Friday, February 27, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - Vintage Inn B&B

Between now and late spring, we're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the hotels and B&Bs included in our forthcoming book,  

an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwest Colorado

This week, we feature the Vintage Inn in Gunnison, 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.)

This article is a departure from our earlier accounts in the series in that our findings suggest more of a haunted person rather than haunted hotel! Read on.

* * *
Historical Context

The Gunnison Valley served as seasonal habitation for Ute tribes for centuries, for trappers and mountain men in the early 1700s, and for exploratory transcontinental railroad routes in the early 1850s. The region began to see permanent residents during the 1870s when miners started staking and working claims.

Topographers began mapping the Gunnison Country in 1874, and the town of Gunnison took shape and grew into a supply center by the late 1870s.
Gunnison in 1882

Two railroads competed to reach the area, but the east and west sides of town disagreed about where to situate the depot, splitting the community into East Gunnison and West Gunnison by the time both railroads arrived in 1880. Only the Denver & Rio Grande survived for the next seventy years.

Capt. Louden Mullen, a Civil War veteran-turned-developer, championed West Gunnison’s influence and built a hotel, school, opera house, fish hatchery, and park to promote his side of town. His projects also included a church, a stone livery barn, and the foundations of an iron works that never got off the ground.

La Veta Hotel
During Mullen’s time in Gunnison, he built his own house in 1883. A later article in Gunnison’s News Champion in 1945 describes the house: “There is little, but not too much of scrolled trimming, the windows are beautifully arched and chastely decorated (to use the phraseology of the 80s), the gables supported by carved cornices. The eight-room structure is topped by a distinctive iron railing. The large lawn is enclosed by a picket fence, matching the dwelling in color. It is a house which cannot fail to attract the attention of anyone interested in period architecture – a good deal less flamboyant than La Veta, [an up-scale hotel of the same local vintage] although of somewhat the same inspiration. The grandson, Elmer Mullen, says it was beautifully and lavishly furnished when the Civil War veteran had it completed.” 

In the years to come, the building would pass through a number of hands, serving many times as a private residence but also at one point as a day-care facility, an antique shop, and even a video rental store.

That home eventually became the Vintage Inn B&B in 2010.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
The surrounding community environs certainly hold a fair share of reported paranormal activity.

On Tomichi Avenue (Hwy 50), only a few blocks from the inn, sits Columbine Apartments, formerly the Columbine Hotel. The building’s second floor once served as a brothel in Gunnison’s frontier days, and former hotel guests as well as current residents have reported seeing the apparition of a woman – legend says she was a murdered prostitute – wandering the central hallway late at night.

A former B&B that operated as the Mary Lawrence Inn (now a private home) also contains long-time reports of hauntings. Sitting on a residential block in the northern part of the city, this large structure became home to a prominent local family in the middle decades of the Twentieth Century. While growing up in the house, the family’s two children, now grown, told us they’d witnessed poltergeist activity on a regular basis as well as sightings of a full-bodied apparition.

And the local university has recurring reports of hauntings in at least three campus buildings. Generations of students continue to report sightings on the third floor of Roubidoux Hall of the ghost of a man who died of smoke inhalation many years ago. Some students say they’ve seen his apparition at their bedside at night. Others claim the ghost locks doors from the outside, recreating the same circumstance that trapped him during the fateful fire. Nearby Ute Hall harbors accounts of a shadow figure in the basement known to pass through the wall of an off-limits storage and boiler room, harmless if a bit unnerving to those who’ve witnessed the apparition. Additional hauntings occur in Taylor Hall, the original structure for the 1900s Normal School.

Past residents and owners of the current Vintage Inn never kept (or at least never publicly shared) accounts of haunted events on the premises. One former owner of the property, who undertook extensive renovations to the property in the 1970s, claims none of his alterations to the house provoked the sort of supernatural activity typically reported when buildings are disturbed.

Hearth room at Vintage Inn
He suggests that current paranormal reports may connect to the current owner herself. This could well prove true since spirits residing on the premises seem to have a strong connection to current proprietor Beth Marcue. 

Our own experience at the Inn (see the full investigation here, including video clips of interaction with unseen entities) revealed the resident spirits do, indeed, have a close connection with Beth. A combination of  responses through spirit box and flashlight suggested these entities may have accompanied her to the house, attached to an antique chest of drawers from Beth's pioneer family arriving by covered wagon in the past century. If so, they were willing to talk to us as guests of the B&B, but spirits clearly preferred talking to the proprietor.

