La Veta, Colorado, is located three hours south of Denver. The heart of this tiny town of 800 people is the Francisco Fort Museum, an original adobe plaza built in 1862. The plaza contains an 1880s saloon, a school built in 1876, a blacksmith shop, adobe ovens, and a large collection of artifacts from local Native Americans, Hispanic settlers, and farmers, ranchers and miners; not to mention a resident black bear called Barnaby.
Of course, the Fort Francisco Museum is said to be very haunted. Its most famous ghost is the “floating lady” who is seen dressed in white as she glides through the west wing. There are reports of flickering lights and another ghostly woman who carries candles as she wanders the halls. When people walk by an old piano it plays music although there is no visible pianist, and an antique rocking chair has been seen swaying back and forth without anyone siting in it.
A local ghost-hunting group approached Kim, the Director of the Museum, asking if they could investigate the premises. Her committee provided permission with one condition: she must supervise their investigation. Kim was annoyed that the group did a stakeout of the premises well into the wee hours while she was forced to babysit them as they “ran around doing goofy stuff”. Their findings included high EMF readings where one of the phantom women has been seen, a video of a mysterious light, and recordings of alleged voices of the dead (Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVPs). Kim wasn’t very impressed.
After their investigation the group asked if they could host a paranormal event at the Museum. Kim thought this was a fantastic idea…just not with them! Kim researched other groups around Colorado and ended up contacting investigators Bryan & Baxter instead. They visited the Museum to complete a two-day investigation of the premises and I tagged along to help research the claims and history of the premises. Kim believed that La Veta had a rather tame history with no “dark past”, although we unearthed newspaper articles about multiple murders, two lynchings and several cases of suicide. This would be enough for many ghost hunters to believe that the town is haunted.
A month later we returned to La Veta for Bryan & Baxter to host a “Paranormal Event”. I spoke with one of the residents about the activities and promised him that we were able to explain the “paranormal” phenomena but also preserve the history of the Francisco Fort Museum. Instead of being pleased, he was indignant. “So you’re telling me you’ll be debunking the stories?” he complained. “You should call this a ‘Debunking Event’, not a ‘Paranormal Event!’” Fortunately, the rest of the attendees enjoyed the events thoroughly. For two days, Bryan & Baxter provided lectures and tours to the community, introducing skepticism, sharing the history and folklore of the town, and yes, debunking the legends and the “evidence” of the ghost hunting group.
The team’s video of the strange light was discovered to be the camera light reflecting off a picture frame. The high EMF readings were replicated and indicated a spot where the Wi-Fi signal from the library could be picked up, causing the meters to jump. We also managed to track down the team’s EVPs on YouTube. These “messages” were inaudible snippets of sound that they had interpreted subjectively as, “Get the horses”, “Daddy said ‘no’”, and “Tom and then Thomas.”
As for the “floating lady”, people only witness her at night when they are walking outside the building, which reveals the secret of the sightings. The apparition is caused by visitors lighting their way at night with cellphones and creating reflections of themselves in the glass of the Museum’s windows. Phones and flashlights are also responsible for the flickering lights or “candles” that people see. The “haunted” piano was hardly playing Chopin by itself. The floorboards are very old and when visitors and staff step on a weak spot the panels rise up under the piano and cause one of the hammers to play a note. Similarly, the rocking chair sits on a loose floorboard that causes it to rock when a nearby “sweet spot” is stepped upon.
The Francisco Fort Museum proved to be rich in hidden history, rather than hauntings. At our urging, Kim decided to prevent paranormal groups (including us!) from doing any more investigations on the premises to preserve the museum’s fragile contents and its history.
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.