Despite the name of the event — Dinner with the Ghosts — there won’t be a séance at the Dillon Community Church tonight.
“I had a woman tell me, ‘I don’t go to paranormal sessions,’ and I said, no, no, this is talking about ghost towns,” said Summit Historical Society administrator Christy Nelson with a laugh.
Instead, Preethi Burkholder, author of “Ghost Towns of the Rockies,” will give a presentation about the history of some of the abandoned towns that pepper our surrounding hillsides.
“I’ll talk about the mining history because most of the ghost towns we know had some kind of mining history,” she said. “Why did these towns become ghost towns? In 1893, the price of silver crashed, and Colorado was badly affected.”
Burkholder will talk about how the miners lived and show a PowerPoint presentation that includes photos of some of the ghost towns and a little bit of their history and the people who shaped it.
“Mining was risky, but so many miners helped to shape the American dream,” Burkholder said. “Leadville is one the towns I talk about in detail; that one has an interesting and colorful history.”
Miner to pauper
Horace Tabor is one of the colorful characters Burkholder will discuss.
“He was a stone mason who came to Leadville in 1860 and invested a little bit of money in a silver mine, which became one of the largest in the Rockies,” she said. “He was one of wealthiest men in the country, and when the crash happened, he lost all his money and was a pauper when he died.”
Tabor was also known for his scandalous marriage to his wife, Baby Doe.
“Baby Doe was already married to a struggling miner, he was already married to a different person, and they got married to each other, even though they were married to different partners,” Burkholder said. “After he died in 1899, he told Baby Doe his last wish was for her to hold onto the Matchless Mine.”
It was Horace’s hope that the mine might someday again produce money like it once did. Baby Doe lived in a small cabin, never made any money from the mine and died just as penniless as her husband in 1935.
“The love affair,” Burkholder said. “People find it interesting to hear the story because most of the stories, they happened in the mining days and they still happen today, so people can relate to those stories.”
Stories of Colorado’s ghost towns and their residents can be the catalysts for hiking adventures to explore ruins and learn more about their history.
“With summer in full swing, it’s a fun activity to do,” Burkholder said. “I did most of these visits to the ghost towns with my daughter and husband. It’s educational; you learn about American mining history and you learn about how mining shaped the American dream.
“If you aren’t aware of them, if you don’t learn about their history, you wouldn’t know of all the richness that they can offer. I think it’s a fun thing to do.”