This week past I tagged along with paranormal claims investigators Bryan & Baxter on a summer lecture tour at libraries across Garfield County, Colorado. During Q&A time there was one question that emerged at every session, “Is the Hotel Colorado really haunted?”
The Hotel Colorado stands in Glenwood Springs, a town known for its natural hot springs and vapor caves. Built by Walter Devereux and several other Aspen silver-mining magnates, the hotel is in the style of a European spa. It cost $850,000, although it sold for a third of this amount back in the 1960s. The hotel was opened in 1893 and quickly became a favorite of the rich and famous. Former U.S. President William Howard Taft was a guest of the hotel, while Theodore Roosevelt visited a number of times as he enjoyed hunting expeditions for bears and mountain lions. Legend has it that, one day, following an unsuccessful hunt; the hotel staff presented Roosevelt with a stuffed bear, which became the world’s first “teddy bear”.
Titanic survivor the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown was an occasional visitor to the hotel. Room 661 was eventually converted into the Molly Brown Suite and decorated with rare family photos and Titanic memorabilia donated to the hotel by her family. This multi-room tower suite is said to be the most haunted part of the hotel; bedeviled by flickering lights, plumbing problems, and pictures that hang crooked. (You’d think they’d fix all of that for a room that costs $400.00 a night.)
Seeking relief from his tuberculosis, gambler and gunfighter John H. “Doc” Holliday spent the final six months of his life in Glenwood Springs. He is said to be buried in nearby Linwood cemetery, and whether this is accurate or not, there is a monument to his memory there. We hiked up the steep hill to visit the marker, and found his gravesite littered with coins, cigars, playing cards, and a shot glass. Doc Holliday is believed to be a resident ghost of the Hotel Colorado, although the place wasn’t even built when he died on November 8, 1887.
During World War II, the Hotel Colorado was converted into a Naval hospital and the 200-room hotel housed as many as 500 men suffering from war injuries and post-traumatic stress, or shell shock, as it was then known. The basement was converted into a morgue and crematory, and apparently, it overflowed with bones, which were eventually used as materials to reinforce the hotel’s stone foundation. To this day, the two enormous ovens used to burn the bodies remain in the basement of the hotel. This history is little known and, as a result, there don’t seem to be any ghost stories based around these grim facts.
During the 1920s, the hotel became a playground for Chicago gangsters, including brothers Bert and Jack Vervain (otherwise known as Diamond Jack Alterie). It is said that Al Capone frequented the hotel, but there is no record that he stayed there, although he was a guest of the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Some ghost hunters never let the facts get in the way of a good story, and it is told that Al Capone haunts a hydraulic lift that he used as an escape route during a police raid.
The Hotel Colorado is a hot spot for ghost hunters from around the country. Stories abound of spinning chandeliers, temperature changes, and the scent of perfume and cigar smoke. Some attribute the alleged hauntings to the vengeful Ute Indians who were chased out of the area by pioneers. One of the most popular stories is that of the “haunted elevator” that stops at all of the floors without passengers (although a little girl revealed to us that the local kids press every button and let the empty elevator travel to each floor.) The hotel is also supposedly the eternal home of a ghostly girl who fell down the staircase while chasing a ball, although there are no records of such an accident. Paranormal claims are often shared by multiple locations, and I recently heard this same story told about the Hotel Driskill in Austin, Texas.
So, what is the answer to the question of whether the hotel is haunted or not? The Hotel Colorado has a colorful history that is peppered with (and often obscured by) folklore. These are great stories, but there is no evidence of ghosts.
Dr. Karen Stollznow