Few places on earth have the same sense of adventure and discovery as the Rocky Mountains. With the exception of the Alps, Andes, Himalayas, and of course Antarctica. In this article, I would like to momentarily divert my attention from the Rocky Mountains to the vast frozen continent of Antarctica.
People have been desperate to understand and explore Antarctica since its tentative discovery by Captain Cook in the 1770s. Eventually, his sighting was confirmed by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in January of 1820, when he saw the Antarctic ice shelf. By 1840 the Wilks expedition established that Antarctica was indeed a continent. Nations fell upon themselves to begin to understand, explore, and lay claim to this harsh and frozen wasteland.
Early explorers used the methods of Native Americans to explore the Antarctic Ice shelf. Specifically, they borrow techniques from the Inuit People of Alaska; such as sled dogs and thermal-insulated clothing. However, food was scarce and these methods would not sustain the explorers very long. In order to explore deep into Antarctica innovation and invention were required.
Each successive expedition and encampment brought with them experimental equipment and techniques. All designed to better explore and conquer the unforgiving and otherworldly environment of Antarctica. Innovation would not prove easy; specifically, early vehicles and motorized equipment had a very hard time in these conditions.
Automobiles were still in their infancy during early explorations and to this day equipment must be specially designed to withstand and operate in constant sub-zero temperatures. Each attempt to introduce vehicles to the difficult landscape and temperatures suffered faults, fails, and numerous setbacks.
British explorer Ernest Shackleton in the Nimrod expedition managed to bring the first automobile to the continent in 1909. The expedition boasted a specially designed vehicle that was donated by the defunct British automaker, William Beardmore and Company. The vehicle replaced the front tires with skis and the rear tires with large cogs. It was ultimately unsuccessful in navigating the deep snow and ice. For that matter, it could not be started at sub-zero temperatures or run for an extended period of time in the cold. Like most things in Antarctica it was repurposed and was reused as a wagon. For the remainder of this expedition, they relied on traditional sleds.
One year later; in 1910, a British Naval officer named Robert Falcon Scott saw potential in Ernest Shackleton’s idea and further innovated upon this concept during the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. He and his engineer Reginald Skelton pioneered and advanced the concept of motor-driven sleds during their race to the south pole. But they later abandoned the idea for a caterpillar track to make it across snowy surfaces. This innovation edged us closer to something resembling the workings of a modern snowmobile.
By 1911 Australian explorer Douglas Mawson set his sights on Antarctica. During his visit to the continent, he intended to bring the first airplane. Unfortunately, the plane crashed during an airshow demonstration before Mawson ever left for the expedition. Making the best of a bad situation and ever-the-showman, Mawson had the plane hastily reconstructed into what he called an experimental “air-tractor”. This was basically a tractor on skis, made out of the old Vickers airplane. This was also unsuccessful. The engine was removed and sent back to Vickers, in England. The rest of the plane was abandoned and claimed by the arctic snowdrifts. Similar to the motorcars, sleds, and vehicles that came before it. But these failures are not uncommon and it is only through failure that science can learn what does or does not work. As they say, “the road to success is paved in failure.” or “Fail fast and learn slowly.”
Flash forward 20-years to the 1930s Antarctica was to be home to one of the most incredible and ambitious vehicles ever built. The Arctic Snow Cruiser was impressive not just in its incredible size and innovative features but was also notable as an automotive masterpiece.
But before the Arctic Snow Cruiser could make its way to Antarctica the groundwork was laid by Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr. from the United States Navy. Byrd is most well known for his successful flights over both the North and South Poles. Although his claim to the North Pole flight was later disputed by the Smithsonian Institute. None-the-less he was an accomplished arctic explorer who was a part of the crew who completed the first transatlantic flight in 1919. Eventually, Richard Byrd was the recipient of the Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor of valor given by the United States.
Through the 1920s Byrd had been organizing American expeditions into Antarctica. He had established two bases on the continent; “Little America” (in 1929) and “Little America II” (in 1934).
By the end of the 1930s war was threatening to engulf the world as World War II was ramping up. Germany as well as the Japanese empire were increasing their activities and territorial ambitions around the continent of Antarctica. Because of this president, Roosevelt sought to make the US presence in Antarctica permanently established.
Roosevelt’s increased interest in the continent drastically improved Richard Byrd's third expedition to the antarctic. It grew out of it’s small and privately funded roots into a well-funded mission. One that looked to maintain United States bases on both sides of Antarctica. It was organized jointly by the US Department of State, The US Navy, The Department of the Interior, And the US Department of War. The base was named “Little America III” and demonstrated the United State’s interest and dedication to the arctic. A spirit that continues to this day.
This was the largest expedition the world had seen so far and nations waited with anticipation to discover the final scale of this grand expedition. However, few could guess what innovation was about to roll onto the stage. This is because Byrd and his team drew from the past experiences and failures of the equipment used and sought to design a vehicle that could incorporate the best elements of its predecessors. He had considerable success with caterpillar tracked vehicles in his previous expeditions. In fact, he credited their use directly for saving his life when he had been stranded alone in a remote outpost, during his second expedition.
