What the heck–one more story before we call it a day. 😉
One of Colorado’s most haunted ghost towns, according to that humorous and indefatigable collector of the state’s ghostlore, MaryJoy Martin, is Brown Gulch. Founded in the late 1860s by a group of silver miners–one of whom was, coincidentally, named William Brown–Brown Gulch has a whole chapter dedicated to its ethereal residents in Martin’s 1985 book TWILIGHT DWELLERS: GHOSTS, GHOULS AND GOBLINS OF COLORADO. Possibly the most memorable phantoms of the Gulch are two mules, who fell from a crumbling rain-weakened road in 1879 and who still bray at the foot of the cliff where they died.
But I am both a lover of music and a hopeless romantic, and my favorite Brown Gulch ghost plays the fiddle over his lonesome grave.
Life in mining towns consisted of hard work, hard play, and occasional outbreaks of violence. There was law enforcement of a sort; some brawny citizen with a big gun–or once in a while, a US marshal–would be named sheriff and deputize a few miners. If things got too out of hand, justice would ride into town in the form of that itinerant gentleman Judge Lynch, accompanied by his bailiffs “Strong” Drink and Hempen Rope. Things would quieten down for awhile; and the cycle would begin again. Such women as came to town were either the wives of miners or the euphemistically named “dance hall girls.” Once the silver seam–or gold seam–played out, the miners and hangers-on would pick up and move on, leaving silence, rotting buildings and collapsing mines behind.
Brown Gulch, however, was graced with the presence of a pale, sickly Englishman named Clifford Griffin. He arrived in the mid-1880s with nothing but the clothes on his back and a fiddle case, and in no time became one of the favorite residents of the Gulch. Clifford never told anyone the story of how an Englishman with a violin and the talent of an angel–especially when he played Mozart–ended up in a godforsaken silver camp, although gossip said he had left England to assuage his grief over a bride who died shortly after their wedding.
Clifford died on June 19th, 1887. Some say it was murder, some say it was suicide; I, mindful of his thin body and sickliness, would plop for that most heartless of nineteenth century killers, tuberculosis. He was buried on a cliff overlooking the creek that ran through the Gulch, a grave later marked with an obelisk tombstone.
Within a year of his death, Clifford Griffin was spotted near his gravesite, but more often he was heard; the rich sorrowful tones of his favorite Mozart pieces carried on the wind. Another mystery: Clifford was survived by a brother back in England who made arrangements to have flowers placed on Clifford’s grave every year on the anniversary of his death, but the flowers continued to appear every year on June 19th, long after the brother passed. Some thought this ghostly; I’m inclined to think it was a music lover, paying tribute to his or her favorite fiddler.
Brown Gulch was finally abandoned in 1912, following two decades of mine collapses and landslides that finally made the town–dwindled to a population of less than one hundred too stubborn to leave–too dangerous to live in. The final landslide gave rise to another legend when someone claimed to have heard a piano playing in the old Lampshire Hotel as the building was bulldozed by mud and slush.
The story of the phantom pianist, however, hasn’t resonated down the decades as has that of Clifford Griffin and his fiddle.
MaryJoy Martin tells the story much better than me, though. If you get the chance, read her book. It’s a rollicking ride through Colorado history and ghost stories.