By: Grainne Rhuad
This summer I took an (almost) transcontinental road trip from Northern California to Chicago and back. I have already written about all of that but you can find the first installment HERE.
On the return trip we stopped to visit family in South Park, Colorado. Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, the background of Matt and Trey’s creation is in fact a real place; or at least based on a real place. It is in fact a bit disconcerting sometimes when they characterize the people spot on. The episode that caught me dead in my tracks was one of the early seasons, in which the boys get in trouble for throwing rocks down a mountainside at cars driving on the twisty and sometimes treacherous road. This really happened, although it wasn’t Stan, Eric, Cartman and Kenny who did it, it was my husband and his friends. I had been hearing that story for a while before the episode. (P.S. if my mate tagged your car with a rock, don’t be mad at me, I wasn’t there.)
South Park is so named because of one man; President Roosevelt. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he was an avid hunter and large stretches of land between Colorado and Canada were politely plundered for decades. South Park received its name as it was the hunting area furthest south. There is also a “North Park” and “Middle Park” It’s an area that is still good for hunting. You will find Bear, moose, mountain goat, elk, deer and even smaller game like squirrel and raccoon. It is all still relatively plentiful there.
Making up South Park are a few towns: Alma, Fairplay, Breckenridge, Como, Hartsel, Guthrie and Lake George. Also lumped in sometimes although over a pass is Leadville. Some of the best river and lake fishing in Colorado is found here with the South Platte providing depth and breadth to Antero, Spinney and Elevenmile reservoirs. Also Tarryall and Creekfills reservoirs and the best kept secret spot in my opinion Montgomery Reservoir which just recently was renovated.
This has always been a peaceful place to relax. Except for the Burro Race-(“Get Your Ass Up the Pass. “ Is the motto) in the beginning August, there really is a low-key and relaxed feeling to the area. In summer kids roam free or work. There are still jobs here for young people willing to work an honest day. In the fall, when kids go back to school the town rustles with the sound of aspen leaves and in the deep winter, people work hard not to go out anywhere. They don’t get a lot of snow, but cold they get. In fact, the most interesting snowfall I have ever seen was in Alma. The wind blows it down off the top of the continental divide, right where Breckenridge is. One thing you can count on, all the time is wind. Wind to distract you, make your tasks harder and even sometimes drive you mad.
Like the Colorado Cannibal. Most of us recognize the horrible stories of the Donner Party who got stuck in an early snowfall coming over the Sierra Nevadas at the peak of the gold rush era. Likewise we know about that rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes. These people were forced to make a decision to eat or die. There was nothing else for them.
Not so the Colorado Cannibal. Alferd Packer was just entirely insane and hungry for man-meat. (And wipe that smirk off your face; you know what man-meat I’m talking about.) Alferd was a prospector for gold in the area. He supposedly left out of Breckenridge, some people put him in Gunnison which is technically south of South Park but there are so many caves up there. (BTW another fact Matt and Trey got right-see Mr. Garrity in the cave) He started off the season with two partners. Similar to the Donner party they headed into the mountains in the middle of winter without enough provisions. It seems, from some stories that he had received advice from both experienced prospectors and Native American Chief, Ouray. At some point one of them pissed him off. (over something small we are sure, like maybe using the last of the shaving soap) Instead of spending all his time arguing with him Mr. Cannibal decided he’d just throw him in the stew pot.
Nobody really knows why his other partner stayed around after that. It seems that money, or silver as the case may be is just enticing enough to overlook cannibalism. It was a fatal mistake as the Colorado Cannibal had decided he liked the taste of his compatriot. He liked it so much that he couldn’t control his compulsion to kill and eat his other partner. After that the tale goes off the rails with some reports that he ate other people passing within walking distance of his claim, others say he just ate animals like a regular human after that.
In any case, come spring the stew meat’s friends noticed them missing and when Alferd was seen around town with no good story as to where they were people got suspicious. He was finally out and admitted he ate his friends and liked it. (A new Katy Perry song?) Also that if given any sort of chance he would do it again…and again. He also reported in testimony that he didn’t kill his partners outright but rather cut pieces off them as needed until they died then he just tried to keep them fresh-frozen.
Despite all this, he was still tried before sentencing. His sentence was three years. I’m hoping Colorado laws have changed since then but if they haven’t it seems that Cannibalism is a pretty good way to get rid of someone. Three years!
