The air is crisp, and jack-o-lanterns are aglow — but in Colorado, things go bump in the night all year long!
By Jamie Siebrase
From ghastly gardens to murderous railways, the state of Colorado is totally, definitely, 100-percent haunted. Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, group and self-guided ghost tours are a festive way to brush up on local history. Here’s how to get spooked while exploring a few of Colorado’s must-see attractions.
Denver Botanic Gardens
What’s in the soil at Denver Botanic Gardens? Bodies! “Our gardens have a connection back to the first deaths in Denver,” explains Matthew Cole, director of education at Denver Botanic Gardens.
After arriving in Denver in 1858, the Larimers constructed a cemetery, Prospect Hill, on the land currently housing Cheesman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens. “The first interred bodies were a murderer and his victim,” Cole says, noting that by 1890 the main cemetery was used primarily for cadavers from hospitals and the poor house. When Prospect Hill fell into a state of disrepair, then-mayor Wolfe Londoner gave citizens 90 days to remove their loved ones.
Few corpses were claimed, so the city hired an undertaker named McGovern to clean up the site. Paid per coffin, rumor has it McGovern and his workers carelessly divided remains to increase their bottom line. When the undertaker was fired, site cleanup stalled indefinitely. A century later, in 2008, Denver Botanic Gardens workers were still finding graves during the construction of a parking garage.
You can hear the whole story during a two-hour “Ghosts in the Gardens” tour, offered select nights in October. “As a scientific institution, we don’t endorse ghost stories, but we do love storytelling,” says Cole. Other seasonal events include Glow at the Gardens, a luminous celebration of America’s favorite gourd, and the Día de los Muertos festival. The organization’s annual holiday lights display, Blossoms of Light, begins November 23.
Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York St. (Denver)
The Oxford Hotel
“The Oxford has a well-documented haunted history,” says General Manager Andrew Hall. Modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary, the Cruise Room at The Oxford opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, making it Denver’s original cocktail bar.
Modern-day bartenders tell of a customer dressed up as a historic postman. While drinking a beer, the postman mutters something about “getting the children their gifts,” before vanishing into the night. When the bartender picks up his beer bottle, it’s always completely full.
“A little research revealed the story of a postal worker from the 1930s,” Dunn begins. He was on his way to deliver Christmas presents to children in Central City. When he didn’t show up, the townsfolk assumed he’d sold the gifts, and pocketed the cash. In the spring, though, they found his frozen body, all the Christmas gifts still in his possession. Did he stop in the Cruise Room for one last drink before venturing out that fateful night?
If you’re feeling gutsy – or just plain thirsty – 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. A “Cabernet Crush” spa treatment is another way to embrace the autumn weather. This new 80-minute facial uses the hotel’s signature house cabernet to concoct a rejuvenating facial mask that’s applied alongside Sanitas Skincare products. You can think of it as happy hour without the hangover.
The Oxford Hotel
1600 17th St. (Denver)
The Molly Brown House
There are plenty of rumors floating around about apparitions visiting the 1894 home of Margaret “Molly” Brown, the unsinkable prospector, activist, and philanthropist who survived the Titanic.
When Brown died in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, her Capital Hill home was sold to a series of owners who altered its original architecture, an eclectic combination of classic Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque styles.
Before it was converted into a museum in the 1970s, “The Molly Brown house was a home to many people,” says museum director Andrea Malcomb. It’s quite possible that former boarders 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 hearing about reports of paranormal activity inside one of Denver’s quintessential homes.
Brown might not be rising from the grave anytime soon, but some of America’s best Gothic writers are resurrected annually for “Victorian Horrors.” Offered select nights in October, the event is an immersive theater experience featuring works from Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and more. For a more benign adventure, jump on a 45-minute group tour, departing from the Carriage House Visitor’s Center regularly during business hours.
