Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Haunted Park City, Utah

Both my parents grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

In the 1930s my father and his friends would go to the Wasatch Mountains in Park City to ski. This is before there were ski trails or a lift in the mountains. They skied on wooden skis and, a friend towed them up the slope. 

Today Park City is a ski resort and the home of the Sundance Film Festival. Park City is also haunted.

Park City was initially called Parley’s Park. U.S. soldiers who were posted there to protect mail routes discovered silver in 1868. In 1870 Parley’s Park had 164 residents. 

With the discovery of a large vein of silver in 1874, at what would eventually become the Ontario mine the town was renamed Park City. 

In its heyday, the Ontario mine was considered the most productive silver mine in the world. This mine produced over 50 million dollars in wealth in the years it operated. 

In 1892, the Silver King mine opened, and eventually became the largest producer of silver in Park City. In 1896, when Utah became a state, Park City had over 7,000 residents.

Ontario mine workers
Few benefited from this rich silver strike. By the turn of the century, the mines had made millionaires of 23 men and women. 

In contrast, most of the population were laborers. Hundreds of prospectors dotted the hills by the 1870s, these men would bring their wives and children later to live in Park City. 

These miners came from areas where the mines had already played out in Nevada, Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. These groups made the area ethnically and religiously diverse, but they also set a caste system in place. 

Within this caste system, the many Chinese who had initially worked on the transcontinental railroad suffered the worst.

By 1947 the mines began to close, Park City's economy dwindled, and the population dropped to less than 1500 people. 

In the 1950s, fewer than 200 miners still worked in the mines, at this point, Park City was designated a “ghost town.” 

To save the town in 1963, several enterprising residents got together and decided to revive the city by opening a ski resort. 

When Sports Illustrated featured Treasure Mountain in 1966, Park City became more and more popular. By the time the last mine closed in 1982, the ski industry was booming. 

The 2002 Winter Olympics further increased the population and popularity of Park City. The town today is ranked second among North American ski resorts.

During the years the mines operated there were several fires and mining accidents in the area. After a particularly bad fire in 1898, caused by canyon winds and still considered Utah’s worst disaster, two-thirds of the town was destroyed.

After this, the residents rebuilt using stone and brick. The town didn’t completely recover until 1920. 

During this time in 1902, a dynamite explosion at one of the mines caused a poisonous gas to spread, and many miners died. Others were blown apart with the initial impact of the blast.

One phenomenon that was observed on several occasions, while the mines were still active, were sightings of a harbinger. 

It is documented that just before several mine accidents occurred a male dressed in a yellow slicker would appear in front of a group of miners. His appearance was feared because he was considered a bad omen. 

The miners dread was not misplaced for bad things always happened after he was seen.

Yet another phenomenon reported by miners was an evil presence that was felt and seen in the mines. 

In the Park City mines, a malicious Tommyknocker was heard knocking on the lower rungs of ladders preventing miners from escaping during emergencies.

Mine tunnel

As the mines closed, they left behind a labyrinth of tunnels that are hundreds of feet below the surface. In recent years tours are given that include the history of these abandoned mines.* 

After the dynamite accident in 1902, several witnesses came forward to report a gruesome sight. What they saw was ghostly miners near where they died looking for their missing body parts.

One specific ghost that is seen is that of a woman. She has long blonde hair and is often spotted riding a horse. 

Her spirit is also seen in one mineshaft at the 200-foot level. It is speculated she was one of the few fortunate millionaires. 

Various other apparitions are seen wandering the tunnels as well.

* There are still ghost tours given in Park City but the tales they share do not always include the traditional ghost mine stories shared above.

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