Sometimes, only the dead survive

There are hundreds of ghost towns in Colorado.   Most of these are reminders of a gold rush long past. Others were once farming communities that could no longer sustain crops, or failed social experiments.

Iron fenced gravesiteOften, there is nothing left to these towns to indicate they ever existed.
One of those towns, Missouri City, also called Missouri Flats, has only one thing to mark its existence. The grave of a small child.

Unlike its neighbors, many which are themselves ghost towns, places like Russell Gulch, Nevadaville and Lake Gulch, (and of course almost-ghost towns Central City and Black Hawk) which sprung up as gold mining towns,  this town was the headquarters of the Consolidated Ditch Company, which was building the infrastructure for the water supply for the Central City area.  The town was big enough to have a post office in 1860, and almost 600 people called it home.  Three years later, the post office was closed.

By 1940, as today, this fenced in grave remains the only evidence that there was once a place called Missouri City, and it’s not very good evidence at that.  After all, there is no mention of the town written anywhere on the stark black fences. The outer fence, which surrounds the fenced in grave, is locked with padlocks that, while a contemporary addition, look to be rusted closed.

Iron fenced gravesiteThe little girl whose grave lies within, once had a marble marker (the base remains), that is long gone.  A small gray angel has been added, and a simple wooden marker gives the scanty details of a short life. “Clara A, dau. of D.E. and S. Delaney, July 5, 1865, Aged 1 y, 5 M,  12 D.” A stuffed bear has been left within the last few years.

This is not the only ghost town whose existence is marked only by the cemetery. Most of these sites have more than one grave marker. These stone memorials of those who lived and died in a place become the only monument of the place they knew.  In Summit County, there’s also Parkville, which was the county seat in the 19th century.

We visited the Missouri City site yesterday, and despite persistent rumors over the last decade that this humble reminder of the area’s pioneer past will soon be no more, possibly paved over for gambling parking, or other “progress,” it’s still there.

If you want to see this spot, head towards Central City over the Parkway. When you enter town turn right at the stop sign, then another right on the opposite side of the  big casino parking lot. Turn onto the Virginia Canyon road, and follow it across the Parkway. Immediately at the end of the bridge, take a left, and follow it past the maintenance vehicles and maintenance buildings.  The fenced plot will be on your right.

*Images can be clicked for a larger version.

Word of the Day: advertent

I had originally intended a different story for today, but, a breaking news story caught my attention so, I wrote this instead. It means that I’m already storing up stories for next week. Yay!

Today’s word


As in:

The “Poe Toaster,” a mysterious gentleman who has annually visited the grave of writer Edgar Allen Poe to deliver a half-bottle of cognac and 3 roses, failed to make an appearance this year.

Perhaps the tradition died with the stories circulating that the whole thing was a hoax designed to bring attention to the derelict cemetery in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, where Poe’s remains were laid to rest.  Since the creation of the mysterious stranger, said to have been visiting since 1959, Poe fans have gathered to wait for the stranger’s arrival.

And, year after year, since the story was set into motion, a visitor has appeared. Until this year. No one is certain whether this means that last year was the final visit, or if someone will be taking up the tradition in years to come.

The tradition has been very valuable to the cemetery itself, bringing in preservation dollars and attention to the churchyard, which has been cleaned-up and made safer. None of this preservation activity would’ve been possible without the “Poe Toaster.”

Now cemeteries across the nation have been trying to create their own traditions, hopeful that the newly advertent visitors will bring money into their own preservation coffers.

Recently, at Ellsworth Cemetery, the last resting place of Francis Johnson, a story has started circulating that visitors have had twine disappear from their pockets as they visit Johnson’s grave. Johnson, who died in 1989, is the man who built Darwin’s only tourist attraction. It is the Biggest Ball of Twine Built by One Man. It is also said that Johnson himself appears on the anniversary of his death, and can be seen working those stolen bits of twine into a ball.

Other cemeteries are simply telling people that they are haunted to get people to visit on Halloween for their “haunted” tours. As soon as these tours began, visitors reported seeing strange lights, person-shaped misty blobs, and feeling ghostly fingers on the backs of their necks.

Some cemeteries that have long-documented paranormal occurrences are angry that others are now “inventing” tales to steal their visitors. They also feel it’s dishonest. “How is the average cemetery-visiting public going to separate the made-up stories from the real ones? This is simply going to lead to a distrust of all stories having to do with cemeteries. No one will be spending their money, and we’ll all pay for these types of deceptions. It’s going to set cemetery preservation back at least a year.”


The “Poe Toaster” has always reminded me a little of the story of John Cameron, a dashing bachelor who died in Central City on November 1, 1887. There are tales that the place is haunted. And that every year on the day of his death, a young woman, in Victorian garb, arrives and leaves flowers on his grave, and then disappears. He was well known as the area’s most eligible bachelor, and died young after a town social event. For more information on this cemetery, you can visit <a href=”” target=”blank”></a> In the interest of full disclosure, I am the proprietor of the site.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure, while there is an Ellsworth Cemetery in Darwin, Minnesota, I’ve no idea if Mr. Johnson is buried there. There is at least one other cemetery in the area, and for all I know, he could be buried in another state.

advertent \ add – VERT – ant \ giving attention; heedful

Requiescat In Pace

Today the Rocky Mountain News published its final issue, 55 days short of its 150th birthday. Even though I knew it was coming, it was hard to think that Colorado will be without the paper older than the state itself.

After I’d read through the issue, the first physical copy of the Rocky I’ve read in ages, what I most lamented was the sense that the Rocky grew along with Colorado, and is more inextricably linked to the state’s heritage as any current institution could ever be. This solid thread to our pioneer past has been cut.

As I pondered these thoughts, I had a brilliant idea. I would go and visit the final resting place of the founder of the Rocky, William Newton Byers.
Grave of William Newton Byers, with the final issue of the Rocky Mountain News
I was not the only person to have this idea. Maybe “brilliant” is the wrong word.

As I drove into the entrance to Fairmount Cemetery, the local NBC affiliate had a news van exiting the cemetery. Of course, they may’ve been there for some other purpose, but, I like to think they’d swung by to pay their respects.

When I got to the grave site, I found that it had been decorated with a black wreath, circling today’s final issue of the newspaper that Byers had started with the printing press he’d hauled across the plains. Well, he didn’t haul it. Oxen did. But he drove. Byers was 28 years old.

Byers was one of those people who really saw the potential of Denver. His paper was the first published, just days after arriving in town, and beating the nearest competitor by a mere two hours. That other paper didn’t last.

The Rocky’s first “home” was a very rickety hint of a building, closely matching its frontier environs, where all the buildings were held together with good thoughts and a handful of nails. In the fifth year of operation, there was even a flood which carried the “building” and the printing press floating down the Cherry Creek.

The paper survived despite these things. The biggest reason? Byers had an over-riding vision for the paper’s role. He used high quality paper, and made the content indispensable. He was widely respected, and people wanted to hear what he had to say. These ingredients never go out of style, and had the current owners of the paper been as foresighted as its founder, those qualities would’ve carried the Rocky for another 149 years, 10 months and and 5 days.

Byers sold the paper after 19 years, but, remained committed to promoting the city of Denver, which he dubbed “The Queen City of the Plains,” and to the state of Colorado. There’s a town, a street, and a middle school named in his honor.

I’m sad that the Rocky Mountain News has moved from a record of Colorado history to a part of it. Rest in Peace.