At its height at the turn of the 20th century, Victor, Colorado had a population of approximately 18,000. Today, it’s about 430. It’s a ghost town — literally and figuratively — but Adam Zimmerli, owner of the Black Monarch Hotel, is hoping to change that.
The Black Monarch opened in May 2019 and is the latest iteration of 301 Victor Ave., a brick building built in 1899 after a fire devastated Victor’s business district. The building has previously housed an art gallery and a saloon. Zimmerli purchased the property in 2018 and has turned it into a boutique hotel experience. An admitted 1930s horror buff, Zimmerli has assigned each room a theme and motif with names like “Black Annis” and a gothic Victorian decor heavy on taxidermy. It’s perfect for people who both love the cozy bed-and-breakfast experience and the works of Vincent Price.
Also, there might be ghosts.
“People were telling us it was haunted,” recalls Zimmerli. “I didn’t take it seriously.”
Most people don’t. In the realm of paranormal phenomena, ghosts are tricky. They raise a lot of weird questions about the afterlife, the soul and the nature of human existence. Like aliens and cryptids, ghosts and hauntings often have prosaic explanations. One of the most common is carbon monoxide poisoning, something common in old buildings that can cause confusion, blurred vision and auditory hallucinations, among other symptoms.
At the Black Monarch, the phenomenon manifests itself as a kind of phantom party. Guests at the hotel have reported being woken up at 3 in the morning by the sounds of a raucous party downstairs. When they investigate, there is no party to be found.
Despite the naysayers, plenty of people have seen what they describe as ghosts. A 2009 Pew Research survey on supernatural experiences found that 18 percent of Americans claim to have seen a ghost. Activist Faye Seidler pointed out in 2015 that, statistically, more people claim to have seen a ghost than to know a transgender person.
Connor Randall is someone who has seen a lot of ghosts. Best known for his role in the paranormal documentary series Hellier,
Randall has been doing ghost investigations since he was a teenager, and worked as a tour guide at the famous Stanley Hotel.
“I got interested in the paranormal, like many people, from some early childhood experiences,” explains Randall. “Growing up in Arvada, The Stanley Hotel was always just an hour away. I was a little kid who was incredibly interested in ghosts and would actively ask, on birthdays and stuff, for my parents to take me up for a night at the Stanley. When I got into my teenage years, I got a video camera and my friends and I went around and pretended to be the TV show Ghost Hunters in abandoned places and the Stanley as well.”
The Stanley Hotel is probably Colorado’s most famous haunted hotel, known for providing the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. A recent cinematic version of that novel was filmed, in part, at the Stanley. Randall’s interest in the hotel and the paranormal led to some unique opportunities. “When I was 17 years old, 12 years ago back when Ghost Hunters was really kind of at its peak as a television show, there were different sister groups throughout the country,” he recalls. “I applied for the Colorado-Wyoming sister group and they accepted me. I spent the next few years going on all sorts of residential investigations in Colorado and Wyoming and all sorts of business investigations as well. I’ve got 75 residential homes I’ve investigated, in addition to a couple of dozen businesses.”
Randall is, arguably, one of the most knowledgeable ghost experts in the state of Colorado, and says he has firsthand experience with ghosts in hotels. “Spring break my freshman year of college I took a job as a tour guide/concierge desk kid at the Stanley Hotel,” he says. “I worked there for five years.”
Hotels are a common setting for ghost hunts. In addition to the Stanley and the Black Monarch, there are at least half a dozen allegedly haunted hotels in Colorado, including the Victor Hotel, just west of the Black Monarch.
Randall says that is pretty typical. “In terms of ghosts, liminal places are key,” he says. “A liminal place being a location that is in-between. A liminal space could be physical, but it could also be a mindset. What are some of the most reportedly haunted famous locations? We’re talking about train stations, prisons, mental asylums, hospitals and hotels. What all of these places have in common is they’re not solid places where people are sitting. They’re places that are locations of transition. When we start to notice these patterns, we start to notice, ‘OK, they’re something with a liminal location that seem to attract more haunting energy.’ Hotels, like The Stanley Hotel as well.”
Randall also notes it’s not just the hotels in Victor, but the town itself. “The Black Monarch — as well as most Old West and gold-mining type of towns — not only is the hotel itself a liminal place, but the town itself, the whole idea of a gold rush town, is liminal as well,” he says. “All of the people who were in here were not, you could argue, back in the day, planning on this being their whole long-term future. They were there to get rich and then head out. It’s almost like the entire town itself is a location that exists in a liminal space.”
