An Elegant Haunt

Several psychics and mediums who have visited The Keep believe that when they dug down that far and tapped into the aquifer, they created some sort of otherworldly passageway that has made the hotel a way station, not just for travelers in this realm, but also for spirits on their way to the afterlife.Ghost Tour by Claryn Vaile

My October 2019 post combined two of my favorite things: architecture and Halloween. In researching the post, I became acquainted with Frank Edbrooke, a leading Denver architect in the late 19th Century. Later in the year I toured one of his most famous buildings: the landmark Brown Palace Hotel.

So, I was delighted in October 2020 to get my copy of Ghost Tour, a fictionalized account of spirits at the Brown Palace. The author, a friend who published under the pen name Claryn Vaile, calls the hotel “Griffins Keep,” referring to it often as The Keep, just as the actual hotel is often called The Brown. The author identifies the architect as Edward Brookings. 

Setting plays an important role in any story, but it seems to be a critical factor in many ghost stories. In the tradition of the original Ghost Busters, the very architecture in Ghost Tour functions much as a character unto itself. 

Brown Palace atrium
Always elegant, the atrium lobby at the Brown Palace Hotel is especially festive when it is decked out for the holidays. Photo by Buffy Gilfoil.

Maximum Metaphysical Energy

Edbrooke, whose other buildings include the 1889 Masonic Building at 1614 Welton Street, was a 32nd degree Freeman. And building engineer Lochlan MacKenzie, though not a Freemason himself, “knew more about Masonic history and traditions than many (members),” according to Vaile.

MacKenzie tells hotel historian Rebecca Holcomb Bridger The Keep could be a “cosmic synchometer.” Freemasons, MacKenzie says, “used principles of sacred geometry to maximize both physical and metaphysical energies.” He links Freemasons to the Knights Templar and the building of the Temple of Solomon while drawing parallels between the temple and the hotel and saying the hotel’s orientation reflects knowledge of celestial bodies. The footprint of the hotel is a right triangle, the original grand entrance aligns with the fall and spring equinoxes, while the northeast and southeast corners align with the summer and winter solstices.

Having learned from MacKenzie, Bridger tells tour guests the Knights Templar organization still exists. “In fact 300 of them attended the Griffins Keep opening banquet. The Templars actually dedicated the building in 1890, and there are those who believe their spirits continue to watch over the hotel.”

MacKenzie also tells Bridger about the importance of the hotel’s artesian well in attracting spirits. “’Spirits of the dead have long been thought to be associated with subterranean water … (They) are thought to be attracted to the energy in such aquifers,” he says.

This is true especially when the water source provides the spirits with access throughout the hotel and beyond. MacKenzie tells Bridger about a “weird triangular shaft surrounding the old sub-basement boiler steam pipe. (It) intersects every floor and goes all the way up above the roof. … in my estimation that steam pipe seems a natural route from realms below to realms above—and beyond.” 

Stone That Transmits Sound

Even building materials play a part in Ghost Tour stories. Bridger points out the onyx in the atrium. “This golden onyx was found in a quarry in Old Mexico. More than 1400 surface feet of the stone was used in The Keep, depleting the quarry entirely.” 

Later, when pondering a mysterious sound, Bridger thinks, “Griffins Keep incorporated more onyx than any other single building of its day. The semi-precious stone, similar in appearance to marble, was actually a variety of quartz. Aren’t quartz crystals used in radios and other transmitting devices?” She wonders if the stone could reverberate with sounds from long ago.

An Accident In the Atrium

The most enveloping and impressive interior feature of The Keep is its atrium lobby. Vaile writes, “Amber-hued and warm, sunlight infused the soaring lobby with a golden glow, drawing the eyes up and up and up. A magnificent stained glass skylight topped the eighth floor, 100 feet above. Intricate filigreed wrought-iron panels decorated six tiers of open balconies encircling the floors below it. Stone columns rose from the lobby to the mezzanine level, supporting Florentine arches lit by starburst bulbs. On one side of the stunning space, the Grand Staircase wove in and out between guestroom floors.”

While it’s easy to imagine a multitude of unfortunate murders, suicides and accidents, along with associated hauntings, in the space, Bridger tells visitors of only one such incident. 

In 1911, little Millie was practicing her balance walking on the seventh-floor railing when she fell all the way to the lobby floor. The impact knocked her out, but the ending of the story wasn’t as dreadful as one might expect.

Management directed Bridger to tell only “curious and comfortable tales,” which she refers to as Caspers. Luckily, Vaile goes beyond that, filling her book with stories of both friendly and frightening ghosts. In the first 100 pages of the book, the stories appear at a rate faster than one every ten pages.

Perhaps most importantly to the author, the hotel seems to be in its death throes, as new owners are taking over. They are far more concerned with current trends and their bottom line than honoring the history of the landmark, much less respecting the spirits there. In the atrium lobby where afternoon tea had been a tradition, they install a bouncy castle and bungee jump.

Even before that, when a rare paranormal package attracted ghost-hunters galore, a medium told Bridger, “The spirits in this space are most unhappy. They think these decorations are disrespectful, and they’re upset by the whole spectacle.”

Mediums Among Us

As I was writing this post, the author of Ghost Tour made a Zoom presentation to members of the Denver Woman’s Press Club. I found out a little about the backstory, including the medium who was a source for the Lochlan MacKenzie character. The author showed a photo of an original tile floor at the Brown Palace that incorporated Masonic crosses in the design. New owners did nothing to preserve the floor. And I was surprised to learn that the sitting president of the club is a certified intuitive and some other members also have psychic powers. 

Amid the tales about the building and the numerous hauntings, additional themes and anecdotes appear throughout Ghost Tour. These range from romances and a gunfight over a cow to a mystery around the Keep’s cornerstone. 

While it’s up to readers to decide whether or not they believe tales of ghosts at the Brown Palace, I tend to agree with the tour guest who said, “If I were a ghost, I’d want to spend eternity here.”

If you have a story and think I could help you with its telling, I’m available for hire and would love to hear about it.

My editor for this post was historian and author Jeffrey B. Miller. He has written three books about the Commission for Relief in Belgium, a massive World War I food program. The most recent is Yanks Behind The Lines