Show me someone who doesn’t love a ghost story and I’ll show you someone who has no imagination, “she said good-naturedly.” Drawn to tales from the Old West in character, story, song, and legend, I’m also drawn to ghost towns and their supposed ghosts. Living in Colorado for many years, in fact in the heart of the mining and mineral belt, it’s hard to pass up a good ghost story coming out of onetime boomtowns with names like Cripple Creek, Creede, Central City, Black Hawk, Leadville, and even, Denver. The list goes on. A body can deny that ghosts exist but a body can’t deny that many believe in ghost stories. The Old West is rich with ’em! The details are striking and hard to ignore. I, for one, am in! Let’s begin in Colorado with Saint Elmo.
Saint Elmo is in Chaffee County, Colorado, at an altitude of 9,961 feet. A mining boomtown originally settled in 1878, Saint Elmo laid claim to silver and gold deposits. The town was “laid out in six feet of snow,” which to me, foretold of its ghostly future. The population quickly rose to 2,000 men primarily, but saloons, dance halls, and “bawdy houses” soon brought women to join them. In 1881 the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad opened Saint Elmo for business. Stores, hotels, restaurants, sawmills, and a weekly newspaper set up shop. Mines with names like the Murphy, the Molly, and the Pioneer gave up their silver and gold to energetic miners. So where does any ghost story come in? With the arrival of the Stark family.
The father: a section boss in one of the mines. The mother: ran the general store and the Home Comfort Hotel; described as “a humorless woman who severely controlled her children,” and thought her family and children better than local townsfolk. The children: Tony, Roy, and lonely, attractive Annabelle. The townsfolk: miners, railroad men, prostitutes, and hard women.
Anna kept her children prisoners in their own home, never allowing them to leave. They were the town’s elite! If there were local dances or school events, her children couldn’t attend. Her children were better than all the rest and shouldn’t associate with those beneath them.
In 1890 a fire destroyed the business district and much of the town never rebuilt. When mining began to decline and miners left the area, the Starks stayed and ended up the only year-round residents. In 1922 the railroad stopped coming and in 1952 the post office shut, and with that, Saint Elmo officially died.
Annabelle Stark outlived her brothers but her life in Saint Elmo took its toll. At one point she was able to escape Saint Elmo, take a job in Salida and meet a potential husband, only to return home and spend the rest of her life alone and crazy. You might lose your mind, too, institutionalized for a time, then living in a dead town with no indoor plumbing, no electricity, amid mounds of trash and filth, with no company to keep. The name, “Dirty Annie,” stuck for the remainder of her life. She died in 1960.
If you look closely at the featured picture here, you might find Annabelle Stark returning your scrutiny with her own. Visitors to Saint Elmo claim they hear hotel doors slam shut, find cleaning items moved out to the center of the floor every night, and feel the temperature drop twenty degrees in an instant. Grandchildren are terrified and moms and dads boot scoot out of there, too!
Rumor has it, Dirty Annie, stays to protect her town and her property.Tour brochures claim Saint Elmo to be one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado.
I claim nothing and don’t want to start any rumors but . . . I do see someone in the lace-curtained window, drawing them aside, just so . . .
Until next time, Joanne