Denver's famous Croke-Patterson Mansion, built in 1890 and located in Denver's Capitol Hill what was once considered the most extravagant and upscale neighborhood of the city is still one of the rarest gems of Denver's architecture. Once owned by several of Denver's most prominent families, the red sandstone mansion is named for its original owners, Thomas Croke, who commissioned the home, and Thomas Patterson, a local attorney and newspaper publisher who purchased the home from Croke.
From day one, the completed 13,000 square-foot home was deemed unbearable to live in. Today the mansion is known as "one of the most haunted places in Colorado" with reports of spirits, bodies buried beneath the floors (reportedly no remains have actually been found) and "otherworldly voices." One story even tells of two dogs that apparently jumped from a third-story window during renovations in the 1970s.
|Publisher:||Arcadia Publishing SC|
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)|
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And So It Begins
Everything about this house is layered in shades of gray. There is not a single piece of its history that is clear or unblemished, neither a fact that is undisputed nor a rumor that has any solid root. From its age to its physical address, its owners to its architects, its dates of occupancy to its uses, everything is tangled and inconsistent. Sources of information on this house range from second-, third- and fourth-hand accounts online to one-hundred-year-old letters from an owner to his wife. City records show the building date as off by forty-three years and the structure to be a mere 2,827 square feet — an understatement of approximately 11,000 square feet — so even what should be the most straightforward and reliable sources can display some of the most distorted information. Perhaps the search into the background of any house this old would deliver similarly disparate results, but there is something about this one. It is full of twists and turns and tragedies. It grabs hold and doesn't let go.
Seeing the mansion for the first time is quite an experience. Once an architectural gem of Capitol Hill, the looming red sandstone structure is now surrounded by apartment buildings and seems to perch high on the corner of 11 Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. According to records, the house was built to resemble a French chateau, but in reality it looks like a nominally tamer version of Poe's House of Usher. The exterior of the building has seen better days, and evidence of patchwork repairs on the sandstone is not terribly well concealed. The inside still carries some vestiges of office life, the carpets have been torn up and the front door bears the somewhat stale moniker "Ikeler Castle." However, its crumbling ledges and archways give way to glorious stained glass. It may sound trite, but it is breathtaking — in a "dark and stormy night" sort of way. The question that immediately comes to mind is: what happened here? And that's before hearing any of the folklore that surrounds this place.
The house has been occupied by single families, but only the Patterson-Campbells seemed to do well there, staying for twenty-three years. The Sudans owned the mansion for twenty-five years, with different members of the family living in it for a large portion of that time, but other residents left after a few months or never felt comfortable in the house. Changing hands a dizzying number of times over the years, and even becoming apartments and offices, the mansion's owners have ranged from state and federal statesmen to doctors to banks that repossessed it in foreclosure. There are some differing accounts on when it was actually built — the best we can ascertain is that it was finished sometime between 1891 and 1892 — and the physical address has changed over the years to the point where no one can quite agree on what it actually is today. All of these discrepancies and more have led to some of the most difficult research we have ever done, and that is where our story begins.
With such a perplexing subject at hand, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that a strange series of events would begin to unfold. It all started with a friend who was hosting a Halloween event in the mansion in 2010. Peter Boyles, a longtime Denver radio personality, has hosted several radio broadcasts from this house, as well as from other haunted locales. His show has always been wildly popular, as it typically includes appearances by paranormal groups and local historians, as well as an overview of the history and the hauntings of the show's setting. The timing of his most recent show in October 2010, broadcast live from the Croke-Patterson Mansion, happened to correspond with an offer to us from The History Press to write a book on a subject of our choice. Given the topics of other books we've written, the combination of rich history and reported ghost stories of this old house seemed a perfect fit. It was more than a little strange how the entire project evolved and seemed to take on a life of its own. Peter made introductions for us to the current owners, who were very generous with their time and knowledge, even allowing us access to the old mansion, then empty. During our first visit with them, our minds wandered as we debated whether we wanted to take on a project so crazy. Research the history and the hauntings of one of Denver's landmark properties? Get involved in the paranormal world and work with what has been called the most haunted place in Denver? We snapped back to reality when one of the owners said: "And the lockbox code is easy to remember, it's 'YES!'" Well, that was a pretty clear sign that we were supposed to write this book.
At that point, we had done some cursory research on the Internet and had begun to see the discrepancies in the home's history and the sheer volume of folklore associated with the mansion. But we had also begun to see the effect the house had on people, some with previous associations to the house and some with none. Once the contract was signed and the research began in earnest, odd little things began to happen. We remembered we had a book detailing the history of Capitol Hill, which we had picked up at a garage sale and had promptly shelved and forgotten. After a surprisingly brief search, which revealed the book to be at the very top of a box in the basement, it fell open in our hands to a chapter on the Croke-Patterson Mansion.
