Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life and death is a complex thought. Why are we here? And where do we go when we die? What happens? There are so many religions, anti-religions, theocracies, beliefs, theories, prophecies, intellectual concepts, and personal individual ideas about why we are here on the planet earth as humans, and what happens when we leave.  It’s endless and enormous.  The ideas around it are as wonderful and conflicting and beautiful and mysterious and the universe itself. But, there is one thing that is not so mysterious about it. We live…and we die. Bottom line. Where we go after death is an individual’s personal belief. On our Haunted History After Dark tours, ghost whisperer and medium, Grace, gets many questions about this subject from our guests. Some of the questions are, “Why does he stay here?”, “Why is she so sad?”, “Why doesn’t he go to the other side?”, and “What really is a spirit?” Depending on the spirits situation on our tours, some of Grace’s responses can be, “The spirit stays because it’s familiar, it’s what he or she knew before they passed.”, or, “There is something undone that they feel they need to finish.” Other spirits are very protective of a location, such as a popular spot on College that is on our tour that is haunted by the manager of an early speak-easy. Some died early and unexpectedly and don’t even know they passed, or where they are supposed to be or if it’s even safe to go to “the light” which they may be aware of.
When Grace and I take a walk through Old Town Fort Collins it’s always an amazing and enlightening experience. Whether we are on our tours, or just her and I, we always run into spirits. The town is abundant with them. Some are hidden in the structures of busy night spots and reach out to her when we pass. Some roam freely along with the human traffic. Sometimes Grace will stop suddenly and I’ll ask her, “What’s going on?”  She will pause for a moment and then relate to me that spirits are communicating with her. On one particular night on College Avenue, even while Saturday night revelers were passing us in abundance, a female ghost approached Grace. She had a terrier with her who had died at a different time and which the female spirit had taken responsibility for in the afterlife, along with two boys. It turned out that “The boys” were not even from this earth. Grace said, “They aren’t good. They didn’t live or die here. They are from some-place else.” When one of them tried to bite Grace’s hand, she quickly sent both to the other side. This was at a location of an enormously popular college hang out. She said that they had been causing much trouble at this location.
Each of us has probably experienced a de ja vu, when you feel like you’ve been to place before or suddenly feel like you’ve experienced that same movement, or looked at a person, or said words that feel uncannily familiar. In an unexpected moment during a conversation you might think to yourself, “Wait! I’m having a de ja vu. I think I’ve been here before.” Some religions and or spiritualists might say, “That’s because you have.”, or, “This is a marker in your experience here on planet earth. Be aware of it.” Neurologists might tell you that it’s one part of the brain working faster than the other. There are no clear cut concepts.
Walking through Old Town Fort Collins I have this experience a lot.

Recently, I had a wonderful tour of the House of Mayors on Remington Street. Owner Julia Houx invited celebrated Texas journalist and Haunted History After Dark tour guest, Alice Ashmore, who among many other works is most famous for covering the “Baby Jessica” story out of Texas in 1987, for a generous tour of her home. Julia and her husband Grant now run the very successful St. Peters Fly Shop out of the Montezuma Fuller designed home which once housed two early mayors of Fort Collins, Jesse Harries and P.J. McHugh, hence the name The House of Mayors.  Alice and I had a fantastic time exploring the rooms and experiencing the generous hospitality of the couple.  After the tour, Alice and I decided to have lunch at one of my favorite spots, Peter Shultz La Luz, on historic Walnut Street. During lunch Alice and I had a fun discussion about the Haunted History After Dark tours as well as Alice’s own historic adventures, and future plans. As usual for me, in my enthusiasm I talked too much and had many left over’s after Alice left. So, I packed up my chili relleno and headed over to finish my lunch in my car across from 604 Remington Street, a home I had been researching and have felt drawn to. The location is now student housing, but for a long time was the home of Luella Rhodes.

On an outing a week later to explore new locations for the Haunted History After Dark tour route which included the early hospital at Magnolia and Matthews, with local ghost whisperer and tour guide, Grace,  I told her about eating my lunch just adjacent to the Remington house where Luella Rhodes, formerly Luella Mason once lived. Grace stopped and asked me, “Do you think you were Luella Rhodes in a former life?” I told her that I didn’t know.