Byrds deputy, Dr. Thomas Poulter has spent the years since researching ways to adapt the motorized tractors they used to be better suited for sustained use at sub-zero temperatures. Working with the Armor Institute of Technology; in Chicago, now the Illinois Institute of Technology, Poulter designed what he called “The Snow Cruiser”. His design was a 55 feet (16.7 m) long, 25 feet (7.6 m) wide, 37-ton giant. It was designed to have a range of over 8,000 miles (12,874 km) and could sustain a crew for up to a year on the ice without resupplying. The monstrous machine was powered by two specially designed diesel-electric engines and was designed for a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour.
The Snow Cruiser was crammed with clever innovations; such as its four 10-foot tall balloon-like Goodyear tires. The tires and wheel assembly could be moved individually and lifted clear of crevices and other obstructions. Additionally, they could completely retract them into the chassis of the cruiser. Add to that, the tires had an innovative system that was designed to keep the rubber of the tires warm, by reusing the heat and exhaust from the engine bay.
Inside the Snow Cruiser featured all of the facilities a crew of four could need for exploring and living in the Antarctic landscape. It was complete with a control room, a machine shop, a galley, a dark room, extra tanks for fuel, food storage, crew quarters, and it even had space for two gigantic spare tires. The range of gadgets and capability were nearly endless.
The top of the Snow Cruiser sported a cradle for an aircraft. The plane boasted a range of about 300 miles (482 km) and acted as a scout for the cruiser. The aircraft could be loaded and unloaded through the sloped back of the cruiser.
This was without a doubt the most ambitious vehicle of its time. But before it could be built it was up to Thomas Poulter to justify how this vehicle would revolutionize arctic exploration. Eventually, the US gave the Snow Cruiser project the green light and handed over $150,000 a value of $2.3-Million at that time.
The Snow Cruiser was seen by the US congress as the crown jewel of an arsenal of new tools they looked to deploy in what was now the United States' fourth expedition to Antarctica. Especially because other countries' interests and competing claims to the region began to pick-up. While the cruiser was being built Germany had deployed a large catapult ship to the region and begun to operate survey planes around Antarctica. “Claiming” large tracks of land in the name of Nazi-Germany.
In an effort to further impress upon Congress and justify the large expedition budget Poulter began to boast about how the craft was designed to cover 500,000 square miles during an Antarctic summer. A claim that was a bit sketchy, but plausible nonetheless. With the international competition now worrying lawmakers, the Antarctic Snow Cruisers construction was expedited.
It created a national sensation as it raced off the factory-floor and across 1,000s of miles or roadways. Making its way from Chicago Illinois to Boston Massachusetts. At the time the Cruiser was wider than most of the nation's roads. To navigate around this, they executed a carefully orchestrated plan which involved closing highways and clearing traffic from the roadways ahead of the Snow Cruiser. It was a parade-like atmosphere, a sensation that was driven home by the motorcade of police that both preceded and followed the massive automobile. At one point the cruiser attempted to navigate over a creek and did get stuck for a time. While this was not a very encouraging moment, the engineers used this as an opportunity to test the independent suspension in a warmer climate.
None-the-less it made it back onto the roadway and to the Boston docks on time, where it was loaded onto the supply ship, “The North Star”. Along with Food, spare tires, several tanks, prefabricated huts, and everything they would need to live for over a year in Antarctica. In order to fit the vehicle, the entire rear-wheel section was removed and stored elsewhere. Once this was completed it was secured to the deck of the North Star. The captain had concerns about the weight being distributed properly, but after Byrd's insistence, they permitted the cargo aboard. With much fanfare the North Star and Arctic Snow Cruiser inches into the Pacific Ocean. After a few nervous moments, the captain gave his approval and set sail in November of 1939.
As it made its way, the New York Times surmised that: “The Snow Cruiser has connected West Base with East Base; or has rolled along that coast which no man has surely seen… or, perhaps, made itself a laboratory-based, for a period of months, at the Pole itself”. Only a few of their hopeful claims would come to pass. While it may have been a bit presumptuous of the New York Times, it goes to show just how enthusiastic Americans were about the Snow Cruiser.
The expedition reached the site of little America III in January of 1940. As the Arctic Snow Cruiser made its way off the North Star and on to a simple wooden ramp. The ramp began to give away. Leading to a tense moment when Byrd was nearly thrown from the roof of the cruiser. Fortunately, Byrd was able to run to a handhold and secure himself. Meanwhile, Poulter, who was at the wheel hit the accelerator, leaping the cruiser forward and on to the relative safety of the ice.
Once on the ice, they found that the vehicle was much slower than anticipated. To correct this issue, they outfitted the Snow cruiser with two spare tires for additional traction. But this design change gave way to a new problem, it was now very bouncy. In fact, it earned itself the nickname, “bouncing Betty “. Additionally, the vehicle was already at its maximum design weight. With the added weight the innovative diesel-electric drivetrain was now underpowered. Interestingly, they found that in this configuration the cruiser was fastest in reverse. So, they simply started driving it backward. However, the prospects for long-range travel didn't look good and the crew was forced to abandon these efforts.
Making the best out of the situation, they used the airplane to survey large sections of the ice shelf that Little America III rested on and was able to scout into the continent.
