Ghostly Aspen: City full of spooky tales, old and new
Ryan Summerlin October 31, 2012
ASPEN – Halloween is a time to tell ghost stories, and Aspen has plenty of them.
Believe the stories, or don’t believe them, but there are ample tales of ghosts that haunt some of Aspen’s buildings, playing tricks on unsuspecting workers and others or simply appearing and disappearing.
Perhaps the most widespread stories involve the 123-year-old Hotel Jerome. Allegedly, in 1936, a 10-year-old boy belonging to a family staying in Room 310 drowned in the hotel swimming pool. To this day, some employees, guests and others say they have encountered him on the third floor, wet and draped in a towel, appearing to be looking for his room or his parents.
Another involves a beautiful woman named Katie Kerrigan, who as a 16-year-old was working as a maid at the hotel in 1892. Many well-heeled guests took notice of her good looks, which supposedly made her co-workers so jealous that they played pranks on her. One night another maid told her a malicious lie – that her pet kitten had fallen through the ice of a nearby pond. Kerrigan went to save the feline and fell through the ice herself.
Though she was rescued, she soon succumbed to pneumonia. Over the years, workers have reported that her presence remains in the hotel: Beds have been made before any workers arrived in a room to deal with them; in other cases, rooms logged as straight and clean have been found in a minor state of mess upon the arrival of a guest, for no apparent reason.
Those stories are part of Aspen and Hotel Jerome folklore. But the tales don’t end there.
A former employee of Hunter Bar, the former nightspot in the subgrade space of the Bidwell Building at South Galena Street and the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, told The Aspen Times of a ghostly presence in the kitchen.
The spooky vision was an older man, and he would only appear at night after all the patrons were gone and the employee was preparing to lock up. He never spoke and would only show up for an instant; as soon as the employee would take notice and attempt to investigate, he was gone.
Dean Weiler, who leads various types of historical walking tours and ghost tours emphasizing Aspen’s mysterious side, said that when he hears stories about ghosts or hauntings in the city he tries to do more research to see if any of the tales are rooted in fact.
“There are some I don’t really tell on my tour and some I need to research a little more,” he said. “A lot of the bars are haunted. You know, 2 o’clock in the morning is a good time to see some spirits.”
He’s heard some strange tales recently involving the Regal, a dance club in the basement of the Elks Building. Employees have noted some strange occurrences. Another story involves the elevator of that same building: People have been seen getting into it, but when the doors open on another floor, no one’s there.
Weiler spoke of other ghostly hotspots, such as Pioneer Park, also known as the Henry Webber House, on West Bleeker Street. Webber was a shoe merchant who grew rich from mining investments during the late-19th century silver boom. His wife, Harriet, who died under mysterious circumstances, supposedly haunts the house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Weiler mentioned that he’s researching another story involving the Jerome and the first-floor Library section of the hotel, which features a bar and lounging area.
“There used to be a large suite there, and a woman was either murdered or hung herself on her wedding night,” he said. “I was told that a bartender sees a woman walking through the Library toward a storage closet. Of course, when he looks into it, there’s no one there.”
He’s also heard of a nighttime security guard at the hotel who sees a woman staring into one of the hotel’s cameras. When the security guard runs upstairs to find out who the woman is, the room is empty.
“The Jerome could have a lot of stuff going on there,” Weiler said. “The third floor freaks people out.” Most of the stories seem harmless enough, but Weiler spoke of a former employee who thinks a malevolent ghost might inhabit the historic building.
Despite all of the stories involving the Jerome, Weiler said he’s cautious about describing it as haunted. Instead of embracing it – many people book rooms there in hopes of some type of encounter with a spirit or unusual circumstance – management has always tried to downplay the stories, he said.
Weiler mentioned the Red Onion restaurant and bar in the Cooper Avenue mall as another spooky structure. Built in 1892, the Red Onion building was established as a saloon, with the upper floors possibly serving as a brothel.
“The Red Onion is haunted by the spirit of a girl as well as a man who was murdered there in the kitchen in the mid-1970s,” he said.
Brad Smith, general manager of the Red Onion, said he doesn’t believe the building is haunted. However, some employees have reported odd happenings, he said.
A worker who cleans the restaurant in the mornings won’t work alone. In one event, she claimed that she set aside some black-and-white coloring-book pages (which are often given to children of customers) on the bar. She left the room briefly, and upon returning, a page had been colored, although no one else was in the building.
Smith said he’s heard the sound of people dancing upstairs when he’s been in the building alone.
“I can’t say that there are ghosts,” he said, adding that the noises couldn’t have been made by animals that somehow got into the building.
And so, like many other ghostly tales of Aspen, the upstairs dancing at the Red Onion remains shrouded in mystery.