Joe Mason
Luella was the young wife of early Fort Collins founder, Joe Mason, who Mason Street is named after. They married on July 3rd in1870 and had four children together. Only two lived to adulthood. Joe died an early death from a kick in the head by a young colt in February of 1881. He was only 41 years old. He died in their home which was located just east of Rodizzio’s, where the park is now across from Jefferson Street. Five years later Luella married Ledru Rhodes, an early attorney in Fort Collins. Not only did Ledru establish City Park, but he also started a newspaper called the “Larimer County Democrat” in1906. Luella ended up running that newspaper as a journalist. Luella was an excellent horse woman and a member of the early Fort Collins Equestrian Club. If you wanted to hang out with Luella, you had to ride. One of my favorite photographs of early residents of Fort Collins is a picture of Luella taken while visiting her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. For some reason unknown to me, I have always been fascinated with the life of Joe Mason and Luella.

Luella Mason

I have lived in this area for over twenty years. I came here in 1990 to pursue a degree in Forestry at Colorado State University. This was a natural for me. A no brainer. I not only had an uncle who taught Range at Colorado State but, I had spent most of my early life on an enormous historic ranch in Tooele, Utah driving cattle on mustangs that my grandfather harvested out of the herd that ran wild through the juniper and sagebrush on our land.  My Danish grandfather had designs to be an actor and writer. Which he did both with some success. But, to make ends meet he taught history in the public schools. Saddled on my own mustang next to his through many miles of cattle drives, I learned about the importance of exploring the past to learn from and discover and celebrate the stories of our ancestors. He was my bona fide intellectual, educated, patriarch, rawhide tough cowboy…and it stuck. It’s in my DNA so to speak. He’s my hero.

After leaving Utah I was introduced to the television and film industry through a mishap and loved it. I worked in front of the camera for a while but decided I liked the writing and producing aspect and with my grandfather’s blessing ended up getting a degree in Technical Journalism and Television Broadcast from CSU. On an internship I was offered an opportunity filming a documentary in Billings, Montana for a program on the Battle of Little Big Horn. Along with my grandfather’s teachings, that experience defined what I wanted to do for a living. My goal was to resurrect historical characters and their experiences, personalities and life for the contemporary rest of us to celebrate, live, cherish, and learn from. In short, I am a journalist, a historical journalist, and Fort Collins history is my passion.

Frank Stover

So, back to Grace’s comment, “Do you think you were Luella Rhodes in a past life?” I have to admit there are many similarities that I couldn’t discount. I was born a “Rhodes” in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am a journalist, which Luella was with the Larimer County Democrat. I was raised on horses and am still an avid equestrian.  I am fascinated with Joe Mason, who Luella was once married to. And I have chosen to live, by coincidence or not, adjacent to City Park which Luella’s second husband established. Even with all of this information I still didn’t know. I couldn’t tell Grace, “Yes, I think I am Luella Rhodes in a past life. I do know that I have distinct images in my mind of Joe Mason’s funeral and his sallow pale, sunken face at his funeral at the Methodist Church which in 1881 was just east of Coopersmith’s billiards on Mountain. I do know that I could recognize in a heartbeat the high cheek bones, moustache and laugh of Frank Stover who owned a drug store on Linden and Jefferson. I do know that there was a man in a wool suit who used to walk from the Armory (the old Paramount Laundry) to what we know now as the Armadillo (which was once an ice house). I do know that I can relate a story about an early photographer for the Express newspaper who got in a little trouble for accidentally hitting on-lookers to an event with his enormous and clumsy tri-pod camera that happened before the turn of the century.
Standing at the corner of Remington and Olive, on this Saturday night as we were relating this, Grace stopped and waited for a group of rowdy Old Town celebrants to move closer to College. Grace’s beautiful blue eyes were not in the present, somewhere distant as I’ve witnessed on our tours when connecting to spirits, her eye lids closed just a bit. I could tell she was connecting to me, connecting to me spiritually, connecting to my past life. I was petrified. I was thinking, “What is she going to see? Who was I? Who am I?”
Finally, after a few moments she looked at me as normal as ever and said, “You weren’t Luella.”

