Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lessons of the Blizzard of 1997


Seems like yesterday — and a long time ago. When the warnings first appeared in late October, in the fall of 1997, some forecasters expected eight to 10 inches. When is stopped snowing here in Monument, about 48 hours later, at least four feet had fallen. Wind, cold, drifts and other enhancements made it one for the record books.
The Colorado Blizzard of Oct. 24 -25, 1997 was especially giving to folks here on the Palmer Divide.
Snow began falling heavily on a Friday afternoon, raged through Saturday, and folks were still digging out a week later when we delivered Tribunes Friday, a week later. I personally wrote a check for $700 to a local guy to plow out parking lot (and do something with the snow) on the corner of Washington Street and Third.
District 38 schools were closed Monday, Tuesday and still Wednesday, with outside hope that they could open Thursday, when we put the paper to bed in the ensuing aftermath.
The paper had just been sold earlier that month (announced in the Oct. 9 edition) and I was named by Westward Communications, LLC, to replace longtime owner and editor Bill Kezziah as the publisher at the little house office where Maria Tillberry's Expectation Salon is now. Kezziah had owned, edited and managed the paper for 19 years prior.
Writer (mailroom, photographer, designer, etc..) Jeremy Bangs and I had just finished addressing the papers, and I was running the racks and dealer route when the first calls to rescuers appeared shortly after 4 p.m. that Friday, following a three-car collision on I-25. Four other calls had surfaced in the next 90 minutes. That was just the start of a long weekend for rescue workers.
"Sustained winds to 40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph produced zero visability and extremely cold wind chill temperatures from 25 below to 40 below zero. Winds whipped the snow into drifts 4 to 10 feet deep," reported the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
"Several major and interstate highways were closed as travel became impossible. Red Cross shelters were set up for hundreds of travelers who became stranded when they had to abandon their vehicles. Four people died in northeastern Colorado as a result of the blizzard."
Evacuation of stranded motorists began at 9:41 a.m. on I-25 Saturday morning with help from three snow mobiles provided by Steve Johnson, Steve Marks and Mitch Schumacher and a privately-owned Humvee belonging to Monument's Steve Wilcox Jr., being the only moterized vehicles for the 14 Tri-Lakes Fire Volunteers and five Woodmoor-Monument firefighters.
Tri-Lakes fire station (now No. 1), evolved into the command center, as motorists were shuttled from I-25 to local gas stations, Stranded motorists found North of  Highway 105 were taken to Conoco, those found south of 105 were taken to the Total station at Baptist Road.
About nine hours later, I-25 and Highway 105 had been cleared of more than 100 motorists stranded in the storm. Then they had to find them more comfortable shelter from the storm.
Public works employees from the town of Monument used a grader fitted with a large V-plow to clear paths to the Falcon Inn and the Monument Town Hall (currently the Chamber building) which housed temporarily more than 300 through Saturday night.
Snowmobiles, cross-country skiers and Humvees, were about all that was able to navigate for the local roadways for a few days.
Monument Police Officer Kristen Rich was transported in from home in Palmer Lake via snowmobile to manage the town hall shelter. Food donated by Safeway, Burger King, and La Casa Fiesta, and distributed by volunteers and firefighters.
"Once settled in, the atmosphere was upbeat," wrote Jeremy Bangs at the time. "Monument Town Hall was host to a mariachi band, members of the Denver Symphony, and a FBI agent, on his way to Denver."
Food and blankets from residents living near the town hall, including Monument Mayor at the time, Si Sibell and his wife Dorothy, who also opened up their home and pool table, for those looking for a place to sleep. Dorothy Sibell cooked breakfast in the Town Hall that morning for 40 plus visitors who remained overnight. Cheryl Schumacher of the Falcon Inn said most visitors there were friendly and happy, even the ones that had to sleep in the banquet room.
"At 2:38 a.m. on Sunday, a woman with a heart attack was reported in Wakonda Hills," according to Bangs' story. "A medical crew set out on snowmobile to the residence while a Humvee following the Monument grader came behind. Though CPR efforts were tried for some time, paramedics could not revive the woman who was pronounced dead at the scene."
That was the only fatality reported initially  in the immediate Palmer Divide area.
Many roads were still closed the following Wednesday after the storm and drifts as deep as 15 feet were reported at Kilmer Elementary, near Highway 83 in District 38. Similar stories came from District 20. Five stranded travelers in four-wheel drive vehicles on Furrow road were forced to break into St. Matthias Church to seek sanctuary from the cold early Saturday morning.
Palmer Lake Mayor at the time Chuck Jones said most roads were open in his town by Monday afternoon and estimated 35 to 38 inches dropped during the storm. The local volunteers were also assisted by eight soldiers in four Humvees from Fort Carson's 759th Military Police unit. Six people were rescued by helicopter on Rampart Range Road on the backside of Mount Herman. 
Of course, storms are nothing new around here.  Blizzards have come and gone, before and since.
I recall how the mayor of Denver discounted the threat just two days before this one. 
"As much publicity as there has been about El Nino, it would be kind of silly not to be sensitive, given the interest of Colorado people in snow," Denver Mayor Wellington Webb had said that Thursday before under sunny skies as quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "It's expected to be handled, and we want people to know we're prepared to handle it."
Seems like yesterday — yet, a long time ago. 

