Durango’s rich history is rooted in the grit of 19th century railroading and mining life, and its architecture remains as a testament to those days. While the old railroaders and miners of the 1800s may be long deceased, stories suggest some of their “spirits” may still be lingering in Durango’s aging hotels, homes and other old haunts.
Kirk Komick’s family has owned The Leland House & Rochester Hotel on East Second Avenue for 22 years. It was purchased in 1992, and over the years has collected reports from guests of a woman in Victorian garb, sometimes lingerie, who frequents the John Wayne suite.
Some years, it seems the female ghost is dormant, but it looks like she’s making a return lately, Komick said.
“Sometimes guests have taken photos and are impressed by how the lighting turns out,” he said. Komick said he has had no personal encounters with the spirit, but the stories have piqued his interest because they always seem to center on the same room.
He doesn’t think having a ghostly resident at the hotel attracts or deters customers. And he notes that lodgers have only reported positive experiences with the ethereal woman.
The Leland House & Rochester Hotel is not the first property dogged by paranormal activity to pass through the family’s hands.
Komick’s mother, Diane Wildfang, has remodeled homes in Durango for 23 years. Her husband, local historian Fred Wildfang, penned a story 20 years ago for The Durango Herald about a Third Avenue home the family inhabited for three years. When the home was under renovation, the Wildfangs lost an employee who was disturbed by what he claimed was an apparition with a tendency to hang around during his work hours.
“He was one of the plumbers,” Diane Wildfang said. “He didn’t tell me what happened but said he would quit if he had to go in the house again. He later said he saw a ghost in front of the fireplace and the same woman again on the staircase in a white slip or robe.”
A ghost-buster ultimately rid the house of whatever unseen inhabitants it had, Diane Wildfang said. She asked that the address of the 700 block home not be printed because it is now under different ownership. She said she has heard the new owner has had no problem with the dwelling, which was owned by different medical doctors at various times.
The 1995 experience with the home, she said, was unprecedented in the nearly 25 years she has reconstructed houses.
Mark Flores, a local demonologist, said paranormal activity is attracted to “avenues of crime and immorality.” A former employee at the East Eighth Street Bank of the San Juans, Flores said the establishment was plagued by “strange noises and sometimes acrid odors.”
The latter, he said, is indicative of paranormal activity.
Forbes said he does exorcise spirits but more importantly teaches others how to rid their homes of such entities themselves.
Bars and establishments that serve alcohol are prime dwellings for entities, Flores said. Employees at Steamworks at 801 East Second Ave. have reported hearing strange noises and heavy furniture, such as booths, moving unprovoked after hours.
Chilling tales of “ghost” sightings and unexplained noises surround other aging downtown buildings including The Strater Hotel and The General Palmer Hotel, as well as the Irish Embassy Pub on Main Avenue. The owners of these establishments could not immediately be reached for comment.
Colorado real estate agents are protected under state law from having to disclose reports of paranormal activity that could drive buyers away from a piece of real estate, though local Realtor Don Ricedorff said he personally has never handled a property with such a stigma.
Some real estate owners around Durango are reluctant to share stories about purportedly haunted buildings and homes, either dismissing the notion of ghosts or not wanting to deter buyers, but locals continue to collect stories nonetheless.