While it’s primary purpose was not successful, it did find success as a stationary laboratory and served as the most luxurious and modern crew quarters on the continent. The innovative heating system and insulation material proved to be very effective and was integrated into future projects. However; the great Arctic Snow Cruiser was forever assigned as a stationary part of Little America III. This is how it remained until the western base was decommissioned in 1941. The entire base was evacuated later that year as the concentration of troops and funding moved to defend the world from the increasing German, Japanese, and Italian aggression. At that time the Arctic Snow Cruiser was buried with snow and abandoned.
After World War II, In 1946, during an American expedition called “operation high-jump,” the team located the abandoned base and the giant snow cruiser sitting exactly as it had been left. The team of explorers said the vehicle was in remarkably good condition. Saying “only air in the tires and a basic servicing would have had it up and running again”. However; nothing further was done and the Arctic Snow Cruiser was once again closed up and left to the elements.
In 1958 the cruiser made its final appearance on the world stage. This time it was an international expedition that completely uncovered the snow cruiser from its tomb of ice using a bulldozer. It was hidden under several feet of snow, but a long bamboo pole left by the previous expedition still marked the location of the Snow Cruiser. Inside the cruiser was again reported to be exactly how it was leftover two decades ago. Complete with newspapers, magazines, and cigarettes still placed as if waiting to be picked back up. This group of explorers was likely unaware at the time, but they were the last people to see the incredible Arctic Snow Cruiser.
Or were they? Could it be possible that the snow cruiser is still sitting under the snow and ice of Antarctica? Somewhat recently a team located pieces of Douglas Mawson’s “air-tractor”. They were discovered under 9 feet of ice (3 m). Relics from old expeditions are found regularly to this day. Many of these items are preserved by the sub-zero temperatures and ice encasement. Some feel that the Soviets may have recovered the Snow Cruiser after it was unearthed in 1958. While this is very plausible, it is unverifiable and remains just a theory. So to answer my question, “Could it be possible that the snow cruiser is still sitting under the snow”? This is likely not the case.
This is because in February of 1963 a US Navy icebreaker ship spotted an unusual streak of brown amongst the blues and whites of passing icebergs. As they edged closer they were amazed to find what appeared to be the remains of Little America III protruding from the iceberg. The ship launched its helicopter to take aerial photos. It even landed on the iceberg in an attempt to access the base. Ultimately they were unable to find a way in, however; they could clearly make out the remains of tents, fabric, and prefabricated huts. Huts that were strikingly similar to huts that Byrd used during his expeditions. The icebreaker was able to verify that cans of food and equipment were still neatly packed on the shelves; much like the team who visited Little America III in 1958 described. Five telephone poles and antenna fitting still stood above the snow. Notably, two bamboo marker poles were still in place on the surface.
It is a safe assumption that the ruins found by the Navy were that of Little America III. With that assumption taken into account, it means that the majority, if not all of the base has broken off the Antarctic ice shelf and has drifted away into the ocean. We do not know what part of the base that iceberg held, but it is entirely possible that one of those bamboo markers stood over the buried Arctic Snow Cruiser. It has likely drifted out to sea and eventually sunk to the sea bed. Though, a part of me doesn’t accept that this was its fate. I still hold hope that one day she will emerge jutting out of an old iceberg or maybe parched on the side of the Ross ice shelf. Perhaps it will be dredged up from the seabed by a commercial fishing operation. One thing is certain though, despite its failure to connect the East and West bases it succeeded at igniting the American spirit, imagination, and most of all innovation.
The Early Days
Most people are familiar with Nevadaville Colorado as a road-sign they pass on their way to the glittery casinos of Black Hawk or Central City. However; if you make one wrong turn on your way up I-70, you may find yourself in one of the many ghost towns that are crowded into the landscape of Gregory Gulch. One of the most stunning and well-preserved examples is Nevadaville Colorado.
In the 1800s Nevadaville was bustling with businesses, families, and of course; gold miners. It was founded in 1859 when John H. Gregory discovered the first lode-gold (or underground gold) in what would later become the state of Colorado. However, when Mr. Gregory was prospecting in Nevadaville; it was not yet a state and still a part of the western Kansas Territory. The town was primarily Irish and the miners worked two large gold lodes; the Burrough lode and the Kansas lode.
The town was also known in the 1860s and 1870s as “Nevada City”. Its post office was called “the Bald Mountain Post Office”. This was supposed to avoid confusion with other towns with the name “Nevada” or other Nevadavills in Colorado. Most people continued to call the settlement Nevada, Nevada City, or Nevadaville (Fun fact: Nevada is a Spanish word meaning “snow-clad” or “snowy land”).
The town died due to gold and silver running out in the early 1900s. At its peak it had over 4,000 residents, today only two full-time residents live in the community. Before its collapse, Nevadaville was one of the most important and largest mining settlements in the area. A fire destroyed over 50 buildings in 1861, including the taxidermist, a naturalist, and Martha Maxwell’s Boardinghouse. Interestingly the town folk made use of TNT to dig fire lines and saved the remaining portion of the city from the fire. They literally used fire to fight fire.