### 



Photo information: 

1. Another Blizzard on Second and Front Streets in downtown Monument, 1913. Vaile Museum
2. Locals shoveling out deep snow in the downtown streets of Monument in front of Lone Star Meat Market in 1913. Vaile Museum
3. Easy roof access on Second Street in Monument, with Rampart Range in the background. Vaile Museum.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fear of wrecks haunts us in our tracks



'Cos he was going down a grade making 90 miles an hour,
The whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,
Scalded to death by the steam.
_ Norman George Blake, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, from Wreck Of The Old '97

 In this area, our particular nightmares and disasters, arrive in the scale and form of train wrecks. The ghost that haunts us, is the fear that it ever could happen again.

The following are just some of the local train wrecks that I know of.

“A frightful collision occurred on the Denver and Rio Grande one and one-half miles below Palmer Lake yesterday afternoon about two o’clock, between two extra engines, in which Engineer Hart and Fireman C.F. Fogle lost their lives. The accident was said to have been caused by the carelessness of the two men named and their lives paid the penalty,” according to the Thursday, Aug. 21, 1890, Rocky Mountain News.

“Engine 581, with a pile driver and a caboose attached, left Husted, nine miles below Palmer Lake, about 1:30 o’clock with orders to run through Palmer Lake. At the same time, Engine 258, in charge of Engineer Hart and Fireman Fogle, was given orders to run extra from Palmer Lake to Husted and protect against Engine 581. By the word protect it was meant that they should watch out for the northbound engine and in case where could not see ahead, the fireman was to go ahead with a flag until a clear stretch of track was reached. The track between Palmer Lake and Monument is very tortuous and winding with frequent cuts and great caution has always been observed, especially work engines and trains running as those were yesterday. Engineer Hart, and his fireman, it is presumed, believed that they could reach Monument in time to meet Engine 581, or that they would meet it on the clear track just north of that point. In this supposition they were mistaken and as a result the collision occurred.”
According to reports, the engineer and fireman from the northbound train were able to leap to safety but Hart and Fogle, headed south, were caught in the cab and crushed to death, as well as being badly scalded.

“Poor Fogle was standing between the cab and the tender, just ready to jump for his life, but was caught and horribly crushed, his leg and arm being broken.”

He died before his wife could be summoned from Husted by telegraph.

The report noted “Hart, the dead engineer, has been on the road for some time and was a very efficient man. His first and last mistake occurred yesterday.”

But unfortunately, that was not the last mistake made in that area.

Just five years later, in July of 1895, a Santa Fe freight train went through the bridge at Monument and killed four.

