Jail ghost linked to 1884 haunting
LEADVILLE – It’s interesting how history and hauntings can repeat themselves.Phantoms inhabiting the Lake County Jail environs are nothing new. Most recently, Memorial Day manifestations disturbed and terrified jail inmates and sheriff’s employees. For a week leading up to the holiday, paranormal manifestations in the lockup took a variety of forms. Beginning as unexplained problems with a television set, an apparent unseen presence went on to move and stack objects, weave a cross of nylon cord, produce a cryptic message on paper and leave voices on a cassette tape. Among other things, unexplained sounds of moaning, choking, gasping and the phrases “Higher” and “Bless me” were recorded. Blasts of ice-cold air and glimpses of shadowy forms completed the spectral visitations. But the bizarre events apparently aren’t the first time resident spirits came calling at the county jail. In the late 19th Century, similar events plagued the inhabitants of the lockup, terrifying them into hysterics after they were placed in Cell No. 8. Even though the original courthouse and jail were demolished following a fire in 1942, the disembodied spirit of an 1880s jail suicide might be responsible for the May 2004 spookiness. Coincidentally, the physical configuration of the replacement 1950s-era jail is virtually identical to that of the original lockup. Suicides and the surreal events that they precipitated create an uncanny similarity between events separated by more than 100 years.
An 1884 edition of the Leadville Chronicle detailed what happened in Cell No. 8 during the fall of 1884. It is recounted below. ‘String me up and whip me’ “The prisoners at the county jail are kept in a sort of huge rectangular iron cage inside of which cells are built of metal plates. Around them and between the cage wall runs a corridor, and no matter how full the jail is, there is always one cell empty – No. 8. It is impossible to keep prisoners in it; at present the officers have ceased to try, and it stands empty and idle, an evidence of the truth of a very remarkable story. “Several years ago, during the fore part of L.R. Tucker’s term as sheriff, a prisoner hung himself in this cell. He was alone in it at the time, and in the morning, his dead body was found swinging from a rope tied to a bolt in the ceiling. “The cell was disused for a little while, and the first prisoner put into it screamed out in the dead of night and begged for heaven’s sake to be placed somewhere else. He was shuddering with fear when taken out and swore that a corpse with a blue mark around its neck had crawled into the bunk with him. “The story was of course not believed, and after a time, a strange prisoner was put into the cell. He too awoke and screamed for help. The turnkey came and the man begged so piteously, that he was finally taken out. After that, it was tried on a dozen different prisoners and always with the same result. Their statements were different, but none ever succeeded in passing a night there.”Since Sheriff Becker’s regime, there have been several times, at periods of great crowding, prisoners were placed in the cell. They always had to be removed before morning.
“Some time ago, a big Englishman named Manning was arrested. He was a rough bully, and gave the officers no end of trouble by his insubordination. One evening after an unusually violent outbreak, his cell was changed and he was put in No. 8. “A little after midnight, Turnkey George Lechtmeyer was summoned by a terrified yell. He unlocked the outside door and entering the jail room peered into the cage. Behind the iron bars of his cell was the pale face of the Englishman. Perspiration was pouring off his forehead and his eyes fairly starting from their sockets. “He called out in an imploring voice, ‘For God’s sake, jailor, let me out of here! String me up and whip me if you want to, but don’t leave me here.'”Mr. Lechtmeyer asked him what was the matter and he answered with chattering teeth. ‘Don’t talk, but let me out. I’m going crazy in here.'”‘They’re here’ “The last victim in Cell No. 8 was Tom Collins, the incorrigible who was recently locked up on a charge of grand larceny. He was there, and at the city jail, violent and unmanageable, and some of Manning’s medicine given to him.
“He screamed for help, and substantially told the same story as the others. Since he has been taken out, he will not venture near the cell, even in the day time, when the prisoners are given the liberty of the corridor.””Jailor Lechtmeyer, Barney Becker, George Smith and Frank McLister, all bear testimony to the fact that the jail is full of strange noises and unaccountable sounds. “For a time, Mr. Lechtmeyer was unable to keep a revolver loaded at night time. He would lie down for a nap and awake to find that the pistol which lay at his side, fully loaded when he closed his eyes, contained nothing but empty shells which looked as though they had recently been discharged. These manifestations, with others equally strange, were repeated dozens of times.”Last May’s shadowy escapades were believed by many to come at the spectral hands of more recent inmate suicides, a pair of which took place in the jail in the last two decades. One man apparently hung himself from the cell bars and another perished when he suspended himself from an iron brace on a shower stall. Neither jail employees or inmates were aware that similar events took place there in Victorian times. May proved to be an active month for the courthouse ghosts. Early in the month, treasurer’s office employee Sarah Whiteley chronicled a most unusual experience while she was alone in the office one afternoon. A heavy iron vault door which takes great effort to close, slammed shut violently as if pushed by some otherworldly visitor. There was no logical explanation, she said, other than a spirit in the office.”I believe they’re not only in the jail, but many people in the courthouse have had something happen or have seen something,” Whiteley said. “They’re here – I just think they want their presence to be known.”