LONGMONT — It’s early morning, and there are no patrons
inside. The outside doors are locked.
Inside the Dickens Opera House at 300 Main St., seven ghost hunters don’t need the dead of night to listen for unexplained
footsteps or to try to spot a ghostly vision.
An hour after arriving, two investigators standing near the downstairs bar hear a clink, like someone sorting silverware,
they say. They know from frequent radio communication that no one else is around; the other investigators are upstairs.
Around the bend, in the smaller dining room, they find a tray of knives and forks sitting on a table.
“I picked (the silverware) up and dropped it, and it was the exact same sound,” said Matthew Baxter, 39, a
member of Denver-based Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society.
On Oct. 14, three paranormal groups investigated reported paranormal activity at the Dickens Opera House, also home to
Shorty’s Pit Bar-B-Q. During that time, several investigators also heard three unexplained footsteps near the upstairs
Paranormal research groups search for evidence of activity they can’t explain, said Richard Estep, 35, founder of
Boulder County Paranormal.
Anything unexplainable must be witnessed by at least two investigators to be considered credible. When possible, occurrences
are documented through video and audio recordings and other scientific instruments.
According to historical accounts, W.H. Dickens, the opera house’s original owner, was shot dead at his home at 303
Coffman St. on Nov. 30, 1915. Although his son was convicted of murder, the conviction was overturned by a higher court and
no one was subsequently charged.
In addition, according to local legend, an actress and actor were caught together backstage by the actress’ former
boyfriend, and he stabbed them. Supposedly, the actor died, and the actress lived.
Doug van Riper, owner of the Dickens for 13 years, said he has never seen or heard anything unusual in the Dickens, but
he welcomes the work of the paranormal groups.
“Plenty of other people said they have heard stuff,” he said.
Getting to work
The majority of the work of these ghost hunters involves setting up equipment — Geiger counters, electromagnetic
field monitors, air ionization detectors, infrared thermometers, audio recorders and video cameras. Afterward, the group monitors
the equipment and waits.
“About 90 percent of our investigations are quiet and uneventful,” Estep said. “It’s the 10 percent
that aren’t that keep us doing it.”
That day, all scientific readings were normal, the group said.
But there were other notable occurrences, they said. Near a wall close to the silverware, Viki Lu, a member of Rocky Mountain
Paranormal Research Society reported an odd feeling.
“It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach,” said Lu, who describes herself as “analytical”
and “not a touchy-feely sort of person.”
Later, three other ghost hunters were asked to walk around the entire floor, and all zeroed in on the exact same spot without
knowing about the others. This kind of occurrence is worth noting, the investigators said.
Even later, the group cordoned off, with chairs, the room with the silverware. They traced several pieces of silverware
onto paper and left the silverware inside the tracings, and then set up cameras and voice recorders that focused on the silverware,
a thermometer, a digital clock and an electromagnetic field meter. An hour later, they looked to see if the objects had moved,
if the temperature had changed or if there were any changes in the electromagnetic fields in the room.
Everything looked the same when they returned. They planned later to review the tapes and soundtracks. They ended the session
by sitting in the room and asking questions to the air, something they call electronic voice phenomena testing.
“Mr. Dickens, are you with us? Can you tell us if it was your son who shot you?
“Are you associated with the Dickens Opera House? Are you an actor or an actress?”
Investigators say that sometimes voices cannot be heard at the time, but are later found on voice recorders.
“This is our chance to discover if there are more real things like what we used to believe when we were children,”
Baxter said. “The huge pitfall we have to avoid is not jumping to conclusions.”
The weirdest thing he has seen: a chair lift itself and balance on the leg of a table, something the group documented on
video. They also have seen cameras knocked off tripods when there is no one else around and have recorded voices when no one
During their stint at the Dickens, Estep says the elevator door swung open and closed five to six times, but because there
wasn’t another eyewitness, he can’t count it as evidence of paranormal activity. He checked his video camera,
and the fresh battery was dead, but then seemed to recharge when another investigator looked at it.
Later, the ghost hunters were called upstairs to the stage area. Jessica Harris, a Greeley resident who is the founder
of Colorado Paranormal Research, and Loveland resident Nikki Bohm, 35, said they heard three footsteps on the stairs while
standing behind the curtain on the stage.
“Most of us have had experiences we can’t explain,” said Harris, who also said she grew up in a haunted
house where bar glasses shot across the room and where she would hear her name called, but no one would be there. Two to three
times each week, she’d wake up to the sound of her dog growling and see a male figure at the end of the hallway, she
Richard said he accompanied several ghostly investigations as a college student in his native England. One time, he went
into a sealed-off kitchen, and the cutlery drawer was on the floor, with every piece lined up as if “waiting for an
“It knocked my socks off,” he said.
Other, more recent occurrences included a floor that creaked in front of him and another investigator on the stage at Vance
Brand Auditorium. Slightly earlier that night, they heard a huge bang from backstage, though no one was there. Those sounds
will soon be posted on the Boulder County Paranormal Web site, he said.
“It’s moments like that that keep us coming out,” Estep said.
For now, the intrepid ghost hunters plan to return to the Dickens at 3 a.m. to do their ghostly investigations without
“Paranormal activity — footsteps out of mid-air and ghostly apparitions — have been around since recorded
history began,” Estep said. “Many eminent witnesses, including many presidents of the United States, have reported
paranormal activity. It’s undeniable.”
Contact Susan Glairon at 303-684-5224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.