Haunted Colorado: Ghost Towns & Haunted Places
From ghastly gardens to murderous railways, Colorado is completely, unequivocally, and unmistakably haunted.
The Brown Palace Hotel, which provides a ghost tour to private groups, and the Molly Brown House, where light bulbs loosen themselves and the entrance from the dining room to the kitchen opens and closes on its own, are two of Denver’s haunted hotspots. Cheesman Park, the graveyard-turned-public-park that inspired the film “Poltergeist,” is one of Denver’s most haunted locations.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, group and self-guided ghost tours are a fun way to learn about local history. Here’s how to have a good time while visiting some of Colorado’s must-see attractions.
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St. Denver, 720-865-3500
When the Larimers arrived in Denver in 1858, they built Prospect Hill, a cemetery on the land that now houses Cheesman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens. “The first interred bodies were a murderer and his victim,” Cole explains, adding that by 1890, the main cemetery was primarily used for cadavers from hospitals and the poor house. When Prospect Hill began to deteriorate, then-mayor Wolfe Londoner gave residents 90 days to relocate their loved ones.
Because only a few bodies were claimed, the city hired an undertaker named McGovern to clean up the scene. Rumor has it that McGovern and his employees were paid per coffin and carelessly divided remains in order to increase their bottom line. When the undertaker was fired, the site cleanup was put on hold indefinitely. A century later, in 2008, workers at the Denver Botanic Gardens were still uncovering graves while constructing a parking garage.
The Oxford Hotel
1600 17th St. Denver, 303-628-5400, theoxfordhotel.com
“The Oxford has a well-documented haunted history,” GM Andrew Hall says. The Cruise Room at The Oxford, modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary, opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, making it Denver’s first cocktail bar.
A modern-day bartender recalls a customer dressed as a historic postman. The postman mutters something about “getting the children their gifts” while drinking a beer before disappearing into the night. The bartender’s beer bottle is always completely full when he picks it up.
“A little research revealed the story of a 1930s postal worker,” Dunn begins. He was on his way to Central City to deliver Christmas gifts to children. When he didn’t show up, the villagers assumed he’d sold the gifts and pocketed the money. They discovered his frozen body in the spring, with all of his Christmas gifts still in his possession. Did he have one last drink in the Cruise Room before heading out that fateful night?
Look for the phantom postman in the Cruise Room while sipping a Cruise Room Cocktail, an original house recipe made with London dry gin, Byrrh Grand Quinquina, Campari, and Oloroso sherry. Another way to enjoy the autumn weather is with a “Cabernet Crush” spa treatment. This new 80-minute facial combines the hotel’s signature house cabernet with a rejuvenating facial mask and Sanitas Skincare products. Think of it like happy hour without the hangover.
The Molly Brown House
1340 Pennsylvania St. Denver, 303-832-4092, mollybrown.org
There have been numerous reports of apparitions visiting the 1894 home of Margaret “Molly” Brown, the Titanic-survivor prospector, activist, and philanthropist.
When Brown died in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, her Capital Hill home was sold to a succession of owners who changed its original architecture, an eclectic mix of classic Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque styles.
“The Molly Brown house was a home to many people before it was converted into a museum in the 1970s,” museum director Andrea Malcomb says. Former boarders may still roam the premises at night, and on November 9, from 7 to 9 p.m., museumgoers can hunt for ghosts by flashlight with tour guides while learning about reports of paranormal activity inside one of Denver’s iconic homes.
Brown may not be resurrected anytime soon, but some of America’s best Gothic writers are resurrected every year for “Victorian Horrors.” The event, which takes place on select nights in October, is an immersive theater experience that includes works by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and others. For a more low-key adventure, join a 45-minute group tour that departs from the Carriage House Visitor’s Center on a regular basis during business hours.
Denver Firefighters Museum
1326 Tremont Place, Denver, 303-892-1436, denverfirefightersmuseum.org
Station No. 1, which was built in 1909 and reopened as the Denver Firefighters Museum in 1980, is regarded as one of America’s most haunted fire stations. Strange occurrences have occurred throughout the station’s 118-year history, ranging from mysterious footsteps to ethereal voices.
