Moment in Oddity - The Real Reason Lilac Bushes Were Planted
Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers
The Greeks have a bit of lore about lilac bushes. The story goes that the god Pan fell in love with a nymph named Syringa. Syringa was terrified of Pan and probably with good reason based on what we heard about Pan on Hellier. She ran away from him through the forest and turned herself into a lilac bush to hide. Lilac bushes smell really good. Most of us probably assume that people planted them around their old farmsteads because of their fragrance and decorative appeal. But the truth is that there were two reasons, and neither had anything to do with making a property more decorative. The first is to mark the burial of a miscarriage or placenta. The other was very practical. Once an outhouse had completed its service, meaning no one could stand to enter the thing anymore due to the stench, the outhouse was moved, the hole was filled and a lilac bush was planted over the area. They did this every time they moved an outhouse. Outhouses were put out as far along the property line as possible for obvious reasons. So when you see lilac bushes dotting the property line of an old farmstead or dotting the land in any way, just know that those are marking the spot. A very stinky spot and that, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Parentalia
In the month of February, on the 13th, around 500 BC, the Romans began the festival of Parentalia. Parentalia was a religious festival that the Romans observed to honor their dead family members, specifically their dead parents. The festival would begin at noon on February 13rd and end on February 21st. During those days, gifts of salt, wheat, flower garlands and wine-soaked bread would be left at tombs. No official business could be conducted, no one could marry and all temples were closed. This was described as "a yearly renewal of the rite of burial." Over time, it became a festival to honor all dead family members or ancestors. On the evening of the 21st, a public ceremony would begin called Feralia and gifts and offerings would be set on top of graves and there would be a funeral feast. This would end the very personal time for quiet, inner reflection. This one was quite different compared to other Roman holidays.
Victor, Colorado (Suggested by: Melissa Potter)
Victor is an old mining town founded during the Victorian era in the Pikes Peak area of Colorado. This was a town founded by a couple of brothers and home for miners working the nearly 500 gold fields located in the nearby mountains. This was a typical mining town full of saloons, brothels and streets paved with gold. Today, Victor is a historic mining district where one can still find a room in a historic hotel and do a little gambling in a nearby town. And just like so many mining towns, there are reputedly ghosts here as well. Diane's mom, Annette Student, will be joining us as we share the history and haunts of Victor, Colorado!
Diane: Victor, Colorado could be described as the red-headed stepchild to her sister city, Cripple Creek, right, Mom?
Ann: Yes. Gold ore had been discovered in the Pikes Peak area in 1890 and people came pouring in, all to make their fortunes. Cripple Creek was founded in 1891 and Victor was founded on the other side of Battle Mountain in 1893. Cripple Creek was a large city and considered more sophisticated with financial and political influence, while Victor was where the miners lived and was more rough and tumble. The town of Victor was founded by two brothers named Frank and Harry Woods and they named it after Victor Adams, an early homesteader there. Businesses lined the boardwalks and dirt streets with false-fronted pine facades. The Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad arrived in 1894nand the Midland Terminal Railroad a year later. By 1896, Victor had 8,000 residents and was fast becoming one of Colorado's leading cities, due to its close proximity to Cripple Creek and the gold fields. And while Cripple Creek was getting most of the attention, Victor was producing far more gold and was nicknamed the "City of Mines," which is how it is still touted today.
Kelly: And then came fire, which was always so devastating to these towns built from all wood.
Ann: Yes. In August 1899, about 200 buildings located in Victor's twelve block business district, along with buildings and homes in two additional city blocks, were totally destroyed by fire. The fire left 3,000 residents homeless and resulted in about $2,000,000 in estimated losses. One of the city's finest hotels, the Hotel Victor, located on the corner of Victor Avenue and Fourth Street, was completely destroyed. The Woods family had built this hotel and it was one of the most photographed structures in the town. The hotel had an unusual pyramidal rooftop tower and big wraparound balconies that people used to gather on to watch parades. Tents were erected and by the next day, restaurants and saloons were opened in those tents. Within five days after the fire, brick houses and buildings were under construction. Eight months later, the town was rebuilt and and grew even more, reaching 18,000 residents, which for a brief time at the turn-of-the-century made it Colorado's fifth largest city. This new Victor had beautifully platted streets, modern utilities for the time, two electric trolley lines, an opera house, schools and wonderful homes. The Woods Brothers built the Gold Coin Club for their employees to use for recreation. There was also St. Victor Roman Catholic Church, the First Baptist Church, City Hall, Miners' Union Hall and the First National Bank of Victor.
