Saturday, January 10, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels -- The Forest Queen

Between now and the spring, we're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the hotels and B&Bs included in our forthcoming book,  
Crested Butte's Forest Queen Hotel
an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwestern Colorado

This week, we feature the Forest Queen in Crested Butte, Colo. (If you missed -- or want to revisit -- the paranormal investigation we conducted at this hotel, you can click here. We've also added a ghostly voice (EVP) we captured at the hotel.)

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Historical Context
The vicinity of Crested Butte on the East River Valley served as the summer home to the nomadic Ute Indians for hundreds of years. By the Nineteenth Century, they shared the land with trappers, explorers, and early attempts at settlement.

Eager miners followed earlier pioneers when prospectors discovered silver in the late 1860s. Within ten years, coal and silver mines opened in the surrounding area, resulting in multiple smaller mining towns. Widespread timber harvesting supplied lumber and fuel for newcomers while emerging cattle operations helped contribute to the economy by the 1870s. Crested Butte became the principal supply center for the area and an official town in 1880. The Denver Rio Grande Railroad arrived the year after.

Mining proved dangerous work. On Jan. 24, 1884, a coal mine shaft ignited and exploded, launching coal cars out of the tunnel, scattering debris more than a hundred feel, and destroying nearby buildings. A rescue attempt recovered fifty-nine bodies, many teenaged boys.

The Forest Queen Hotel began operating in the early days as part of Crested Butte’s red-light district, a series of brothels lined up between First Street and Second Street on Elk Avenue. The original building consisted of a saloon filling the first floor and a brothel on the second. 

After the mining declined in 1893, Crested Butte still survived, in part, because of the high-grade coal mines, some of which continued operations into the early 1950s. Higher transportation costs and lower consumption of coal eventually forced most of the mines to close, along with the railroad.

In 1961 scouts came to Crested Butte to investigate the area for a possible ski mountain. After a decade of slow times, locals welcomed the new opportunity. 

In keeping with the times, the Forest Queen by then had long transformed into a more respectable business, with a series of taverns and restaurants occupying the first floor while the second floor provided accommodations to overnight guests as well as to longer-term boarders. 

Today, Crested Butte not only hosts a thriving ski industry but also boasts a recreational playground for biking, hiking, and other outdoor pastimes. Shops, restaurants, and a slate of cultural events and festivities draw thousands of visitors year round to this community of 1,500 full-time residents.

Ghostly Legends and Guest Experiences

Both guests and staff have long reported paranormal goings-on at both the hotel and grill for many years.
Housekeeping staff say they find rearranged or tousled bed sheets and linens in the rooms on a regular basis. One chef from the kitchen below stayed upstairs overnight in a room with two beds. Awaking the next morning, he found all his clothes laid out on the other bed – not a service the hotel provides.

Another chef told us accounts of items that regularly turn up missing in the kitchen, only to return a day or two later. And these are industrial utensils, nothing an individual would borrow for home use.

Perhaps the most famous haunting in the hotel involves an 1800s prostitute named “Elizabeth.” Many locals refer to her as the Red Lady Ghost. Her tragic tale circulates in two versions, both ending with hurling herself from a second-story window and headfirst to her death in Coal Creek. The first version goes that one of Elizabeth’s regulars, a patron she adored, promised to deliver her from a sordid life. But one day she looked out her window and saw him kissing his wife – and thus the suicide. 

The other version tells the story this way: While Elizabeth stayed at the hotel, she fell in love with an itinerant gambler who talked her into bankrolling her life's savings. She did so to win his affection. But after the gambler doubled his winnings, he abandoned her with no money and no prospects – again ending with the leap from her window

Guests and staffers alike report the Red Lady Ghost makes her presence known by banging pots and pans and slamming doors. Her alleged crib is now present-day Room Four.

Both the men’s and women’s bathrooms in the grill also have a history of paranormal activity. One patron had a cellphone knocked from his hand before he turned on the light switch. When he bent to retrieve the cell, something prevented him from straightening back up for several seconds. Once he had, he turned on the light to an empty room.

On a different occasion, a woman experienced a series of repeated lights-out episodes in the women’s bathroom down that same hallway.

The reports of paranormal activity don’t stop in this building. In the next block, the Eldo Brew Pub has a reputation for hauntings as well, with staff reporting apparitions and anomalous sounds of all sorts.

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Next week, we'll share the haunted history of Cripple Creek's Hotel St. Nicholas, which operated (no pun intended -- okay, maybe a little one) as a gold rush miner's hospital for years before becoming a hotel.