People confess things to me. I mean sometimes stunning revelations like “I see dead people.” Yep, that’s right up there as one of the top confessions and disclosures that someone has shared with me. As a journalist and writer, I hear all sorts of eyebrow-raising stories and experiences from people, but this was my only paranormal proclamation.
Fortunately, this elderly woman’s revealed secret of catching a glimpse of deceased individuals came right after friends and I visited a real ghost town. Cue the wooo-eeeeew-woooo music.
Colorado where I live, is home to several long-forgotten mining camps and deserted settlements associated with the Wild West frontier and people flocking to the Rockies in search of gold and silver riches. St. Elmo at nearly 10,000 feet just southwest of Buena Vista is one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in the West.
Meandering Brings Surprises
Founded in 1880, St. Elmo expanded to more than 2,000 residents as nearby gold and silver mining flourished in ‘them thar hills” (thank you, Yosemite Sam). The supply center for the Mary Murphy Mine and several smaller mines, the boomtown prospered. But once Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, the silver market nosedived. As poor-quality ore also increased, the population of the town decreased. By 1936 the mining industry abandoned the town for good.
Today, still standing in Chalk Creek Canyon, St. Elmo boasts a scattering of 43 buildings including a saloon, mercantile, courthouse/jail, school and private homes. My fellow adventurers and I kicked around on the dusty streets and explored a number of the vacant buildings. This is a photographer’s haven for sure (I had a blast shooting a few artsy shots myself). Of course, we also enjoyed drinks and snacks at the refurbished General Store and fed the street chipmunks just waiting for a free lunch.
Meandering to the nearby Iron City historic cemetery reminds you that mining was a harsh employer. The early 1900s typhoid and diphtheria epidemics were savagely tough on St. Elmo’s children. It’s one thing to see people burying their dead on old Western movies and quite another to actually be standing at a deserted gravesite with no tombstone or a simple weather-worn grave marker.
Wondering Who Was Left
When I think about the real ghost towns like St. Elmo — not a Halloween theatrical haunt — I can’t help but think of the once-thriving communities that dwindled over time. I wonder if the villagers fought hard to save their hamlet. What was it like to see your co-workers, neighbors and other family members pack it up? Just how much dogged resiliency and bending did these ancestors invest before they too had to move on? Who were the very last residents standing?
Although none of us live in a perfect rural area, small town, mid-size city or urban metropolis, we can all remain thankful for the homes, livelihoods and communities we do have. One look at the news these days and we see how wars, earthquakes and tropical storms can devastate a neighborhood and society in seconds. Poof! Buildings crumbled in seconds.
Is It Time to Walk Away?
What’s different with St. Elmo and other ghost towns (even the Chernobyl disaster-deserted villages I visited in Belarus), homes, schools and businesses are still intact. In many cases, you can shuffle across creaky floors and chase dust off shelves. You can photograph artifacts and pretend you once lived in yesteryear.
And yet I wonder what part of our lives feels like a legendary village, a place once in its prime? Are there dreams we’ve long left in silence? What part of our youth is still expectant of new beginnings?
Is it time to walk away from our own ghost town to even better days ahead?
P.S. Take a look back on my classic Halloween blog “When Fear Creeps Us Out.”