Summit Spirits: Why are we so fascinated by the spirit world?
Editor’s note: This column is the first of a four-part series by Gail Westwood, local author of the recently published book, “Haunted Breckenridge.” The column will run every Saturday with the last one on Halloween, Oct. 31.
Our fascination with ghosts is on the rise. There are more ghost tours, haunted houses, paranormal investigative teams and ghost hunting opportunities than ever before. There are Top 10 lists of every haunted activity across the country, and according to the Daily Telegraph, a top UK newspaper, belief in the spirit world is at an all-time high of 50 percent of people interviewed. Halloween is the second-most popular holiday, after Christmas. Why is it that we love to be frightened, but only in a controlled environment? The reason may lay with the fact that we all love a good storyteller.
The legend goes that the first ghost story occurred in the ancient city of Athens, Greece, around 2,000 years ago, from Joe Nickell in “The Science of Ghosts.” This story involved an apparition of a skeleton in chains who appeared to haunt his residence in order for the new occupant to uncover his shallow grave. Once his remains were found, a respectful, formal burial was carried out and the haunting ceased.
Interest in the spirit world wasn’t taken seriously until the development of Spiritualism in the mid-1850s. Prior to that, reports of ghostly happenings were merely thought of as entertaining anecdotal stories. With the onset of Spiritualism — a group of people who claimed to be able to contact and converse with the dead — mediums and psychics were born. They held “séances” to enable them to speak with the departed. Although the majority of this spiritual activity was proved to be fake, this movement became extremely popular all over the world and ended up becoming a sort of religion. This is when the thrill of a ghost story really started to capture everyone’s attention.
During the organized séances, amazing and strange events started to take place: Mediums, using their “spirit guides,” would write the words being communicated through them; tables were seen levitating while sitters were still at the séance table; spirits would “talk” through tin trumpets that were placed on the séance table; and the best of all, a specter-like material called ectoplasm would appear to come from the medium, usually from the throat. Talking boards (today’s Ouija boards) were another invention to communicate with the dead.
In more recent times, movies and TV shows have glamorized and enthralled us and piqued our curiosity for the unknown. Classic films like “The Ghostbusters” have encouraged us all to be paranormal investigators.
Today’s storytelling is done on ghostly walking tours. Tying into the history of the town or city you are walking through, the storyteller (guide) transports you back to the time period being portrayed. Here is one local tale, an excerpt from “Haunted Breckenridge.”
Kevin is a longtime local of Breckenridge and in the 1970s was living in Blue River with his girlfriend. One day he received a phone call from an old college buddy of his, Tommy, telling him that he had recently moved to Denver and would love to come up and ski with his lady friend and catch up with Kevin. The date was set — 6 p.m. on Friday.
The evening arrived but over two hours late, Kevin was getting really worried when Tommy hadn’t arrived. He eventually knocked on the door and they were ushered in the house but looked deathly white. They quickly related their story.
They had driven around and around looking for Kevin’s house. Blue River has a maze of roads in places and it’s easy to get lost. At one point they arrived on what they thought was Kevin’s road only to see, standing in the middle of the road, a female figure dressed from head to toe in black. When they asked directions of her she merely held up her arm and pointed in the direction they had just come but never spoke a word. They drove that way but ended up in a circle again and back to where the woman was standing. This time she answered their query but in a language they couldn’t understand and continued to point back to Denver. By now they were definitely freaked out.
A little later Tommy was back to his normal self but his lady friend was still in a state of shock and saw the event as a bad omen. It turned out she wasn’t actually his girlfriend but a married woman with a child back in Denver and she was convinced that something was terribly wrong at home. She insisted Tommy drive her home immediately. It was a cold, winter’s night and the snow was falling hard.
They set off in the frigid weather. Two miles north of Breckenridge, on a sharp bend, a single car travelling the opposite direction crossed the median and crashed head-on into their car. They were killed instantly.
Was it just bad karma, or did they meet the grim reaper back there in Blue River?
Gail immigrated from England to the U.S. in 1999 with her husband and two daughters. Originally a personal assistant, she had always had a passion for history and put this to good use six years ago by becoming a historical walking tour guide. She currently operates Breckenridge Tours with her partner Jamie, offering Ghost Tours, Strange but True and also living history tours.
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