Despite the reconstruction efforts, the area’s gold veins were almost gone and Nevadavills glory days were behind it. This is because the near-surface mines were oxidized and tapped out. Leading the miners deeper into the mountain. The rudimentary ore mills had trouble recovering gold from the deep-sulfide-ores. Basically, it was looking bleak until more advanced and capable ore mills were built in the nearby city, Black Hawk. This sustained Nevadaville through the 1920s and ’30s, the town remained as a shadow of its former self. By the latter half of the 20th century, the population had declined to just a handful of individuals. Census data from 1950 shows only six residents living in the town.
I visited the town in 1998 and it was a much different place, even when compared to today. At that time the community was 4x larger, but even then this amounted to only 8 residents. The locals answered our questions politely but were not keen on holding long conversations. The town still sported a trading post, saloon, and a quaint little art gallery.
The Nevadaville Freemasons
Today the community is largely abandoned, but it is not completely deserted; a few very determined residents call Nevadaville home to this day. Only a few buildings stand on the main street. Acting as tributes and relics of the Old West version of Colorado. The Masonic Lodge continues to hold regular meetings. A tradition stemming back to the start of the temple in 1861.
The lodge was a planned part of the post-fire reconstruction and has remained active ever since, though it was not completed until the 1870s. Despite not having a lodge, the masons were already active and well established in the area. For the miners of the late 1800s becoming a Freemason was something to aspire to. The dues to be a member were $4 a year and the average miner made $1 a week. Meaning the cost of membership was an entire month's wages and not easily obtained.
Being a member of the Nevadaville Lodge gave men high status and wealth. It was an assurance that the brethren would help pay for medical needs or after-death expenses. A tradition stemming back to the gilded and medieval ages. It served as an early form of health insurance, life insurance, and general welfare services. It was the social-safety-net of its time. Larger modern institutions have adapted and incorporated elements of this system into theirs; such as labor-unions, international trade packs, and democratized medicine systems. Even to this day, the brethren of Masons help each other with their monetary needs.
Once a month the town population has a short-lived boom when the Freemasons converge onto Nevadaville. To practice their rituals in a building that was made by brothers from another era. The central hub of activity and the basic unit of the Masons is the lodge name. The group that meets in Nevadaville is called: “Nevada Lodge #4”. Today, there are a little under 2-million Masons in America and over 4,500 lodges.
The practice of Freemasonry (or Masonry) dates back to the medieval stonemason fraternities. Despite the wild and speculative rumors, most of their meetings involve mundane and structured conversations. Very similar to a board meeting or a shareholders meeting. But what captures the imagination of outsiders are the secretive ceremonies, rituals, and initiation process. The confidential nature of these meetings has bred a cacophony of conspiracy theories. Theories that were popularized in works of fiction; such as Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” or films like “National Treasure”.
Nevadaville is host to one of a handful of ghost-town lodges and temples that reside in Colorado (you can see another example in this video). Many of these derelict buildings are still around today thanks to the efforts of the Freemasons, who over the decades preserved this particular structure. However; we can see more grand and ornate lodges and temples that are falling to ruin in cities like Victor or Cripple Creek Colorado.
Fortunately, the lodge in Nevadaville did not meet this fate. In a 2020 Colorado Public Radio interview, the current “Worshipful Master” (or elected leader) of the Nevadaville Lodge; Patrick Dey, said "you can still see the original wallpaper and wainscoting". According to Dey, the lodge-room has impressed outsiders, including members of other local lodges who come to the abandoned town for initiation.
According to Mr. In Dey's interview, they typically blindfold the pledges as they are led into Nevadaville and the lodge. Once the pledge is seated in the meeting room, the blindfold is removed. As Dey puts it, “when it comes off… I always hear them go, ‘WOW’. Just to be in that room during that is such an experience.”
Dey went on to say; “Up here in Nevadaville, we don’t get good cell phone reception, so you don’t have to worry about guys sitting there playing on their phones in lodge… So hang out, enjoy yourself. You’re in a ghost town!” Day says there has been looting and a few break-ins, but folks should know Nevadaville is not completely abandoned. Again, two residents live in the town year-round. There are many brethren and community members who visit often. If anything is suspected or at times where a disruption is likely; such as Halloween, the Masons post lookouts to make sure their property remains secure. Dey concluded with: “We...want to protect it. It’s important to us, and we think it’s important to history”.
Can You Visit?
While it’s important to protect the structure, it’s not completely closed to the public. The Masons are happy to show it off on special occasions. Annually they hold a pancake breakfast fundraiser that the public is welcome to attend.
Random visitors to Nevadville are generally not welcome, but passing through on the roadway is not an issue. However, I suggest that you drive by slowly and do not stop. If you do decide to park, be mindful of where you do so. The street itself is public, but the buildings and surrounding land are privately owned.
BEWARE DO NOT WANDER: the mine shafts are extremely dangerous to approach. This is because the ground nearby can collapse under the weight of a single person. The mines and equipment can be seen off in the distance and it may seem tempting to wander over for a closer look; do not do this. I cannot stress this point enough. The mine shafts were made in a manner that pulverized the granite walls and sides. This leaves us today with an ever crumbling sinkhole. The edges have a tendency to cave and you can end up dead at the bottom of a 13-500 ft (3.9-154.4 m) shaft. There are numerous sinkholes appearing daily. One such hole is nicknamed, “The Glory Hold” which is 1,450 ft (441.9m) deep. That’s large enough to fit the entire Willis Tower (Formerly SEARS Tower) in Chicago.
