Posted on Behalf of Francis Lyon
If the nip in the air and the pumpkin on your doorstep have got you thinking about ghosts and goblins, look no further than Denver’s Five Points neighborhood for a peek into a fascinating past...and maybe even a closer present-day encounter than you expect. One source for local African American history is the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center, located just off the light rail at 3091 California Street. The museum occupies a house that was once the home of Doctor Justina L. Ford (1871-1952), Denver’s first black female physician. Forbidden to practice in a hospital because she was a black woman, Doctor Ford instead established her medical practice in her home. During her career she delivered more than 7,000 babies there; and she cared for those who couldn’t find care elsewhere because of discrimination or poverty.
After her death on October 14, 1952, her house stood vacant and gave way to neglect. In 1983, when developers wanted to tear it down to make space for a parking lot, many people from the neighborhood—including Paul W. Stewart, founder of the Black American West Museum, and some people who had been delivered by Doctor Ford when they were born—came together to raise enough money to save the house from demolition. In February 1984, the 200-ton brick house was moved by a giant trailer from Arapahoe Street to California Street, where it was lovingly renovated and now houses the museum. It’s now a protected historical site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But that isn’t the end of the story of Justina Ford’s home. “A fun point of interest” about the house, as reported by Real Estate Metro Denver, is that “The museum is reportedly haunted.” Museum visitors, staff, and volunteers report seeing Doctor Ford walking from room to room. An affectionate touch to someone’s cheek or hair is sometimes experienced. Pictures are known to be knocked from the walls if Doctor Ford is displeased. And according to authors Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly in their 2010 book Haunted Houses: Guide to Spooky, Creepy, and Strange Places Across the USA, Doctor Ford appears to children as “a full-bodied, solid apparition, with enough substance that she has actually led children around by the hand.” Can it be that she loved life and her work too much to leave her home?
This October, stop in at the Blair-Caldwell’s third-floor museum and get to know more of the irrepressible personalities from Denver’s African American history. Our exhibits bring to life the people whose names and faces are still inseparable from the places in Five Points that they loved. While you’re there, if you hear faint, mysterious footsteps, or catch sight of a fleeting figure just around the next corner in the museum, don’t be afraid. It’s probably just a busy BCL staffer, on his way to weed outdated files from the library’s network drives.
...or is it??
Interested in more Haunted History about Denver and beyond? Check out the many resources available at the Library.