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Haunting at St, Elmo, Colorado
St. Elmo, Colorado has been called the most preserved of the Colorado ghost towns. Notice the word preserved, not restored. The exception being, the St. Elmo School House, which was recently restored, and open for viewing during the summer months.
The once prosperous town is located far off Highway 285 in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. It was founded in 1878 as Forrest City, but changed its’ name a short time later to St. Elmo. The name St. Elmo came from a popular novel of the time. Although many old ghost towns of the West have long since disappeared, St. Elmo still remains.
During St. Elmo’s hey-day, it had a population of about 2,000 people but like many other boom towns in the Old West the mines began to play out and the prospectors moved on to the next reported strikes.
In 1881, Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad made it one of their stations and it was then Anton Stark, a cattleman, arrived in the small settlement. He had bought a herd to sell to the railroad and was so taken with St. Elmo he sent for his wife, Anna, and they became citizens. Stark became a section boss for one of the mines and Anna ran a general store at the Home Comfort Hotel, located in St. Elmo’s main business area. The general store, also served as the Postal and Telegraph office.
The survival of the town fell largely on the Stark family, who remained the only year-round occupants of the town through most of the early 1900’s. Reportedly, one of them, Annabelle Stark, still remains...many years after her death.
It was said Anna was a harsh woman who raised three children in St. Elmo and ruthlessly dominated them. She believed her children, Tony, Roy and Annabelle, were too good to associate with common town folk. She forbade them from anything other than working in the hotel and store. Therefore, the hotel and store were the cleanest and best stocked in town.
But when the the mines began to play out and people moved on, the Stark’s remained believing the town would eventually be revived. So, Anna bought up all the property at tax sales. However, in the 1920’s, the railroad line pulled out and the town was left abandoned except for a few die hards…and the Stark’s.
Roy and Tony spent years trying to get developers to re-open the mines, but they were not interested. Finally, Roy convinced the family to lease empty cabins to vacationers. After Anton Stark’s death though, the family found they couldn’t make a living from the cabin rentals and general store. Unenthusiastically, Anna sent Annabelle to work in the telegraph office of Salida, about 20 miles away.
Annabelle was a pretty girl growing up in a town filled with miners, rough railroad men and prostitutes. She was rarely allowed to leave home or associate with the young men in town. It was said she was a sad, lonely young girl with only her brothers for company. Finally, with the new job in Salida, she was able to escape from St. Elmo.
In Salida, Annabelle met a young man named Ward. In 1922 they fell in love and decided to marry. She sent a telegram to her family informing them of the marriage and was moving to Trinidad. Unfortunately, the marriage failed. It’s not known what happened to Annabelle during the following two years but she ended up moving back to St. Elmo, where she spent the rest of her life.
Roy Stark passed away in 1934 and his mother died a short time later. Tony and Annabelle continued living in the now aging ghost town. Many believe their self imposed isolation caused them to lose their sanity. There had never been indoor plumbing or electricity at the hotel. It’s been said the two rarely bathed or changed clothes or cleaned up after themselves. Hotel rooms soon filled with trash and discarded food.
Annabelle began to be known as “Dirty Annie” to residents in neighboring towns. She was often seen in Salida wearing filthy clothing and tangled hair. But reportedly she remained a kind, although very eccentric person. She was known for her generosity to those who came to the Home Comfort Hotel store, but she also carried a rifle to protect her property.
Eventually, fearful residents had Tony and Annabelle sent away to a mental institution. However, a friend managed to secure their release after a few weeks. Tony died a short time later and Annabelle was eventually sent to a nursing home, where she lived until her death in 1960. They deeded their property to the friend who had helped them.
No long after Annabelle’s death, the friend’s grandchildren were playing on the lower floor of the hotel. Suddenly, all of the doors slammed shut and the temperature dropped nearly 20 degrees! The terrified children refused to play in the hotel again.
One of the grandchildren, a young woman in her twenties, decided to clean up the hotel. She and some friends washed the walls, scrubbed the floors and made minor repairs. After a day cleaning they would stow their gear in a closet, only to find them back in the middle of the floor the next day. At first they thought they had simply forgotten to put them away. But the occurrences continued, so they padlocked the door. The following morning would always find the items back out of the closet the next morning.
In the late 1970’s, a skier reported seeing the hotel’s ghost as she skied past the Home Comfort Hotel at dusk. She was startled to see a very attractive and shapely girl in a white dress framed at a window on the second floor. She appeared to be holding back the curtains and looking out. She knew the owner of the place, who had the only keys, was away on vacation. There could be no one in the building!
The young woman was looking out on something in the distance. The skier followed her gaze and saw she was looking at a group of snowmobilers riding up and down the street. As snowmobiling is illegal in St. Elmo, the skier informed them they had to leave. They apologized and rode away. When they were gone, she looked back and saw the woman was still watching. She nodded at the skier, turned and vanished into the shadows.
The skier returned the next day to see all of the windows and doors were secure. When the owner returned, the two women searched the hotel but could find no trace of the girl. They decided it must have been the ghost of Annabelle.