It wasn’t playing the slot machines, panning for gold or watching the July 6 fireworks display that brought the ghost hunters to Cripple Creek.
They came from Pueblo, Canon City, Colorado Springs, and even as far away as San Diego to learn about the town’s most famous deceased-yet-still-seen residents.
Saturday’s tour was the first of a series of weekly guided walking tours hosted by the Cripple Creek District Museum navigating some of the Cripple Creeks “haunts.”
Tour guide Sue Stinson corralled the group of nine at the Cripple Creek District Museum’s gift shop for the first tour of the year last Saturday. A retired physical education teacher and native New Yorker, the outgoing Stinson explained that the historic gold mining town, founded in 1892, has long been considered to be haunted. Cripple Creek’s ghosts have been chronicled and recorded in the past by professional ghost hunters including Mountain Peak Paranormal Investigation and “Ghost Adventures” on the Travel Channel.
After a short ride on the town’s free trolley, the tour commenced at 136 W. Bennett Ave., the building that housed the Teller County Jail for the better part of a century. Now the Outlaws & Lawmen Jail Museum, the building is known to be “pretty haunted,” Stinson said.
“There were only two deaths here in the jail’s 90 years — which is a pretty good track record,” she said. “One was a man who fell two stories from the catwalk to his death. Employees report an unusual bloodstain that appears on the spot where he fell. They clean it up, and it reappears. The second was a woman, Olga Knutson, declared clinically insane, who was locked up on the second floor one night and found dead in her cell in the morning.”
Some passersby have reported seeing an apparition dressed in a long brown skirt and white blouse in the second-floor window. That’s Olga, Stinson said.
“If you’re brave enough, come back tonight and stroll by and see if you can see anyone in the window,” Stinson told the group.
Next Stinson focused on the Teller County Courthouse, 101 W. Bennett Ave. “Many employees at the courthouse have reported feeling a presence when they are the only person in the building,” she said. “The first person to arrive in the morning has heard someone call their name, right behind them, and when they turn around no one is there.”
Others have noticed a man dressed in 1940s garb next to a holding cell or have seen “prior inmates” awaiting judgment in the courtroom, she said. “No one’s died in there, so it might be these are people who were not happy with their sentence,” Stinson said.
Next up, the former Bell Bros. building, 101 E. Bennett Ave., now home to the Cripple Creek Police Department. On the second floor is a “naughty little ghost” who likes to turn on the water faucet several times a day. A night dispatcher has also heard the ghost running loudly up and down the stairs. The dispatcher told the ghost to knock off its antics while she’s there, and she’ll allow it to stay.
“That ghost will negotiate,” Stinson said. “She told it to stay quiet and stay upstairs during her shift, and it has.”
Just a short walk away are the side-by-side Star Building and Butte Theater, 139 E. Bennett Ave. “Both have permanent residents,” she said. A ghost at the Butte likes to play piano, and in the Star Building, a male ghost is said to bother women there alone, tapping them on the shoulder.
Room 3 in the former Palace Hotel, 166 E. Bennett Ave., is still home to Miss Kitty, wife of hotel owner Dr. W. H. Chambers in the early 1900s. “People have reported visions of seeing Miss Kitty in the window, wearing a long nightgown with her hair down over her shoulders. She was known for lighting candles for guests. There were reports by guests of things like candles being lit and beds turned down when no employee was present,” Stinson said.
On the next block at the Century Casino & Hotel, 200 Bennett Ave., there have been accounts of a not-so-friendly ghost. “Not all spirits are friendly and this one has even been called violent. He seems to think Room 5 is his. In 2005 there were three incidences reported there in one week. Three different female guests reported a man sitting in the room who refused to leave, but when security arrived they found no man there,” Stinson said.
However, since the hotel was recently remodeled, there have been no reports of the lurking visitor, she said.
Across the street, occupying nine historic buildings, is Bronco Billy’s casino and hotel complex. One of those buildings once housed the Turf Club Room, built in 1896 as a men’s club, where the ghost of a little girl named Lilly likes to roam.
“Lilly is one of our most frequently seen ghosts. By some accounts, she was the daughter of a man staying at the hotel. Some say she was run over by a horse or wagon in the street. Especially young children see her. She’s been known to draw pictures on the wall. And if you see a purple balloon traveling through the casino, it’s probably attached to Lilly. People have said they can see her looking out the upstairs window,” Stinson said.
Another haunt on that block is the former Imperial Hotel, now the Christmas Casino & Inn at Bronco Billy’s, 279 E. Bennett Ave., said to be frequented by the ghosts of former owner George Long and his daughter, Alice. Alice had a mental disorder and her father would lock her in their apartment next to the lobby to keep her contained. “George died from a fall down the stairs to the basement. It’s rumored that Alice struck him with a big iron skillet, sending him to his death. People say she can still be heard scratching on the door,” Stinson said.
George’s ghost lingers as well and “has been known to pinch women on their bottoms as they play slots in the casino,” she said.
The Colorado Grande Casino, formerly the Fairley Brothers and Lampman Building, at 300 E. Bennett Ave., is home to the town’s most famous ghost, Maggie. There have been multiple sightings of a woman, about 25 years old, wearing a white blouse, long skirt and high heels, her hair piled atop her head. “She can most often be seen on the top three floors of the building, and actually has had conversations with people,” Stinson said. “People report hearing her high-heeled shoes or smelling her rose-scented perfume.”
Not all the ghosts on the tour are human. In Cripple Creek, you might expect ghost donkeys, but if you take a picture in front of Cripple Creek City Hall, you may find a ghostly image of a horse in the photo. That could be Doc or Dan, horses once kept there, Stinson said.
“City employees report hearing harnesses jingling or the smell of manure in the building, where horses are no longer kept. Then again, it’s full of politicians,” she joked.
There is also a black cat that appears and disappears at the Double Eagle Hotel & Casino, 442 E. Bennett Ave. “There have been videos taken of that cat that when you play them back, don’t show it.”
The original Gold Mining Stock Exchange Building, 375 E. Bennett Ave., now home to the Elks Lodge 316, is a frequent site of paranormal activity. “Conversations can be heard in the hallways when no one is there,” Stinson said.
The southwest corner of the building has the most paranormal activity, she said. “There’s a gentleman who is seen walking through walls. There’s also a female spirit in the lounge that people often hear laughing.”
Those are just some of the stops on the comprehensive tour, which never goes inside the buildings but gives a good account of many hauntings.
When the tour winds up back at the museum, Stinson tells of the two resident ghosts in that building. One is a male ghost mostly sensed when people are on the third floor, usually by a visitor who feels someone touch them when no one else is around. The other is a little girl who “lives” in an upstairs bedroom. “She’s been heard reading from a primer book. There’s a doll that sits in the middle of the bed in that room. Oftentimes we find that doll on the floor in the morning.”
The museum gift shop, in the former Colorado Trading and Transfer Co. — the only wood-framed building that remains from before the famous 1896 fire that destroyed the downtown — also has a resident ghost.
“We call him Albert. Big dogs seem to sense him the most. Dogs are allowed inside, and often the larger dogs will be pulling at their leash to get in one room and will sit at the front of a settee. We believe that’s where Albert, who had a big dog of his own, sits,” she said.
The town has its share of ghost stories, many of which are the subject of books available for purchase in the well-stocked museum gift shop.
Look for more ghost tours Saturdays through October, starting at the Cripple Creek District Museum (see box).