 “Okay”, I said, and we continued to walk closer toward Old Town, but slower now. Grace had more to tell and I wanted to hear every word. “But, who was I then?”  Cautiously, Grace said to me, “You know how you talk about early towns’ people like you know them?” I said, “Sure”. She said, “It’s because you did, you knew them.   You lived here. That’s why you are here.” At the time I had my leather bag that my cowboy, mustang wrangler, history teacher grandfather had made me and I clutched it closer. I tried to get in tune, and listened to Grace more as we walked toward the Aggie (which was once a church) and listened. As we turned north on College, she had many stories to tell about my existence in early Fort Collins. Amazingly, there were many similarities to my life now. According to Grace I was a journalist for the Larimer County Democrat, as well as an equestrian, I was active in the community and had many jobs. I worked at a mercantile on Linden Street and did other things to pay my own way such as sewing. She also said that I adored Luella Rhodes.
I wonder if I adored Luella so much when I lived here that I brought some of Luella’s misfortunes into my own life because there is one similarity that has been difficult to process. Luella and Joe Mason had four children. Minnie, Joseph, Albert and Lizzie C. Only two lived to adulthood, Albert and Minnie. Lizzie C. and Joseph died as children. I have three unbelievably wonderful children. They are all grown up now, but, my youngest child, who I named before even being aware of the Mason children, Lizzie C., almost died three times before the time she was two years-old. My own Lizzie is a healthy, vibrant, intelligent adult now, but the events that almost caused her early death three times, are unbelievably heart wrenching for me and still keep me up nights. I can’t even imagine what Luella, as well as other earlier settlers went through, who lost children.

Ghost Whisperer Grace Cooley
I was memorized what Grace was relating to me about my past life in early Fort Collins. She told me that when I lived here before I liked to dress more in men’s clothing and was criticized for that. At that point I quickly removed the cavalry hat that I purchased recently at a Custer re-enactment in Montana that I was wearing, and said, “Yeah, well, that’s me!”  As we walked along College closer to Mountain Avenue she told me about the places I used to work at on Linden and what I did, who I socialized with and what my relationships were like. Some of the things she told me are very similar to struggles that I encounter in my own life today. She told me that if I have past struggles, that it’s okay.  Grace said, “Just visualize those things you want to change from a past life and manifest them positively into a change in this life.”
I live in a little apartment off of West Mulberry, close to the Overland Trail and I love it. But, when I make my way towards 136 West Mountain to begin a tour on a Thursday or Saturday night, it all starts coming back to me. The beauty of this place, the colorful faces, the smiles, the activity, the generosity of the business owners, and the enthusiasm I meet of our wonderful Haunted History After Dark guests…this is what Fort Collins is all about. It is what Fort Collins was all about in its early beginnings way back in 1864 and it is what we are all about now, growth, ingenuity, charity. I see that now in Old Town. Possibly, I experience de ja vu in Old Town because I was here before. Maybe I am, myself, one of those spirits with a story undone that I need to tell, that Grace talks about on our tours. Maybe I am just a cow girl, raised on mustangs and history and in love with this town and its people and want them to know more about the extraordinary place they live in which we like to call the “Jewel of the Frontier”. You will have to take the Haunted History After Dark tour to find out.
If you would like to get a past life reading, explore the haunted history of your location, OR take a tour to learn more about the spooky history of Old Town Fort Collins please contact Cost is 10 big ones per courageous ghost buster or 35 clams for an extra brave group of four. Cash only please.
 Stephen Stills begged Suite Judy Blue Eyes long ago, “Will you come see me…Thursdays and Saturdays…” What a coincidence! That’s when our tours are.  Will you come see us…Thursdays and Saturdays.  Or by reservation. 7:30 p.m.  Tours start at 136 W. Mountain Avenue home of Boutique Bravo and Mother Lode Gallery where owner Kate has been in business for a whopping 33 years! Check her out.



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