Molly Brown House Museum
1340 Pennsylvania St. (Denver)
Denver Firefighters Museum
Built in 1909, Station No. 1, which reopened as the Denver Firefighters Museum in 1980, is considered one of America’s most-haunted fire stations. From mysterious footsteps to ethereal voices, there have been plenty of strange occurrences throughout the station’s 118-year history.
If you see papers flying out of printers, or hear fire bells ringing for no reason, you can bet Tom is to blame. When it opened, Station No. 1 used horse-drawn apparatus, and one of the building’s original stable boys loved causing mischief at the firehouse.
Another young man, Caleb, is buried underneath a supply closet in the basement of the Denver Firefighters Museum. Strange markings are visible on the floor above his gravesite. “We’ve tried fixing the concrete floor over the years, but our efforts always fail,” says the museum’s executive director, Jamie Wilms.
View the ghostly floor, along with the museum’s family-friendly interactive exhibits, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On October 18, during the “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts” party, the museum will be transformed into the headquarters of the famous ghost-busting quartet.
After investigating weird happenings throughout the building, guests can mingle while sipping themed libations. Closer to Halloween, a paranormal team will be onsite, leading visitors in a bona fide ghost hunt.
Denver Firefighters Museum
1326 Tremont Place (Denver)
The Horton House Bed & Breakfast
Permanently closed after a fire blazed through it in 2015, the Horton House is one of Morrison’s original homesteads. “It was operated by the Lewis and Abbo families,” explains Joel Chirhart, owner of Colorado Haunted History, offering year-round guided historical tours in the towns of Morrison and Golden.
The story goes that Tom Lewis’s daughter, Amy, married James Abbo while Tom was on his deathbed.
At 37 years old, Amy was on the verge of becoming a spinster. “It was her dad’s dying wish that the two would be wed,” Chirhart explains. Amy suffered from depression, and when the honeymoon period ended, she hung herself in the livery, which still stands behind the pink, Victorian-era Horton House.
“Amy has haunted the property ever since,” says Chirhart, adding, “All kinds of strange things have happened inside the home, from pictures falling off the walls, to guests having their jewelry disappear.” The current owner, who recently put the house up for sale, confirms the legend of Amy. The property backs up to downtown Morrison. After driving by this real-life haunted house, have lunch at one of the taverns on Bear Creek Avenue (Morrison’s prominent main street) before checking out the next spot on our list.
105 Canon St. (Morrison)
Red Rocks Park
It’s always a great idea to visit Red Rocks Park, one of Colorado’s most iconic sites, with a naturally occurring, open-air amphitheater consisting of two, 300-foot monoliths. The 738-acre park is a popular stop for runners, or anyone looking for a grueling stair-running workout.
If you’re coming from sea level, be careful not to over-exercise at high altitude — and don’t get caught wandering the park’s 1.5-mile Trading Post Trail alone at night, either, or you might bump into the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks, one of many phantoms haunting the grounds.
There are several iterations of the “Legend of the Hatchet Lady.” While Chirhart tells three versions of the story on his tours, all share a similar plot involving a woman with a hatchet attacking hikers walking alone. To avoid the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks, as well as the midday sun, explore Red Rocks Park in the morning. When it comes to this ghost, there’s safety in numbers. Another option, then, is to catch a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Red Rocks Park
18300 W. Alameda Pkwy. (Morrison)
Buffalo Rose Saloon
An easy day trip from Denver, Golden is a good place to absorb some of Colorado’s mining culture. Open daily, sunrise to sunset, the Golden History Park is home to many of the original buildings from the Pearce Ranch in Golden Gate Canyon. The town’s haunted history is intriguing, too, and Chirhart always takes his clients by the Buffalo Rose Saloon, which is currently being renovated.
Despite the boarded-up windows, one patron (Heartless Ed Franklin) refuses to leave the premises. “The saloon is the site of a shootout that occurred in 1868, between the Denver authorities and two men, Sanford Duggan and Ed Franklin,” Chirhart explains.