A 35-mile drive and a 3,200-foot climb through the foothills of Denver will lead you to the Central City Cemetery. This is a grouping of several smaller cemeteries and family plots that sits at a total of 8,495 feet (258 m) above sea level. The land is back-dropped by spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and is peppered with colorful wild-flowers. The first grave-site was dug shortly after the Gold Rush period, in 1884 and the last grave was dug in 1913. It contains 17 families and groups, split between 26 cemeteries.
Central City Colorado is the largest town that is adjacent to the Central City Cemetery. However; many of the surrounding communities that once interred its residents here are now lost to time or ghost towns. Some such examples are; Nevadavilla and Apex Colorado. Meaning Central City and its cemetery remain, but the size of this Cemetery is attributed to many communities that no longer exist.
Central City was first discovered by John Gregory. Only two weeks after his arrival people began to join John and in just over two months over 10,000 people lived in Central City and it’s ancillary communities.
The area that we now know as Central City was formally incorporated by William Byers, from the Rocky Mountain News. He and his companions pitched a tent in the central square, in what was just considered a large mining district. This act elevated the area to more than a settlement and it became an emerging city center. This portion of town became known as “The Richest Square Mile on Earth”. In-fact there is a stone monument on the eastern side of the city commemorating the event.
In 1874, a great fire destroyed most of the buildings in town. However; this was almost a required step for a Western city to grow out of its timber construction methods. Like many cities, they rebuilt with more sturdy materials; such as stone and brick. This is why we can still enjoy and marvel at “Ol’ Central City” to this day.
Today Central City is home to only 765 living residents; however, they are becoming well known for the thousands of residents who have passed on and refuse to leave. The Central City Cemetery is home to countless fraternal orders, secret societies, and religious sects. Some of the most well known are the “Central City Mason Cemetery”, “The Catholic Cemetery”, “Independent Order of the Odd Fellows Cemetery”, and “The Knights of Pythias Cemetery” (all of which are sub-plots within the greater Central City Cemetery”).
Knights of Pythias Cemetery
While much attention is paid to the Freemason Cemetery (and I will cover this); the Knights of Pythias Cemetery has its own set of legends and ghost stories. The Knights were the second fraternal organization to receive a charter from Congress, in 1864. They were second to the freemasons, who received a charter in 1752 (this charter was passed down from its grand lodge in Scotland before we were a country).
The group's by-laws and charter were inspired by a play written by Irish poet, John Banim. The play was a political satire that told the story of Damon and Pythias. The central themes of the play were of friendship and loyalty. New members were provided a sword upon their induction; however, this practice no longer exists. Today, there are about 2,000 lodges, as well as many cemeteries that are scattered throughout the country.
Much of this fading brotherhood’s dead lie under the Central City Cemetery with their swords by their side. The Knights of Pythias grave-site is characterized by its rod iron gates that were once topped with faux Tesla balls. Remnants of the Tesla balls are still seen on smaller fences within the plot. This was likely a nod to Nicola Tesla, who built an experimental station in a nearby town and conducted much of his research in the City of Colorado Springs. With that said, you can see how the imagination tends to run wild with a deeper connection to Nicola Tesla and the Knights of Pythias
The Knights gravesite is bordered and sits across from the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows cemetery. On the border of these two sites you will find unmarked body mounds that curve skyward. There are many accounts of ghostly spirits lurking between these two burial grounds. The most frequent account is of a phantom woman, who is not from the period. Rather she wears a brightly colored red and teal track-suit; circa Mid-eighties or early 1990s. She sports short curly brown hair, yet has no face. Visitors claim to encounter her as they round corners or tree lines. Often she appears directly to the right of the passerby. Before anyone can say “excuse me” or “hello”, she disappears. These interactions have been reported to startle both the otherworldly guest as well as the passerby.
This portion of the Central City Cemetery is well maintained and is positioned away from most other grave-sites and cemeteries. The Freemason plot is the section that is often referred to as one of the “most haunted places in Colorado”.
It has been widely reported that every 5th of April and 1st of November, the grave of John Edward Cameron is visited by a woman. Unlike the Knights of Pythias spirit; this specter wears period clothing. She is said to be a beautiful young lady w ho wears a black Victorian-style dress and keeps her hair of their shoulders with a braided-chignon hairdo. She appears twice a year to lay flowers in the vase that sits directly in front of Mr. Cameron’s grave.
John Cameron died on November 1st, 1885, and was a member of the Freemasons. There is a lot of speculation and rumors in regards to the connection to Cameron and the “Lady in Black”. There is a record of a man named John having died November 1st from “paralysis of the heart”. It is rumored that John was a sought after bachelor. Despite the local women's advances, he was not tempted. John’s heart longed for and was devoted to a woman who lived near Bald Mountain.