“An appalling wreck occurred on the Santa Fe road near Monument at 11 o’clock this morning,” according to the New York Times. “A freight train consisting twenty cars plunged through a bridge near that place, burying beneath the debris the train crew, a number of tramps and several bridge carpenters who were repairing the bridge. Wrecking crews were quickly dispatched from Denver and Pueblo a special train from Colorado Springs with physicians. These with the citizens of Monument, worked heroically rescuing the dead and injured. One hundred and fifty feet of trestle went down with the train. The scene under the bridge was described as most shocking, freight cars, bridge timbers, and railroad iron being a horrible wreck. The plunge was 50 feet to the rocks below,” according to the Aspen Times then.

Just south of 2nd Street on the Old Denver Highway the catastrophic train wreck occurred. The Santa Fe Bridge Foreman was repairing the three-hundred foot-long trestle. He removed too many cross-braces and when the train attempted to cross the trestle gave way.

In 1902 the Santa Fe began replacing wood trestles with the earth structure that you see today, according to Palmer Lake Historical Society.

“The killed are Jim Childers, foreman of the bridge gang; Mrs. Cooper, wife of the station agent, and an unknown tramp. The fatally injured are Mark Winchers, engineer of the freight train; D. N. Irby, Charles Hailey, Frank Shaw, Wallace Cooper, Charles Van Merter, Tom Smith, and Joe Williams, tramps who were beating their way over the road;  J. W. Cole, C. C. Carpenter and Thomas Stenhouse, bridge carpenters and Charles Sargent, reported the Aspen Weekly Times Colorado, of July 18,  1895.”

The New York Times called it this way.

“A Santa Fe freight train, bound from Denver to Colorado Springs, fell through a bridge just south of here at 11 o'clock this morning, killing three persons, fatally injuring three, and seriously injuring fifteen others.

“There were twenty-four cars in the train loaded with stone, lumber, and timber. The bridge gang, consisting of twenty men, were working under the north end of the bridge. The train passed over them, and was nearing the other side when the timbers gave way, and the train went through into the gulch, fifty feet below. Nearly all the men working on the north end were thrown off, and fell below. Mrs. Cooper, wife of Albert Cooper, the engineer of the bridge work, was sitting on a ledge of rock watching the men work, when the timbers began to crack, and J. C. Childers, who was on the structure, jumped to save her. The leap was to death as he had scarcely reached her side when the great mass of wreckage fell upon them. Both were mangled and buried. Childers was foreman of the bridge gang. There was a moment of silence, and then came the hissing of steam and cries of the scalded men pierced the air.”

Fireman Frye was caught in his cab, but was pulled out. Two brakemen on the engine were scalded.

As soon as possible a wrecking train was brought from Denver, with physicians and surgeons. All that was possible was done for the suffering.

They were taken to the hospital at La Junta for treatment.

The bridge was of wood, 50 feet high and 300 feet long. Twenty minutes before the accident occurred the Midland passenger train crossed the structure. The cause of the accident is unknown. The wreckage is piled up thirty feet, and it is thought that there are bodies still under it. It will take two days at least to clear it away. About half of the bridge was taken away by the train in its descent,” reported The New York Times New York, July 18, 1895.

A decade and half later, down at nearby Husted (near the North Gate of the Air Force Academy), The Colorado Springs Gazette of Aug. 14, 1909, related the story of an equally horrific rail accident there.

“Nine persons are dead, and others are expected to die; between forty and fifty are injured; three engines are in the ditch; two baggage cars, including the contents, are smashed to kindling wood, and several passenger coaches are badly damaged as the result of a head-on collision between east bound passenger train No. 8, and westbound passenger No. 1, on the Denver & Rio Grande, near Husted, thirteen miles north of this city, at 10:25 a.m. today. The wreck was due to a misunderstanding of orders, it is said.”

Report from papers all over the nation carried the dispatches.

As No. 8 drew into Husted about 40 mph, the crew of the engine saw a light engine standing on the switch north of the station.

