Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ghost of Emma or Essie? & fishing with grenades

She always vanished the moment someone on the train recognized and called her by name

By Rob Carrigan,

The first time I heard the story of Emma Mentzer was in Brian Tobin’s history class, as a junior in high school. In between his rants about “screaming Arab regulars,” Tobin was famous for dramatic accounts of seemingly minor details in life and times of eras past. They provided texture and color for history that I have enjoyed to this day.  He told personal stories of fishing with hand grenades as a U.S. Marine in Viet Nam, (toss a grenade in the lagoon, jump back, then gather the fish) and strange and terrible tales of fear and loathing in the heart of American depravity.
But the yarn of Emma’s plight carried special meaning because it was right up the railroad there in Telluride – if only the railroad was still around.
By all accounts, there was no questioning that Emma Mentzer was a fine-looking woman. Variously described as “a handsome woman and very devoted to her husband,” and “pretty woman from Chicago who, by everyone’s estimation had married well when she wed a young physician named O.F. Mentzer,” her story has captured yarn weavers attention for more than a hundred years.
Trouble is, figuring out what is her story.
Swirling around in the snow and thin air up there are several fantastic versions and separating the gold from the overburden is an arduous task.  The various versions twist and turn different ways, even to point of indentifying who she was, and what was her name. Was it Emma, or “Essie?” Was she patron of Chicago society, or former Madam at a house of ill repute? All are questions that have been pondered for a century now, hairs that have been split and examined, but without definitive answer. I’m not sure I am up for answering them either. So, I will tell you what I know.
Oscar F. Mentzer traveled from his native Sweden to the United States in 1881 and by 1890, he had set up a physician’s practice on Larimer Street in Denver.
“He enjoyed a reputation as a skilled surgeon and built up a large practice worth reportedly $15,000 per year,” according to Carol Turner, in her book “Notorious Telluride: Wicked Tales from San Miguel County.”
“Mentzer was also known as a charitable, kind doctor who treated many poor patients without charge.”
Oscar and Emma (formerly Monroe) had met when they were both guests at the Hotel Albert in Denver and were married in Colorado Springs in July of 1894.
“Unfortunately, despite his happy circumstances, thirty-year-old Dr. Mentzer was and alcoholic,” writes Turner. “His drinking soon began to interfere with his practice. He missed days in the office and patients left his care, seeking a more sober physician. Emma Mentzer left her husband and returned to Chicago, where she reportedly divorced him.”
According to Turner’s account, the good doctor announced to his friends that he was getting away from the temptations of the city and moving to Telluride to reform and set up a new practice.
He did so, and after a year in the roaring camp, as Turner describes, he was generally respected around the camp as a “very able surgeon.”
“However there were ‘some incidents where he committed acts that did not meet with the general approval… and he was feared to a certain extent, especially by female patients.’”
In late 1897, Oscar renewed contact with his ex-wife. Reports in the Telluride papers said that she told him that she was “sick and starving and imposed upon and if she didn’t have him, she would have to starve to death.”
The doctor began sending money to his former wife in Chicago and continued throughout 1898, accounting for more $900 that year (which was a tidy sum in those days, equating to substantial annual salary) as revealed in records later. All this time, he begged his wife to return and promised his complete reform. In July, she apparently agreed to meet him in Denver and they renewed their marriage, and returned to Telluride in early August.
On the condition that he stay sober apparently, but that was not to be.
Oscar’s former partner, pharmacist S.A. Gross told the Telluride Journal later, “Mentzer was here six weeks or so ago. He wanted to come back with me again but I told him no. He was too far gone. He looked seedy from drinking so much. He said he was going to stop drinking for good, but I could see that he never again would be the man he had been, so I wouldn’t have him.”
Upon the Mentzer’s return to Telluride, Emma’s brother Will Monroe and his wife, also moved to the camp with intentions of going to work at the Bessie Mill as engineer. They stayed with the Mentzers.
“During the first week in October, Mentzer visited Tompkins Hardware Company in Telluride and purchased a .32 caliber Iver Johnson pistol. He told the salesman he needed protection against “dogs and holdups” when he traveled at night to places like Sawpit. The salesman insisted that Doc Mentzer was perfectly sober when he purchased the weapon or he would not have sold it to him,” says Turner.
Will Munroe, Emma’s brother, told the following account of the night of Oct. 7, in testimony before the court, during Oscar Mentzer’s trial for the murder of Emma Mentzer.
The Monroes and Mentzer’s had a pleasant evening together and the Doctor was jovial and smiling. About 9:30 in the evening, Emma suddenly called to her brother from another room. Arriving right away, he heard a scream and a shot. As he entered the room, the doctor turned to him, smoking gun in hand. The two wrestled for control of the pistol and Will Munroe was able to remove the gun and toss it to his wife who had arrived according to his testimony. She in turn, threw it out in the yard. The two men “both splendid specimens of physical manhood” continued the fray until Will Monroe got the upper hand and knocked the doctor unconscious. He then reportedly dragged him out to the porch and threw him in heap.