In one of our earliest searches online, we found a woman who used to have an office in the home. In her blog, she alluded to her intense experiences in the house during her time there. We emailed back and forth a few times, and she was initially reluctant to talk to us, fearing that her experiences would not be taken seriously. She finally agreed to send us some basic descriptions of what she had felt, saying that at the end of the day she was never afraid for her physical safety. When asked what it was that she had feared, she responded simply, "I feared for my soul." Of course, that only piqued our interest more. We tried to press her for more details, but she fell silent for some time. The last we heard from her was an e-mail that said: "Good luck with the book."
We even had people come up to us as we were leaving, entering or taking pictures of the mansion, all of whom had a story. One man, who said he lived in the neighborhood, flagged us down one day and asked if we'd seen any ghosts inside lately. He told us he'd been frequently amused to see people start to walk down the street toward the house and then, after looking up at the daunting façade, turn and cross the street to keep from walking in front of it. Another young man who lived a few blocks up the street reported seeing the face of baby in a second-floor window, and he wondered if the place had been rented. It had not, in years.
We began to discuss the project with two paranormal groups that had previously encountered the house in one way or another. They were both more than excited for another chance to interact with the place. We also did room-by-room walk-throughs with psychics — one who had never been involved with the house before and two others who had. Despite their initial reluctance to revisit the house and recall their frightening visits from years ago, these two decided to return to aid us in our research.
All of the people coming out of the woodwork with firsthand experiences and stories about the mansion were encouraging after our online research had yielded such insane and unbelievable rumors and coincidences. Tales of murderous undertakers, suicidal mothers and babies buried in the basement vie for Internet fame with fluke happenstance: the implausible number of women in the house's history whose names began with "M," the bizarre inability of anyone to get Thomas Croke's middle initial right and the baffling lack of information on the transfer of ownership. It was an irresistible puzzle.
It's interesting to look back at our journey, now that it's over. What are the odds that the publisher would ask us to write a book in the first place? How crazy was it that we had just met Peter Boyles socially and that he was about to do a radio show in the mansion and was willing and able to get us access to the building? Was it a coincidence that one of the mansion's owners and his second wife had lived right next door to one of our business clients until just recently? (Side note: it was this owner's first wife who committed suicide in the house and was the subject of many of the rumors.) But perhaps the most bizarre twist came at the very end of the project. On a Sunday morning in July, we sent what we thought was the final manuscript to the publisher and set off to Santa Fe to celebrate a birthday and the completion of the book. At lunch some seven hours later, we received a Facebook notification from a woman whose family has been very close to ours through three generations. Her Facebook comment revealed a startling connection: our lifelong friend is the great-granddaughter of Thomas B. Croke.
All research aside, we had some bizarre experiences of our own in the house. During one visit to the house, a friend found a newspaper page in the ashes of the coal furnace in the basement. The page was from the 1970s and seemed pretty innocuous to us — until we noticed that it contained a small reference to a Colorado state senator, Thomas Iles. Coincidentally, Iles had held office immediately before the first owner of the mansion, Thomas B. Croke, became a state senator. We placed the page in a pile of trash on the main level and never gave it another thought. Three weeks later, as the same friend was walking through a small pantry area, she felt compelled to open an oddly shaped cabinet door. The cabinet was empty and clean, save for that newspaper page, which had mysteriously reappeared.
Everything lined up for this book to work, but that's not to say that researching it or writing it was easy. The amount of folklore that came with the house was difficult to overcome. Almost everyone had an opinion of what was going on, who was haunting the house or what had happened there. Everyone who knew of the house had heard a story. We quickly found that the urban legends about the house were everywhere: in magazines, on TV shows on the Internet. It was interesting to hear how one story spun into another, which turned into yet another and so on. As we learned more about the mansion, we felt compelled to get the history straightened out as much as possible and to find the root of the ghost stories so that this house could have the respect it deserved as a venerable piece of Denver's history.
But where to start? The history alone is intriguing, and if that weren't enough, the mansion has been called the most haunted house in the United States. We wanted to provide the context of an extensive history on the mansion, as well as information on the purported hauntings, because we truly believe that from the history come the ghosts. Ghost stories, as we have learned, can be invented and oftentimes seem redundant and even boring. Almost everyone is familiar with the stories commonly heard around the campfire: a murder victim exacts his revenge, a scorned mistress haunts her lover's bedroom, a neglected orphan seeks attention. These worn tales take place in old boardinghouses that once housed the criminally insane or in mansions that once were homes for unwanted children, but invariably these places are unnamed and simply unrealistic. Fictions like these are spawned from a basic human need to feel fear, to feel the chill of goose bumps and the hair standing up on the back of our necks, to be thrilled by the adrenaline that courses through our veins when the teller screams, "Boo!" But these campfire yarns tend to leave us unsatisfied, yearning for more. We want something real, something substantial to sate our thirst for the truly frightening. When the ghost stories are tied to a location we might walk by every day — a place we can actually visit — and when the ghosts are tied to the history of that place, now that is truly terrifying.
