In the high country beyond Pike’s Peak is the Cripple Creek Mining District, dotted with historic mine shafts, headframes, and tumbling down miners’ cabins. Not only might a visitor find a “taste” of gold fever in this historic district, but may also experience their hair rising on the back of their necks as they “bump” into one of the many ghosts that reportedly roam the area.
Like many other mining towns of the Old West, Cripple Creek is said to be extremely haunted. Given its rich history, complete with mining accidents, floods, fires, lawlessness, and bloody battles between mine owners and labor unions, it comes as no surprise to learn of the many ghosts who continue to linger in this once-thriving city. In fact, there are so many tales of spirits wandering this historic town, that at one time boasted one homicide per day, some say it is the one of the most haunted cities in the United States.
Colorado Grande Casino
The Fairley Brothers and Lampman Building at 300 East Bennett Avenue now houses the Colorado Grande Casino and Maggie’s Restaurant. Here, you may not only enjoy a little gaming and some great food, but you might just get a glimpse of a ghost as well.
At the turn of the century, the three-story brick commercial building housed a variety of businesses, including a drug store, a millinery, an engineer, a lawyer and more. It’s rock-faced cornerstones, recessed center entryway, and decorative molding made it one of the finest places in town for retailers to display their merchandise and offer their services. Over the years, the building also housed medical offices, a Masonic Lodge ballroom, and a mortuary.
In addition to the sounds of slot machines heard throughout the building today, many have also heard the “ghost” of Maggie, who has reportedly been lingering throughout the building for decades.
Usually appearing on the top two floors of the building, the sounds of her high heeled shoes are often heard echoing in the halls.
Described as about 25 years old and dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing, she wears a white shirtwaist, a long cotton skirt and high-heeled boots. The young beauty, with her hair piled atop her head, is known to leave behind the scent of her rose perfume even when she isn’t spotted.
Some have reported that singing and dancing is sometimes heard emanating from the old ballroom, as well as the sounds of Maggie’s lilting soprano voice heard singing an Irish accented concertina.
At the casino, security guards have often reported seeing “Maggie” along with a gentleman friend playing the slot machines after hours. She has also been caught on tape by the security cameras. However, after being viewed and stowed away, the tapes mysteriously vanished.
Hotel St. Nicholas
Perched atop a hill overlooking Cripple Creek is the Hotel St. Nicholas. Originally built as a hospital for the many people flooding the region in the late nineteenth century, the Sisters of Mercy opened the St. Nicholas Hospital in 1898. The building also served as lodging for the Sisters and a school for students in its early days.
In 1901, a second hospital was opened by Teller County, located in what is now another historic inn – the Hospitality House. To compete, the Sisters claimed their facility to be “thoroughly equipped with all modern improvements, beautifully located with the best physicians in the district in attendance.”
Over the years, the hospital served the many prospectors and families of the area and expanded to include a ward for the mentally ill. However, when Cripple Creek’s mining played out, the hospital closed its doors for the last time in the mid-1970s.
For the next two decades, the building sat empty until a series of unsuccessful business attempts were made by various owners. However, this historic building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, finally found its niche when it was restored and refurbished by innkeepers Noel and Denise Perran and Susan Adelbush.
Today the Hotel St. Nicholas, with its panoramic view of Cripple Creek, contains 15 guest rooms, all pleasantly appointed with antiques, fine linens, and the unsurpassed elegance of yesteryear.
The hotel’s Boiler Room Tavern, popular with both locals and guests, is so named because the barback is the front plate of the inn’s original coal boiler. Here, you cannot only enjoy a beverage, but also a variety of Mexican food menu, and live music during some weekends.
In addition to the opulence you will find at the Hotel St. Nicholas, you might also “find” a ghost or two. Said to be haunted by a number of spirits including nuns, children, and former patients of the mental ward, the most often “seen” ghostly resident is one referred to as “Stinky.” Lurking at the back staircase of the old hospital, “Stinky” makes his presence known with a sewage-like smell. The apparition of an old miner with no upper body is also sometimes seen.
Another ghost, that of a little boy affectionately known as “Petey,” has been seen throughout the hotel, but most often is held responsible for stealing cigarettes and moving items about in the tavern.
Quietly located just blocks from the gaming district, The Hotel St. Nicholas is can be found at 303 North Third Street in Cripple Creek.
Buffalo Billy’s Casino
Long before Buffalo Billy’s became the casino that it is today, it was known as the Turf Club. Still, visitors can see at the top of this historic building, the carved letters spelling out “Turf Club Room 1896.” During Cripple Creek’s mining days, several exclusive “men’s clubs,” including the Turf, lined the streets of the burgeoning city.