Only then did he return to the house and discover his sister had been shot in the temple. Emma died from her wound about half hour later, according to what Will told police. When they arrived, the doctor was still unconscious in a heap on the porch. He remained so even after they carted him off to the sheriff’s office as was deposited on a cot there.
The next issue, the San Miguel Examiner lamented over the death of Emma Mentzer.
“Mrs. Mentzer was a most charming and amiable woman and possessed the traits that made her lovable to all, and her sad fate brings great sorrow to her relatives and the community alike.”
Meanwhile, it became obvious to the authorities finally that the Doctor was suffering from a serious head injury. The two doctors called, Hall and Clark, were unable to revive the man and determined that they must trepan his skull, or drill a hole to relieve pressure on the brain. The procedure seemed to have worked as the doctor, with additional help from another inmate, pulled through.
“Three weeks after the shooting, Mentzer had his preliminary hearing,” writes Carol Turner. “The only witnesses, Will Monroe and his wife, gave mixed and contradictory testimony during the hearing, and observers began to express doubts about their reliability and respectability.”
There was rampant speculation that these witnesses, may in fact, hustle out of town in the middle of the night.
In the doctor’s version of the story, he had no intention of shooting his wife and the gun went off accidently in the struggle with Monroe.
The verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom early in the day on December 5, 1898 finding Oscar Mentzer guilty of second-degree murder, with a recommendation for leniency. He was sentenced to 20 years.
According to Turner, “After the trial, public opinion swung sharply in Mentzer’s favor when detail emerged about the questionable character of the Monroes, including Emma.
(The same day the jury reached a verdict,) Will Monroe’s real wife arrived in town, having traveled all the way from Illinois. It turned out she and her attorneys had been scouring the country looking for Monroe, and the headlines about the shooting had revealed his whereabouts.”
“Mrs. Monroe said her husband had beaten her and strangled her on many occasions. Finally he took her and the children to her sister’s house in Chicago and left them there. After many weeks without word, she hired detectives to hunt them down. They found them in a Chicago bordello with the woman he now claimed was his wife. She stated further that Emma Mentzer was the “landlady” of the Chicago bordello, and at that time was in court facing charges of theft. The Monroes took off and that was the last she knew of them until she read in the papers of the shooting in Telluride.
According to the Telluride Journal at the time:
“The whole history of her (Mrs. Monroe’s) life with Monroe show him to be a most despicable character, and it is a little remarkable that the proven bigamists and self confessed perjurer should be allowed to quietly slip away without punishment. His sister, whose evil influence had much to do with his downfall and outrageous treatment of his wife and children, and their final abandonment, is in her grave, sent there by a bullet fired by the man she had driven into a frenzy.”
By that time, Will Munroe and his “other wife” had disappeared from Telluride. There was talk of a new trial but Oscar Mentzer had already began serving his time in Canon City.
His medical training apparently had a role in securing a spot in the prison dispensary. Injuries sustained from the beating from Monroe made it difficult to sleep and he took chloral hydrate to help. Twenty months into his sentence, with his friends and attorney working on a possible pardon, he appeared at the prison kitchen asking for coffee but before he could take a sip, he fell to the floor and died, cause attributed to an overdose of chloral hydrate. He was 36.
But here is where some versions of the story take on a life of their own.
Tales of “Essie” (instead of Emma) Mentzer being sighted on the Rio Grande Southern railroad became a standard. In most such yarns, the Doctor was a Jekyll an Hyde sort of fellow with not only binge drinking problem but a maniacal drug habit as well. According to the stories, in front of many witnesses, a beautiful woman would appear as real as you or I. People on the train would offer her sympathy and help, but she was inconsolable and frantic, hysterically repeating, “He’s almost here. I have to go.” Then disappear into the thin mountain air, right in front of everybody.
In one version of the story by Dan Asfar appearing in his book, Ghost Stories of Colorado, “with every successive mile, she grew more anxious, feeling the presence of her homicidal husband get stronger and stronger. She always vanished the moment someone on the train recognized and called her by name. If that didn’t happen before she was 10 miles out of town, she would just vanish on her own, unable to deal with the dread of an unseen husband’s approach any longer. Those 10 miles were as far out of Telluride as Essie Mentzer was ever able to get.”
One question from me only, “Do we call the ghost Essie, or Emma?”
I suppose we should inquire as well, if she ever went fishing with hand grenades?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Murderers can run, but they can't hide.

