July 2006

Summer homes, some ain't

By David Feela

Memorial Day had arrived and the graveyards all across America were being decorated with wreaths, sprays, and garlands. Pam and I were expecting a low-impact holiday, without any real plans in the works. No relatives stopping over, no picnics, nothing memorial. . . that is, until Pam had her “idea.”

Her idea amounted to driving across Lizard Head Pass, through the valley of fruit and corn, and ending up at the old town of Redstone. We’d been through the tiny mining, now-tourist town many times while camping in the national forest, but we’d never stayed overnight at the historic Redstone Inn. Supposedly, it’s haunted.

We arrived as planned, a few days before the rate increase for summer tourists. A dormer room on the third floor offered a toilet and sink but no tub or shower; these amenities were down the hall for anyone willing to share them with other third-floor guests, which is why our rent was reasonable. We unpacked our bags and before settling in for the night decided to stretch our legs by taking a walk through town.

The only street in Redstone runs about a half-mile, perfectly straight, with no fewer than five speed bumps evenly spaced along the way. During the height of tourist season, the speed bumps probably slow gawking tourists down, but on this day the center of the street served us well, with no fear of traffic.

Local shops and residences occupy each side of the street, many the historic remnants of a turn-of-the-century social experiment sponsored by the town’s founder, John Cleveland Osgood, a wealthy coal industrialist from the East. Mr. Osgood believed that if workers could be provided decent housing they would be “less troublesome.” The Inn had been built at the south end of the street to lodge the town’s bachelors, while families were provided with small, tastefully designed cottages.

It’s an attractive town even today, but when we visited, many businesses were still closed and some of the immaculate half-million-dollar “cottages” that had been tastefully renovated by present-day homeowners were still locked, shuttered, and empty. It felt like a ghost town.

Rumors of ghosts don’t worry me much. What bothers me the most is that many of the people who supposedly live here hadn’t yet materialized. They were the real ghosts, residents who pay their taxes and disappear for the better part of the year, inflating property values and creating a community of absentee opinions.

I’ve never owned two or three residences, living at one location, then hopping to another when the weather turns hospitable, but multiple-home ownership is happening all across the West. Finding a reasonable room for the night is all it takes to make me less troublesome.

And all that remains of Redstone’s social experiment is the skeleton of its intent. Although the Redstone Inn actually closed its kitchen on May 1st to support the Mexican workers who’d asked in solidarity with their co-workers all across the country for a protest day off, such a request would probably have been turned down had it been made during the busy tourist season – that is, unless the ghosts know how to cook.

And Redstone is not the only town inhabited by the apparition of wealth. Telluride has an entire village that stays eerily empty once the skiers have gone home, then there’s Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs, the greater Phoenix area, and probably another ghost village proposed for the top of Wolf Creek Pass. It’s just spooky when I try to count my neighbors and it’s virtually impossible to see them.

I stayed up reading late that night and when I reached up to turn out the light over our bed, I thought I heard a sigh. It was only Pam, glad I’d finally decided to go to sleep. I settled in, pulled the covers up, roughed up a pillow until it adjusted to the shape of my skull. Then something happened to set both of us suddenly upright in our bed, wide-eyed and staring at each other: The light came on by itself, both bulbs burning bright.

I knew Pam hadn’t turned it on, because she’d been half asleep when I turned it off. And it wasn’t me. I looked around the room, then reached up once more and turned the switch off. The room stayed dark this time, but I swear only one of us was breathing.

David Feela writes from Cortez