By the late 1800s, Park City was home to thousands of miners and their families. Tragically, mining accidents were frequent, and hundreds of men lost their lives in cave-ins, explosions, and all sorts of horrible incidents. Not only did the mines claim countless lives, avalanches, diseases, gun fights, robberies, and suicides also contributed to the high mortality rate. With so many people dying such violent deaths, is it any wonder that the legends of ghosts and other supernatural phenomena have been prevalent in Park City since its days as a boom town?
GHOSTS OF THE SILVER MINES
Legends of ghosts abounded, particularly when it came to the silver mines. Dead miners were said to wander the labyrinth of tunnels in search of their missing body parts. There were occasional sightings of a beautiful woman with long blonde hair who rode a white horse through the 200-foot level of a mine shaft. Maybe the miners who saw the apparition had simply imbibed in too much whiskey. And yet, the stories persisted. Another unearthly legend was that of a long-armed wicked dwarf who stalked the mines. The creature was extremely strong, and many believed that it was the evil dwarf who kicked the rungs from ladders to block the escape of trapped miners.
There were also tales of the "Tommy Knockers," tiny green men who tapped on the hard stone and timbers in the tunnels with their axes when no one...no human, that is...was working in the area. Tommy Knockers could be either good omens or wicked, mischievous creatures who played tricks on the miners. The "man in a yellow slicker" was the specter seen before someone was about to die.
THE OLD TOWN
In recent years, Park City has grown immensely; thanks at least in part to the Olympics. There are numerous luxury hotels, including the Raddison at 2121 Park Avenue, where I’ve stayed seeral times (www.Raddison.com). Thankfully, many of the original buildings have been preserved and are now used as restaurants and quaint shops. Times may have changed, but Park City’s ghosts still do their haunting.
For years, I’ve heard stories about the ghost at the Claimjumper Steakhouse at 573 Main Street. Employees, both past and present, recounted stories of hearing doors open and close, footsteps on the stairs, seeing the ghost out of the corner of their eyes, or feeling that strange sensation one gets when experiencing the unexplained. A former cook complained that upon arriving for work, things would often be out of place, candles would refuse to snuff out, and lights or the television flickered on and off. The cook said that he got so used to the ghost, when he’d pour himself a drink, he’d pour another for his other-worldly companion.
Although most local residents are reluctant to admit that their homes are haunted, a few stepped forward to share their spooky experiences. In one case, when someone continually turned the basement light off and on in one old house, the annoyed owner sprinkled flour on the basement steps to catch the prankster. With the light bulb unscrewed, he retired for thenight, but was soon awakened by heavy footsteps. Upon inspection, however, he found that the light bulb had been screwed in again, and there were no footprints on the stairs (the only entry or exit). Needless to say, the home owner was scared speechless!
One of my favorite stories is the haunting of the Egyptian Theater on Main Street. The Egyptian was built in 1923 on the site where the old Dewey Theater once stood. In its heyday, the Dewey had been the town’s pride and joy. Major vaudeville acts, and later, silent films, made the theater a popular spot. In March of 1916 there was a particularly heavy snow fall which caused the roof of the building to collapse. Fortunately, no one was inside when it happened. Years later, after the Egyptian was built on that very spot, the ghost of the theater began to appear. Several people have actually seen the specter, while others have heard footsteps on the stage and horrible screams emanating from deep inside the theater. Doors fly open, and at least one man says he was pushed to the ground by unseen hands.
I have my own theory as to the identity of the Egyptian Theater’s ghost. Twnety-one-year-old Johnnie McLaughlin worked at the Dewey as a stagehand. One morning in 1902 there was a terrible mining accident. Like the rest of the town’s residents, Johnnie awoke to the clanging of the warning bell that spelled disaster in the mines. He and several other brave men rushed into the rescue cage to save the men trapped in the bowels of the earth. On the first trip back up to the surface, Johnnie and his cohorts brought up a few dead bodies. Refusing to give up hope, they went down a second time. A short time later, the cage was hoisted to the top again. Sadly, all the young men had been overcome by deadly poisonous fumes. Johnnie, who had dreamed of making the theater his life’s work, gasped his final breath. Could Johnnie McLaughlin be haunting the theater occupies the space where the Dewey once stood? Indicentally, the Egyptian Theater is still used for theater performances, as well as the main venue for Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.
The two local pioneer cemeteries, Glenwood and Park City Cemetery, are timeless reminders of the harsh living and working conditions the original residents experienced. The cemeteries are supposed haunted, though no one has ever conducted formal research to verify the unsettled spirits’ wanderings. A more earthly way to see the "dead" is by attending the annual tour of Glenwood Cemetery which is held on the Saturday before each Halloween. Local towns people dress in period costume, stand beside the grave of the person whom they’re representing, and tell that person’s story. Check with the Park City Museum for the date and times.
If you can’t make it for the Halloween tour, be sure to stop by the museum to learn about Park City’s history. And don’t forget to visit the local cemeteries. Actually, my book, STORIES IN STONE, Madams and Miners, Merchants and Murderers is filled with fascinating stories about Park City’s pioneers. The book will also guide you to where most the most interesting former residents are buried. They’re available at Dolly’s Book Store on Main Street.
Incidentally, the website for the local Visitor’s Bureau (www.parkcityinfo.com) lists great places to stay, things to do, and dozens of restaurants.