radiator. Around the same time, a woman reported seeing the same man fiddling with the knobs in the elevator. Both guests described their visitor as an older gent wearing a flannel shirt, old jeans and a baseball cap.

Yes, Victor’s main drag fairly brims with an unseen population. Renowned artist Charlie Frizzell once rented a room above the Monarch building, touted as the “finest gentleman’s club west of the Mississippi” when it was built in 1899. Frizzell said he felt some sort of “pressure” in the stairwell, which only subsided after the walls received a new coat of paint. A friend of Frizzell also claimed to have seen the apparition of a woman at his studio apartment. Other lodgers in the time since have reported people walking through empty rooms, the heels of their shoes making a distinct tapping on the floors as they pass by. June Bradley, who owned an exquisite art gallery on the Monarch’s bottom floor for many decades, once said that although she didn’t believe in ghosts, she did occasionally arrive at her shop to find paintings hanging at odd angles or rearranged on the walls.

Likewise the Fortune Club, also once a gambling resort and now a wonderfully nostalgic restaurant, is home to apparitions thought to be former working girls from the upstairs rooms. Two doors up the street is the Headframe Tavern which has served as a bar ever since the building was constructed. The tales in that place run amock, from bottles mysteriously lifting off the shelves and dashing to the floor to a small shadow which enjoys whipping through the place and startling bartenders.

One of Victor’s longtime tales centers on T. F. Dunn’s funeral parlor. Apartments now fill the eleven rooms upstairs, where Mrs. Dunn rented rooms long after her husband’s death. With Mrs. Dunn’s passing, residents of the building began hearing footsteps upstairs. The feeling of being watched is prevalent. Others claim to have seen a woman in black, and one man reported the apparition laughed at him. Still others say they have heard a baby crying. But Mrs. Dunn appears to be a friendly sort, if a bit mischievous. She favors stealing small items from residents and has even been known to tidy up a bit.

Outside of town is Sunnyside Cemetery, home to several more delightfully scary tales. Among them is the rumor that strange lights can occasionally be seen dancing on various tombstones at night. And while Victor remains relatively quiet both day and night, even the silence can prove a little eerie. For in the dead of night, on the random occasion, residents have reported hearing a train. The sound of the engine starts from far away, perhaps following the path of the tracks which once came into town. The noise appears to edge closer to downtown, growing slightly louder before chugging off again into the night. The passengers disembarking are surely members of Victor’s unseen population, destined to spend eternity riding a ghost train to nowhere.

The Miners Union Hall in Victor is pictured here during the tumultuous labor wars of 1903. Most unfortunately the building was severely damaged during a recent fire, leading one to wonder whether the ghostly apparition of a man still appears in an upstairs window.

The Miner’s Union Hall in Victor is pictured here during the tumultuous labor wars of 1903. Most unfortunately the building was severely damaged during a recent fire, leading one to wonder whether the ghostly apparition of a man still appears in an upstairs window.