* * *
Next week, we share the history and ghostly legends of the *very* haunted Hotel Norwood, site of apparitions, cold spots, and a great deal of poltergeist activity.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - The Fairplay Hotel

Between now and late spring, we're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the hotels and B&Bs included in our forthcoming book,  
The historic Fairplay Hotel
an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwest Colorado

This week, we feature the Fairplay Hotel in Fairplay, 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.)

* * *
Historical Context

Prior to the influx of gold seekers, the First Americans, primarily Ute tribes, lived and hunted in the South Park area. Fur traders found and trapped the park, but it wasn’t until 1859 that the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush spilled into South Park, bringing over 10,000 people.

Greed and violence in the park prompted some miners to establish a new camp where Beaver Creek meets the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. They called their new home “Fair Play,” promising to treat everyone fairly when they staked a claim. That name varied from “Fairplay Diggings” to “Platte City” and then changed to “South Park City” by 1869. But five years later, the town regained the name of “Fairplay,” which remains to this day.

Before long, cattle, sheep, and hay operations came to the park, followed by a railroad completed in 1878.
The railway encouraged the emergence of timber businesses and more efficient livestock transport. Soon, other trades, goods, and services prospered, making it possible for local hotels to flourish in Fairplay.

Fairplay courthouse/jail
with former connecting
tunnel to Fairplay Hotel
Among these new innkeepers were Louis and Marie Valiton, who bought a site in 1873 for $87.50 and built the Valiton Hotel (now the Fairplay Hotel). During the Gold Rush days, Fairplay had its share of Wild West antics, and the hotel’s basement until recent years still contained tunnels connecting to other buildings – a more subtle way to access the hotel’s ladies of the evening. Current owner Lorna told us, “Back then, you could rent a room and woman.” 

One of these tunnels led to the old courthouse due north of the hotel, and the site of a vigilante lynching in 1879 by a group calling themselves the “Hundred and Five” and daring anyone to oppose their style of justice. The local newspaper, The Fairplay Flume, printed one of their messages, which read, “Beware the vigilantes,” and signed the letter “Coffin.” Eventually, law and order returned to the community.

Like the town itself, the Valiton Hotel’s name went through a number of changes over the next forty years as new owners left their marks, including the McLain Hotel, the Vestal House, the Bergh House, the Fairplay Hotel, and Hotel Windsor. The Hotel Windsor survived one large fire throughout town but suffered enough from a second town-wide fire to close its doors in 1921. Prominent Park County citizens rebuilt the establishment on the remaining foundation using the original hotel floor plans, and the new facility opened in 1922 with a banquet and dance hall.

Fairplay Hotel lobby
With Prohibition’s repeal in 1934, the hotel relocated the mahogany back bar from Rachel’s Place, a famous saloon in nearby Alma, and the new lounge has become a favorite among Fairplay locals ever since.

Because of the building’s large hospitality spaces, community members continued to use the facilities for celebrations and meetings through the decades that followed. 

Restorations still preserve the historic flavor of the premises under current management.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
Many stories of hauntings and poltergeist activity have persisted through the hotel’s colorful history over the past century.

Two staff members have reported seeing full apparitions on separate occasions in the basement. In fact, the chef had his own encounter late one night after closing. Ascending from the basement, he heard footsteps above him on the stairs just beyond the landing to the second flight of steps. No one else was on the premises. When he returned to the first floor minutes later, all the lights were off on the main level.

Silver Heels' barstool
One staff person on another evening witnessed a cowboy in old-fashioned western attire just outside the lounge peer in through the window. When she went out the door to the deck to invite him in, no one was there. Only a few seconds had passed -- too little time for anyone to disappear or retreat from  view on the empty street outside.

Current owner Lorna Arnold told us that when she took possession of the hotel, she placed a half-full glass of beer in front of the barstool favored by Silver Heels, the brothel madam from Alma, when the Fairplay Hotel relocated the bar to their own lounge. They locked the doors and left for the night. The next morning they found the glass empty, with the barstool swiveled away as though someone had stood up after finishing the drink. 

A note on Silver Heels: This good-hearted and popular prostitute worked the mining camps northwest of Fairplay until the smallpox epidemic of 1861 invaded the area. She went from cabin to cabin nursing sick miners but succumbed herself to the disfiguring disease and later disappeared without a trace. Years later, some said a heavily veiled woman frequented a nearby cemetery, and they guessed she might have been Silver Heels.

"Julia" - whose ghost dances
through the halls at night
She may have never left. Several locals claim to have seen the apparition of a veiled woman dressed in black and wandering the cemetery with flowers in her hand. It’s possible she followed her bar furnishings to the Fairplay Hotel, where her framed license for prostitution is displayed on a wall, issued in 1884 at Fairplay.

