Walking with ghosts
It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can’t be seen
On any other night.
~ From “It’s Halloween” by Jack Prelutsky
Several souls laid to rest at Glenwood Springs historic Linwood Cemetery are restless this time of year, anxious to tell their tales of wonder and woe.
Luckily, among the living there are many souls anxious to hear those stories. Add in cemetery grounds lit by lantern and you have the makings of a 15-year-old tradition — the Glenwood Ghost Walk.
The Linwood Cemetery is the famed resting place of Old West icon John Henry “Doc” Holliday (more about him later), as well as many other community pioneers. Fifteen years ago, the folks at the Glenwood Frontier Historical Society came up with the idea of offering a Ghost Walk tour of Linwood Cemetery during the Halloween season, with actors portraying historical figures and sharing their life stories. A decade and a half later, the event is the organization’s major fund-raisier and it usually attracts around 700 people during a three-weekend run.
According to Cindy Hines, director of the Frontier Historical Society, the tour has developed the stories of 20 pioneers. Six of those individuals are featured each tour.
“You could actually go every weekend and see something different each time,” she noted.
While the tour ambience is decidedly eerie, the event itself is not intentionally frightening.
“We do it during the Halloween season because its fun to be in the cemetery at night at that time,” said Hines. “But we don’t deliberately try to scare people during our ghost walks. We don’t jump out from behind trees.”
Instead, the meticulously researched tour impresses visitors with stories of pioneer grit and heartache. For instance, Katie Bender was a restaurant owner during the early days of Glenwood, and one of the first residents to understand the role of community enhancements as an attraction for tourists . She urged the community to build boardwalks so visiting ladies wouldn’t dirty their skirts traipsing through dirt, mud and muck on the town streets.
“She was right, from a marketing standpoint,” said Hines.
As visitors make their way though the darkened cemetery, it is the sorrowful tales of the past that draw the most emotion. Life in the Old West was brutally hard, after all. Consider the tale of the “9 of Diamonds.”
The 9 of Diamonds was what this lady of the evening called herself. “She said it was a cursed card, which tells you something about how she saw her life,” said Hines. “During the tour she talks about the people who were looked down on by society and ultimately buried in the potter’s field. Her story is partly ‘We were people too, don’t forget us.’”
At the time when he was buried, the good people of Glenwood Springs likely wanted to forget that Kid Curry had found his final resting place in their community.
“Kid Curry was not a nice person. He had no qualms about killing people,” said Hines.
A robber and outlaw, Kid Curry was once a part of Butch Cassidy’s gang, but ultimately his bloodthirsty ways lead him to part ways with them. Curry met his end while robbing a train at Parachute. He was surrounded and rather than be taken alive and placed in jail, he committed suicide. No one really wanted to inter his body, but he was ultimately buried in Glenwood.
Little Beulah Rowden’s story is poignant and tragic. She was just 12 years old when she died after drinking lye. According to Hines, Beulah ingested the poison after she had been scolded for allowing her younger cousin to wander away.
“I don’t think she realized what that would do to her. I think she was just thinking ‘I’ll show them, I’ll drink lye,” said Hines. Beulah lingered for two weeks after that fateful and fatal decision.
Of course a Ghost Walk Tour at Linwood could not be complete without the story of its most famous citizen — Doc Holliday. While the other ghosts rotate during the various tour sessions, Holliday is always a fixture during the event.
For the past 15 years, Doc has been portrayed by R.W. Boyle, who has been doing his interpretation of the famed gunslinger for 20 years. In fact, Boyle is the father of the ghost walk event.
“The honest truth is I stole the idea,” said Boyle. He had attended a “cemetery crawl” in Boulder and while he liked the idea of a moonlight tour, he thought an event with costumed historical figures would be a better way to organize a cemetery outing.
During the past two decades, Boyle has made a thorough study of Holliday’s life.
“There’s not many people who know more about Doc than I do,” said Boyle. Boyle calls himself a Holliday “portraitist.”
“There is no script of what I do. There never has been a script,” said Boyle.
At 73 years, Boyle is considerably older than Holliday, who died when he was just 37. Boyle is also considerably healthier than his alter ego. Holliday suffered from “consumption,” now known as tuberculosis, which ultimately claimed his life. He died with his boots off, in a bed at the Hotel Glenwood.
Boyle noted there are certain historic Westerners who have reached iconic status and said Holliday is one of them.
“He became an icon, in part because of that O.K. Corral fight,” said Boyle.
That battle is part of Old West lore and Boyle said that’s because there were so many people with reputations involved in it. Beyond that, he said it was truly a good versus evil battle.
“The cowboys were really a well organized crime organization at that time,” he said.
Holliday’s exploits throughout the West are the stuff of legend and film, but Boyle also shares tales from his early days. For instance Holliday was born with a clef palate, which was often a death sentence for infants. When he was just 8 weeks old, his uncle performed repair surgery.
Holliday was only 10 when the Civil War broke out, but Boyle noted that conflict left an indelible mark on his life. As a young child, he learned how to play a children’s version of farro from a family slave named Sophie.
“Doc found out early on that not only did he like to gamble, but that he was pretty good at it,” said Boyle.
Holliday’s time in Glenwood was brief. He arrived in town in May of 1887 and died on Nov. 8 of that same year.
“He came here to take the waters, but it probably wasn’t good for him,” said Boyle.
By the time he met his death, Boyle said Holliday’s renown alcohol consumption probably wasn’t masking the pain of his disease. Boyle believe he had switched over to laudanum (opium) by his final days.
As he prepares for each ghost walk performance, Boyle rests by Holliday’s grave and contemplates Doc’s life story as he watches the lantern-led groups bob along the path. He then tells a tale that is never exactly the same, but always presents the core of the legend.
And sometime, he gets to have a little extra fun.
Treat with respect
Hines has her own favorite Doc Holliday/R.W. Boyle tale. Several years ago, a group of ghost walk actors were headed down the hill around midnight after that evening’s performances. As they were walking down the hill, they noticed a group of teenagers headed toward the cemetery.
Boyle, with his extensive knowledge of the site, was able to circle back up to Holliday’s grave to make sure the teens were not planning some Halloween mischief. He positioned himself behind a nearby tree and watched until the teens found Holliday’s grave. As Hines tells it, Boyle waited until he heard one of the teens say he had found Doc’s grave before he stepped out behind the tree in full Doc Holliday costume and admonished the teens to make sure they treated the grave with respect.
“They were screaming all the way down to Bennett Avenue,” Hines said.
In the end, whether the story is about someone famous or someone unnamed, Hines likes to think the “ghosts” welcome the annual event.
“We know they are real people. We hope they are out there somewhere thinking ‘This is cool. Someone is telling my story.’”