If was during this time, for reasons unknown, that the six-year-old spirit of a young girl took up residence in the building, and has remained there ever since. Known as “Lilly,” the friendly little girl has sometimes been seen sitting on the stairs, cradling a rag doll in her arms. Looking incredibly real, an employee once asked her if she was lost, to which Lilly replied, “No, I’m not lost, I live here.” When the employee left to get a security guard, the pair returned only to find the little girl gone.
On another occasion, when a tourist was playing the slot machines, she lost track of her daughter. When she began to search, she found her perched on the staircase. Asking her daughter what she was doing, the young girl replied that she was playing with Lilly.
Lilly evidently has an artistic side as her drawings, numbers, and letters are often found in the hallway at the top of the staircase. Although the walls are scrubbed down, the drawings always reappear.
According to the tales, Lilly is also said to like balloons, but only in certain colors. For example, if a blue balloon is left for her, it will pop. However, if a purple balloon is left, it will begin to wander around the building on its own.
Others have often seen Lilly peering from an upstairs window down to the street below.
Buffalo Billy’s is located at 239-243 E. Bennett Avenue.
Following the disastrous fire that razed most of the city in 1896, the Imperial Hotel was built to accommodate the many miners and visitors to the area. Located at 3rd Street and Bennett Avenue, the building was opened as the Collins Hotel, luring guests with modern amenities such as electric lights and steam heat.
In the early part of the 20th century, the hotel was run by an Englishman by the name of George Long. Having emigrated from Europe as a young man, he made his way to Denver, where he married his first cousin. Before long, the couple was running the hotel, focusing on service, comfort, and fine dining.
The couple also began to have children – two daughters and a son. Perhaps because they were first cousins and too closely related, their oldest daughter, Alice, suffered from a severe mental disorder. As the girl grew older, she became more and more difficult to control, until her parents were finally forced to keep her locked in their apartment next to the lobby. Today, this is the site of the Red Rooster bar.
Sometime later, when George was going down the narrow stairs to the basement, he fell to his death. Though it very well could have been an accident, rumors began to abound that Alice had killed her father when he approached the top of the stairs, striking him in the head with a cast-iron skillet.
In 1948, the hotel introduced the Gold Bar Theater and the Imperial Players, who entertained guests for nearly five decades. Hosting the longest-running melodrama theater in the nation, the historic venue continues to entertain patrons today during its summer theatre season. In 1992 the hotel added limited stakes gaming to its list of attractions and began operating as the Imperial Casino Hotel.
The historic hotel is said to be haunted today by its former owner, George Long, who allegedly likes to flirt with the ladies and play the slot machines.
Several night time security guards tell stories of how the ding-ding-ding of the slot machines and coins hitting the hopper are heard late at night after the casino has closed. However, when they check the casino floor, no one is there. Later, when the machines are checked for malfunctions, none are found.
Guests, especially women, have often felt something or “someone” touching them during the night. Another tale alleges that a chambermaid reported having her bottom pinched by an unseen hand.
In the historic Gold Bar Theatre, evidently some of its melodramatic actors also have chosen to continue their “act,” as today’s actors tell of feeling the presence of someone when in the dressing rooms or touch upon their back.
Evidently, the “crazed” Alice also leaves her “imprint” on the historic hotel. If the staff leaves the door to the Red Rooster Bar closed, they hear the sounds of scratching on the other side of the door.
Today, the Imperial Hotel and Casino continue to welcome guests to its Victorian accommodations that include antique furnishings, French wallpaper, and chandeliers; as well as dining in its two restaurants and enjoying the entertainment of the casino.
The Palace Hotel/Womack’s Casino
Cripple Creek’s Palace Hotel first began as the Palace Drug Store. However, in 1892, the building was transformed into a hotel. With the influx of the many miners to the region, the hotel also featured one of Cripple Creek’s original gambling dens. As one of only two hotels during Cripple Creek’s early days, the place was so crowded at times; they even rented chairs to sleep in for $1 per night.
Alas, the building did not survive the 1896 fire that destroyed the entire town. However, the building was rebuilt and opened to guests once again. With its lavish décor, it soon became a major attraction for wealthy gold barons and high-rollers, as well as the many people who stepped off the stage at its front door.
By the turn of the century, the hotel was owned by Dr. Chambers and his wife Kitty. Taking care of his patients, the hotel was run by his wife, affectionately known as Miss Kitty. Priding herself on service, she offered a number of amenities to her guests, including placing lighted candles throughout the hotel and turning down the beds at night.