“Mistaking the engine for the second section of No. 1, the crew did not stop, and went through the station as fast as the two engines could draw the thirteen heavily laden coaches. As soon as the train got out of the station, the engineer of the first engine of No. 8 saw another train coming slowly down the incline. He slammed on the air brakes, and the emergency brakes, and then shouted to the other members of the two crews to jump. Before they had time to jump, No. 8 had rammed No. 1 so hard that all three engines lay in the ditch,” according to the Nebraska State Journal at the time.

“Fireman J.A. Gossage, of train No. 8, was killed as he was firing his engine, and never knew what struck him. The members of the other crew escaped serious injury by jumping.”

The smoker, attached to train No. 8, was the car in which the people were killed. All those badly injured were in the same car.

Other reports said that J.A. or Jack Gossage, the fireman on the helper engine who lived at Husted and had just waved to his wife as the train passed his home, was trapped between the engine and the tender when the collision occurred.

Jack Gossage's wife continued to work for the railroad for many years afterward as a cook for crews in Husted, and the Gossage name eventually became quite famous for other reasons in Colorado Springs. Jack Gossage is grandfather to Colorado Springs standout and major league baseball Hall of Famer Rick “Goose” Gossage.

“The wreck occurred just east of the east switch at Husted. The impact of the trains was terrific and the locomotives and the baggage and smoking cars of both trains were badly damaged,” reported papers at the time.

“The shrieks of the wounded were pitiful and those who were not injured among the passengers immediately started the work of rescue. It was impossible to accurately determine the number of dead, but first reports indicated that eight had been killed.”

On May 27, 1983 in Palmer Lake, the Burlington Northern coal train headed south and the Rio Grande Western freight headed north collided near the County Line Road crossing.

Fire ensued and the Burlington Northern engine exploded. Palmer Lake Police Officer John Cameron, Bob Romack and others rushed to the scene which was described as “a tangled mass of twisted, burning metal where Keith Watts of Pueblo was trapped inside one of the engines… pinned to the cab floor.”

The men found the strength to lift a heavy plate from Watts and get him to safety in spite of the threat of explosions from burning diesel fuel.

Witnesses at the scene said it appeared the trains didn’t stop at all. According to a Highway Patrol report, the southbound Burlington went through a red signal suggesting human error. It is reported that in 1981 the Burlington Northern suffered another mishap in Palmer Lake when a freight train jumped the tracks derailing 13 cars.

Today, modern technology such as the use of computers for scheduling and routing, better engineering of the rolling stock, the roadbeds and intersections, have all helped prevent disastrous accidents of this type at least for now.


___ Rob Carrigan

Photo Info:  Train wreck in Monument near Second Street in 1895.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Perfect weather for WMMI harvest festival



Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan@yourpeaknews.com

Every fall the Harvest Festival at Reynolds Ranch draws thousands to pick out a pumpkin or two, experience the lost arts of stamp milling, black smithing, cider pressing, gold panning and maybe — take a tractor ride and watch the steam shovel operate.

"Colorado Springs has been growing at an unprecedented pace for more than a century now and much of our colorful and unique history is being lost in the process. The Western Museum of Mining and Industry is located on the property now known as the Reynolds Ranch," says information from the museum.

"We are all ready for it," said Rick Sauers, executive director of the Museum, earlier last week at a Chamber of Commerce function. "Expecting good weather and large crowds."

Weather for the two day event over the weekend was exceptional. The annual celebration is fundraiser for the museum and features all of the above, plus a whole lot more.

"In the early 1890s, Sara and Joseph Reynolds moved west to Colorado from Pennsylvania and built the Little Red Farm House. Their farm became a working ranch that included a saw-mill and dairy farm. Over the following century, many people important to Colorado Front Range history called the ranch home, including Lazarus Khan – namesake of the mineral Khanite – and founder of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society," according to officials at the museum.