After his release, he settled down in Littleton (just north of South Park) and began selling his autograph to ghouls as well as a cookbook he had worked up while in prison. He ended up living well into his 80’s and was buried in Littleton where his gravestone can still be found. Some people claim he haunts it. I have heard other stories of his spirit attaching itself to those who fool around with calling him at the grave site. But none of those have been verified outside of the A.O.B. (Alma’s only Bar) oh, and the SyFy channel’s “Paranormal Witness.”
As you enter the town of Fairplay-if you were to do so, right now, today; you would see a new school being erected. It’s in the place of the old school which was cold and drafty. But, it isn’t the old school that was haunted. That distinction belongs to a Victorian, situated right behind it, up on a little mound on Castillo St.(Pictured at the top of the article)
The home. was completed in 1874 for James Marshall Paul, a lawyer and mining engineer. He lived there with his wife, Laura, and son, Charles. Later it was owned by Stewart Van Deusen, a man accused and later acquitted of salting the Mudsill Mine that he managed south of Fairplay. George and Mary Teter, parents-in-law of Edith Teter, for whom the school was named, lived in the home for more than 30 years, from 1898 until at least 1930. He was a Fairplay trustee, county commissioner and school board treasurer. She was active in the Ladies Aid Society.
The house itself looks like most people’s vision of a haunted house. Here’s the story. A man depressed by the usual; loss of a baby, scant work, a depressed wife,fill in the blank… decided one day he simply couldn’t take it anymore and shot himself with a shotgun, at the base of the stairs. In addition to that it is said a woman also fell to her death from the top of the stairs breaking her neck as she rolled down. It’s not clear whether this woman was the wife or a new tenant.
What is known is that the house stood empty for a very long time, at least 20 years. Reports were made of a lady in old period clothes in the upstairs front window. Also witnesses reported blood on the stairs “that wouldn’t come up.” During that time it was the fodder for local teenage dares of the kind most of us are used to. Someone or another would be dared to go into the house for whatever length of time, usually scaring themselves out of their own wits with noises of the normal sort that one hears in an abandoned house. Also of note were “ghostly footsteps” in the dust that would startle someone but most likely could be attributed to the previous dare victim. It’s not as if anyone was in there cleaning up.
The house, since it has sold has been as quiet as any other home in the area and nobody has come forward to share stories of ghostly inhabitants. Although kids who grew up in the area, now adults still fondly recall being scared out of their wits.
A spot which has gotten some actual press as a haunted one in South Park is the Hand Hotel,. The building, at 531 Front St., was built in 1931 by Jake and Jessie Hand. The large “Hotel” sign on the roof was added in the 1940s. It was remodeled in 1987 to its current façade. It is said to be haunted by “friendly spirits,” including that of Grandma (Jessie) Hand. In the 1970’s and 80’s it sat vacant and was one of the spots local teens would break into to gather out of the cold. I have been told by many people, some connected to the hotel staff and some not, that while the upstairs rooms weren’t all that scary, nobody wanted to go into the basement. The legend is that the spirit of a dog dwells down there and some people have actually claimed to have been bitten or scratched. In any case several locals report hearing growling and just feeling queasy and uneasy in the basement. Currently, the staff of the re-opened hotel report not liking to go into the basement and some of the more squeamish employees won’t go alone. For the most part the dog-ghost has been quiet these past 20 years but during renovations the owner’s son who was a child at the time reported being bitten.
Having stayed at the Hand hotel myself more than once I can vouch for the feeling of history it holds. The very boards seem saturated with stories of lives lived. It is decorated in Victorian pioneer period with rooms decorated by theme: The Miner, The Trapper, The Silverheels, The Mattie Silk, The School Marm, Nature, China Mary, The Rancher, The Indian and Grandma Hand. It is said especially Grandma Hand’s room is felt to be haunted by the Grandma who gave it her name. Her rocking chair has been reported to rock on its own and from time to time she has reportedly been seen from the window. However her spirit is supposedly a benevolent if puritanical one. She looks over the hotel. She particularly doesn’t like unmarried couples in her room.
However, during my stays I did sleep quite well and wasn’t disturbed by any ghostly activity or sounds at all other than the elderly couple down the hall who got up in the early morning hours. It was fun to sit up in the front room before the fireplace and read all the news clippings about ghosts and listen to the staff late into the night. It really is a comfortable hotel offering a great morning breakfast and lovely view of the newly remade fishing pond out back along the creek. Also during Burro Days it is in the center of all the activity an excellent place to view reenactments of gunslingers from the porch.