You can bet Tom is to blame if you see papers flying out of printers or hear fire bells ringing for no apparent reason. Station No. 1 used horse-drawn apparatus when it first opened, and one of the building’s original stable boys enjoyed causing mischief at the firehouse.
Caleb, another young man, is buried beneath a supply closet in the Denver Firefighters Museum’s basement. Strange markings can be seen on the floor above his grave. “We’ve tried to fix the concrete floor over the years, but our efforts have always failed,” says Jamie Wilms, executive director of the museum.
Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can see the ghostly floor as well as the museum’s family-friendly interactive exhibits. The museum will be transformed into the headquarters of the famous ghost-busting quartet on October 18 during the “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts” party.
Guests can mingle while sipping themed libations after investigating strange happenings throughout the building. A paranormal team will be on-site closer to Halloween, leading visitors on a genuine ghost hunt.
The Horton House Bed & Breakfast
105 Canon St. Morrison, CO
The Horton House, one of Morrison’s original homesteads, is now permanently closed after a fire in 2015. “It was run by the Lewis and Abbo families,” says Joel Chirhart, owner of Colorado Haunted History, which provides year-round guided historical tours in Morrison and Golden.
According to legend, Tom Lewis’s daughter, Amy, married James Abbo while her father was dying.
Amy, 37, was on the verge of becoming a spinster. “It was her father’s dying wish that the two marry,” Chirhart explains. Amy suffered from depression, and when her honeymoon period came to an end, she committed suicide in the livery, which still stands behind the pink, Victorian-era Horton House.
“Amy has haunted the property ever since,” Chirhart says, adding, “all kinds of strange things have happened inside the home, from pictures falling off the walls to guests’ jewelry disappearing.” Amy’s legend is confirmed by the current owner, who recently listed the house for sale. The property has a view of downtown Morrison. After passing by this real-life haunted house, stop for lunch at one of the taverns on Bear Creek Avenue (Morrison’s main thoroughfare) before moving on to the next stop on our itinerary.
Red Rocks Park
18300 W. Alameda Pkwy. Morrison, 720-865-2494, redrocksonline.com
It’s always a good idea to pay a visit to Red Rocks Park, one of Colorado’s most iconic locations, which features a naturally occurring, open-air amphitheater made up of two 300-foot monoliths. The 738-acre park is a popular destination for runners and those looking for a strenuous stair-running workout.
If you’re coming from sea level, be careful not to over-exercise at high altitude — and don’t get caught alone at night wandering the park’s 1.5-mile Trading Post Trail, or you might run into the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks, one of many phantoms haunting the grounds.
The “Legend of the Hatchet Lady” has been retold several times. While Chirhart tells three versions of the story on his tours, they all revolve around a woman wielding a hatchet who attacks hikers walking alone. To avoid the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks and the midday sun, visit Red Rocks Park early in the morning. There is safety in numbers when it comes to this ghost. Another possibility is to attend a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Buffalo Rose Saloon
1119 Washington Ave. Golden, CO
Golden is an easy day trip from Denver and a great place to learn about Colorado’s mining culture. The Golden History Park, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset, houses many of the original buildings from the Pearce Ranch in Golden Gate Canyon. The town’s haunted history is also intriguing, and Chirhart always takes his clients to the Buffalo Rose Saloon, which is currently undergoing renovations.
Despite the boarded-up windows, one customer (Heartless Ed Franklin) refuses to leave. “In 1868, the saloon was the site of a shootout between Denver authorities and two men, Sanford Duggan and Ed Franklin,” Chirhart explains.
After robbing a few people, including a justice of the peace, Franklin and Duggan sought refuge at the Buffalo Rose Saloon a few miles west. When the cops arrived, bullets began to fly, and the proprietor’s brother was shot and killed inside the bar. The mobsters managed to flee, but Franklin was assassinated hours later in a hotel that is now the saloon’s dance hall. Before perusing the rest of the shops on Washington Avenue, stop for a cold brew at Windy Saddle Café or a farm-to-table meal at Abejas.