It’s as good a description as any for Victor. If you’re used to the pace of life in Denver or Colorado Springs, it’s almost too quiet. If you stay at the Black Monarch, you can step outside the hotel and cover the entire business district in about 45 minutes. In addition to ghosts, Victor also has plenty of wildlife that freely roams the empty streets.
“Come out here and go for a walk after dark, and you are in a zoo,” says Zimmerli.
I spent an evening in the Black Monarch’s Tesla Room, and I was joined by Jason Cordova and Savy Rivka of the Crypto Science Society, which describes itself as “a group of scholars and adventurers dedicated to the study of strange and unusual phenomena.” Like Randall, they are folks who know a thing or two about ghosts. While Zimmerli showed us around the historic hotel and answered questions, they took notes and readings, using an EMF app in an attempt to detect any forensic evidence of paranormal activity.
Randall says that ghosts often expend energy when manifesting, which can result in sudden cold spots in rooms and, according to Cordova, a change in EMF readings. We set up a remote camera for the night, but we didn’t find any evidence of ghostly activity during our stay, except for a door that opened randomly. If you’re looking for a prosaic explanation for that, it could be a faulty door mechanism and the pressure differential caused when opening an exterior door, although Zimmerli notes that he’s had some experiences with it himself. “This door has a tendency to open and close,” he says. “I’ve seen it pop open just a little, like maybe it’s the mechanism, but I was in here cooking dinner one night and it was fully opening and closing repeatedly.”
Zimmerli says the first sign of ghost activity came shortly after he purchased the building and let a friend spend the night. “[My friend] was doing a motorcycle ride or something,” he recalls. “Before I started construction he was like, ‘Hey, can I stay there. I’ve got some camping gear, can I stay at the Monarch?’ I was like sure, stay. I was at my house in Denver and I had been out all night and I was coming home at 6 in the morning and I saw Ray coming home and I said, ‘What are you doing? I thought you were staying at the Monarch?’ He’s like, ‘Oh man, I had to leave, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. There’s something in that building there’s a presence that chased me out of there.’”
Zimmerli was skeptical. “I was like, ‘Ray, you’re full of shit. You scared yourself.’”
Renovations on the Black Monarch began in November 2018. Zimmerli did the work himself, staying in a single room while renovating the building.
He woke up one night thinking someone had broken in. “The building was boarded up on the lower level,” he says. “It’s midnight, late at night, and I wake up and hear someone walking around in the building. Distinctly, like footsteps. I’m just like, ‘OK, there’s a derelict, a hobo has broken in, teenagers, whatever.’ At this point I have to get the coveralls and boots and mittens back on. I get completely dressed, and I swear I hear somebody in the building, and I come out and I say, ‘Who’s in here?!’ I search the whole building. I get all the way downstairs, everything is locked up tight. There’s nobody in the building at all, and there couldn’t have been.”
Again, Zimmerli was unconvinced. “I’m like, ‘OK, you’re here by yourself, you woke yourself up in the middle of the night,’” he reasons. “Maybe it was a dream, maybe you scared yourself. I have no third-party, scientific way to separate my perception from reality. This wasn’t real.”
Zimmerli continued to have strange encounters during the renovation process, and continued to rationalize them. “I would be here by myself or with one other person and I swear I heard someone,” he says. “The murmur of someone talking on the far side of the building. Maybe it came from outside? The building creaks, it’s my imagination, all that.”
Before opening the Black Monarch to the public, Zimmerli’s girlfriend, Rachel, experienced the phenomenon. ”She got woken up in the middle of the night at about 3:30 a.m. and she said she heard what sounded like a party in the street. She said she heard a party downstairs, it sounded like there was 200 people, carrying on in a bar, laughing. She said it sounded like a fight broke out between two men, a shouting fight, and she heard a woman laughing, and more yelling and then it went totally silent. She looks out the window, there had been a blizzard and there aren’t even tire tracks through the snow.”
Zimmerli still needed some kind of proof to chalk it up to ghosts. “We thought maybe it was someone’s TV two blocks away, coming through the walls, or someone’s car stereo,” he said. “It’s a sound. She’s half asleep. There’s no recording, it’s just this one person’s singular perception. There’s no science to it, no way to confirm.”