"The Reynold’s house was originally part of the town of Husted, CO. Husted provided many of the raw materials necessary for the rapidly growing urban center of Colorado Springs, including milk, ice, lumber, and fox fur. With the slow decline of mining around the Front Range region, Husted slowly faded away into history. During the 1950s, the US Air Force purchased the land that Husted occupied and removed all of the remaining homes and buildings," according to their research.

The only house that survived the too common fate of Husted was the Reynolds home and their ranch. Once over 700 acres, it is now a 27-acre museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting Colorado’s mining, industrial and regional history.

"Included in the State Register of Historic Properties in 1997, the Reynolds Ranch House has two distinctive characteristics. First, it is a Queen Anne Farmhouse in a rural setting. Second, it is the last vestige of the once-thriving community of Husted, a former Denver & Rio Grande railroad supply town and depot. Prior to the museum’s ownership, nine different families owned the house. The Previous owners have made minor modification over the years. The museum intends to restore the home as an 1894 Queen Anne farmhouse before providing tours and other interpretive activities," museum information says.

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Photo Information:
  1. Apples, raised near in Pueblo, decorated a vendor table Saturday morning.
  2. Board member Mark Yoder and volunteer Joe Gray gear up the cider press.
  3. Rachael Foote (9), and Robert Foote (7), look over the pumpkins in the patch.
  4. Riley Ewel (left) is showing a small nugget of color in the gold pan.
  5. Beckett Anible, almost 2, and his parents, Scott and Nadine, find the donkey livestock (Nugget and Chism) captivating.
  6. Doing the height check on the great pumpkin in the yard.
  7. Tomatoes, beans, potatoes, eggplant, peppers and other produce galore.
  8. Steve Barry captains a 1936 John Deere tractor for tours of the facility.










































































































Wednesday, October 7, 2015

25 years of legal gambling here in Cripple Creek


While it may be true as Ambrose Bierce said, that the gambling known as business —  looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling. But over the last quarter century here in Colorado, the gambling business has prospered. Colorado voters made that decision one cold, snowy Tuesday almost 25 years ago.
"Despite a snow storm that left roads icy and snowy, Teller County residents and residents statewide came out to vote for Amendment 4. The amendment allows $5 bets on black jack and poker and slot machines in businesses housed in historic buildings in Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk," wrote Courier editor Ruth Zirkle at the time.
"The amendment won big in Teller County with a 70 percent margin. Cripple Creek and Victor precincts approved the amendment two to one. Statewide, the last results before press time early Wednesday morning were 56 percent for, to 44 percent against." the Courier reported Thursday, November 6, 1990.
"While city officials are working to beat problems before they occur and make sure things go more smoothly than they did in Deadwood, S.D., one year ago, business deals are booming, buildings are selling, and owners are making plans for gambling halls"
"A group from Deadwood, S.D., was at the gathering Saturday night and they already have plans for two buildings purchased earlier this fall. The Orange Door and the Theater of Time next door will be restored and run as gambling-related businesses.
In addition, at least two Cripple Creek business owners plans for gambling. Steve Makin and the Imperial Hotel already has plans for 'back room' gambling at the Imperial and former Teller County Commissioner June Fuhlrodt of Victor, announced plans for cafe/bar/gambling parlour at 100 Bennett Avenue, the location of her present antique store."
"And while new businesses are being planned, at least one business owner hopes to wash his hands of Cripple Creek and gambling. Clive and Diane Smith, who own two buildings and three houses, put 'for sale' signs in their windows Wednesday morning," reported Zirkle.
"It won't do any good for my store. I would have to put in slots or a bar," said Smith. He and his wife run a fine gift store and don't think people interested in gambling won't be interested in fine gifts. If the Smiths can get the price they want from the buildings they will sell."
Amendment 4, legalizing gambling, results in Teller County at the time were 3,301 votes approving the measure and 1,384 rejecting it. Statewide 574,620 voted for the measure, and 428,096 voted against, about a 57 percent to 42 percent spread, when all the totals were in.
Limited gaming began in Colorado on October 1, 1991, with a total of 11 casinos open statewide, according to the 2013 Factbook and Abstract by the Colorado Division of Gaming.
Colorado had its greatest number of casinos in November 1992, with 76 operating statewide.
At the 22‐year mark on October 1, 2013, there were 39 gaming establishments open in Colorado, a number that has remained fairly constant for several years, with the annual number averaging between 39 and 41 casinos since 2008.   Gross revenues generated by casinos on a monthly basis have increased from nearly $8.4 million during the first month of operation to a high of more than $76.5 million in July 2007.  During the first 22 years of gaming in Colorado, casinos paid nearly $1.8 billion in gaming tax revenues to the state on $13.3 billion in adjusted gross revenues. That money has been used to fund state historical restoration projects, community colleges, mitigate the impacts to state and local governments caused by gaming, and finance on‐going regulation of the gaming industry, according to the Division of Gaming.
On November 4, 2008, Colorado voters approved Amendment 50, which gave the electorate in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek the option to approve 24‐hour gaming, adding the games of craps and/or roulette, and raising the maximum wager limit up to $100.   The amendment required additional state revenues generated by the changes to be distributed to community colleges and to the gaming towns and counties. Amendment 50 also required voter approval for any increase in gaming tax rates beyond the rates and levels in place as of July 1, 2008. Voters in all three towns approved the changes for casinos in their communities, and the changes went into effect July 2, 2009.
This year, Cripple Creek decided to allow the serving of alcohol around the clock.