When Miss Kitty died in 1908 in Room #3 of the hotel, she evidently wasn’t ready to leave, as stories have it that she continues to reside there. Over the years, guests have told stories of how she continued to provide great service by making sure that the candles were lit and sometimes turning down the beds. Others have reported seeing a vision of Miss Kitty dressed in an old-fashioned white nightgown with her long hair down over her shoulders. Yet other people have reported seeing the same figure in the window of Room #3.
Miss Kitty is not the only ghost said to lurk within these historic confines as some suggest other spirits continuing to roam the old hotel, including a short fat man, a tall woman, and a blind piano player. Reports include feelings of being watched; people who feel a gentle nudge as they walked up and down the stairs, crashing noises and footsteps in the halls when no one is there, and strange anomalies appearing in photographs.
Today, the hotel is the property of Womack’s Casino, as of this writing, no changes have been made to the building, which continues to stand vacant. The Palace Hotel is located at 172 E. Bennett Avenue.
Update: Reader’s Story – My wife and I were at Womacks Casino overnight on April 3, 2008, celebrating our anniversary in room 101. At approximately 1:30 am, I awoke to hear a scratching sort of sound coming from near our overnight bag. Remembering that I had some beef jerky in the bag, I figured a mouse may have found its way into the bag. I got up and noticed that the bag was touching the bottom of a chair that was in the room. As I leaned on the chair and reached down to grab the bag, I found that the scratching sound was actually coming from the chair itself. The chair was made of stiff leather on a type of rattan or similar wood/vine. I checked the bag and found nothing wrong with it, no mouse or anything else that would make a noise. I moved the bag away from the chair and did not hear the sound anymore.
I fell back asleep and about 3:15 am I was in a dreamlike state I think, because I was laying on my left side facing my wife, and in this dreamy state I was trying to move my right arm so as to hold my wife but something was holding my right shoulder tight. I must have awakened while struggling to move my right shoulder and suddenly when I awoke, my shoulder was released. I laid there awake for a few minutes (actually afraid to move) and listening for anything. I turned the television on and watched for an hour or so before drifting in and out of sleep.
Then I heard scratching on the sheet behind me, needless to say, I was wide awake again and all of a sudden the sheet behind me was pulled tight and bounced back with a slight “popping” sound. I sat straight up, looked around and saw nothing. That was the end of my trying to sleep. I said a prayer while remembering my father always saying that a ghost cannot physically harm you, just scare you if you let them. I did not hear or experience anything else in the next few hours, but woke my wife up early and told her what I had experienced. She is a very heavy sleeper and recalled nothing. We checked out by 8:30 am and have not been back since. Thanks for letting me share this experience. — Don, Westcliffe, Colorado, July 2008
The Victor Hotel
The first Victor Hotel was built in early 1894 by the Woods Brothers just in time to accommodate travelers arriving on the newly completed Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad. The large two-story wooden frame building was a showplace with its cone-shaped tower and enclosed balconies on its second and third stories. The “modern” hotel even featured electricity.
However, when a devastating fire swept through Victor in August 1899, the wooden building succumbed to the flames that spread quickly and destroyed the entire town in just five hours.
Not to be deterred, the building was reconstructed to stand the test of time, with brick and stone. Larger than the prior building, the “Bank Block,” as it was called, housed not only the “new” Victor Hotel but also the Woods Brothers Investment Company and the First National Bank. The four-story building also housed storefronts along the first floor and the upper floors held simple accommodations for businessmen and miners.
One distinctive feature of the hotel was its elevator, which came in handy for yet another function that the building took on. During the winters, when the ground was frozen between October and June, it was impossible to dig graves for those that died in the quickly growing city. As an alternative, the bodies were taken up the elevator and stored on the fourth floor of the building until the ground thawed enough to bury them. It is apparently many of these long-dead Victor residents that haunt the historic hotel today. Though seemingly harmless, several people have witnessed the site of disembodied apparitions on the fourth floor. Reports include what looks like both doctors and patients, sometimes without arms, legs, and even heads, moving about this place that once acted as “holding cell” for the dead.
There are other haunted areas in the hotel including the basement, the elevator, the third floor, and the kitchen.
Throughout the hotel, guests often tell of seeing misty forms and hearing footsteps, sometimes accompanied by the sudden rush of cold air. In the kitchen, employees tell of utensils that are suddenly thrown about the room.