Diane: The Denver Republican reported in April of 1900, "Victor has risen to her glory from the piled char heap of late August like a blossoming rose bush. Where before stood cabins, huts and tents, fine brick buildings have shot up like mushrooms during the night." Tell us more about these Woods Brothers and what they built in Victor.
Ann: Warren Woods was the father of Frank and Harry Woods and also President of the Woods Investment Company. Frank was Treasurer and Harry was Manager. This company owned the majority of the town. The family had initially made their money in real estate, but while building the Hotel Victor in 1894, they discovered a 20-inch wide vein of gold. They traced it to the Gold Coin Claim and began mining immediately. At its peak, the Gold Coin produced about $30,000 per month. The great fire in 1899 hit their interests hard, but they committed to rebuilding and doing it safely. The new Gold Coin Club was better than the first one and featured a ballroom, gymnasium, bowling alleys, pool and game room, a 700-volume library and dining rooms and was modeled after the New York Athletic Club. New fire prevention measures were put in place to rebuild the Gold Coin Mine and they spent a fortune, $250,000 at the time, to build a shaft house, hoist house and compressor plant. These were all made with ornate pressed brick and steel and the windows were upgraded to stained glass.
Kelly: This brings us to the building of the new Victor Hotel.
Ann: The Woods Investment Company also started construction of the Bank Block on the northeast corner of Victor and Fourth Street, at the base of Battle Mountain, after the fire. The Bank Block was rectangular and built from tan pressed brick without embellishments. This was the tallest building in Victor at four floors. The corner entrance led into The First National Bank of Victor, of which Frank Woods was President. The bank occupied the building's first floor and hotel rooms and businesses filled the other three floors. Some of those businesses included the local telephone exchange, doctors, lawyers, engineers and investors. In Wood Investment Company promotional literature in 1901, they printed the following about the bank, "The First National Bank of Victor is probably the only banking concern in the world where one of its depositors mines gold directly beneath the bank at five hundred feet from the surface..."
Diane: Things for Victor and the Woods family would really start to decline in the early 1900s with labor strikes and less gold being mined. Men started making runs on the bank and eventually it was declared insolvent and the doors were closed on November 3, 1903. The brothers sold the building. Victor's population drastically diminished when World War I started and miners left in mass to join the military. They had a slight resurgence during the depression when some mines reopened. The city went into decline again during World War II, when the mines closed down again . Some mines started operating after the War ended, but all mining was finished by 1962. The Ajax mine would be the last to close. During its time, the Ajax produced over $20,000,000 in gold. Before all the mines in the area had closed, they produced over $125,000,000 in gold. But getting back to the Victor Hotel, what happened after the brothers sold it?
Ann: The Citizen's Bank of Victor replaced the First National Bank and businesses like the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Colorado Telephone Company continued to rent space. Citizen's Bank was replaced with City Bank and by 1906, a hospital was operating on the fourth floor. This also served as a morgue during one hard winter when the ground was too hard to bury the deceased. In 1908, a jewelry store and grocery store were located in the building. During the Depression, the City Bank closed and the first floor was occupied by Bill Lehr's photography studio and the Brass Rail Cafe and Bar during the 1930s. Then there was the Henry Munsteds Gift Shop, a restaurant and Reindels Soda Fountain. During the 1960s, businesses in the building closed and building stood vacant and neglected for the next two decades. In 1991, the building was purchased. Renovations were done to keep the building's historic integrity, but also add modern conveniences. Hotel Victor reopened in August 1992.
Kelly: So perhaps these renovations awakened something because ghost stories have been told about the Victor Hotel. There are many tourists coming into Victor because in November 1990, Colorado voters passed legislation to legalize low stakes gambling in a few old mining towns to help rejuvenate their economy. The exteriors of the old buildings in the towns had to retain their historic integrity, but the interiors could be renovated to house slot machines and a few low-stakes card tables. In 1991, Cripple Creek was one of the old mining towns that brought in gambling. Over time, Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and other old mining towns have had their historic properties demolished or moved and new properties built that really take away from the original character of the towns. Since gambling was not brought to Victor, it still retains much of its true historic value.
