Newspaper Reports of A Leadville Haunting, 1907
On April 5, 1907, Leadville’s Herald Democrat newspaper reported that local barber John Wagner was desperately seeking new tenants for his rental property at 123 West Front Street. And if he couldn’t find tenants? Well, then he’d sell the house, and cheaply if he had to.
The reason the house wasn't renting had everything to do with the rumors swirling about town. Wagner admitted that his two tenants—Italian miners who had paid three weeks of rent in advance—had vacated the property quite suddenly, citing the presence of "some strange being."
Wagner recalled to the Herald Democrat how his tenants had frantically visited him in the early morning hours, claiming they “could stay in the place no longer as it was inhabited by some strange being.”
Telling Wagner that he could keep the money they had paid him in advance as long as they wouldn't be required to stay in the house another night, the tenants moved out in a hurry.
The tenants’ first few nights in the home had been peaceful. But things soon changed, as Wagner recounted:
On the fourth night while they were seated at a table, eating a late supper, they were confronted with a headless man walking about the room. They had not seen him enter the building, and could not hear the sounds of his footsteps.
He took a seat at the table, and partook of their meal, the food which he apparently ate, disappearing as he raised it to the position where his mouth would be, were he possessed with a head.
Three nights later, the headless visitor appeared again—this time in a bed, just as the two men were retiring for the evening. The tenants were so frightened that they bolted from the home and slept at a neighbor’s house.
Wagner said that nothing unusual had occurred at the house before and chalked the stories up to the imaginations of Leadville’s superstitious residents:
There is a story told among the residents of Front Street that some years ago, a man hung himself with a pair of suspenders in that house, and the superstitious among them, and they are nearly all superstitious, believe that it is the spirit of the suicide come back haunt the scenes of his earthly career.
Herman DeMongue, Ghostbuster
Just a few days later on April 11, the Herald Democrat reported that Herman DeMongue, a "fortune teller, spiritualistic medium and professional ghost tamer" had arrived in Leadville and landed in the office of real estate agent Walter Stickley. Stickley was hired to find new tenants for the rental property at 123 West Front Street.
DeMongue presented his take on the alleged haunting:
The spirit is dissatisfied in its present world and it has come back to seek consolation. It must be comforted, and if you will allow me to talk to it, I think I can satisfy it. Maybe it is seeking to right some wrong committed during its life on this earth.
DeMongue offered his ghost removal services to Stickley at the cost of $2.50 (equivalent to about $69 in today's money). Stickley declined.
"A Strange Light"
Reports of paranormal activity at the West Front Street house continued. On April 18, the Herald Democrat reported that a high school boy had a terrifying encounter outside of the home that all began with the presence of an eerie light.
...he saw a strange light coming from the windows, he says, which shed a peculiar glow in front of the building. He approached a little nearer and attempted to learn the source of the illumination. The light blinded him somewhat, but he could not see anything which gave forth the strange rays. The light was there and seemed to fill the whole building but no lamp, or burning object could be seen. He stood for a moment and watched, and commenced to move away.
As he was retracing his steps, the light disappeared, and a man shot out through the window in the front of the house. The man carried a huge burning object in his hand, which gave forth an offensive smell, the boy says.
He passed within a few feet of the point where the young man was standing, and ran across Front street in the direction of the Midland siding. As he crossed the street he dropped the ball of fire into the road.
Dumbfounded for a little while the boy started in pursuit of the stranger. He would have followed him, but he had disappeared. With the dropping of the burning object the man was no longer to be seen. Undismayed at his attempt to tame the ghost, the high school lad went to the spot where the fire ball had been dropped, but it was gone. It burned but a few minutes after falling to the ground and no remains of it were to be seen.
While it appears that the Herald Democrat lost interest in the alleged hauntings on Front Street, many questions remain that could be answered today using newspapers, city directories, and other historical records. Had a suicide really occurred at the home? Was there really a 123 Front Street (the 1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance map above indicates there isn't, as it would have to have been located amongst railroad tracks)? If so, who had lived there?
Maybe YOU can solve the mystery.
To read more stories (scary or otherwise) of Colorado's past, be sure to check out the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC).
Good ol' Herald Democrat... where journalism always took a backseat to entertainment.
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