However, the challenge of writing a complete history of the Croke-Patterson Mansion was enormous. Maps showed conflicting information, the address had changed repeatedly and city records showed tremendous discrepancies all across the board, adding even more confusion to the mix. Some records were so old that they were stored in the basement of Denver's City and County building, bound in crumbling cardboard and corduroy. We were on a perpetual search for death certificates, building plans and elusive obituaries as we hunted through dusty archives and record books. We were sent to the wrong offices at every turn and were constantly told that "those records no longer exist." We spent countless hours pacing up and down rows of headstones in cemeteries and even carefully waded through twelve boxes of Senator Thomas Patterson's personal correspondence and photographs.
We learned how paranormal researchers conduct their investigations. We were alternately terrified and mystified by the findings of psychics and the dramatic reactions of our friends and relatives toward the house when they visited. Equally unnerving was how the house seemed to disrupt our activities even after we left it. At every turn, something went sideways or seemed odd. Notes we had taken and documents that we acquired disappeared from our files regularly, and we would quarrel over who had misplaced what, only to mysteriously find the missing item back in the folder where we had left it or never find it at all. A copy of a death certificate pivotal to our research first appeared by chance and then vanished just as abruptly. The paper reappeared in Ann's files, was misplaced again and then turned up in Jordan's files (thirteen hundred miles away) — five times.
The mansion drew us in and kept us enthralled. There were times when we could not imagine entering the house again for any reason, even to take another photograph. And then, for some strange reason, we'd begin to think of excuses to return. We would look forward to seeing the place again, to revisiting the rooms that gave rise to the ghost stories. Those visits were not always pleasant, however; the strangeness never ended. Word got out that we were writing a book about the house, and people wanted to read our manuscript before it even went to the publisher. Everyone wanted to know what we had learned about the infamous Croke-Patterson Mansion. After a while, we became protective — not of our book, but of the mansion itself. As strange as it may sound, despite being affected mentally and physically — and being spooked on a daily basis — we wanted the house to be at peace. We hoped that it would become viable again. It upset us that so many people just wanted to make a buck off it, retelling lies and tall tales. The mansion became ours in a sense. And that thought was, well, frightening.
We visited the house with psychics and investigators and also with friends and family who were understandably curious about our endeavor. The majority of these folks were what we'd call "moderate to extreme" skeptics. One such friend, Jane, is still searching for an explanation for what happened to her on her last visit. Jane assisted us with historical research and had been in the house once before her unsettling incident. Describing herself as open-minded but "about as sensitive as Sheetrock," Jane was taking photos on our last trip to the mansion and spent a great deal of time in the basement. Upon leaving the house, Jane headed to her car, and as she opened her door, she looked up at the mansion and thanked it (a habit of ours after visiting) — then promptly threw up. With no warning whatsoever, she was violently ill and then, an instant later, totally fine. This happened to another visitor as well. As our research for the book wound down, we didn't have a reason to visit as often, and we were both thankful and melancholy about that. Ultimately, our time at the mansion affected us even after leaving and led us to seek psychic cleansings to make the agitation and uneasiness subside.
The process of writing about the Croke-Patterson Mansion was certainly an adventure. Before we spent all those hours in archives researching the history of the house, we convinced the psychics to walk through the structure with us. As we wandered the gloomy halls and explored the dark corners of the basement rooms, or simply stood quietly in the mansion, we felt the real excitement begin. After working with the psychics and hearing their thoughts, we came to realize one undeniable truth: just as the stories don't end with the house, they didn't begin there either. We quickly realized that it all begins with the land.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Haunted History of Denver's Croke — Patterson Mansion"
Copyright © 2011 Ann Alexander Leggett and Jordan Alexander Leggett.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword, by Jack Hanley,
And So It Begins,
What Lies Beneath,
The Renaissance Man,
The House on the Hill,
Babies in the Basement,
A Good Trade,
Something Wicked This Way Comes,
The Good Doctor,
The Rubber Alligator,
A Scientific Approach,
Whispers in the Night,
A Lonely House No More,
Appendix: Building Floor Plans,
About the Authors,