Ann: Here are some interesting tidbits before we get into the ghosts. Early day Victor residents included former radio personality Lowell Thomas and Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, who worked for Victor's newspaper; movie and television actor Groucho Marx; and prize fighter Jack Dempsey, who trained in the gymnasium above Victor's town hall. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt laid the YMCA building's cornerstone. He also gave a speech on the balcony of the Gold Coin Club when he was President.
Diane: The hauntings at the Victor Hotel go all the way back to the early 1900s. The most famous ghost here is named Eddie. He lived in the Victor Hotel in Room 301 in the early 1900s. He worked in the mines and had to get up early and be out at the mine in the early morning hours. One morning, he stumbled to the Bird Cage elevator and called for the elevator. The doors opened, but there was no elevator car. The darkness prevented Eddie from seeing that there was nothing in the elevator shaft and he stepped forward and fell the three stories to his death. His body was laid out in his room for viewing. And while that body left the hotel, Eddie's spirit apparently did not. The Bird Cage elevator is still at the hotel and running. It sometimes runs of its own accord and people blame Eddie for that. The elevator regularly travels to the third floor and opens when no one has called it to the floor. When the lift is making that run, it never stops on the second or fourth floors. Eddie wore heavy steel-toed boots and his disembodied steps are heard in the third floor hallway. Guests claim to hear a male voice whisper, "Be careful" when they are boarding the elevator and once a man claimed to have been pushed back while entering the elevator by something he couldn't see. He would have been hurt if this had not happened because the sensors on the doors malfunctioned and the doors were going to shut on him.
Ann: The Haunted Colorado website reports about the hotel, "As one guest from Room 307 checked out, they told me that someone had been banging on the pipes outside their door all night long. Every time they looked out the door to see who was banging on the pipes, there was no one there. Room 307 is in the corner and there aren’t even pipes on those walls but they definitely heard clanking sounds. Another guest told me that she had laid down a plastic cup with an aspirin in it and later went back to take the aspirin. The cup had disappeared! She searched all over, even in the trash, but to no avail. The cup was gone! We always put four cups per bed in each room. This room had four when she checked in, but that fourth cup was never found."
Kelly: This hotel was a former hospital, so there are many apparitions of what people believe are former patients. And then there was that morgue. Could some of the spirits belong to people whose bodies were kept on the fourth floor as the Spring thaw was awaited? A young female spirit was seen in the lobby several times during the Christmas season of 2003, walking around looking at the decorations. These observations were made by employees because no one was checked into the hotel at the time. Now I don't know if she was transparent or disappeared, so how they could tell she was a spirit is anybody's guess. There is also a male spirit that appears to be in his sixties that everybody calls Charlie. He is seen wearing a black hat, torn jeans and a plaid shirt. He is jovial and friendly to those with whom he interacts.
Diane: Next up we have the Lowell Thomas Museum. Before the fire, the post office was located at this site. After the 1899 fire, the Reynolds Block was built on the corner of 3rd Street and Victor Avenue out of brick and was two stories. The first business here was Tomkins Hardware Supply Company and this store advertised itself as the "headquarters for hardware and mining supplies." This was a chain store like Ace Hardware. Also found inside this building on the first floor was the Victor Mining Stock Exchange.
Ann: The Victor Exchange went out of business in 1903 and two years later, Tompkins Hardware was out of business too. The Victor Dry Goods Company took over the building and was eventually bought out and renamed Medill and Company. Nobody seemed to have luck here though and eventually that store was gone too and a pharmacy had replaced it in the mid-1910s. During all of this, we're not sure what was located on the second floor, but more than likely was the residence for either the business owners or perhaps renters. In the late 1920s, S.A. Hackley moved in his furniture store and he converted the upper floor to a hotel and named it Hotel Hackley after himself. Eventually, the furniture store was gone too, but the hotel remained and the Arapahoe Food Stores Company moved into the first level. In the 1950s, the building was donated to the Victor Improvement Association and was turned into a museum and that is what it is today.