The first sightings of the Lady in Black date back to the 1880s. People speculate that the lady planted the rosebushes that once bloomed each spring beside John’s grave. The phantom-women continued to appear and deliver her bouquet of roses until June 1888, when the church-sexton removed the bushes. This seemed to stop the ghostly encounters but, only two years later the sexton saw her again. This time she carried a bouquet of columbine flowers; which bloom commonly in the surrounding meadows. He recalled that she placed the flower in the vase; reflected for a moment, before turning to Bald Mountain before disappearing.
Once there were twelve paranormal investigators who gathered on Cameron’s grave and awaited her arrival. They spent most of the afternoon here and they expected a long night. However; as dusk sets in and to the amazement of the group the Lady in Black appeared. One of them attempted to approach her, when he attempted to grab her she reportedly “flew off and suddenly vanished into a nearby hillside”.
This sprawling grouping of cemeteries is mostly overgrown; however, a good portion of its residents are fortunate to have been buried in the meadows and are not likely to be overgrown. Fortunately, the majority of the damage is due to decay, not vandalism. However, to my shock, I did see a recently removed headstone, during my visit. To add insult to injury, it was a child's headstone. All that was left was a toy left in the child's memory.
The cemetery is listed as active by the Colorado Dept. of Health, who maintains the list. This list indicates that the site is now maintained by Central City. If you are interested in donating time or money to the preservation of the site please contact. The Gilpin County Historical Preservation Commission, in this link.
Photos from Central City Cemetery
In this month's article, I would like to visit Woodland Park, Colorado. This town is so steeped in forgotten history that I will likely revisit it a few times. That said; today's tale is about a piece of property that barely missed Wal-Mart's wrecking ball and housed some of the world's earliest skiing enthusiasts.
I am focusing on land that was sold; in 2005, to Roger Thompson of the Wal-Mart real estate corporation. His intention was to develop a low-end department store combined with a grocery store. This news sparked community outrage over fears the store would eclipse main street businesses, damage historical property, and destroy the city's small-town quality of life. That April, town hall meetings were a roar with accusations, conflicts of interests, and preservation concerns
They pointed to the fact that city voters had already voted; in 1988, to not allow the town council to build city-funded infrastructure. This infrastructure was designed to entice Wal-Mart into opening a store in Woodland Park. The difference between 1988 and 2005 is that Teller County's population nearly doubled in those 17 years. With so much growth Wal-Mart no longer needed incentives to be interested in opening up shop.
Arguably Wal-Mart did not wreak all of the havoc that people feared, but the list of businesses that closed, opened, and closed again since the Wal-Mart opened is too large to keep up with. It’s a safe bet to say that the small retail-business market in Woodland Park became more volatile, but as a whole, the town seems to be better off with Wal-Mart and its tax revenue.
The town hall discussions concerning Wal-Mart was where we learned of the land’s historic significance. In response to these (and other) concerns Wal-Mart assured the people of Woodland Park that they would; preserve historic buildings, set aside 37% of the land for open space, pave the Crystola trail, and create a bronze sculpture of a local hero. As soon as the development was approved by the city council the land was transferred to “private developers” and no one heard from Roger Thompson again. These private developers only followed through with two of Rodgers’ promises; they preserved the historic buildings on the land and paved less than a mile of the Crystola trail.
The buildings that were spared served many uses during its time. The most obvious is that it was used as a cattle ranch in the 1800s. What is not so obvious is it was once the hub of Southern-Colorado Skiing and was the home to one of the first “ski clubs” west of the Mississippi River, The Silver Spruce Ski Club. This area was one of three ski areas developed by Don Lawrie and the buildings that remain were once used as a warming house for Don’s crew. Don was a pioneer of the sport of skiing and eventually became the president of the Silver Spruce Ski Club
Don developed ski areas with the help of volunteers and he funded this with the little donations they could put together. This was demanding physical labor that was done during the heat of summer.
Lawrie was quoted in the book “Lost Ski Areas of Colorado” saying; “Back then, the ski club built all their areas with donations and with volunteer labor. We never had any money, and we had to improvise and make do. We worked hard, we skied hard and we had a wonderful time.”
At this time skiing was considered somewhat barbaric and was not widely accepted in the United States. None-the-less Don encouraged people to try the sport and coached people to enter tournaments around Colorado. In addition to being a mentor to new skiers, he also participated as a competitor in cross-country and jumping events. Some of these events were said to have drawn up to 800 people. The competitions evolved into a great fundraising opportunity for many of the local ski clubs.
In 1929 Don implemented a plan to reduce the club membership fees in order to make skiing available to more people. Also at that time, he merged his club with the US Western Amature Ski Association. This incorporation literally brought busloads of people who were interested in skiing to the Edlow course in Woodland Park.
By 1936 Don’s incorporation of local ski clubs had grown out of its cross-country skiing roots and evolved into a club that was more focused on downhill and slalom skiing. The new focus of the club and the larger group brought with it a new name, “The Pikes Peak Ski Club''. That same year he adapted an old Whippet automobile engine into a mechanical tow rope, to help people up the hills. This made it so people could get up the hill without using busses or hiking. More interestingly this was a first of a kind tow rope that was widely mimicked in the Western United States
In 1948, Don Lawrie had become the Pikes Peak Highway administrator. He decided to find a new ski area that would be less windy and have more shade. With his army Weasel, he scouted a north-facing slope on Pikes Peak. This slope would later become the “Elk Park Winter Sports Area”, but it was better known as the “Pikes Peak Ski Area”. The ski run was originally cleared by the Highway Road crew, but only when they could take time away from their normal responsibilities. The area was completed by volunteers including Soldiers from Fort Carson and students from Colorado College. These hearty volunteers spent most summer weekends working on the ski runs. By night they would sleep under the stars with just a sleeping bag. Similar to the Woodland Park Ski run, a warming house was used however; in this instance, it was an old CCC building that was moved to the base of the new ski area.
