The Golden, CO Haunted History Tour
Learning about the past reveals a lot about the present
For quite a few years now, I have enjoyed learning history. When I was younger, I didn’t have the same fascination, but, as I grew older and developed a bit more history of my own, I came to appreciate all history, and came to enjoy learning about who walked where, whom belonged to what, and what took place when. As a result, I’ve been through quite a few museums, and on quite a few tours. I’ve learned quite a bit.
With the coming of the Halloween season, I took the opportunity to combine learning about history with the intrigue of ghost stories. First, I went to the Arvada Cemetery opened in 1865, and, later in the month, I took a walking tour of one of Colorado’s “vintage” cities, Golden, where the Coors/Molson Brewery is located. It’s an interesting tour if you can easily walk for two hours, don’t mind covering three plus miles, and you happen to bring along an open mind. You’ll need that endurance and that open mind to grasp fully the underlying message; the message you may find more important than all of the stories combined.
After being greeted by a tour guide at the Visitor’s Center, who, by the way, was dressed in costume meant to reflect period dress of the early 1900’s, we walked about town while being treated to some of the area history such as the fact that Golden lost out to Denver by one vote in becoming the State’s Capital. After dusting off the cover a bit, our guide opened the book to the soft, white underbelly of the city - the interesting history most historians don’t like to talk about.
A lot of it consisted of the usual tales of murder and mayhem, and I barley listened as our guide told of the murder of young boys who ended up thrown alive from the top of Table Mountain. I don’t mean to discount anyone’s ill fate, but I’m just not shocked when the evil do evil. I’m more shocked when the good do evil, and that’s what really caught my ear; the stories of the “good” folks who went bad, and didn’t even realize it.
One of those stories happened about the time a serial killer was discovered in the region. The local constabulary could not capture the culprit, and the citizens were losing patience; pressing more and more for someone to be captured. A gang of angry, but well-meaning citizens one day cornered the sheriff, and demanded he do something about this string of murders, and do it quickly. So, the sheriff, spotting a newcomer to town walking down the street, grabbed the man by the collar, and proclaimed, “Here’s your man.” To the sheriff, and all the good people of the town, the man just “seemed” to have the look the reflected “criminal” in their eyes, (the beginning of profiling?). With no judge, no jury, and no time to cool his heels, the sheriff pulled his weapon, put the barrel to the head of the stranger, and pulled the trigger, proclaiming, “There’s your criminal. That ends that.” And, everyone went home happy in the the thought that they had brought justice to the region. The only trouble is the serial murders did not stop.
A little later on the tour and near the end, came another story that raised my eyebrows. The group was led to the site where a large, cottonwood tree once stood, but where now there is only a large stump. The story was told of a man who began drinking with his friends which led to the firing of guns, and culminated in the man stating that, “Before this night is over, I’m going to kill a man.” Well, he never attempted to make good on his threat, and just went home to sleep off his drunk, but the thought never left the minds of the folks who had heard it. Those folks began talking about the man’s words, and taking them more and more seriously until, finally, they formed a lynch mob, and went looking for the ill-fated drunk. They found the man, dragged him over to that old cottonwood tree, and hanged him right there. So, in a sense, the drunk had killed a man that night. It was he, himself. And, he didn’t use a gun to do it, but, rather, only the power of ill-spoken words in the wrong company, in the wrong atmosphere, and in the wrong place in time.
All of the other stories didn’t affect me much, as they seemed fairly common, and helped to better explore the history of the region. But, these two stories struck me as noteworthy because of the way they demonstrate our link to the past, and how then, just as now, people tend to base so much of their opinion on so little, even to the point where the most flimsy of evidence can produce a death sentence. People throughout history, it seems, are always ready to condemn people in the name of the law, when the actual criminals are really they, themselves.
The innocent man shot to death on the streets of Golden? There was murder committed, but it was by that sheriff, not by the man who looked as if he could commit murder. And, yet, that sherif was never called to answer fo his actions The murder he committed went unpunished in the name of the law. The way I see it, this is why we have due process, and this is why we cannot allow Law Enforcement too much power. If you think this kind of injustice doesn’t happen today, or hasn’t continually happened throughout American history, you’re wrong.
In the case of the hanged drunk, what was his real crime? Who had the authority to sentence him to death? Too many times, people will hear someone say what they want to hear, and, just because it’s what they want to hear, they’ll jump on that bandwagon without giving it much thought at all. Maybe this doesn’t happen as much under big cottonwood trees as it used to, but it sure does happen a lot in political arenas. People want to hate a candidate or an idea so much, they jump on the hate bandwagon, and join the lynch mob without ever giving too much thought as to whom the real culprits are, or whom the real victims will be.
So, the next time you’re wandering through history, or just through your daily lives, and you come across a lynching in any form it may take, be sure to pull up on your reins. Before you abandon your sanity, and jump up on anyone’s bandwagon, make sure the Devil isn’t in the driver’s seat of that coach. Take the time to think about what is really happening, what is really going on, and whom the real criminals are. You might be surprised at what you learn.