Kelly: The museum is named for Lowell Thomas. Lowell Thomas was born in 1892 in Ohio and was known as an author, journalist, explorer, lecturer and his association with Lawrence of Arabia is well known. He worked as a war correspondent in the Middle East and wrote of the exploits of Lawrence in the Arabian Desert. Thomas explored the far northern reached of the desert. In 1930, he would join CBS Radio as a commentator and make incredible firsts in television. In 1939, he was on the first television news boradcast and in 1940, the first daily television program. His first love was radio though and that is where he spent most of his time and where most of his fame derives from. He passed away in 1981 at the age of 89 in New York. His connection to Victor is that he grew up there. The Thomas family moved to Victor in 1900 when Lowell was 8 years old. His father was one of only seventeen doctors in Victor. After graduating from high school, he was off on adventures.
Diane: The Victor Lowell Thomas Museum is opened nearly round and features a room dedicated to Lowell Thomas' career featuring pictures and memorabilia, there are several mining displays, rooms decorated with furniture from the Victorian era, historic photos of Victor and area towns, an antique doll collection and a room on the second floor that features furniture from Lowell's father's medical office. The museum also features some unexplained activity. One of the spirits here could very well be Lowell Thomas. He seems to be connected to some of his personal things. A pair of his glasses move from one display room to another. Or the culprit could be the spirit of a little boy named Jake. His apparition has been seen wandering the various rooms and he has startled staff and guests several times with his disembodied voice. Or it could be the little girl ghost that has been heard on the second floor. The basement is especially active and a paranormal investigation team claim to have caught a uniformed man standing in the shadows in a picture. The museum embraces this paranormal activity and invites investigators to come in during special events.
Ann: The museum offers tours to the Sunnyside Cemetery, May through September, weather permitting. The cemetery features a wrought-iron archway with the symbols of a miner, pick axe and shovel as embellishments. There are over 1200 people buried here. Many of Victor's pioneers are buried here with the first one dating to 1891 for three-year-old Maggie Ferrans. Some of the men buried here were killed in a mining accident in 1904. They were working in the Stratton Independence Min when a cable snapped on their lift cage and they dropped 1400 feet, all the way down the mine shaft. Fifteen died and one man was severly injured. Now a really interesting thing about the burial plots is that the interred only have rights to the surface ground. And that's for a specific reason. There are several inactive gold mines under this final resting place: the Hattie W. lode, the Cemetery lode, the Robert E. Lee lode and the Anny B. lode. Most of the burials are only marked by whatever wild grasses and bushes are growing within the cemetery's boundaries. No burial records exist.
Kelly: There is a tragic story connected to the cemetery. In 1998, a man named Mark Butts was beaten to death in the cemetery by a group of four men. They used a shovel to commit the heinous act and beat him so badly that the shovel handle broke. They then took his body and hid it a distance from the cemetery and it took two weeks for it to be discovered. He was only 35-years-old. Paranormal Investigator Chuck Zukowski did an investigation inside the cemetery in October 2019 with his daughter Ashley. He said that he had heard reports from Victor residents that they had seen and heard weird things in the cemetery. They did hear something strange in the distance and it sounded like someone banging something against the wrought-iron. There was no wind to blow anything against the metal. They got out a spirit box and the name Michael came across and they asked, "Is this Michael" and a female or high pitched voice said, "Yes." Then they heard the same female voice come across again. They caught an indiscernible EVP too. So perhaps we have a haunted cemetery here too!
Diane: Next we have the Fortune Club Diner and Hotel.
Ann: In 1896, John Klem opened the Combination Saloon on the southeast corner of 3rd Street and Victor Avenue. After the fire, a business owner in Cripple Creek named Sam Lang bought the land and built The Fortune Club. He eventually hired his brother to take over management of the club. Under this management, the club became known as a distributor of the "purest and best wines and liquors." Business declined starting in the 1910s and when Prohibition began, the Fortune Club closed its doors. The Facebook page claims that this was a brothel and since there is a hotel here I imagine that was the case.
Diane: The Fortune Club today is owned by Sue Kochevar and is run as a restaurant known as The Fortune Club Diner and Hotel. It is so neat inside! There is a tin type ceiling and the wallpaper has that vintage look. There are a few counter top seats that harken back to the stools from soda shops and there is a long mirror behind the bar. The sign outside does have Soda Fountain under the name, so I'm thinking perhaps you can get some of that stuff here too. It just looks like you are walking back in time and I hear the food is real good too. Then there is also a hotel offering ten fully furnished rooms, but the baths are not private. And there is also a sign above another section of the building that says Fortune Club Lounge, so there appears to be a bar here too.