In 1954, skiing was finally authorized at Elk Park. Don had created a fun and affordable ski destination. All people needed was skis, a $1 toll for the highway, and an additional fee for using the tow rope. People flocked from the nearby cities to enjoy an affordable afternoon skiing.
Don then went on to be influential in the formation of the non-profit “Pikes Peak Ski Corporation”. This charity was used to finance improvements to the ski areas for many years. Don served on the Board of Directors of the organization until the mid-sixties.
Pikes Peak became the major ski area for Colorado Springs for many years. The ski area was very small compared to runs in places like Vail Colorado or Keystone Colorado. In the early 1980’s they added a $700,000 triple chair made by Poma-USA. The Poma provided new terrain above the timberline, but snow is really hard to come by in this area. The trails were often wind-blown and packed. After the lift was put in the ski area had a terrible season, with very little turnout. Subsequently, it was not able to pay its taxes or pay Poma-USA for their newly installed lift.
Skiing on Pikes Peak or “Americas Mountain” continued until the mid-1980s. By this time the operation was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. This is because all of the snow was man-made or shipped down from higher elevations. The city of Colorado Springs purchased the property for a brief period. But it was promptly determined to be too expensive and was sold again to Vail Resorts. The lack of snow and increased costs made it a bad investment. Vail Resorts took the opportunity to close the ski area after the 1984 season. Not only did they close down their competition, but they also closed the chapter of U.S. history about Skiing in Southern Colorado.
The heyday of Pikes Peak’s organized skiing took place near the Glen Cove area and Woodland Park. These were the sites that Don Lawrie and his friends chose before Elk Park grew into a skiing destination. Heck, it was even before Colorado was considered a ski destination. Don’s grand ideas never wavered and he was fortunate to have seen many of them become a reality. Lawrie died in 2000 and was long retired by then. But it was his dreams and ambitions that helped to create the ski scene in Colorado. He brought the skiing industry to life before it boomed in higher elevations and in well-known towns like Aspen, Vail, or Telluride.
Don’s grandson; Don Sanborn, was quoted in Colorado Springs, in regards to his Grandfather saying: “Even in his 90s, he still harbored a dream of starting a ski area, like at some hill behind the Wal-Mart in Woodland Park. We told him, ‘You need to see what ski hills and areas are really like now!'”. While Don was well aware of what modern ski resorts had become, he longed for a more simple and pure version of his sport. And to some degree, we can all understand that. To Don, this wasn’t an unreasonable idea, especially when we consider that behind this Wal-Mart was where he helped to make one of the first ski runs in Colorado. This is why I propose that the Woodland Park Wal-Mart follow through with its promise of building a bronze statue, by erecting a statue of Don Lawrence and the Silver Spring Ski Club.
Photos From The Day:
W.C. Davis and G.C McGee first purchased the Ida L. and Dauntless mining claims in 1888. By 1893 Davis sold his interest in these and other claims to W.F. Abrams of San Diego, California. McGee kept his interest until selling it to A.G. Bruner in 1910. Beginning in 1917 Bruner fell behind in tax payments and Charles L. Larson of Denver purchased the Ida L and Dauntless mines, in 1933 for only $200. Charles and family were the last few prospects in the town of Ironton Colorado. This became evident to the Larsons' when in 1920, only 3 years after purchasing their mine; the Ironton post office closed. The next year the railway stopped all service to Ironton.
Despite the closure of the post office, lack of rail service, and dwindling population Charles and his sons continued to build on their property for 4 years. During this time they constructed a small flotation mill, a bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, and a snow shed over the mine adit (or mine opening). The concrete foundation from the mill is still visible today, behind the adit. The mine eventually had a 180-foot tunnel and a two-compartment mine shaft. In 1937 the Larsons' shipped out 25-tons of concentrated ore at a rate of $100 per ton. Which would be $2,500, but in today's currency (that would be equal to $44,811. The same year the Larson mine began to turn a profit, Charles Larson passed away. Leaving behind his two sons Milton and Harry Larson; later the duo became locally known as “The Larson Brothers”.
Despite their recent financial success, the Larson Brothers were in debt. Which limited further development on the property. They struggled to get their mine off the ground for three years. In 1940 a man named Kenneth Gerard offered to partner with the Larson Brothers and bought out W.F. Abrams. By 1951 Gerard started a diamond-drilling program. He wanted to use the flotation mill once more; however, this never came to be. Very few leases worked the mine off- and-on up until the 1960s.
