New ghost tours a hit in Breckenridge
July 31, 2010
Sylvia has hung out in Breckenridge for more than 100 years. Soon after she came to the Victorian town during the gold rush with her husband, he died in a mining accident. Now, she’s rumored to wander the Prospector, moving from window to window on the second floor, her long dark hair flowing over her white dress. During her life, her sole purpose involved finding a rich husband.
When one family lived in the Prospector (now a bar), they told stories of leaving clean clothes on their bed and returning to find them folded, as well as items mysteriously moving from one location to another.
“Everybody will admit to Sylvia,” said Gail Westwood, who researched Breckenridge’s ghost history through books, websites and interviews and now leads ghost tours through the town. “There have been many sightings, but only by men.”
A self-proclaimed history buff, Westwood has worked for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance for a year. She started her first ghost tour at the end of June, with 16 people turning out the first time, 41 the second time and so many the third time that the line stretched out the door of the welcome center, so she cut it off at 26 people.
Her walking tour begins at the Dredge Boat, where she gives out a few gory details, telling a story about an 18-year-old man who got sucked into a bucket ladder in 1914. It is just one of her tales that revolve not so much around ghosts but, rather, intriguing deaths. Others include stories of transporting bodies buried in back alleys to Valley Brook Cemetery and a deadly dispute between a doctor and a bartender, which ultimately divided the town of Breckenridge for an entire generation.
And, of course, she couldn’t pass up the story of Pug Ryan, who pulled off the most famous robbery in Breckenridge. Ryan made off with the hotel owner’s diamond stick pin and gold watch, which was discovered 10 years later in Kokomo, near Copper Mountain. The details of the story, as well as the local connection with current resident Robin Theobald, are compelling.
Perhaps the most famous ghost in town allegedly resides at the Brown Hotel; Denver newspaper clippings about the haunted building hang in the hallway of the bar today. Westwood said the main ghost is Ms. Whitney, who was shot in a lover’s triangle. Seems Ms. Whitney was a soiled dove who had a boyfriend but was also carrying on an affair with the Brown Hotel’s owner, in an attempt to move up the “ladder” and become a more “respectable” prostitute by earning a room in the hotel so she could run her own business. When the boyfriend caught her in bed with the hotel owner, he shot her.
Now, she clambers around the building, slamming doors, overturning relish trays and water glasses and turning on the kitchen faucet.
Westwood interviewed three of the bartenders at the Brown, and all had some story about ghostly occurrences; one even had a photo of an apparition appearing in the large fireplace.
Westwood always has been interested in ghost stories; whenever she travels, she joins in on ghost tours.
In her personal life, she had one strange encounter in England, when she was looking for a new house. She knocked on a door of a historic home, and though she heard footsteps and rustling, the door didn’t open. Her curiosity led her to sneak around to the backyard and look over the fence, where she saw the back of an old lady attending to laundry on a line. Despite Westwood’s shouts and self-introduction, the woman never turned around. Later, she talked to the real-estate agent who told her an old lady had died in the home, but no one had lived there for a long time.
Though Westwood believes in ghosts, she’s “not scared by any of it,” she said.
“It intrigues me that they still have a story to tell,” she said. “That’s why they’re still here on earth and didn’t move on.”