Ghosts in these hills

TOMMYKNOCKER   Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.     Every now and then when the wind groans through the pine trees and shrieks around the corners of the house, it is easy to imagine creatures long dead haunting mountain dwellings. Some of the old log cabins store voices and sounds from the mining days. Some wispy images of miners, children or young women appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.

Local cemeteries contain whole families lost during the flu epidemic, veterans from World Wars, victims of dramatic murders, and babies lost in the first months of their lives. Do the spirits of those buried in historic plots roam around, allowing themselves to be seen by some? Do they have something to say? What do they want?

Last Thursday, some of these questions were answered by Cross Mine owner Tom Hendricks, who has been poking around mine innards and cemeteries and historic buildings for over a quarter of a century. Hendricks spoke at the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center, telling stories of ghosts he has heard of and ghosts he has seen.


A crowd of local residents and Wild Bear campers listened, sometimes with their mouths open, their eyes wide with disbelief or fear, and other times laughing at the tales told by Nederland’s long time miner.

Wearing his mucking boots, jeans held up with suspenders, and a floppy hat with chunks of leather bit out of it, Hendricks brought chills to his audience as he relayed his ghastly ghost stories.

He began saying that, like Casper, ghosts have always been friendly to him and he considers them to be “wonderful things.” Being a miner, he has learned how to get along with Tommyknockers, the mischievous spirits that are most often found in the depths of a mine. The secret to making friends with them is to leave them treats…or they will knock on the walls and move things.

Hendricks says, “We have an organization of Tommyknockers who brew their own beer and play banjos and fiddles. I haven’t seen them, but I have heard them.”

Some people have heard “The Screaming Lady” who wanders around the Caribou townsite. Hendricks says her husband died in a mine accident in 1876 and then her two children died. Tormented by grief, the women died, but her footprints have been seen at the Caribou cemetery on cold winter nights. Hendricks says he went to the cemetery at midnight one winter, hoping to see the woman. “I got frozen eyes and a frozen face. I hope when I am in my burial site up there she walks over my grave.”

Sitting at his fire pit one night, Hendricks’ three dogs started barking frantically. He listened intently and heard girls’ voices moving towards him in the wind, so he walked to the townsite, taking the dogs with him. The barking grew more eager and the girls’ voices grew louder, but he never did find them.

In 1999, Hendricks was married at that same townsite. During the course of the wedding, the photographer took at least 250 pictures of them in and around the stone building ruins. A few days later, the photographer called and said that at least 50 percent of the pictures had ghosts in them, and that he had never seen that before. Hendricks figured they just wanted to show up for the wedding ceremony, maybe for a few crumbs of free food.

The town of Caribou burned down three times. After the 1904 fire, it was never rebuilt. Hendricks says he can find ghosts in almost every old picture of Caribou, but told the kids, and the adults, that ghosts never mean to scare them.

“You know how people are afraid of wolves? Well, that’s how people are afraid of ghosts, and that’s a bunch of malarky.”

Holding up a large rock that glistened in the light, Hendricks said it was a magnet that stirs us up electrically, causing what he defined as the fourth dimension. “Don’t ever lose your imagination,” he told the kids. He showed them a chunk of iron pyrite, or fool’s gold. He told them that one cubic foot cube of gold weighed 1,200 pounds and those old west tales of bank robbers galloping away with bags of gold was impossible.

A few of the children told some ghost stories that have haunted them and then Hendricks ended his presentation with one final tale of spirits and spooks.

“I used to live in a cabin at the Cross Mine and one night I woke up, hearing a noise outside. I walked out the door and there was a stagecoach with a lady all dressed in white. She had a folder in her hand and was offering it to me. I reached for it and then she and the folder disappeared and I was standing there by myself.”