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Author to present haunting glimpse of ghost towns in the Rockies

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By Sandy Barnes

The tale of a ghost named Annabelle Stark who haunts the deserted town of St. Elmo in Chaffee County will be among stories that author Preethi Burkholder will tell during her presentation at the Timbervale Barn in Evergreen on April 27.

“Rocky Mountain ghost towns are filled with chilling but captivating stories,” she said.

While relating stories from her book “Ghost Towns of the Rockies,” Burkholder will discuss the former mining economy, which established them and later led to their demise. 

Some of the mining towns, such as Aspen, experienced a rebirth, Burkholder said. However, the devaluation of silver and related economic influences caused many towns to shrink and perish, she said.

Some towns had a natural death such as through flood, fire or drought, Burkholder noted. Others experienced a death that was typically related to massive layoffs in jobs, she added.

“In 1880, silver attracted people in the thousands to St. Elmo,” Burkholder said.

However, when the price of silver crashed in 1893, the town was hit with a depression, along with many others in the Rocky Mountain states, she said.

“The Silver Panic put millions out of work. Banks across the country closed. People

walked out of their brand-new homes because they could not afford to keep

paying their mortgages,” said Burkholder.

A few of the towns described in Burkholder’s book still linger in faded glory.

“Leadville is only a shadow of its past,” said Burkholder.

Burkholder’s book includes a colorful account of Victor, Colo., which was established near the mining center at Cripple Creek.

“The streets of Victor were paved with gold during the heyday of the 1890s Gold Rush. In fact some people dug gold out of their backyards,” said Burkholder. “Gold seekers jammed into town, paying as much as a dollar a night to sleep on a cot in a tent. … Saloons were open day and night, and murder and suicide were common in Victor.

“Victor was a lusty gold camp. Its buildings were elegant. Its saloons and whorehouses, wicked; its fires, disastrous,” she observed.

Burkholder said she became intrigued with the ghost towns she came across while doing volunteer work for the U.S. Forest Service in Utah.

“It was fascinating to see these abandoned cabins,” she said.

Along with descriptions of Colorado ghost towns, Burkholder’s book features towns in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona.

Burkholder said that when she was working on her book, she discovered a parallel between economic issues of former and present times.

“The more I researched the root causes that turned many successful mining communities into ghost towns, the more I came to learn that we are reliving history,” she said.

“Even today, many towns across America are becoming ghost towns because the jobs are vanishing. Post offices are closing across the country — the ‘official’ signal that the population in a town is dwindling."

Among nearby towns that are losing a local post office is Silver Plume in Clear Creek County, she added.

The Ghost Towns of the Rockies presentation begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Timbervale Barn, 4132 S. Timbervale Drive, which is near the Hiwan Homestead Museum.

Along with stories from her book, Burkholder will also present photos of ghost towns in the Rocky Mountains. Copies of "Ghost Towns of the Rockies" will be available for sale at the program.

Suggested donations of $7 for members of the Jefferson County Historical Society and $10 for non-members are requested for the program, and registration is required. For more information, or to register, call 720-497-7680.

 

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.