Almost a month later, when the Black Monarch opened to the public, Zimmerli was convinced when the first couple to rent a room reported the same experience Rachel had. “There was no suggestion to them that this was a haunted place, and they almost seemed like the kind of people who would avoid it if you told them it was haunted,” he says. “I didn’t stay here that night. We came back the next day at 11:30 to check them out. I come in, ‘How’d you like it? Did you like the linens, did you like the pillows? Did it smell good? Just trying to get feedback.’ They were like, ‘Yea, we liked it a lot. It’s a really dope place, but why didn’t you invite us to the party? You guys party hard in this town.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Dude, there was a party here last night at like 3:30 in the morning. It woke us all up. It sounded like there was 200 people downstairs, there was a fight. We heard this woman laughing.’ They told us the exact same story, almost word-for-word, of what we had experienced. Again, it was like a Wednesday, Tuesday night. You see how sleepy this town is, there aren’t 200 people partying at 3 a.m. and there hasn’t been in 100 years.”
Zimmerli pauses to show us the goosebumps he gets when he tells this story. He says that since they’ve been open, at least a dozen other customers have had the same reaction. “It’s not being reported as a ghost, it’s a complaint of a party in the building. Consistently between three and four in the morning, and they’ll consistently tell the almost identical story. A party, it culminates in a woman laughing and men fighting about it.”
The ghost at the Black Monarch, if that’s what it is, might be what Randall calls a “residual spirit,” or a kind of building memory. “For whatever reason, something in these buildings is caught, like a broken record,” he says. “There’s no consciousness behind it. The classic trope of seeing a woman in Victorian dress walk through a wall. She’s not interacting with anything, that’s just a moment that occurred, however many years ago, and under specific circumstances — which is the big question we’re trying to answer with these hauntings often, what are those circumstances that bring it about? Whether it’s environmental or the right person in the right state of mind, they can see that image from the past. Another famous example of that is in Gettysburg. People see soldiers marching through the field. They’re not interacting with anybody, it’s just that moment that was captured.”
The Black Monarch certainly has its share of memories. Archived news coverage of the hotel featured a number of stories about violent encounters at the Monarch Saloon. A story in The Morning Times, a Cripple Creek paper, from Nov. 29, 1899 notes, “About 9 o’clock last night ex-Mayor James Doyle was viciously assaulted by Paddy Britt just outside of the Monarch Saloon at Victor. Britt followed Doyle out of the place and pulling a gun hit him over the head with it. A scuffle ensued and during the fracas the weapon was discharged. Britt then dropped the gun and ran away, later being arrested by Officer Meaney.”
The strange incidents at the Black Monarch extend beyond the phantom party. “In town, multiple people had reported seeing a woman in this window [in the Tesla Room],” says Zimmerli. “A couple of pretty reputable people, including one of our current City Council members, have seen this apparition. I continue to experience stuff I can’t explain. I’ll often think someone else is in the building when I’m here all by myself. You’ll think someone else is walking around. I have seen an orb on a couple of occasions, and we’ve had weird stuff captured on occasion. You’ll be walking through the building and catch something out of the corner of your eye, but then it’s nothing. I was here one night, and I was sitting in this bed [in the Tesla Room], texting Rachel, and I saw a ball of light float into this room in the building across the street, and literally just float into the room and then float and meander out. Inside of the office. I started thinking, ‘Did someone have their car on the hill and the reflection got caught in the window?’ but it was illuminating the room from inside the room.”
The folks from the Crypto Science Society, who also study the cultural and historical underpinnings of hauntings, note that Zimmerli’s orb might be a manifestation of another common mining ghost. “Balls of light and mist are often associated with the presence of Tommyknockers,” says Cordova. Tommyknockers are figures from Cornish myth who knock on mine walls to warn miners of an impending collapse. Stories about Tommyknockers came to America with the waves of Celtic immigrants, many of whom worked in Victor’s mines during the gold boom. The Cornish influence is still around Victor. Just down the street from the Black Monarch the Gold Camp Bakery serves delicious Cornish pasties, a kind of meat pie made with a flaky, pastry crust filled with ground beef, potato, onion, carrot and turnip.
Even though we didn’t have any close encounters with ghosts, the quirky vibe of the Black Monarch and the quiet, small-town ambience of Victor made it an enjoyable trip. Just an hour from Colorado Springs, Victor is close enough for a quick weekend getaway, and near enough to center Cripple Creek and natural attractions like Mueller State Park to keep people who have interests outside of the paranormal occupied. If you’re lucky, you might just get to catch the early morning party at the Black Monarch.
While certainly an interesting marketing angle, ghosts are the least of Adam Zimmerli’s conc…