After mugging a few people, including a justice of the peace, Franklin and Duggan sought refuge a few miles west at the Buffalo Rose Saloon. When the cops showed up, bullets started flying and the proprietor’s brother was shot and killed in the bar. The mobsters escaped, but Franklin was killed hours later in a hotel that today, is the saloon’s dance hall. Catch a glimpse of the Buffalo Rose Saloon before perusing the rest of the shops on Washington Avenue, stopping 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, too,” says Suzanne Restle. Hear them all during Restle’s Ghost Tour & Pub Crawls, which take off from Old Capitol Grill & Smokehouse at 7:15 p.m. most Fridays. Call 303-216-0877 for details.
1119 Washington Ave. (Golden)
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad& Museum
Located on the edge of Durango’s charming downtown shopping district, this 12,000-square-foot train museum showcases fullsize locomotives, antique cars and planes — and an ominous Immigrant Sleeper Car.
While the eerie railroad car is on display in the museum daily, the best time to hear about its chilling history is during a Ghost Crawl. Designed for the 18-and-up crowd, held on the full moon (2018 dates include September 22 and October 26), 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.
Ghost Crawls always end in the museum, where Ellingson recounts 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 ridiculing Kate, a fight broke out between the brakeman and the firefighter, and the latter was killed. Kate was so distraught that she took her own life later that year. Legend has it, her spirit 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 a Ghost Crawl, other noteworthy events include the Durango Brew Train (September 1 and 29) and the Cowboy Poetry Train Ride (October 5). You can also ride the train daily, from Durango to Silverton and back.
D&SNGRR Railroad Museum
479 Main Ave. (Durango)
In addition to their core classes, freshmen entering CU-Boulder usually get a lesson in folklore, too, when they hear about the college’s haunted auditorium. “Yes,” says VP for communications Ken McConnellogue. “The rumor is that the building is haunted.”
Over the years, students and faculty have heard organ music emanating from Macky Auditorium in the wee hours, when the concert hall should be empty. Some passersby detect singing – or screaming – while others see the shadow of a woman. That woman is probably Elaura Jaquette, a young co-ed who was tragically murdered in one of Macky’s towers in 1966.
Whether or not you buy into the myths, it’s hard to deny that Macky Auditorium is one of Colorado’s top concert venues. Catch the Wind Symphony on September 20 and November 15, and the CU Symphony Orchestra on September 27 and November 29; world-famous acoustic guitarist Tommy Emmanuel plays the Macky on November 30.
If you visit, make sure there’s time to explore the rest of CU-Boulder’s campus. Across from Macky Auditorium, you’ll discover the college’s inaugural building, Old Main, constructed in 1876, housing the CU Heritage Center. CU-Boulder’s Museum of Natural History is another worthwhile destination. In the fall, there’s plenty of leaf-peeping to be had while roaming this picturesque campus.
1595 Pleasant St. #104 (Boulder)
The Stanley Hotel
Perched on a hill high above the town of Estes Park, nestled in the mountains, it’s no wonder The Stanley Hotel is a beacon for the ghastly and grim. If you’re a horror film junkie, you’ll recognize this palatial estate as the hotel in Steven King’s mini-series The Shining. (It was also the place that inspired King to write the book preceding the movie and television show.)
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Stanley is so haunted that psychics are frequently overwhelmed by the vast number of spirits. The easiest way to learn about these hauntings – and the hotel’s unique history – is on a 75-minute “Historic Stanley” walking tour.
After discussing the property’s legendary owner (F.O. Stanley), tour guides take guests through secret hallways that aren’t open to the public, while recapping supernatural activities, and telling some funny anecdotes about King’s stay at The Stanley.
If you’re feeling especially bold, take a “Night Spirit Tour,” and supplement your close encounter with a 90-minute theatrical séance. Aiden Sinclair’s “Illusions of the Passed,” is an impressive performance introducing audiences to the strange world of Victorian séances. After visiting The Stanley, explore the town of Estes Park, and go for a hike in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Stanley Hotel
333 Wonderview Ave. (Estes Park)