Mrs. Johnson’s oysters, Mr. Johnson’s metal chest
David Johnson shot himself with a pistol.
The blast of the gun and the presence of her children caused Mrs. Johnson to return to her Brush Creek home in Eagle, moments after her husband had asked her to go into town for some oysters.
One of the Johnson children found their father lying in bed, upstairs, with the gun smoking in his hand, experiencing the end of his breath.
This account from April 18, 1919, comes from the archives of the Eagle County Enterprise’s obituaries. It fails to provide Mr. Johnson’s physical address.
Local attorneys Carey and Brad Helms believe they may have bought Mr. Johnson’s house. They know their house was one of three Brush Creek homes in existence around the time of Mr. Johnson’s suicide, and that it held more than one story.
Furthermore, the Helmses, along with some of the men assisting with their renovations, believe they’ve encountered what can only be described as a ghost.
Carey Helms had the first encounter shortly after the couple purchased the house a little over a year ago. She was the only one home, downstairs, when she heard what sounded like a large, metal chest being dragged across the wooden floor upstairs.
At the time, the Helmses had an old door that required a great deal of force to shut.
“It created a really distinct sound, but it was different,” Carey said. “Of course, Brad thought I was completely crazy.”
Carey was also the first person to see the ghost. She mistook a man, about 5 feet 10 inches tall with brown hair, for her husband.
“I saw a man who I thought was Brad, and I said, “Honey, have you been drinking wine tonight?'” she said. “Then, he disappeared.”
“One night I heard her talking to someone in the corner of the room,” said Brad.
The Helmses never looked into the history of the house until after Carey’s first experiences.
“My theory is that there’s a scientific and empirical explanation for everything,” said Brad.
Then, Brad found himself alone in the house one night. He had been watching a movie on the couch downstairs and had fallen asleep. After he got up to turn off the television, he fell back asleep.
Brad woke up again, but this time he wasn’t stirred by the soft buzz of a TV screen. It was that same noise Carey first heard. They both likened it to the sound of a metal chest dragging across the floor.
“The thing about it was that it was so loud. It was louder than it could have been in reality,” Brad said.
The story from the Enterprise describes David Johnson as a well-liked man, a hard worker, who showed signs of despondency and complained of poor health weeks before his death.
Johnson’s suicide came the week he was supposed to move his family to a ranch along the Rio Grande.
The night he killed himself, Mrs. Johnson had been hard at work packing their belongings. That night, he asked her where she’d packed his revolver.
The house’s list of current renovations includes replacing the roof and a perimeter of false walls, which provide a relatively large and vacuous crawl space.
The crawl space circles around the top floor of the building and is all but void of light. It used to be filled with Denver Post newspapers from the 1930s; it still keeps an old, soiled mattress and a thick layer of coal dust.
“I remember being up at 5:30 one morning and hearing a loud, scratching noise in the wall, and that was definitely an animal,” Brad said. “It was explainable.”
Things grew more disturbing when some of the men hired to renovate the house began having experiences.
“It seems like he only shows up when we’re doing a new project,” Carey said. “We’re about to take the roof off the house and replace it, and do a new room and bathroom. And, that’s when we’re expecting him to return.”
Danny and Ricky Bastillos were remodeling the kitchen, and they were the only people in the house, when they heard doors closing, and people walking around.
The Bastilloses were the only people at the house on another occasion, listening to music with Spanish lyrics, when they heard someone talking in English.
“They called me and said, “Steve, I thought you said nobody was here,'” said general contractor Steve Sandoval. “These are pretty big guys. They played high school football, and now they refuse come over to the house by themselves.”
“I’m just so glad your guys said that because they’re grown men,” said Carey. “I’ve been here a year, and Brad thought I was insane.
“But, when Brad heard that noise that one night, he just about peed his pants.”
The electrician, Rocky, was at the house by himself one day. He went outside to his van to have lunch when he noticed the shadow of a man walking by. He looked back and found no one there.
“Rocky locked his doors, started eating lunch and waited for me to come over to the house,” said Sandoval.
“My mother thinks we should have Father Brooks (who married Carey and Brad) come over and bless the house,” said Carey.
It may have been angst over moving, the pressures of providing for a family, an unbearable sickness or an overbearing wife that caused Mr. Johnson to blow his brains out virtually in front of his own children.
One thing is clear. Mr. Johnson’s burden had grown too cumbersome for his spirit. And, in an attempt to leave his pain behind, he may have prevented himself from ever finding peace in death.
Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.