If you are looking for more criminally minded spirits then your best bet is the Old Courthouse which is now the town library. Situated at 418 Main St, the old courthouse was built in 1874 in the Italianate style of native red sandstone from Red Hill. The building is known as the “hanging court” because John Hoover, convicted of manslaughter, was hung by vigilantes above the courthouse steps in 1880. He is said to haunt the upper floor which is where he supposedly was hung from, right out the courthouse window. People have reported hearing a loud repeated thump like the sound of a body, against the wall on the side where he was hung.
The Colorado Vampire is the name given to an unfortunate soul who happened to be from Transylvania and died in Lafayette, Co. His tombstone is bothered quite often by oddity seekers, weekend witches and other people who like to melt wax on tombstones. The grave site itself has become so popular that the groundskeeper knows right where to go to show visitors the last resting place of Fodor Glavia who died in 1918 likely of an influenza epidemic. It’s not clear why anyone thought he was a vampire, some say it’s a child’s story because he was from Transylvania, which would spark a child’s imagination at the time. In “Colorado Curiosities” he’s described as a “tall thin man with a black coat, dark hair, and long fingernails” that can often be found sitting on his tombstone. A cedar tree now grows in the middle of the grave from the stake that was used to kill him. (note: while this is not actually in South Park, it was close enough and on the way)
Especially for a friend of Subversify I was on a lookout for Pet Cemeteries. If you had followed Subversify’s Twitter feed during the summer you would have known there were several Steven King moments during my transcontinental summer trip. From Angry Sixteen Wheelers to reverse peep holes in hotels. So naturally by the end we were looking for the pet cemetery.
We found it by accident. We were actually up at Buckskin Cemetery, an old pioneer cemetery serving the town of Alma, two miles up Buckskin gulch. The area was named for Buckskin Joe, whose real name was Joseph Higginbottom (We think that was a cool enough name, but not cool enough for Joe.) He made a big Gold strike in the area somewhere around 1850-something and a town named after him apparently was booming there by the early 1860’s. Another fun fact about Buckskin Gulch which you won’t know unless you talk to old-timers or read the book you’re highly unlikely to find titled “Nuggets from Park County, Colorado”, By Deacon Judd, is that you can still find in Buckskin a piece of granite that is the left over “Arrastra” carved by Coronado and his Conquistadores who were the first white men to explore the area and find gold there. Some of the Spaniards were left behind to develop the mines and they were subsiquently killed by the Ute Tribe, their bones left in a cave full of crystals. This is actually true, even though it sounds like an Indiana Jones story. Their spirits likely haunt the place too, why not; let’s throw Spanish Conquistadores’ ghosts in the mix while we’re at it. You heard it first at Subversify! Blame Quote us!
In any case we were picnicking at Buckskin cemetery wherein we own a family plot. It is the prettiest cemetery with all styles of tombstones from the 1800’s up until now, some of them still pioneer wood, although a new rule has been made that you can no longer use wood headstones which sucks for us because our only family member as yet buried there has a wood one so we won’t all match. While we were walking after lunch through the headstones reading about influenza and beloved wives and less that beloved prospectors and listening to tales of buried treasure I asked offhandedly about whether there was a pet cemetery.
“Oh sure.” My mother-in-law informed me, “It’s over the hill back there, quite a walk and climb, but it’s over there, we were thinking of putting Hocking (the family dog) in there when he dies. I’ve even heard there’s a burro there.”
There may or may not be a burro there, I wouldn’t be surprised, but there is definitely a memorial in town to the beloved burro “Prunes” who belonged to Rupe Sherwood who subsequently had his ashes interred next to his burro at his death; a year later. So I guess technically that makes two pet cemeteries. One which the state Governor, Radios and Newspapers announced; really the memorial to a burro in 1930 was a big thing and the other which cannot be found without a local.
So there you have it, not only does South Park host Cannibals and Vampires and All manner of Ghosts from Conquistadores to Suicides but it also has a creepy as hell Pet Cemetery tucked way back in the woods and hard as hell to get to. Stephen King would be proud.
Note: In instances where stories varied greatly the author chose to use the most preposterous and implausible story.