Thomas Croke built the Croke-Patterson Mansion in Denver in 1891. Over the years it has been home to many different residents, as well as a doctor’s office, a dance studio, a radio station, an apartment complex and a bed & breakfast, while it remained unoccupied for many years. As an historical “castle” with a colorful past, the Croke-Patterson has a haunted reputation. At great expense, the house was recently purchased by architect Brian Higgins and converted into a boutique hotel renamed the Patterson Historic Inn, although he’s not so interested in history.

Recently, we received an email at the JREF asking us to help promote The Castle Project, Higgins’ new documentary about the Croke-Patterson Mansion. This begins with skeptics Matthew Baxter and Bryan Bonner bemoaning that the Mansion’s fascinating history is overshadowed by its ghostly lore and urban legends. Twisting this message, the filmmaker promises that he will unearth the “true” ghost stories. The Castle Project’s motto is, “Not based in a true story. It is the true story.”

The documentary descends into the house’s legends of suicides, death, lynchings, Satanic rituals, ghosts, and a baby buried in the basement. They repeat the popular tale that the first time Thomas Croke walked into the house he remarked, “It’s so haunted here. I can’t live here!” (In reality, he lived there for two years before he sold it to Thomas Patterson.) These stories are peppered with the testimony of tradespeople who claim to have heard the sounds of phantom music, a girl’s voice and a baby crying. Strangely, when people get to the top of the stairs of the third story house they lose their breath…

Previous residents, labeled as “survivors”, also share their ghost stories. We hear about the kindly ghost that assisted a woman pregnant with triplets, and the story of two guard dogs that “committed suicide” by jumping to their deaths from a third floor room because they were “so afraid of something in the house”. When the place was an apartment block the former landlord said that her tenants were “leaving at an alarming rate.” (However, they don’t tell the strange story of the time that Bryan discovered a freezer full of cats stored there by former owner, veterinarian Douglas Ikeler.) Then a team of ghost hunters and psychics is brought in because the place is “busy as a shopping mall” with both good and evil “spirits”.

The plot only gets worse from here. For no apparent reason, Higgins travels to Italy in search of an explanation for these alleged events. He says, “I’ve been on a long journey uncovering answers to the afterlife question, and I’m as close as one can get without, well, you know.” Higgins reaches a very bizarre conclusion. The stone used to build the house came from a park in Colorado Springs called The Garden of the Gods. Higgins draws a connection between its rock formations and the illustrations of purgatory in Dante’s Inferno. Given this physical similarity, he believes that the Garden of the Gods is a portal to purgatory. As a result, the stone from the park used to build the Croke-Patterson Mansion is haunted which causes the hauntings. Where’s the proof? During the 2012 fires in Colorado Springs, a fire also broke out in the Croke-Patterson Mansion at the same time! (Higgins forgot to mention that there were fires statewide at the time, and his tradespeople had not disposed of oil-soaked rags, which were strewn about the area and caught alight).

According to Higgins, the Croke-Patterson Mansion is cursed by the rock from which it was built and this is the source of the paranormal activity. He also blames the cursed rock because he fell out with his former business partner Travis McAfoos who abandoned the project and sold out to Higgins. In the documentary, he spent two weeks living in the mansion to see if it is haunted. During this time, he collects footage of “orbs”, he hears “phantom” footsteps, and a bat flies into his room. He cuts short his stay because he was “too scared”. Higgins now claims the Croke-Patterson Mansion is a “hotspot of activity.” This comes from the same man who revealed to us that he “never saw a thing” during his stay in the house for the documentary, although he often had to fend off homeless people that tried to break into the building.

So much for the “true story” of the Croke-Patterson Mansion.


Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.