###

Photo Information: Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek in 1957, before legalized gambling.  Photo by Chalmers Butterfield.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Discovery, marking unknown in local cemetery


Existence is all about discovery, knowing the unknown. The longer one lives, the more mysterious life seems. The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear, is fear of the unknown.
Here in Monument, as in all over, the local cemetery helps us mark an existence, capture a passing, pay respect. If you think about it, it is a part of our life, as much as it is a part of loved one's death.
For at least five years, volunteer John Howe and others, have been working on a project at the Monument Cemetery.
"I started working on the paperwork, trying to get the files in order more than five years ago," Howe said last week in the cemetery. "It was a fool's errand. Impossible. So many have worked on it over the years, and there is so much time passed. So many unknowns."
To be a little more precise, Howe, who is also on the Monument Board of Trustees,  and others have identified and labeled 189 unknowns — possible graves that names cannot be attached. They used technology to identify that something is there, underground.
"I would love to know their history," he said. "Some of them are a real mystery." 
He cited uncontrollable instances, such as the train wreck in 1895, where someone might have needed buried locally, without the burial party knowing for sure, who was committed to earth.
In most cases, when there was a question, and when technology was able to tell them something was there, they tried to mark the spaces in some manner. Many have temporary plaster of Paris markers that are subject to the ravages of time and weather. 
Other temporary and permanent markers can become buried, or displaced by growing turf, blowing dirt, vegetation and trees and bushes and even maintenance.
"It is supposed to be perpetual care, but it is difficult, as time passes."
The oldest grave that Howe knows of, is near the center of the cemetery, and is attributed to Alonzo Welty, for 1860. The Welty family (including another Alonzo), were later well-known in the Cripple Creek district.
A wealth of local history resides within the boundaries of the Monument Cemetery, with sprinkling of names like Noe, Lavelett, Pettigrew, and Gossage, and McShane. The five acres were donated by C.R. Bissell in 1886, but burials occurred there long before that. Approximately only 150 plots remain there, and 15 in crematory garden.
It is well-visited by family and friends of the deceased. 
"About 80 percent of the time when I'm here, someone else is too. They come from all over, Wyoming, Kansas, points East. One local guy comes here every day," Howe said.

Photo information:  
Top photo: Recent tree thinning and maintenance is evident in the midst of the cemetary.

Photo 2: Disrepair and damaged stones is an ongoing problem.

Photo 3: Howe points to a rich history that exists among the markers.

Photo 4: Historic ironwork surrounds some graves but can make maintenance difficult.

