When you first drive into Fairplay, Colorado or South Park City, you may find yourself second guessing what year it actually is. Each building in their quaint downtown area has been perfectly maintained to capture the essence of the town’s history as a gold mining settlement founded in 1859. The historic character is unmistakable as is the eerie ambience palpable in the air. My original intention was to explore two of their hotels and the legendary spirits within each; however, after speaking with a few of the locals I discovered the haunted history of South Park City runs much deeper.
The Hand Hotel was my first stop and where I decided to hang my hat for the night. This hotel was originally built in 1931 by husband and wife proprietors Jake and Jessie Hand. Over the years the hotel survived being abandoned and condemned and has legendary paranormal activity which has been featured on popular television shows like International Ghost Hunters on the SyFy channel. According to the innkeepers I spoke with Room 12 has the highest amount of activity, but within the last year there have been reports of a menacing black mist in Room 5. The first person to experience the black mist walked through it and described feeling an abominable presence immediately. Following the encounter with the black mist, the individual became violently ill with recovery taking weeks. The second encounter with the black mist was a guest who avoided coming in contact with it, but felt such a heinous presence within it they left the hotel in the middle of the night leaving their keys on the counter with a note describing their distressing experience.
The next spirit I was introduced to was Amelia, the girlfriend of a former innkeeper. She was photographed by Ghost Hunters and is proudly displayed in the lobby. She is known to wander the halls creeping up on unsuspecting guests. There is also a dog spirit that lurks in the basement with one guest claiming to feel a ‘bite’ while in its presence. Guests on the second floor have complained about the loud guests staying above them; however, there is no third floor at The Hand Hotel. Guests claim to experience cold sensations, odd scents, and ominous touches. Chuck Zukowski of ufonut.com took a team to the hotel to stay the night with the purpose of researching paranormal activity. After his experience, which included one of his team members feeling an intense burning sensation on his lower back that resulted in two red marks, Zukowski regards The Hand Hotel as the “number one” place in Colorado for people wanting to experience the spiritual world firsthand.
The only presence that kept me company was the friendly resident dog, Auggie, so the next stop on my self-driven tour was the Fairplay Valiton Hotel formerly known as The Fairplay Hotel. This hotel was originally built in the late 1800s during the gold mining boom and boasts a rich spiritual history as well. The original structure burned to the ground in a devastating fire that occurred in 1922. One of the most famous ghosts is Julia who is often seen in the kitchen and is known for rearranging items within that space. The onsite restaurant is now named after her and she is believed to have lived in Room 205. The legend of Julia is as foggy as a ghost itself. Some say that she committed suicide after turning down a marriage proposal and currently resides in the Fairplay Cemetery. Another story a local told me was that she was a ‘working girl’ that committed suicide after suffering from the loss of a child. Guests and employees claim to hear eerie music and thumping noises that have been attributed to Julia’s eternal broken heart.
The bartender I spoke with told us that many of the employees have had experiences that cannot be explained, but feel the most sinister area was the basement. The majority of employees avoid it all together as many apparitions have been seen here. The bartender also said that the basement use to be used as a storage area for bodies during the winter until the frozen ground thawed enough to dig graves. Another famous spirit of the Fairplay Valiton as described by the innkeeper is Silver Heels, a well-known ‘working girl’ from the mining days that eventually succumbed to small pox. She is believed to roam the bar area drinking beer left on ‘her’ stool. Her framed ‘working girl’ license, issued by Fairplay in 1884, is prominently hanging on the wall.
Until recently the hotel’s basement contained a tunnel that led to the old courthouse also rumored to be extremely haunted. Each local I spoke with had their own legend and twisted tale as distinct as the real life ‘Ghost’ town. The Edith Teter Elementary School (also built in the 1890s, making it one of Colorado’s oldest original structure schools) is reported to be another favorite haunt for the spirits of South Park. One resident told me that there is a friendly ghost that roams the ground and watches over the children, while another told me it was the ghost of a child eternally causing mischief. The last intriguing tale I heard that I have not been able to verify was that representatives from the Roman Catholic Vatican traveled to Fairplay to exorcise spirits found within the old museum.
The one thing that needs no substantiating is the colorful legends and friendly residents that harbor the spirits of South Park City. Each building, each underground tunnel, each whisper in the wind works as conduit for the spiritual echo that haunts this old mining town and had me thinking of a famous quote from Ella Henderson:
‘I like to say I believe in ghosts so I don’t get haunted by one.’
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