For the third year, Ghost Walk Durango founder Joe Nelson will take brave souls on a Halloween Cemetery Tour, offering a spooky, nighttime history lesson ... and, perhaps, a chance encounter with a little paranormal activity.
Like what Nelson saw the first year of the tour.
It happened while he was going over the rules of the tour to the evening’s group. Unbeknownst to him, while he was talking, his phone was recording. It wasn’t until he got back from the tour that he saw what the phone had caught.
“We have had things happen, I mean, we’ve got orbs,” he said. “There were these three gold lights and they were going around a family plot. It wasn’t like somebody that died a violent death, somebody that was a life-long criminal, or died in a shootout or anything like that. It was just a regular mom, a half a dozen kids. I used to think that orbs were nonsense until I saw them. You can see them going behind – it was below freezing, so there weren’t bugs, it wasn’t dust. It was pretty cool.”
Nelson said he has also seen things he can’t explain while doing the Ghost Walk.
“I always start off by saying I’m not one of these people that is trying to communicate with the spirits and I can walk in your house and tell you that your Great Aunt Tootie wants you to paint your kitchen cabinets blue or anything like that,” he said during a tour in 2017. “I just saw some stuff that I didn’t even realize that there was something weird about it until after.”
Nelson said the cemetery tour is pretty much a continuation of the Ghost Walk – the majority of the people he talks about ultimately ended up in the cemetery. And, along with ordinary residents of the time who died and were buried in the cemetery (the name of which we’re not giving away), there are some of the bad actors Old West towns like Durango are known for buried there, too. “Durango’s only legal hanging, he’s buried there. (The hanging happened on Ninth Street and Main Avenue),” he said. “Plus, Ike Stockton, our most famous Western outlaw.”
There are also lots of children and approximately 25 veterans, most from the Civil War, Nelson said, adding that the cemetery – and cemeteries in general – are a vital to keep in touch with a community’s past.
“Graveyards are important to almost every culture. I think a lot of the people that founded Durango – it’s fun to talk about the people that rode up and down Main Street shooting pistols in the air – that Wild West kind of deal – and then you can go there and there’s a physical link, this is where they all ended up. That’s why I think it’s important,” he said. “Plus, all the founders of Durango, the county’s first four judges are buried there, including one fellow – he was an immigrant from Italy, came over here, couldn’t speak the language, worked on the railroad, settled in Durango, became a county judge. And then he passed away and is buried next to his wife. They only had enough money for one gravestone, and he had a beautiful gravestone put over his wife, and he’s just next to her.
“I use that as an example of not everybody there is a deviant – who am I to judge people from 130 years ago anyway? We’re trying to point out people that built this community,” Nelson said.
Set aside about two hours for the Halloween Cemetery Tour. Participants are asked to meet at the usual meeting place for the Ghost Walk (on the steps of the Durango 9-R Administration Building, 201 E. 12th St.). When everyone is together, Nelson will go over the rules of the tour, which includes: No smoking; no drinking – you’re free to bring a plastic water bottle, but you must take it out of the cemetery; no sitting on the gravestones; and no children younger than 15.
After the introduction, tour-goers will all get in their cars and drive to the cemetery, so everyone must have their own ride.
And if an evening stroll through a cemetery isn’t your thing but you’re still hankering for some spooky tales, Nelson is still giving his Ghost Walks in downtown Durango now through Halloween.
“This is as much about history as it is about ghosts, including the graveyard,” he said. “If you don’t believe in ghosts, you can still have fun on this tour. Again, it’s the history of this community, and I think it’s important.”