Photo 5: Unknown graves are, in some cases, are marked by plaster of Paris temporary makers.

Photo 6: Alonzo Welty's grave is the oldest known burial located near the center of the cemetery.

Photo 7: Another unknown grave suffers the ravages of time and weather.








Friday, October 2, 2015

Fear of fire like no other


Ghosts, connected to fire, manifest a fear like no other.
 When the first terrible fire broke out in Cripple Creek on a frigid, windy night April 29, 1896, six shots, fired in rapid succession rang out. It was the signal for a town lacking the traditional fire bell.
 A reservoir, half full and the rest frozen almost solid, was not much help when the volunteer firefighters arrived almost immediately.
"So rapid was the progress of the flames that the people soon became panic-stricken and chaos ensued. Teams of horses and mules were lashed up and down the streets by excited men; people with bundles and papers were rushing pell-mell to the northward; shouts, the booming of flames, the crashing of falling timbers following the explosion of dynamite, all made one ominous, unintelligible roar," reported papers at the time.
 The echos of that terrible sound were heard again on March 4, 1977, when a fire of unknown origin began in the Grubstake Hotel (formerly the 50-room Masonic Hall) and known as the Welty Block. Frozen fire hydrants again frustrated volunteer's efforts to douse the flames. Newspapers at the time reported that one wall was dynamited.
Jan MacKell, in her book "Cripple Creek: Last of Colorado's Gold Booms," described the stories that began to emerge afterward.
"Interestingly, one of dozens of ghost stories about Cripple Creek surfaced in the wake of the Welty Block fire. When the wall collapsed, a spiraling column of flames shot upward as at least two firemen heard a woman's screams from inside the empty building. One of them was volunteer Ed Grosh, who swore he heard a woman's voice calling out, 'I'm free! I'm free at last!' In the years since the fire, more and more stories have emerged about the old Welty Block being haunted before its demise. Some even swore the say the apparition of a woman floating through the smoke. As for June Hack, all he saw after the fire were four donkeys standing at the burned out door of his grocery and looking at the ruins with quizzical expressions. 'That fire devastated us and them,' he said."
Chas S. Clifton, in his 1983 book "Ghost Tales of Cripple," says there were earlier stories.
"For years before the fire, the Welty Block was owned by Ray and Marilyn McLeod, he a former 'crack' gold miner, although it had been sold sometime before it burned. 'Lots of spooky things,' went onin the building, Mrs. McLeod avers — a feeling not shared by the former owners of the grocery store, who say their premises were undisturbed... She tells of almost nightly encounters with 'spooks,' and how something shook her bedframe while her dog growled at the invisible intruder,"reported Clifton.
"I was scared to death half the time we lived there," he quotes Marilyn McLeod.
Guests at the former hotel also reported hearing mysterious footsteps in the corridors, and several claimed they spotted an apparition of a woman in turn-of-the-century clothing 'like Lilliam Russell, the actress."
Crews from Victor and Cripple Creek both battled that night to try and save the Welty Block with the Victor contingent on the street side and Cripple Creek department in the alley.
Longtime district mainstay Ray Drake, who was on the Victor crew. Clifton reports, "After the walls had fallen and the battle to save the Welty Block was clearly lost, Drake said, one of the Cripple Creek men, someone who hadn't lived too long in the District, came up to him. 'Someone died in there,' the fireman swore, 'I heard screaming.'"
Drake knew the building's history — and he also knew its apartments were uninhabited, the gas and electicity turned off.
Ed Grosh, a member of the Cripple Creek Volunteer Fire Department that night who was later contacted by Clifton at his new home of Inyokern, California, reported what he heard that night as the rear wall and roof collapsed, sending a vortex of flame spurting hundreds of feet in the air.
Swearing that he heard a woman scream, but not for help.
"I'm free! I'm free at last," is what Grosh said he heard.
Fire conjures a fear like no other.
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Photo Information: Welty Block in early 1970s, during a Donkey Derby Days parade. The building was destroyed by fire in March of 1977.