"It is long and hard and painful to create life: it is short and easy to steal a life others have made." 
__ George Bernard Shaw, 1921

Human blood is heavy. A person who has shed it, cannot run away.
The terrible, desperate deed – murder – follows those who commit it around like a shadow or ghost.
But worse than that, it can haunt others, victims, witnesses, family members, for a lifetime as well.

Please click on the following stories to read more:

• Colorado Confederate Guerrilla attack.

• Wind in Wyoming.

• Murder near Greenland.

• Tom Tobin, larger than life.

Sam Dugan (i.e. Sandford Dougan) hanged by vigilantes at Denver.
Photographed by Arundel C. Hull, December 2, 1868.
Sandford Dougan, was lynched by a mob after being accused of murder in Denver, Colorado. Shows hat on the ground, handcuffs, a noose and hatchet stuck in the tree trunk. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

"All houses are haunted. All persons are haunted. Throngs of spirits follow us everywhere. We are never alone." ___Barney Sarecky

Out walking the dogs late at night, I sometimes imagine I see something ahead in the shadows. Is that a person? Is it moving? Are those burning ember-like illuminations eyes? What's that noise? Is that a man with and axe over his shoulder?... Sometimes, I scare myself.

Please click on the following to read more:

• The pick, pick, pick of the Knockers.

• Up and over the pass with an extra passenger.

View of rusticated stone residence on Colfax and Gilpin Street in Denver, features include a tower, dormers, balcony, leaded glass, an arched entry, and sandstone ornaments. Clipping attached to the back of photoprint reads: "Ghosts have been walking in this old house, at East Colfax Avenue and Gilpin Street, many years, in the belief of numerous small boys of the neighborhood. The house has been vacant for over a year and the owner has now obtained a permit by the city to wreck it." November 4, 1933. Western History/Genealogy Dept. Denver Public Library.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Did you get what was coming to you?

"The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and the other begins." - Edgar Allen Poe, The Premature Burial

If you do good, perhaps good will come back to you. 
But if you do evil, if there is any fairness in the equation, the measure will be returned.
Call it Karma or reciprocity, just deserts, what ever  – you are gonna get whatever is coming to you
... or not.

Please click on the following:
• Joe Arridy's pardon comes 73 years too late.
• Lawton first to legally swing in El Paso County.

Career criminal James "Mad Dog" Sherbondy reads a newspaper in his prison cell at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. First convicted in 1937 of murdering a Sheriff, Sherbondy died in a shootout on the sidewalk in front of the Denver Post in 1969. His head is half shaved, bars and galvanized steel line the interior walls behind him. Photographed by Karol Smith, 1950. William K. Patterson, Mss. Collection, Western History / Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spirits, real or imagined? What's the difference?

The spirits might be outward, visible signs of an inward fear.  Maybe they are a part of us, of our future, or of our history. Real or imagined?  What is the difference? As Henrik Ibsen wrote in Ghosts  in 1881, "I'm inclined to think we are all ghosts – every one of us. It's not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It's all kinds of old, defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that." Regardless, the tales of their exploits are everywhere.

Ghost town of Gothic, Colorado
The massive, craggy face of Gothic Mountain, (12,625 feet) looms over the town of Gothic with its few dilapidated log and frame buildings, in Gunnison County. Possibly Garwood Hall, Judd's (last resident after the boom) cabin shows an automobile and a horse. Mining boom town from 1879 to 1884; bought in 1928, by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for plant and animal research.

Please click on the following for more:
• Ghost from fire across the street?
• Victor Hotel spirits in Bird Cage, down the hall.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Death around every turn in the mine tunnel.