But the most prevalent ghost is that of a man named “Eddie” who allegedly fell down the elevator shaft years ago. Staying in Room 301 at the time of his death, Eddie has often been seen in the room, in the hallways, and in the elevator. Guests who stay in Room 301 also report hearing footsteps and other strange sounds that cannot be explained. Though the elevator is regularly inspected and maintained, it often tends to activate itself going up and down the shaft when no one is near it. Always stopping on the third floor, the elevator’s ghostly activity usually occurs around 3:00 a.m.
Today, the Victor Hotel, located at 4th Street and Victor Avenue continues to provide accommodations to travelers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel features 20 “modern” rooms with private baths. Victor is just a ten-minute drive from Cripple Creek through the historic mining district on Colorado State Highway 67.
Reader’s Tales of Cripple Creek, Colorado
Working With Ghosts in Cripple Creek – After reading a few of the other stories I feel I should add my experiences to the list. I have had a few and have heard others from close friends and family. When I was 14 years old, I reluctantly moved to Cripple Creek with my mom and step-dad from Las Vegas, Nevada in 1997. You could imagine how hard that was moving to such a small town. Well, at least the casinos were a familiar thing to me.
Anyway, I started working at the casinos and that’s when I had some experiences. My first experience happened at the Palace Hotel. The women’s restroom is where I saw my first ghost. I would always get a weird feeling when I went in there and never went in alone. On one occasion while my sister and I were in there, I was washing my hands when I saw in the mirror behind me, a woman sitting in the old antique full back chair that sat in the corner of the restroom.
She had on an old-style black and green full-length dress and had her hair done up on top of her head. I knew instantly that this was Miss Kitty that I had heard about from stories. I was standing there frozen when I heard my sister calling my name and realized the woman was gone.
I just started working at Johnny Nolon’s in the restaurant. One night when I was closing up I saw a little girl with a blue dress and white buckled up shoes just standing by my supervisor’s office holding a stuffed animal of some kind. I believe it was a bunny or something like that, it was really old and cheap looking. I asked her what she was doing over here since it was apart from the main floor where guests would normally be. She said she was looking for her daddy. I thought maybe the supervisor was her dad, I didn’t know. I put my hand out and asked to her come with me and I’d help her find him. She just looked at me and said she couldn’t leave or she would get into trouble. At that time, my supervisor was walking up behind me so I turned around and asked if this was his daughter. He looked at me and laughed. I didn’t get what he was laughing at until I turned back to the girl, that wasn’t there anymore! My supervisor asked if I was ok. I started rambling confusingly about what had just happened and he asked me if I wanted to hear a story. He then told me about a man that had owned the building back in the early days. He had lost his wife to some disease and was very protective of his daughter. He would go to work every day and leave his daughter home alone. He had told the girl that it very dangerous to go outside without her father and that the only way she would be safe was to stay inside and play with her toys until he came home. Well, she did that every day of her life. Then, one day there was a couple that lived in the same building that got into a huge argument and somehow a lamp got knocked over. The lamp broke and started a fire. The whole building went up in flames. The little girl never made it out because she was told the only way she would ever be safe was to stay inside until her father came home. To this day she has never left. That was the one and only time I had ever seen her while working there.
I have a sister that used to work as a housekeeper in the Gold Rush Hotel. She told me that there was also a little girl that she would see in the halls during the day while she was cleaning rooms. She said the little girl loved balloons and that she would sometimes be walking around with a red one. The girl was often seen sitting at the top of the stairs, allowing her balloon float to the top of the ceiling. Sometimes, guests would report that there was a balloon in the hallway but, no one was around.
In that same hotel, there is a room (I believe it is room #308, but I can’t remember exactly) that my sister hated to clean. She said it was just creepy. The first time she went in she said she saw a woman standing by the window looking out and she left right away. There were reports of the water turning on and the door closing by itself.
The last story I have is of Bob Womack’s Casino. I was 16 years old and a busser in the restaurant. The restaurant is on the second floor (the casino is on the first.) There is a huge staircase as soon as you walk in the front door of the casino leading to the restaurant. The wall is covered with a mirror and several occasions when I was walking up or down the stairs, I would see a faint figure following behind me, right on my heels almost touching me. Other times, I wouldn’t see anything but the presence was definitely still there. This happened maybe 15 – 20 times. There were also feelings of a presence in the first elevator. I used that elevator only twice and felt it both times and then I started using the other one with no problems.
By Mousie, January 2011.