“With Golden being such an old town, there are many other stories,” Suzanne Restle says. Restle’s Ghost Tours & Pub Crawls depart from Old Capitol Grill & Smokehouse at 7:15 p.m. on most Fridays. For more information, call 303-216-0877.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum
479 Main Ave. Durango, CO, 877-872-4607, durangotrain.com
This 12,000-square-foot train museum, located on the outskirts of Durango’s charming downtown shopping district, houses full-size locomotives, antique cars and planes, and an ominous Immigrant Sleeper Car.
While the eerie railroad car is on display at the museum every day, the best time to learn about its chilling history is during a Ghost Crawl. The hour-long Ghost Crawls are led by museum curator Jeff Ellingson, who guides up to 20 guests on a walking tour through some of the train depot’s most haunted locations, including the railyard and warehouse. They are designed for the 18-and-up crowd and held on the full moon (2018 dates include September 22 and October 26).
Ghost Crawls always conclude at the museum, where Ellingson explains how the Immigrant Sleeper Car became so haunted.
In 1937, a 15-year-old prostitute named Kate was riding in the car with her lover, a local firefighter. When a drunken brakeman began mocking Kate, a fight broke out between the brakeman and the firefighter, and the latter was killed. Kate was so distraught that she committed suicide later that year. Her spirit, legend has it, returned to the Immigrant Sleeper Car. “Children see Kate in the car,” Ellingson says, adding, “We have some pretty amazing photographs of her, too, from cell phones.”
If you can’t make it to town for the Ghost Crawl, other notable events include the Durango Brew Train (September 1 and 29) and the Cowboy Poetry Train Ride (October 5). You can also take the train from Durango to Silverton and back every day.
1595 Pleasant St. #104, Boulder, CO, 303-492-8423, colorado.edu/macky
In addition to their core classes, freshmen at CU-Boulder typically receive a folklore lesson when they learn about the college’s haunted auditorium. “Yes,” says Ken McConnellogue, VP of Communications. “The building is said to be haunted.”
Students and faculty have reported hearing organ music emanating from Macky Auditorium in the early hours of the morning, when the concert hall should be empty. Some people hear singing – or screaming – while others see a woman’s shadow. Elaura Jaquette, a young co-ed who was tragically murdered in one of Macky’s towers in 1966, is most likely that woman.
Whether you believe the myths or not, it’s difficult to deny that Macky Auditorium is one of Colorado’s premier concert venues. The Wind Symphony will perform on September 20 and November 15, and the CU Symphony Orchestra will perform on September 27 and November 29; world-renowned acoustic guitarist Tommy Emmanuel will perform at the Macky on November 30.
Make time to explore the rest of CU-campus Boulder’s if you come. Across from Macky Auditorium is the college’s first building, Old Main, which was built in 1876 and now houses the CU Heritage Center. The Museum of Natural History at CU-Boulder is another worthwhile stop. There’s plenty of leaf-peeping to be done on this picturesque campus in the fall.
The Stanley Hotel
333 Wonderview Ave. Estes Park, CO, 970-577-4000, stanleyhotel.com
It’s no surprise that The Stanley Hotel is a beacon for the ghastly and grim. It’s perched on a hill high above the town of Estes Park, nestled in the mountains. If you’re a fan of horror films, you’ll recognize this opulent estate as the hotel in Steven King’s mini-series The Shining. (It was also the location that inspired King to write the book that inspired the film and television show.)
The Stanley, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is so haunted that psychics are frequently overwhelmed by the large number of spirits. A 75-minute “Historic Stanley” walking tour is the best way to learn about these hauntings – and the hotel’s unique history.
Following a discussion of the property’s legendary owner (F.O. Stanley), tour guides take guests through secret hallways that aren’t open to the public, recapping supernatural activities and telling some amusing anecdotes about King’s stay at The Stanley.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, take a “Night Spirit Tour,” which includes a 90-minute theatrical séance in addition to your close encounter. “Illusions of the Past,” by Aiden Sinclair, is an impressive performance that introduces audiences to the strange world of Victorian séances. Explore the town of Estes Park and go for a hike in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park after visiting The Stanley.