The Haunted North Fork

Oct 28, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Features, History

“A haint lives there,” he said cordially…

-Walter Cunningham in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Halloween.  All Hallow’s Eve.  Día de los Muertos.  Samhain. The cross quarter mark—between the fall equinox and the dark night, the time when the veil between worlds is at its most thin. But although it is a ghostly time of year, ghosts themselves are prevalent across time and cultures.


Since ancient times, ghost stories—tales of spirits who return from the dead to haunt the places they left behind—have figured prominently in the folklore of many cultures around the world.

There are haunted stories told of the North Fork, as there are of most places where generations have cycled through, come and passed.  Memories.  Things that hang around.

The Bross Hotel in Paonia, is a restored historic hotel, which it has been since Deputy Sheriff W. T. Bross opened it in 1906 as “the only really first-class hotel in the county.”  It looks like a place that should have a ghost, and numerous people say with certainty that it has at least a couple.  Most notable is Mrs. Bross herself, who is said to hang around the second floor, and is routinely described as a gentle presence.

This 1906 hotel is said to be haunted by original owner W.T. Bross’s mother. Apparently when the building was refurbished in the 1990s, her spirit became uneasy and was seen and heard by many people. However, she is said to be a friendly ghost, and has even been known to turn down the sheets for the guests.

Some websites even use this as a selling point for guests or investors:

Sensing a presence in this room, the renovators kept this room its original size and number while tucking a bathroom into a closet. The friendly ghost of Mother Bross will look over you as you snuggle into the double bed topped by a quilt reminiscent of the England shown in the pictures on the walls.

In response to an inquiry on the Facebook Paonia Message Board, one commenter noted:

There are a couple of bedrooms upstairs where Mrs. Bross likes to hang out. The small room with the double bed most often, and many guests have reported a presence in the room across the hall. I was told by a previous owner that when the hotel was built & operated as a boarding house, Mr. & Mrs. Bross actually lived in the house next door, but the spirit of Mrs. Bross lingers in the hotel because that’s where her son lived. Not a threatening spirit at all, she also likes to play tricks like ringing the bell at the front desk.

Others sent messages hinting at many tales from the valley.  Many things can happen over decades that leave matters unresolved, business unfinished, things unsettled.

Whatever one believes about them, ghost stories—the genre—are folk lore.  That is how they are shared, how they move through the culture.  There are the classics, like those that get shared by kids, which are all not meant to be believed at all, often serving to make a point or to simply entertain.  And there are also those that come often with suspended belief, part of local lore: the retelling of a tale told, rooted firmly in a certain place, and in its past.

559px-Chief_Ouray_-_Brady-HandyPerhaps a guilty conscious is fertile ground, and many ghost stories suggest this, but some say the Utes left a curse on this valley when they were removed in 1881.  Others say that’s a false statement, defamatory even, that the Utes would not have done such a thing.

By all accounts, Chief Ouray handled things as best he could, but certainly the Uncompahgre Utes had reason to leave some anger behind.  And although I tracked no tales down in the North Fork, there are Ute ghosts haunting Colorado according to some legends–even at the headwaters of the Colorado River, in Grand Lake–haunted by spirits of Indians that drowned there, from even before the Europeans or American explorers, pioneers, miners, and settlers arrived.  Unfinished business, unfulfilled promises or hopes, heavy burdens that cannot be left behind…all these play heavily in tales of Western Slope hauntings.

There are also Colorado stories of ghosts that linger from the days of New Spain and the earliest Europeans, Dominguez and Escalante did pass through and the Old Spanish Trail runs nearby.  But the ‘ghost stories’ tracked down for this blog start with the Anglo settlers in the valley, and are connected often to remnants of an earlier, hardscrabble time.  Old buildings.  Old mines.  Troubled pasts.  History, it seems, is haunted.

A couple streets from the Bross Hotel, on North Fork Avenue, a house with a darker past is said to also have a haunted presence.   There a more frightening ‘presence’ somewhat regularly enters a particular bedroom, always at the same time of the evening (but not every night):  the door flying open. If the door is locked, at that same time, a banging on the door as if something is trying to break in.  Should you dare open the door, nothing is there.

“I have heard that the library and old town hall in Crawford are haunted,” someone offers on the Facebook post.   Others attest to their own haunting housemates “…up on 4100 Road. There’s a woman who walks up the stairs and hangs out in the smallest bedroom.  …I think it was her sewing room.”

Just searching around on the internet turns up a number of stories. Much of it dubious, of course, or at best merely anecdotal–but the currencies in which these tales are told in are just that. Wisps and whispers. Hearsay and rumor.

I have often seen a woman hitch hiking alongside the road outside Crawford. I have also seen a stage coach attempting to race me on the highway, pulled by black horses.

In November of 1969 I was the minister of the Hotchkiss Church of Christ in Lazear Colorado. For 3 nights I was attacked by an evil spirit in the bedroom of the small house I rented.

