Halloween is one of the USA’s favorite holidays, beloved of kids large and small who like to dress up and eat too much candy. For those who like their horror historical, Leadville is a special place. On Monday I was excited to experience the phenomenon of a Leadville Halloween for the first time. I’m from England, where Halloween is an excuse for small children to roam the streets while adults dress up and drink questionable cocktails, but it’s not a holiday that takes over the country. When I started to see gravestones popping out of lawns and Halloween tinsel on the fences down the street, I knew I was in for a treat.
When you think about it, Leadville is an ideal place to celebrate all things ghoulish and gruesome. The miners who founded the town had hard lives and needed to be tough. The odd pint of spilled blood wasn’t unusual. The dates on the headstones in the cemetery attest to the fact that life was short and death could come suddenly and in unusual ways.
In the 21st Century, life is easier on us, but the past has left us with fertile ground for celebrating Halloween. You don’t need to dig deep for a good story in these parts. The old mining equipment collected around town creates a creepy atmosphere with the right lighting, which particularly struck me on my tour of the Stapleton Haunted Manor on West 7th Street – “Scare Street” as locals refer to it. Others call it “Trick or Treat Street” as most of the trick-or-treating happens there. Open the Saturday before Halloween, as well as on the night itself, a few residents of West 7th created impressive haunted house experiences in yards, sheds and what felt like basements.
From ghastly ghouls and the executioner’s chair, to themes like The Shining and Area 51, it felt like all the horror
story bases were covered. The rooms were imaginative and the characters inside the building clearly enjoyed scaring strangers and friends. The fact that we were actually walking around someone’s living space added a personal dimension to the creepiness that you don’t get with commercial installations. The winding layout of many of Leadville’s Victorian homes was put to good use. Most of the time I left completely disoriented; I was grateful to be let out into the yards to get my bearings. The neighborhood recommends children under 13 are accompanied by an adult. Scaredy-cat that I am, I would have definitely needed accompaniment at that age – actually, I still needed it on Monday night!
The scares aside, my first experience of a Leadville Halloween was definitely a family affair. It was fun to see the decorations throughout the town and the adults dressed up with or without kids in tow. The idea of a pre-Halloween party was new to me, but chilli and cookies at neighbors’ houses set me up nicely for a night of exploring the town. Apparently, Monday night was the warmest Halloween for 50 years, but many costumes were clearly intended for cold weather. There were some very puffy witches and pumpkins.
If you’re missing Halloween already, the Lake County Public Library is running a second showing of their fright night – Mines, Murders and Mayhem: Ways to die in the early days of Leadville. Janice Fox and Holly Henning will be sharing stories of mine deaths, gruesome murders and general mayhem at the top of the Rockies. Showing on November 9th at 6:30pm, you can pick up a free ticket at the library for a guaranteed seat or call 719-486-0569.