History Colorado’s collection of historic newspapers captured history as it happened—and the ghostly whispers of events beyond our mortal understanding.
Let’s take a peek beyond the veil and into the pages of the past to catch a glimpse of things that go bump in the night. What follows are three stories newspaper editors shared with Coloradans more than a century ago. Readers then may have felt a chill run down their spines. You may find the articles just as haunting today.
We find our first spooky tale lurking in The Gunnison News, from 1880. A miner, Frank Smith, stopped overnight at a cabin thirty miles from Gunnison. The cabin was located at the foot of a narrow canyon, surrounded by a bluff of rocks hundreds of feet high, and hidden in a grove of cottonwood trees, which—according to Smith—made the place look quite dark and gloomy. Every now and then the mournful hoot of an owl would break the silence and to Smith the place looked as if it was fit for the nightly wanderings of some evil spirit.
Despite the cabin’s uninviting appearance, and because it was a dark and rainy night, Smith asked the occupants of the cabin—a family including an old woman, her daughter, and several children—if he could stop over until morning. After dinner, hosts and guest gathered around the fire to hear a ghost story that chilled Smith to his core. He imagined the room full of ghosts and felt the creep of otherworldly beings behind him. After finishing the terrifying tale, the household decided it was time to retire for the evening. Smith was put in a room at the end of the cabin, where he was under the watchful gaze of a hog, dressed and standing on all fours.
Once in bed, Smith covered his head with the blankets and poured over the details of the ghost story he had just been told, plus every other ghost story he had ever heard or read about. He lay there, with his head hidden, until the rain stopped and the moon came shining in through the window. Unable to sleep, he went into the kitchen and sat by a window. Absorbed in watching the clouds flitting by the moon, he was startled by a rustling noise coming from someone—something—robed in white from head to foot. Terrified, Smith tripped over the chair as he turned to run and frightened the ghost, which fell over him. The ghost grabbed onto Smith’s hair, of which he admitted he didn’t have much, and the two tussled, turning over chairs, water buckets, and tables. Each time Smith got his footing, the ghost chucked him down again by the hair of his head. The ruckus brought the entire household to the kitchen, when he was finally able to escape the clutches of the ghost and lock himself in his room.
His hosts subjected him to a tongue-lashing, accusing him of being a thief and a burglar. Fearing their wrath, he thought it prudent to get out of there. Smith snuck out of the bedroom window and scaled the fence—chased by a big dog. The household followed, making as much noise as a pack of wolves, when the seat of pants was torn away by the dog. Smith lit off again, keeping straight over logs, rocks, and washouts. He made it back to his bunk in Gunnison where his appearance so frightened his bunkmate that he disappeared out the front door in his night clothes, hollering “swamp angel.”
Our next eerie story comes from Pueblo, published in the Westland (Brandon, Colorado) from 1919. During the building of the city’s new hall and auditorium, the night watchman, Uncle Jimmy, reported to the city commissioners and police that the building was haunted. According to Uncle Jimmy, every night when he made his rounds he heard a ghost, making sounds exactly like a man coughing or snoring. Uncle Jimmy tried to chase down the phantom cougher, but to no avail. Not even in the light of day could Uncle Jimmy find the source of the weird noises.
The final tale, “Lady and Ghost,” taken from the Chicago News and reprinted in Ouray’s Plaindealer in 1902, twists the usual haunted house story. The article describes a certain lady that dreamed frequently of a certain house. She dreamed about it in such detail and frequency that she knew it as well as her own real home. She often told her husband about her dream home and one day, as they were looking for a home to spend the summer months, they were both surprised to find a listing for a home that was exactly like her dream house. The coincidence was too great and they immediately took the house. They soon found out that the house had a reputation for being haunted, and that renters never stayed for long. Nevertheless, the couple was happy in the “dream home” and spent the entire summer there. When their rental was up, the husband expressed some disappointment that they never saw the ghost to the local agent. The agent, who themselves appeared as a ghost, answered that they knew the couple would never see the ghost. “What do you mean?” asked the wife. The agent responded, “We knew you would not see the ghost….You are the ghost that people have always seen here.”
These haunting tales, and many others, can be discovered in the newspaper collection at History Colorado, especially those that have been digitized by History Colorado in the Library of Congress Chronicling America website and by the State Library in the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.