“Life comes to the miners out of their deaths, and death out of their lives.”
__ Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

Accidents, labor wars, cave-ins and explosions

 By Rob Carrigan,

It was mining, of course, the brought the big rush to Colorado in the first place.  Gold, and then silver miners, flooded into the state from the east in 1859. But the dangerous business, violent surroundings, and unhealthy lifestyle also sent many packing for the pearly gates.
And mines beget more mines. With the influx of people and the need for power and heat, development of massive coalfields in several areas of the state occurred. With coal mining came more death.
“Early coal mining in Colorado was extremely dangerous, and the state had one of the highest death rates in the nation,” according to  “During the three decades from 1884 to 1914,  more than 1700 men died in Colorado's coal mines."
As in many other states, there was no organized reporting of mine fatalities initially, but in 1884 the death of 59 miners at the Crested Butte coal mine in Gunnison County, brought about legislation in the state requiring mining companies to report their accidents.
But just because the mine companies had to report them, it didn’t mean the deaths and mining accidents stopped occurring – quite the contrary.
Of particular note was the string of bad luck experienced in Las Animas County in 1910.
“On the last day of January, 1910, 35 of the 110 men in Primero mine had already walked out of the mine and another four were in the portal mouth when an explosion shot out of the portal. Three of these four were killed when they were hurled against a set of moving coal cars. One man inside was found alive. The last of the bodies was found three and a half months later for a total of 75 dead,” according to (Your Daily Dose of the Mountains.)
“Then, at ten o'clock on the night of October 8 that same year, 56 were killed by a dust explosion in the Starkville mine. Only a month later at Victor-American's number three mine at Delagua, 79 more were killed, three of these killed by flying rocks and timbers outside the portal. After a four month lull, Cokedale blew; and then Hastings on June 18, 1912. Twelve men were killed by an explosion caused by a defective safety lamp carried by the fire boss. Hastings was to have yet a worse day before the end of the decade.” On April 27, 1917, a fire at the Victor American Hastings Coal Mine in Hastings left 121 miners dead.
But it wasn’t just mining that could get you killed. Organizing and unionizing proved to be deadly for some miners and their family as well. In the notable examples of Ludlow in April of 1914, and the Columbine Mine massacre in 1927, the Colorado National Guard or the Mine Owner’s machine guns could take you out.
In Ludlow, deaths occurred during a night attack by the Colorado National Guard after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. The massacre resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 25 people; sources vary, but all sources include two women and eleven children who were asphyxiated and burned to death under a single tent.
In the case of Columbine Mine, A fight broke out between Colorado state police and a group of striking coalminers. Machine guns were used by the police, or by guards working for the mine (it is not clear which), against the unarmed miners and six strikers were killed. Many more were injured.
Add all that to together with the threat from silicosis if you were a hardrock miner, or black lung disease for coalminers, and general dynamite and equipment accidents – an earlyday Colorado miner didn’t stand much of a chance for a rocking chair passing.
The morticians and the coffin builders did booming business in the camps around the state.
Photo info: Two images in Las Animas County, Colorado. Top image shows a long funeral procession with carriages, drivers with top hats, horses, and people on foot; a fire, from a mine disaster, shows beyond the town; bottom image shows wagons piled high with wooden coffins. Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Puzzling on the brink of Eternity.

Of the most frightening things in life, it is, of course, the "Unknown" that scares us the most.
T.S. Elliot wrote, "Between the idea. And the reality. Between the motion. And the Act. Falls the Shadow." With all the advancing science and technology, we still sometimes are as helpless today as we were a 100 years ago, or 1,000.  Try as we might, we can't always explain why some things happen, what is the underlying cause. Chances are, there will always be mysteries.

Please consider, if you will, the following:

Friday, October 14, 2011

If only they could speak to us from the darkness

"In nature, the most violent passions are silent; in Tragedy, 
they must speak, and they speak with dignity too. " 
___ Lord Chesterfield, 1752

No tragedy speaks more clearly than untimely death – or an unexplained one. Violence against a person who lives by the sword is understandable, but when a life is taken without reason, without rhyme, without context, it makes us all shake our heads and ask the question "why." But seldom do we find the answer. We call out, out into the darkness, hoping that someone or something speaks to us. The lack of an answer is particularly unsettling as we wander in the darkness.

Click on the following to read stories posing that, and other questions.

• Simple times weren't so simple.

• Murdered mysteriously, brutally, viciously.

Please click on following for related stories:


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Celts, evil devils and Christian Hell

"Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religions's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshipers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell."
__ Jack Santino, The fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows.

Please click on following for related stories:

• Paperboy faces changelings, delivers the news.

Other Halloween Related Posts: