Great Fort Collins Haunts

1. Although built in 1889 as a bank, the Avery Building once had loose ties to a large deposit of arsenic that killed the owner's brother, William. PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER

Marty Metzger
North Forty News

Ubiquitous as falling autumn leaves, spellbinding yarns of petulant poltergeists and ghoulish ghosts abound in Fort Collins. Spirited stories that are simultaneously disquieting yet delectably haunting tales. Not long after its founding as a military post in 1864, skeletons began tumbling out of Fort Collins’ closets. Clank.

 

354 Walnut Street—

James Howes’ quick temper, penchant for alcohol consumption, and wife Eva created a deadly trifecta. On April 4, 1888, after 15 years of marriage, Eva called it quits. Just as she and her daughter were preparing to leave for good, Howes unexpectedly returned home.

In a drunken rage, he knocked Eva unconscious, then slit her throat with a pocketknife… in the front yard of the family’s home… in broad daylight… in sight of neighbors who immediately hauled the killer to the jailhouse, supposedly to await trial.

Instead, that night an angry mob broke in, dragged Howes out, and lynched him. The one and only lynching ever in town.

The Howes’ former property is touted as haunted. One of its structures, a white brick garage, had been used since the 1970s by the former Armadillo Restaurant. Leveled a few years ago to make way for new construction, the garage is thought by some to have been the Howes’ carriage house. Several suicides occurred there, including one in the 1960s when it served as a Rambler auto dealership.

The general manager arrived that fateful morning to find one of his salesmen hanging by his neck from a beam in the showroom. Not by a lynch mob as was Howes, but dead by apparent suicide.

While leading groups through the garage, Fort Collins Tours has experienced mysterious happenings including full-body apparitions, full silhouettes (in photos), and at least one incident of a woman’s ankle being grabbed. Only time will tell if the new building erected on that bloody ground suffers any tragic events or bizarre occurrences.

 

Walrus Ice Cream—

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. That apparently includes a specter named Charles Dinneback with a strong need for attention. Lisa Paugh, Co-Owner/Manager of Walrus Ice Cream at 125 W. Mountain Avenue, is quite familiar with the flamboyant shenanigans of a spirit cordially nicknamed “the Walrus man.”

Members of the Dinneback family owned a barber shop, boarding house, and the Dinneback Cafe (where Walrus now stands). An ingenious tunnel system built beneath Old Town more easily facilitated deliveries to businesses by circumventing narrow stairwells and reducing the number of above-ground drop-off points. Dinneback Cafe’s branch of the clever underground network connected to the city’s morgue and crematorium.

Whether Dinneback or some other errant soul, Paugh and her employees have learned to tolerate its antics, including the root beer keg turning on by itself; people on tours getting locked in the basement; a radio station changing by itself; unseen hair-pulling events and the sound of random voices in the basement.

Walrus Ice Cream looks deserted before opening to serve desserts. But, is “the Walrus man” in there, awaiting unsuspecting patrons to welcome? PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER

 

“Madam, please make mine a two-scoop mint chocolate chip with sprinkles.”

Uh, Charles?!

 

The Miller Block and The Linden Hotel—

Frank Miller Sr. immigrated to the United States with older brother Robert in 1868. After entrepreneurial endeavors in Des Moines, Iowa, and Black Hawk, Colo., he arrived in Fort Collins in 1882.

In 1888, he purchased a lot on the southeast Linden/Walnut corner for $3,000 cash, then doled out $12,000 more to erect a sandstone building, red with white trim. Originally known as the “New Miller Red Stone Block,” the structure housed his liquor business and “The Fair Store,” Miller’s dry goods concern that survived for 52 years. Today, Little Bird Bakeshop and Bondi Beach Bar call the Miller Block home.

After losing his business, and the deaths of his wife and son, Miller lived the remainder of his days across the street in the Linden Hotel.

The ghost of Frank Miller is said to stand guard over one of his paintings displayed at Nature’s Own. The business occupies the old Linden Hotel, where Miller spent his final days. PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER

The colorful character in life must enjoy the unique, creative atmosphere of Nature’s Own, the store that’s occupied the old Linden for many years. A noted photographer and artist, many of Miller’s works can still be seen around Fort Collins. Among geological items for sale at Nature’s Own is one of Miller’s (not for sale) paintings hanging on the wall at the back of the shop. His ghost has reportedly been frequently seen standing beside it, but vanishes if anyone approaches.

Nature’s Own, current tenant in the original Linden Hotel, carries geological merchandise, and Frank Miller’s spirit is believed to reside amongst the unique inventory. PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER

 

More Spooky (Or Not) Hotspots

 

The Avery Building, N.E. corner of Mountain and College Avenues—

Built in 1889 as a bank, this stone edifice was the pride of one of the city’s founding fathers, Franklin Avery.

But brother William, and Avery’s business partner, Frank Millington, shared a singular interest: William’s wife Mary, who’d become a little too friendly with Millington. Then, just 12 days after William abruptly sickened and died, Mary and Millington snuck off to Nebraska to marry. Fort Collins officials thought that a little odd and exhumed William’s body. It contained 50 times the amount of arsenic necessary to have done him in. Investigators further discovered Mary had purchased a large amount of the poison shortly before her husband’s sudden demise.

Trials being what they often are, the newly married with egg-on-their-faces couple was acquitted. Prosecutors hadn’t presented proof that William hadn’t used the lethal substance to commit suicide!

Silverware slid across tables and doors opened/closed by themselves, while Beau Jo’s Pizza. But so far, as The Kitchen, any discontented spirit is behaving itself, said employees.

 

The Old Firehouse/Jail & The Silver Grill—

To lessen escape chances, Old Town’s tunnels were also used to transport prisoners from the jail/firehouse a couple doors down to the Silver Grill Cafe for meals. The underground system is said to have “gobbled up” one such inmate. He made it to the Silver Grill okay but simply disappeared on the return trip. It’s said his ghost still haunts the building.

What’s on the menu at the Silver Grill? A tunnel system once led there from the jail a couple doors down, so hungry prisoners could eat but not escape. One might still hang around. PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER

Logan Farmer, Manager of current tenant Old Firehouse Books, noted that paranormal investigator Domenic Tessari surveyed the premises in the winter of 2017-2018. Tessari seemed especially excited about something he felt at the back of the store (which would be right above the tunnel entrance), recalled Farmer.

 

Foothills Flea Market—

It’s believed by some that ghosts can latch onto an object they especially revered in life. Over its 40 or so years as Foothills Flea Market, the low-slung building at 6300 S. College Avenue has offered its share of proof. On several occasions, employees working alone after hours reported seeing a young and rather transparent Victorian-clothed woman strolling the back aisle of the enormous shop. She’s not been seen recently. Perhaps when the item she so loved sold, she relocated with it!

Many more purportedly old haunts: The Old Post Office (built over a military cemetery that rested atop an Indian burial ground; more hotels; Centennial High School; lots of murder scenes.

 

Are Our Ghosts Vanishing?

A building at 146 N. College that began as the Commercial Trust and Savings Bank might have given up its ghost. Over time, it became a succession of bars: The Vault, The Astoria, and, three years ago, High Point Bars.

The Astoria’s owner had reported lots of activity after renovations. Believed to be Clark Smith, a 1910 bank employee who died under mysterious circumstances after having been let go, the bar’s resident ghost had often appeared as a man dressed in Victorian-style clothing. Needless to say, bartenders were shaken. One, named Hunter, sent a frantic text to owner Anderson after a terrifying encounter one night that he’d worked alone after close.

To date, however, employees of High Point Bars haven’t noticed a single “boo” or apparition.

Nearly every write-up about spooky Fort Collins includes the Avery House. The Avery Foundation’s current director denies any such activity takes place, at least to her knowledge.

The only thing the manager of Spoons restaurant, located in the allegedly haunted Northern Hotel, could come up with would be a mighty frail sprite.

“Just weird little things,” she said after intense pondering, “like a couple vents that bang for a few seconds for no reason.”

Is the rapid, voluminous influx of today’s new residents scaring off yesterday’s ghosts? Are our filmy vestiges of the past fleeing burgeoning traffic chaos and other 21st century woes?

A once-tranquil town (well, except for stabbings, lynchings, poisonings and the like), Fort Collins has exchanged peace and quiet for a cacophony of cell phone ring tones resounding everywhere. Equine hooves’ melodic clip-clop have been replaced by road-raging car horns and an endless, deafening tumult of semi-truck engines. A once-comforting nighttime chorus of courting frogs and itchy-toed crickets has yielded to blasting freight train horns barking through every intersection at unearthly hours, and even they are challenged by nightly road work machinery’s back-up beeps.

Perhaps high tech (in)conveniences are to blame. Are cell towers throwing off ghosts’ directional signals? Oh no, they’re lost! Don’t count on GPS, Casper. It will send you billowing into some farmer’s retention pond.

Pollution? Global warming? Drought? Hey, what about unaffordable rents? —Welcome to my world, eerie wisp-of-the-wind.

Are our ghosts really disappearing at the alarming rate open space and historic buildings have over time? Maybe. Or, are we all just too distracted by the frenetic pace of our techno-illogical rat race to pay attention to what, and who, came before us? Likely.

Fort Collins Ghost Tours

Magic Bus Ghost Tours
http://www.TheMagicBusTours.com
970 420-0662

The Fort Collins Ghost Tour
http://www.FortCollinsTours.com
970 372-1445

For a self-guided expedition into historical hysterics, just lace up your most comfortable walking shoes and explore our highly spirited town!

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