Haunted House in Cripple Creek
I hesitated at first to send this off to you. However, after reading some of the other reader’s posts…I felt compelled to go ahead and send mine. This encounter occurred during the summer of 1973 in Cripple Creek, Colorado. My father had fallen in love with the town, and consequently moved all six of us kids, lock, stock, and barrel to the high country of Colorado.
I feel that I first should give some background on this former mining town in the Rockies. Cripple Creek exploded as a city when gold was discovered in the nearby hills around 1891. The town has had a rather tumultuous history, burning to the ground in 1896 and having a reputation for lawlessness in its infancy. The survival of the city depended on the price of gold…and when the price dropped, so did Cripple Creek. Needing the means to survive, the city turned to tourism when the last mine closed in 1962 (ironically, a few have since re-opened recently.) Tourism became the main economic engine that sustained the town until 1991 when limited stakes gambling was introduced to the area. Today, Cripple Creek enjoys the benefits of all three economic variables — tourism, mining, and gambling. During the summer of 1973, I was a sophomore at Cripple Creek –Victor High School. My sister, myself, and her boyfriend decided to sneak inside a supposed “haunted” house (turns out the rumors where true!) Technically, we were trespassing and easily could have been busted and suffered the consequences. But the thrill of experiencing a ghost sighting, combined with juvenile hormones, negated any threats of common sense.
We found a back door that was almost too easy to move and sauntered in. This house was a two-story Victorian, turn-of-the-century brick, with some of the original antique furniture still inside. We began to roam around the house, laughing, and making jokes.
When I opened the door to the cellar………….that’s when we heard. I want to point out that all of this was occurring in broad daylight, with the sun shining bright, in the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t midnight or the typical 3:00 a.m. “ghost hunt.”
At first, we heard the sounds of silverware clinking on plates, then a cacophony of voices, combined with music from a bygone era. I should also mention that there was no electricity being provided to this residence at the time. The sounds began to swell and before long, the entire house was filled with the din of what we later thought to be a party or a ball of some kind. The three of us then proceeded to set a land speed record for exiting a home during a crisis.
Months later, this very same house was purchased by a wealthy writer, whose name I can’t mention. Afterward, several parties were held there. One night, during a particularly raucous evening, a young woman ran from this house screaming. Once her friends caught up with her and asked her what had happened, she told her friends that the “figure” of a miner had materialized by the fireplace. Others later reported seeing a ”distinguished” looking Victorian-era gentleman at the top of the stairs.
Years later, when I was researching the eccentric inventor Nicola Tesla, I came upon an article that described how the unconventional electrical genius had conducted a number of experiments in Cripple Creek. The same writer who had purchased and was living in the house at the time confirmed it was, in fact, Tesla’s residence at one time, where he had conducted experiments.
Despite his prolific inventiveness and eccentric lifestyle, Tesla was known to maintain a rather high social profile. His experiments in physics also upheld the belief and possibility of life after death.
Could it be Nicola Tesla, himself, that remains in this house?
Submitted by Mike Warden, January 2006
Legends Notes: Nikola Tesla was an inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer originally from Croatian Krajina who later became an American citizen. Tesla was best known for his contributions and inventions in electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th century.
After his demonstration of wireless radio communications in 1893, he was widely respected as America’s greatest electrical engineer. However, Tesla was an eccentric man, prone to making unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments. After making a number of these wild claims, he began to be ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist. He died impoverished in January 1943 at the age of 86.
Additional Update: Back in the early ’90s my girlfriend and I were traveling in Cripple Creek. I was an avid admirer of Nicola Tesla, and living in Colorado I felt it would be almost criminal not to venture down to Cripple Creek and find his old house. The drive from Denver/Colorado Springs/Manitou/Cripple Creek took much longer than we expected, and we arrived about 10 at night.
There really wasn’t anyone around to tell us where, exactly, Tesla’s house was (although we had heard it was still standing.) We drove around the residential streets for nearly an hour hoping to find some placard or some kind of guidepost to no avail. After about an hour, we pulled to the side of a street and seriously considered heading back to Denver admitting failure.
Just then, as we were scanning the dark silhouettes of the surrounding houses, the near side of a two-story house on the next block lit up as though a huge arc light had been aimed at it. We both saw it, then scanned the area looking for a streetlight or anything that could have produced the light…. nothing!
Knowing Tesla’s genius was in electricity and lighting, we both felt satisfied that this was his way of saying he was there, and “welcome to my home.” The light disappeared as quickly as it appeared, and we drove home satisfied we had found the house we were looking for…. with a little help from Mr. Tesla.
Charles Byrne, Denver, Colorado, October 2007, updated February 2020.