The hotel’s most famous and recurring ghost is “Julia,” reported to have died by her own hand in the 1880s. Guests often hear her dancing down the second-floor hallways, hearing music to match her creaking steps on the hardwood floors. Occasionally, the key to her room goes missing. It was curious that the night before we arrived for our investigation, someone had requested her room (205), but no one could find the key so they couldn’t rent out the room. We decided she must have been awaiting an audience with us since we only gained access to her room because it was vacant.

* * *
Next week, we recount the history and ghostly legends surrounding Gunnison's Vintage Inn B&B, and 1880s establishment built by a Civil War veteran but presently containing spirits vocally connected to the current proprietor.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - The Hand Hotel in Fairplay

We're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the fourteen hotels and B&Bs included in our book,  

Fairplay Hand Hotel
an amateur ghost hunting
guide for Haunted Hotels in southwest Colorado

Available now as a trade paperback from Amazon and Barnes&Noble. Also available as a Kindle e-book.

This article features the Hand Hotel  in Fairplay, 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.)

* * *
Historical Context

The town of Fairplay lies within the high, broad South Park valley, stretching over 900 square miles bordered by the Mosquito and Park mountain ranges.

Ute tribes summered in the region, and eventually French trappers arrived to hunt and trade in furs. By the mid-1800s, cattle and sheep operations moved in, but it was the discovery of gold in South Park in 1859 that brought large numbers of eager miners and the development of camps and towns like Fairplay.

A prospering mining industry encouraged migration to the South Park area, followed by permanent settlements. As more people moved in, the community demanded such skilled services as carpentry and blacksmithing. Wagon roads gave way to narrow gauge railways, and soon entrepreneurs provided dance halls, saloons, and gambling houses.

Room Six, "Mattie Silks" room, named
after famous frontier bothel madame
A fire ravaged Fairplay in the 1920s, destroying much of the town, including the building on Front Street where the Hand Hotel now stands. The Hand family built this new structure in 1932, and it stayed in their family for many years. Decades later, however, the hotel became abandoned and condemned, so rundown that the sky shone through the roof. Pat Pocius and two partners purchased the building in 1987 and began massive renovations.  She ran the new hotel for the next decade. The hotel changed hands again in the late 1990s and eventually came under the current ownership of Dale and Kathy Fitting.

Next to the Hand Hotel stands the monument and grave of “Prunes,” a burro that worked in the mines for sixty-two years. He turned into something of a town pet when he became too old to work. The burro’s life-long (human) partner, Rupe Sherwood, requested he be cremated and buried beside Prunes when he died. The annual Burro Days celebrates the important role burros played during the mining era. Each July, burro races start on Front Street near Prunes’ monument.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
The Hand Hotel has a fair amount of paranormal activity, with reports of full-body apparitions manifesting on the second-floor hallway, faces appearing on at least one guestroom mirror, and child-size imprints on freshly made beds. Housekeeping staff often find messed-up beds after they’ve prepared and locked rooms. The hotel reputedly hosts five different ghosts.

One of the daytime receptionists said she thinks multiple ghosts roam through the building. She once saw an apparition standing at the window in Room Six as she walked past the open doorway. She could see through the shadowy figure, but it was gone when she stopped to take another peek back into the room.

Former hotel owner Pat Pocius shared several encounters, most notably with two little girls who haunt the building. They reportedly died during a smallpox epidemic in an earlier era in Fairplay. Occasionally seen near the staircase, the girls also made their presence known in the kitchen, repeatedly turning off the heavy knob pilots on the commercial grill during a busy morning. When Pat investigated the wiring underneath, she discovered charred receptacles that could have started a fire. She felt sure the girls were doing their part to avoid catastrophe. 

Photo captured by hotel guest
Pat also recounted the time when a friend came to visit and wanted to see the second-floor rooms. Pat was busy and let her friend wander around on her own. The friend encountered an older man pushing a cart down the hallway and told her his name was Ben and to call him if she needed anything. When she returned downstairs, she complimented Pat on the courteous staff. There were no staff in the building that day, but Ben was the name of the former hotel caretaker, dead many years.

Our favorite paranormal sighting, though, is about the ghost dog, which roams the entire premises. Rooms Two and Eleven have many reports of guests inquiring about who’s keeping a dog at the hotel – but it’s not there for a one-time visit! On one occasion, a town constable emerged from the downstairs bathroom with pants still around his knees, complaining about a dog that had chased him out. No one could find a dog in the facilities afterwards. 

The ghost dog also has a reputation for appearing in various rooms and tugging bedcovers off guests during the night, sometimes barking or growling. Another account occurred in the basement which, at the time, was the site for a children’s Halloween party. Two tykes came upstairs, reporting they enjoyed playing with the dog in the basement. Pat said she could see the imprints on their little hands, looking like a puppy had playfully nipped them.

