Tour offers glimpse of lurking downtown ghosts

October 6, 2012
photo - Winfield Scott Stratton Photo by
Winfield Scott Stratton Photo by  

Downtown Colorado Springs was a ghost town on Saturday night. To the paranormal sensibilities of Gerry Murphy, it always is.

For the first time in years, laughter and eager voices filled the Mining Exchange building, a corner-stone structure at Nevada and Pikes Peak Avenue, as they did in 1902. They are hotel guests, not ghosts, but their presence has not dislodged the spirit of the building’s commissioner, gold-miner millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton.

“Nobody has seen him, but you can sense him,” Murphy said.

Stratton’s spirit is not the only one hovering close to the downtown that he helped create. Down the street, a murdered ghost lurks around the Pioneer’s Museum, Murphy said. Around the corner at the Peak Theater, built in 1937, two ghosts haunt the back rows of the movie house.

“Needless to say, the city auditorium is haunted,” Murphy added.

For the next two weeks, the ghost hunter and spectral aficionado has sold out downtown ghost tours to a few poltergeist-curious Colorado Springs residents and tourists. A $15 ticket buys them a two-hour tour of downtown Colorado Springs along with some ghost stories and historic tales.

“It’s really a fantastic town for spirits and ghosts,” said Murphy.

Murphy, member of the Pikes Peak Ghost Hunters, also gives tours of Fairview Cemetery. On Saturday night, with seven guests settled on couches in the Mining Exchange lobby, Murphy began to spin his tale. There are two things certain in life, he said — death and taxes.

“I’ll let you deal with the taxes, but we can always talk about death,” he joked.

He assured the group that no gory ghouls would lunge at them, though.

“We’re not in a Stephen King novel,” he said. The spiritual presences of downtown are mostly benevolent, it seems. “It doesn’t have to be unusual, and it’s not something Hollywood would do, you hear what I’m saying?” Murphy said.

The tour is a walking lecture about the ordinary ghosts of the city’s interesting past. Downtown is dotted with the hallmarks of the Winfield Scott Stratton, Spencer Penrose, and General William J. Palmer — gold miners and city founders who created a place for settlers, gamblers, prospectors, and all that came with them.

Downtown might as well be haunted by the specters of demolished historical sites — the old Antlers Hotel and the Burns Opera House, among others — of which the Mining Exchange is rare survivor. The newly refurbished hotel was originally a stock exchange built by Stratton, who made a fortune prospecting in the foothills. It was the first fire-proof office building in the city, constructed of concrete and metal, and was the first to reach over four stories.

The tour made stops at the Peak Theater, haunted by a cigar-smoking ghoul and lady-ghost whose only presence is a heavy cloud of Evening in Paris perfume, Murphy said. The next stops were at the old Exchange Bank and down the street to the new Antlers — past a statue of Spencer Penrose, a man who loved “good liquor, fine women and robust life,” Murphy quipped.

“Those are the stories and there are thousands of them!” he exclaimed before the tour group wandered into the freezing night, in pursuit of the paranormal.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261
Twitter @ryanmhandy

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