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.)

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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.

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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.