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Haunting the Nightlife


Looking for a cozy pub where you can share a pint of spirits with the spirits this Halloween? Let us recommend that you belly up to the bar at the Boulder Theater or the Old Louisville Inn. Who, after all, can resist a tumbler full of the paranormal with their mug of PBR?

Garrett McCarthy was still recovering from his original ghost encounter when he bought the Old Louisville Inn nearly 20 years ago. Embarking on a romantic trip to France, Garrett and his wife, Martha, rented a 300-year-old farmhouse in the French countryside. Curiously, the travel brochure had failed to mention the permanent visitors there.

“Every night I had to wear earplugs and eye patches to sleep,” McCarthy says.

A former world-class athlete, McCarthy thinks of it as training for what he was about to encounter after he purchased and began renovation on Louisville’s more than 100-year-old saloon in 1994.

Louisville might be a quaint Front Range community now, but that was hardly the case when it was incorporated in 1882. Then it was a rough mining community notorious for its drinking, gambling and illegal connections. Crawling out of the ground at the end of the day, miners on their way home stopped for daily pails of beer at one of the town’s 13 saloons. Even children were sent to the back door of a saloon called the Bucket of Blood to replenish a pail for lady drinkers (most likely their mothers).

It was here, in the heart of Louisville’s red-light district in the early 1800s, that a woman named Samantha worked as a sought-after prostitute in the shabby brothel located at the back of the inn. And it was here that the 5-foot-9 brunette in purple chiffon came to a bad end, stabbed to death by one of her customers.

McCarthy had heard the legend of Samantha before he purchased the inn. He was skeptical, however, saying he’d always been a regular guy, certainly not one to embrace the paranormal. But all that regular-guy stuff made little difference to his ghosts.

“The first time I encountered them, I was in the basement and walked through a cylinder of freezing cold air,” he says. “I tried to scream but couldn’t. I was frozen in place and had no control over what was happening to me. I suppose it only lasted about 45 seconds, but it felt a lot longer.”

From the cellar-like basement, with its coal furnace and hand-cranked elevator, McCarthy and his employees experience eerie happenings.

“At closing time we upend the chairs on the tables so we can sweep and mop,” McCarthy says. “One night after we had stacked them all and cleaned up, several of us were in the basement getting ready to leave. We looked up at the security monitor, and all the chairs appeared to have been violently thrown into a heap in the middle of the room. We ran upstairs but when were got there, all the chairs were exactly as we had left them.”

On another occasion, McCarthy was working after hours at his desk in the basement when he again glanced up at the security camera monitoring the main floor and saw a man sitting in the last booth of the darkened pub.

“I was shaken because we had been closed for over an hour so I barreled up the stairs to throw him out—but he wasn’t there,” he said.

But it’s behind the elegant antique bar itself where waiters and waitresses regularly catch the fleeting glimpse of a woman’s delicate hand trailing purple chiffon across the bar’s

mahogany surface.

McCarthy recalls the night he was sitting at the bar with his brother-in-law after closing—when the kitchen door opened and closed on its own.

“I called out, ‘If that’s you Samantha, show us a sign!’”

The men soon left through the front door to find the inn’s neon sign—always the first thing turned off at closing time—blazing overhead.

“I guess when I told Samantha to ‘show us a sign,’ she took it literally,” McCarthy says. “I talk to her sometimes, hoping she’ll ease off on the mischief. I remind her that I’m the guy responsible for the renovations—for making her current home a

nicer place.”


Is that you George?

The bar at George’s Good Food, Good Spirits attached to the downtown Boulder Theater could not be less like its grand cousin at the Old Louisville Inn. A plain wooden box painted black, it’s favored by diners waiting for the theater’s doors to open and the night’s music to begin. Soon, they’ll head through the back entry that connects the eatery to the theater, to the space where George Paper is said to wander, trick-or-treating in costume and creating spooky psychic disturbances.

George Paper came to Boulder from Lincoln, Neb., in the 1920s after a doctor suggested his health might benefit from Colorado’s climate. He landed the job as manager of the Curran Theater, now the Boulder Theater, a first-run movie house at the time. Legend has it that George was alone in the theater the afternoon of April 3, 1943, when his luck ran out. It seems the stage rigging that controlled the curtains and lighting was on the fritz. Planning to fix the problem, George had climbed into the rafters nearly 100 feet above the auditorium floor when he slipped and accidentally hanged himself in the wiring. He wasn’t missed until the following morning, when a gruesome spectacle greeted those who found him dangling overhead. But George, felled by misfortune at the age of 46, was apparently not ready to depart this earthly world.

“I lived alone in a room above the Boulder Theater in the 1980s,” says former manager Dick McCloud. “Late one night in 1986, I heard unfamiliar noises. When my dogs began to growl, I called the cops.”

Sure enough, there was a man hiding in the projection booth. The would-be burglar told police he thought the building was empty until he ran into the guy inside the theater.

“At first the officers thought he meant me,” McCloud says. “But the guy just stared at me and said, ‘I didn’t run into him, I ran into the other guy.’”

Is George still caretaking his beloved theater? Employees have reported moving shadows, unexplained footsteps and cold spots. In 1996, Sam Axelrod took a turn as general manager and decided the theater’s locks needed changing.

“I was working on a closet door in the basement, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something walk down the hallway,” he told the Colorado Daily. “I look up, nothing there. Then the light in the men’s room goes on. I look up and see the same thing moving in the other direction. I just said, ‘OK, I’m outta here,’ and went upstairs. I absolutely refused to go back there alone. I found someone else and came back in about 15 minutes, and the doorknob, which I hadn’t finished putting together, was finished, tight and locked. And the bathroom light was off.”

Although no one will tell you they’ve actually shaken hands with George, McCloud says he had a second unexplained encounter.

“I was in the courtyard one extremely hot summer afternoon when someone hollered out, ‘Hello!’ I looked up to see a man around 55 in a heavy, old-fashioned three-piece suit, with the suit jacket hanging over his right arm and the shirt cuffs rolled up.” He appeared harmless so McCloud agreed to let the man look around. He was upset with himself, however, for leaving the side door open and allowing a stranger to walk in. “I went to check the door, which only locked from the inside with a key,” McCloud says. “It was locked, and the stranger had vanished.”

Months later, McCloud came across a photograph of George Paper.

“He looked a lot like the guy I saw in the courtyard that afternoon,” he says.

Roz Brown is the co-author of Haunted Boulder, and Haunted Boulder II.

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