In the late 1950s, the nearby Beaver and Belfast Mines owed back taxes. Kenneth Gerard and the Larson Brothers took this opportunity to buy the mines. Milton and Harry Larson operated their original mine for an additional 9 years. People who visited the brothers said that no one left without sharing a bowl of soup with the brothers. They were said to have only mined enough minerals to have what they needed. They traded their findings in town for basic supplies and trundled back up the mountain once a month. The pair shared this humble existence until Harry died in 1959
Milton continued to live in Ironton alone. In-fact Milton (Milt) Larson was best known as Ironton’s last resident. His friends and the locals dubbed him “Ironton’s mayor”. In 1964 he was given an all-expense-paid trip to New York to appear on the television show “I’ve got a secret” where his secret was; “I am the entire population of Ironton, Colorado.” Milton may have been alone; however, he was reported to be in good spirits. He was known for his detailed stories that he entertained the occasional tourist with his tales. And he allowed children to take small pieces of galena ore from his mine, as a memento. Milton continued the remainder of his days this way, until his death in 1964.
With Milton gone the property-ownership and the mining-claim went to the Gerard family. The property remained in the family for 41 years. Like the rest of Ironton, it fell into abandonment and ruin. Thankfully in 2005, Ouray County purchased the mining-claim from the Gerard family with a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.
The property sat for another 13 years before minimum preservation began. Fortunately, the boarding house and office building were re-roofed in 2005 and the building's structure was repaired in 2018. Today The Larson Brothers Mine is an important historic site and is listed as a Ouray County Historic Landmark. A conservation easement on the property was given to the Trust for Land Restoration and this ensures the protection of the historic site from inappropriate development.
Charles, Milt, and Harry lived and died on this land. It was an important part of their lives that almost was lost to time. Thanks to the money generated by Great Outdoors Colorado we will be able to experience their home for years to come.
Milton Larson on "I've Got A Secret":
In this article, I would like to take a break from covering US history and forgotten places to dive into the history that is being made by the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19). As much of America is on lockdown and practicing “social distancing”, our cities are looking more like the ghost towns that I typically cover. I would like to tour you through my hometown and review the history of the last time the world saw a major Pandemic. To paraphrase the Greek God Janus; “The man that looks to the past and the future is blind in one eye, but the man who looks to only the future is blind in both eyes.”
Despite popular belief, we have not seen a major pandemic in living memory. There have been major; yet localized, epidemics; such as SCARS or MERS. Both of which are more deadly than Covid-19. Not to forget, the most deadly epidemic in recent history; ebola, which killed 11,323.
To find the last Pandemic we have to go back to January 1918. When the “Spanish Flu” was first reported by the Spanish army. However; it had been circulating in the European armies for over a year before it was noted and reported in a British Army hospital in 1918. Some say it started in China and then mutated at a US military base in Kansas, where it was eventually spread to the frontline.
Regardless of how it started; it made its way around the world because at this time the world was in the throes of World War I and we had little knowledge of viruses and the diseases that they caused. Furthermore, the news of Spanish Flu was suppressed by the US, French, British, and German governments as they feared it would impact their troops' morale and show weakness. This information suppression was instrumental in spreading the disease early on. Later in 1918 the soldiers returned home and brought with them a very virulent version of the virus.
Just like Covid-19, the world population had no immunity or tolerance for the virus built up in their system. This is the key difference between the common flu and the Spanish Flu. Even to this day, the common flu kills 650,00 people worldwide. However; this is a known variable. Meaning we can account for what it will do and where it will do it. Whereas with novel-viruses we have no history to go off of and do not know what to expect.
The Spanish flu went on to become the second-largest health-crisis, second only to the bubonic plague of the middle ages. It managed to spread to every continent and infect upwards of 30% of the world population, of 1.8 billion people. Before the flu pandemic was through it had claimed over 50 million lives. This is a solemn reminder of what can happen if a pandemic gets truly out of control.
We now know the Spanish Flu was an outbreak of the H1N1 virus. A breed of virus that is common in birds and pigs; which is why it is often referred to as “bird flu” or “swine flu”. Similar to Covid-19 it jumped from one species to the next from close contact with infected animals within the food chain. Even though the Spanish Flu is an influenza virus and Covid-19 is a Coronavirus they both attack the lungs. Those who have survived the worst cases of Covid-19 are often left with scarring on their lungs and reduced lung capacity.
A report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CCDC) found the mortality rate of Covid-19 to be 2.3%. The Spanish Flu killed its hosts at a rate of 2.5%; to give a frame of reference: the common flu kills at a rate of 0.1%. Meaning the Spanish Flu was 25x more lethal and Covid-19 is 23x more lethal than the common flu.
Now, what’s most important is to not panic. We are going to be ok and better than ever. Just because the data is similar to Spanish Flu, this does not mean the outcome will be similar. The differences between 1918 medicine and today are too numerous to count. And epidemiologists have learned a lot from our past. However; it is time for us to focus our attention on the present and write history together. Let’s change how deadly Covid-19 is to the world. It starts with social distancing and better sanitation habits. And no, toilet paper hoarding is not the answer. Thank you to the medical staff, first responders, and social distance superstars. For the most up-to-date information on Covid-19 Please visit the link below:
Photos from the day:
Thank you for visiting! This is a collection of media from the lost and abandoned corners of the world. Please have a look around, I hope you enjoy.