I live in a (2) bedroom trailer in Eckert, CO and my trailer is haunted, my daughter started having nightmares when she slept in her room… the next night I decided to sleep in her room by myself and, it was about 1:25 am I had woke up seeing this green misty color in the corner it was a color I never saw before, but I fell back to sleep, and about 3:00 am I had someone or something holding me down and it was telling me to get out, and I was froze and confused.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… just last night July 10th 2009 I kept hearing footsteps in the hallway and I have a picture phone and I started taking pictures and I caught a young boy on my picture phone, and in another area I got 2 green spots in my room…

In the book Colorado Ghost Stories by Antonio Garcez there is one entitled “Amy Foxworth’s story.”  In it she tells of visiting her grandmother’s peach and plum orchard ‘a short distance from the center of Paonia.’  As a child her brother and she would play in the nearby hills ‘just a few miles from the farm.’

It was on such a childhood excursion that one day they had their encounter.  They were playing on a steep wooded hillside and found an old coal mine.  They knew they were not to play around such, but curiosity got the better of them, so they began tossing stones into the opening and counting the seconds.  After a few of these, one or the other noticed a tall man watching them silently.  They both startled, figuring they had been caught by whoever owned the land and mine.  As the figure raised his arm and pointed away, the girl stammered an apology and the children scurried off.

At first they remained quiet about this, but their mother got the story out of them.  The grandfather, who was nearby, glanced sideways at the mother and asked what the man who caught them had been wearing, the boy and girl described what they had seen.  The grandfather said: “That’s old man Fey that was his place.  And he’s been gone for more than six years!”   The grandfather regained his composure and tried to pass it off.  He had really meant ‘gone’ like moved away, he said.  But the kids knew better.  And later the mother confirmed that Mr. Fey had been dead for years.



Venture a little beyond our valley—as we all must–and the rest of Western Colorado also turns out to be a spooky place.

‘Just over the hill’ the Redstone Castle has a haunted reputation.

The historic manor is haunted.  “I can attest to that,” said Sue McEvoy.

For the past nine years, McEvoy has been curator for the castle in the mountains above Carbondale. She says guests have reported strange incidents. There’s also a legend that spirits hover in a secret passageway that connects the nursery to the  servant’s quarters. But what spooks McEvoy, who has lived on the property for six years, is the ghostly cigar smoke.

A turn-of-the-century robber baron, John Cleveland Osgood, completed the 42-room English Tudor manor in 1902 for the then-outlandish sum of  more than $2.5 million. He reportedly wanted to impress fellow industrialists such as J.P. Morgan, Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller and President  Teddy Roosevelt. Osgood, who made his fortune in coal and steel, died in 1927. But McEvoy thinks he’s still floating around. She believes she has  smelled his cigar smoke. “The door to his bedroom was closed, the windows were open, I could smell cigar smoke, but no one else was on the  property,” she said.

In Crested Butte the Forest Queen Hotel also has what’s been called by one writer the ‘requite but seldom seen’ ghost:

Marcie told me about reports of Liz banging around and slamming doors in the Forest Queen Hotel, and even keeping hotel residents company late at night. But Marcie’s own experience is perhaps, the most entertaining-and she didn’t even see Liz.

One morning while indulging in the Forest Queen’s former and famous breakfast plate, The Baggins, a man came running down the stairs  screaming “I’m gettin’ outta here!” Later, Marcie found out that he was a Poltergeist hunter. “He must have gotten up Liz’s nose,” she said.

As does the historic Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs:

Rumor has it that the spirits inhabiting this historic grand hotel in Glenwood Springs love to play games in the middle of the night. They’ll wait until a guest is snug in his bed, then switch on the lights. When the guest gets up to investigate, they’ll switch them back off. During a 1982 renovation, wallpaper that had been applied to a wall the night before is said to have been found neatly rolled up on the floor the morning after. Several apparitions have been sighted roaming the halls, including a Victorian-era little girl who plays with a ball.

Indeed, hotels, apparently, are like ghost magnets.

As one of Aspen’s oldest buildings, I figured Hotel Jerome would be on the tour. But I didn’t know that the hotel is allegedly one of the most haunted buildings in Aspen!Our guide Dean Weiler had numerous stories to tell about ghostly going ons at the hotel. One guest saw a little boy shivering in the hallway with a towel. After she spoke to him, he disappeared, leaving only a wet stain on the floor. When she asked the front desk about him, they told her that no kids were currently at the hotel – and that the boy she saw matched the description of a child who drowned in the pool years before!

Dr. Luigi is said to haunt the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, and a ‘ghostly woman’ resides (at least bi-monthly) in Ouray’s Beaumont Hotel:

At this historic 1886 hotel, a ghostly woman is said to walk at 2:15 a.m. on every quarter of the moon. Rumor has it that she was murdered by her husband, and she is looking for him. Local legend has it that on the anniversary of her death, the ghostly scene replays, but only she is present. Her killer is invisible.

This time of year hauntings and the so-called ‘paranormal’ get lots of attention.  Searching around on the internet and there are long lists of ‘haunted history tours’ in Colorado.  And there is a group in the North Fork that calls itself the Hotchiss Paranormal Investigators  billing itself as “arts/entertainment/nightlife.”

But perhaps the strands of tales that connect us with a place and its past also connect somewhere beyond.  In any case these are real stories, even if they do not fully describe ‘real’ events. They tell of connection and context between a community and its place.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

1 Comment + Add Comment

  • Great article. Well written and interesting. And I learned from reading it.

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