Kelly: The owner definitely thinks her place is haunted. She says, "We live with it every day, and aren’t frightened by it. We get a lot of paranormal investigators here. And they say
there’s a lot of residual energy here from the gold rush days." She herself has heard the sounds of disembodied footsteps when she is in the empty building alone at night. Objects fall off of shelves and she has opened empty rooms that were locked to find them ransacked.
Diane: Our final haunted location in Victor is the Black Monarch Hotel. This building was originally known as The Monarch and it was a gentleman's club owned by Samuel Burris and William Sexton.
Ann: The 1899 fire burned it down, but Sexton rebuilt it again with brick. The first level was a saloon and gambling hall, while upstairs housed the bordello. This place catered to a high-class clientele. The first floor had elegant white and black tile and rooms were decorated with carved oak wood and lavish accoutrements. And rumor has it that Nikola Tesla himself wired the building because he was staying in nearby Cripple Creek to work on an electrical dam. The club was managed by F.L. Hart starting in 1902 and by 1907, he was Sexton's partner. The club flourished until 1912 as the economy brought revenue down. The men sold to W. H. Martin and he reopened as the Monarch Mercantile Company. He was out of business by 1916.
Diane: Denver contractor Adam Zimmerli bought the old Monarch and re-imagined it and re-opened it as the Black Monarch Hotel in May 2019 and boy, is it up our listeners' alley! Upon entering, one can't help but notice all the oddities and curiosities decorating the hotel. There is lots of taxidermy, weird art and odd trinkets throughout the overall Victorian Gothic theming. There are tall ceilings and tin-plated walls. The walls are painted in dark hues like black and the library is filled with books covering weird and macabre things like heinous crimes, diseases and the occult. There are four rooms rrady right now with five more to come, all themed after serial killers and other interesting characters. There is the HH Holmes Room, which features human anatomy posters, axes, torture devices and antique medical equipment. The Black Annis Room is dedicated to witchcraft and has a platform bed suspended from the ceiling by ropes, pentagrams and goat skulls and an enormous bed
suspended from the ceiling on thick ropes. The Nikola Tesla Room has large oversized drawings of the Tesla coil and a series of elk skulls above the bed. And finally, the Elizabeth Bathory Room has crimson walls, a portrait of Bathory, a four-poster bed with sheer black curtains and a bat encased in red velvet.
Kelly: Hauntings here in the hotel date back pretty far. A miner died in a gunfight and employees of the bar claimed to see his ghost after that and to see strange lights in the saloon. People who have visited the hotel claim that they have seen a ghostly woman looking out from one of the hotel’s windows. Many times this happened when the building was empty. There are strange sounds and objects move on their own. The caretaker Jennings Davis said, "I’ve seen people get so scared here they leave only a few hours after checking in." An article by Jenna Milliner-Waddell on the Refinery 29 website tells the experience of Adam Zimmerli, "I was sleeping here by myself one time late at night and there was a lot of activity, movement and sounds. There was one night in particular that I woke up in the middle of the night and it sounded like someone was walking around the building so clearly.” He had thought someone had broken in, but he found no one in the building and all the doors were locked. Many guests have complained of being awakened at 3am by the sounds of women laughing and men fighting. His girlfriend was one of them. She said it sounded like 50 people were downstairs having a party. Some other guests in the hotel heard the same thing remarking that people really knew how to party in Victor. They swore there were 100 people downstairs. Of course, there had been no party. This had been in the middle of winter in Victor. Nobody was in town. And, of course, Ghost Adventures is already planning an overnight trip.
Victor is a really fun historic mining town and the fact that it has so many original buildings dating back to the turn-of-the-century that are also reputedly haunted makes it even better. Are these places in Victor, Colorado haunted? That is for you to decide!
Cripple Creek-Victor Mining District by Brian Levine, published by Century One Press in 1987
Zukowski investigation: http://www.ufonut.com/sunnyside-cemetery-investigation-victor-co/