According to Colorado Ghost Tours, a book by Ann Westerberg, “In 1896, the Rocky Mountain News declared that it was printing no more ghost stories, as they had become too numerous.”
It’s no wonder the famed newspaper came out with such a declaration since every mining town in Colorado has multiple tales to tell from gold rush days in the state. Cripple Creek in Teller County, is no exception. At an altitude over 9000 feet, located on the southwestern flank of Pike’s Peak, it remains relatively isolated today. The scenery is spectacular but you’d be wise to buckle your seat belt and bring a water bottle for the 44-mile climb out of Colorado Springs. You pass by the equally historic mining town of Victor before arriving in Cripple Creek, both high in the Rocky Mountains.
The instant you step out of your vehicle . . . you step back in time to the last great Colorado gold rush. The 1890 discovery of gold by Bob Womack drew prospectors here and soon the town grew from 500 to 10,000 residents. (Cripple Creek is another mining town that put the Boom in Boomtown!) All mining towns are not alike in all ways. Cripple Creek produced 30 millionaires, one of the largest gold strikes in history (the Independence Mine), weathered an historic, bloody battle between union labor and non-union forces, and its gold was found in telluride minerals which required the chlorination process.
Ten thousand residents meant 10,000 opportunities for trouble in gold rush mining days. Lawlessness ruled the streets when fires and floods did not. A homicide a day didn’t register as unusual with any of the citizenry. What did register was to keep your head down. Two devastating fires in 1896 destroyed much of Cripple Creek but the venerable mining town still stands today, some in ruins and some rebuilt.
If you’ve the time and inclination, the story of Pearl De Vere, the famous “Soiled Dove of Cripple Creek,” is worth the read. Her story has everything: romance, glamor, riches, struggles, heart-wrenching tragedy, and redemption. She’s buried in Cripple Creek, just fyi.
Now we’re getting to our ghost story. Whoops, I misspoke. Ghost stories, I should say. There’s more than one to tell. I’m not going to attempt all the stories which may or may not have been reported in the Rocky Mountain News of 1898, out of Cripple Creek, alone. Where do these stories originate? In fact or in fiction? Someone tells them to someone else and so it goes. We don’t know the minute, the hour, the day, the year of their telling? It could have been in 1896 or 2006? Perhaps it makes little difference. What matters is their number and their re-telling. Everyone can’t be wrong. Everyone can’t be right. Somewhere in between lie the facts. Somewhere in between apparitions appear normal.
Today there’s gold to be found in Cripple Creek in one of the many casinos in the form of slot machines and gaming. Let’s go first to the Colorado Grande Casino and Maggie’s Restaurant. Located along Bennett Street (pictured here in 1896) this turn of the century, three-story brick building has been a drug store, a millinery, an engineer’s office, a lawyer’s office, a medical office, a ballroom, and even a mortuary. Most certainly this building is within shouting distance of Cripple Creek’s Historic (Haunted) Museum Complex. Reportedly, the ghost of Maggie, a 25-year-old, beautiful young lady in a white shirtwaist dress and high-heeled boots, and smelling of roses, can be seen and sometimes heard, singing an Irish concertina in the ballroom or playing slots with a gentleman friend in the casino. She’s seen by security guards, employees and tourists alike; supposedly for decades.
Wouldn’t you like to know her story? I certainly would!
Next let’s go to Buffalo Billy’s Casino, formally the Turf Club Room in 1896. This one-time exclusive men’s club is also located along Bennett Street and this is where Lilly, a 6-year-old ghost lives, and has for over a century. How she got to the Turf Club and why she’s here still, remains a mystery. Reports of her come from more than one security guard, employee, or tourist. She’s been seen sitting on stairs, cradling a doll, and shadowing her favorite purple balloon throughout the casino. One mother who’d lost track of her daughter at Buffalo Billy’s, found her on the stairs and talking to . . . no one? Her daughter told her she was playing with Lilly. “No, I’m not lost. I live here,” Lilly reportedly told one of the casino employees, when asked. Drawings, letters, and numbers are often found on the walls at the top of the stairs, and are washed away; only to reappear the next day.
Wouldn’t you like to know her story? I certainly would.
There are many more ghost stories out of Cripple Creek. That’s for another day.
Cripple Creek is rich in gold mining history and ghost mining history. Far be it from me to even try to separate the two!
Until next time,