There are also reports of feet tramping on the second-floor ceiling. Pat remarked guests have often inquired how to get to the party on the third floor. There is no third floor.

Other paranormal activity also occurs. The wife of a previous hotel manager twice smelled the scent of rosewater perfume in the Grandma Hand Room. The wife later learned that was the very scent Grandma Hand used to wear. 

* * *
Next week, we share history and ghostly stories for another locale in this same town, this one going by the name of the Fairplay Hotel, haunted by at least three separate apparition.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Colorado Haunted Hotels - Windsor Hotel

Between now and late spring, we're sharing the history and haunted legends associated with each of the hotels and B&Bs included in our forthcoming book,  
Windsor Hotel

an amateur ghost hunting guide
to Haunted Hotels
in southwest Colorado

This week, we feature the Windsor Hotel  in Del Norte, 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.)

* * *
Historical Context
The current site of the town of Del Norte falls within the vicinity of the Old Spanish Trail system used as a trade route from Santa Fe to California. By the 1870s, the area saw streams of prospectors flooding into Colorado to seek the rich deposits of gold and silver discovered in the San Juan Mountains. In 1872, the town of Del Norte sprang up on the Rio Grande River as a supplier and financial center for mining operations. At one point, freight wagons lined up on Grand Avenue for a mile waiting to head into the mining camps to the west.
In its boomtown heyday, Del Norte climbed to over 10,000 inhabitants, filled with saloons, dance halls, and local brothels as well as an opera house, movie theater, and library. During the boom years, the failure of only one vote prevented Del Norte from becoming the state capitol. In anticipation, town planners built extra wide roads capable of turning around six-horse teams.
Offsetting these high aspirations, the community experienced a Wild West town’s expected share of murders, stage robberies, jail escapes, and lynchings.
Lobby staircase
According to current co-owner Steve Whitehead, the Windsor is the oldest hotel in Colorado.  Enterprising citizens constructed the establishment in 1874 with local masonry and bricks. The building had expanded three times by 1888.
The hotel operated until the late 1970s, when it closed and sat empty for the next fifteen years. On the evening before scheduled demolition, Whitehead and several other locals decided to save the historic hotel. Pulling together enough funds overnight to buy the dilapidated property, they formed a committee called the Windsor Restoration and Historic Association to prevent the site’s fate of becoming a fast food restaurant.

From that point forward, the town joined together to preserve and later renovate the hotel. Grants and investors made it possible to restore the building above and beyond its former glory days.

Legends, Stories, and Guest Experiences
The hotel’s night supervisor said she thought it unsurprising a 140-year-old hotel would be haunted – the whole town is, including the streets and other buildings. One local resident shared stories about a nearby private residence where owners had captured apparitions by accident on multiple occasions in photos of the house.
Hotel co-owner Steve Whitehead reported he witnessed a rock fly out of a door he’d just opened while conducting a tour during building renovations. No one was in that room at the time. A housekeeper said she watched undisturbed clothes hangers start to move – swinging, stopping, swinging again. The radio also suddenly came on and lights switched on and off in Room 210 while she worked.
A guest staying in Room 204 reported hearing someone vacuuming in the hallway at 1 a.m. She was about to peek out her door but the noise quit, only to begin five minutes later. Staff doesn’t vacuum in the middle of the night.
Room where Maud Heinz
committed suicide
The most often reported site on the premises with paranormal activity is Room 209, where hotel guest Maud Heinz committed suicide in 1906. She’d arrived by train one morning, checked in under an alias, and then purchased a .38-caliber revolver and cartridges. She returned to her room and shot herself. She’d left a note, explaining her true identity, and the story soon came out. 

Two years earlier, she’d suffered an accident after an incident with a runaway horse, and she had “visionary spells” thereafter, according to Del Norte newspaper the San Juan Prospector in an article published April 7, 1906.  Shortly before her death, she’d had a lover’s quarrel and decided to end her life. In the century since then, guests report hearing and sometimes seeing her. 

Lodgers recount awakening in the middle of the night to see Maud peering down at them, and one overnight guest reported he awoke to hear her scream.

One of the more unusual features of the hotel lies below the south wing, accessible only from the outside courtyard: an ice cellar. The facility served double duty in the early days as a storage area to keep bodies during the winter, pending the spring thaw while remains awaited proper burial. We found no particular ghostly accounts relating to the cellar, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere!
* * *
 Next week, we share history and ghostly stories for the Hand Hotel in Fairplay, haunted by at least five separate apparitions as well as a ghost dog!.