Saturday, January 17, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - Hotel St. Nicholas

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,  
Hotel St. Nicholas
an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwest Colorado

This week, we feature the Hotel St. Nicholas  in Cripple Creek, Colo. (If you missed -- or want to revisit -- the paranormal investigation we conducted at this hotel, you can click here, as well as watch YouTube clips from our actual investigation.)

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Shades of Alfred Hitchcock – but with a lot more class. Because this building is a renovation of a former Sisters of Mercy hospital and sits elevated on a hill above the town, the setting resembles the classic haunted hotel. The three-story brick building, shrouded by tall Ponderosa pines, appears imposing and impressive with outside balconies and a cupola still topped with an iconic Christian cross.

Historical Context

The Hotel St. Nicholas’s colorful history began in 1898 when the Dublin-based Catholic Sisters of Mercy built it to accommodate the Cripple Creek area during the Colorado gold rush.

The hotel lobby
According to history compiled by the hotel, “The Sisters originally operated from an existing wood-framed building, one block from the current St. Nicholas, and served 307 patients during their first year. A massive fire in April 1896, destroyed most of Cripple Creek, and led to an incident of drama and irony. As the fire progressed through [town], many wooden-framed buildings were dynamited in an effort to slow the fire. 

"While the sisters were evacuating patients to safer locations, a member of an anti-Catholic society entered the hospital’s kitchen and attempted to destroy the building by placing dynamite in the stove chimney. To the man’s misfortune, the dynamite exploded prematurely, causing little damage to the hospital, but blowing off his leg. He was evacuated with the other patients, and the compassionate care he received from the Sisters led him to express remorse for his deed. His shoe, which had landed in the tea kettle, was kept by the Sisters as a memento.”

The nuns, convinced they needed a safer structure, hired a Denver architect to design and build a three-story brick hospital for a cost of $12,000. The first two floors served patients, reserving the third floor for the nuns and the attic for the hospital orderly. Completely modern for its day, the hospital contained electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold running water, and surgery facilities. The first patient was a young miner who had fallen down a mine shaft.

The Sisters left Cripple Creek in 1924, and local doctors bought the facility. After closing in 1972, the building served as a boarding house but eventually stood vacant by the time it was purchased and refurbished as a hotel in the mid-1990s.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
The community abounds with ghost stories, and the Hotel St. Nicholas has its fair share. Paranormal activity occurs on all three floors.

Third-floor hallway
A number of years ago, owner Susan Adelbush sat working in the office behind the cashier’s booth and heard someone behind her. She turned to see a tall, thin man who wore a turn-of-the-century derby hat and long coat. Within seconds, he disappeared.

An employee later saw that same man, wearing the same clothes, as he strolled past her out of the nuns’ room and simply vanished before her eyes. Only sometime afterwards did Susan and the employee compare notes to discover they had witnessed the same apparition.

Not to be ignored, the derby-hatted gentleman appeared again to part-time local Tom Tunnicliff in the first-floor hotel lounge. He and several friends stood at the bar. The front doorbell sounded and the on-duty staffer left to check but soon returned – no one had entered the otherwise empty hotel. Tom felt someone touch his shoulder, and he turned to see the dark outlined silhouette of a man in a long coat and derby. The apparition passed through Tom’s arm, giving him a tingle, and proceeded to walk through the bar as well as through the antique boiler against the outside wall.

Guests have reported a crying little girl at the foot of their bed in Room 11 (the former surgery room). Others said they’ve heard children playing with a bouncing ball and laughing on the third-floor hallway in the middle of the night. This happens even on evenings when no children stay at the hotel, according to Susan.

In an article in the Pikes Peak Courier, the hotel also remains home to ghostly former patients of the hospital’s mental ward. The article cites another reported recurring presence – a ghost called “Stinky,” sighted on the back staircase and making his presence known with a “sewage-like smell.”

Hauntings occur throughout Cripple Creek. Many casinos claim to have regular ghosts that play slots. One establishment reports a recurring apparition who sits at a particular machine. The ghost plays for a while and then disappears. One wonders who collects the earnings, if any.

Several people visiting Tom’s own house, just below the Hotel St. Nicholas, have witnessed an apparition arrive on his porch, come through a locked door, and walk through the home.

“People in Cripple Creek often dress up in period clothes,” Tom said. “But sometimes they disappear. You don’t know if you’ve seen a real person or a ghost.”

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Next week, we share history and ghostly stories for Cripple Creek's other haunted establishment in our book, Linda Goodman's Miracle Inn (formerly Last Dollar Inn), which may contain a portal to another dimension in its basement.

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