– Small businesses offer up history, and some scary spirits, on ghost tours across NOCO –

By Dan England

 

A dozen years ago, Lori Juszak wanted to present a history tour in Old Town Fort Collins. Nearly every time she went to talk to a business, the store owners had a question for her: “Didja know this place is haunted?”

Sure, sure, she says, rolling her eyes, until a dozen stories turned into two dozen. During the six months she spent researching, she gathered more than 30 spooky stories and decided to offer a tour featuring ghosts on the side, despite her mild skepticism. 

“The ghost tours sold out immediately,” Juszak says, “and I still can’t give away a history tour.” 

“Law” and “Order,” two local tour guides at Fort Collins Ghost Tour. Left: The fire tower in Fort Collins, another stop on many Fort Collins ghost tours.

Juszak owns a real estate agency and teaches business at Front Range Community College, so she knows a bit about giving customers what they want. She now has nine guides who give ghost tours, and they sell out all the time. October, in fact, is likely sold out, with a demand so great that November, a time when many are ready to take a break from spooks, tends to be a good month for her because of the spillover. Not even COVID-19, the scariest year ever for business owners, could kill off the tours. 

“We didn’t see us coming back, but we missed [doing the tours] and missed everyone in Old Town, and so we decided to try it, and it just took off again,” Juszak says. 

Ghost hunts and tours are more popular than ever, and nearly every bigger city in Northern Colorado has at least one. Shows such as “Ghost Hunters” and reality shows about paranormal investigators helped propel their popularity, but as Juszak’s longevity shows, we’ve all been in the mood to be a little scared and learn more about the darker corners of Northern Colorado. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park capitalizes on its spooky history—Stephen King wrote “The Shining” in the hotel and based the story, in part, on its old, eerie setting—by offering regular ghost stories and hosting several events near Halloween, and tours are just starting up in Greeley and Boulder. 

The tours aren’t exactly what you see during paranormal investigations. Juszak and others take up to a dozen patrons on a tour of businesses with dusty old basements and other places rich with dark history. Some offer the electronic readers you see on the shows and others, such as Juszak, don’t (though she might bring one along and has done recordings before). 

“It’s big fun,” Juszak says. “It’s like going to the campfire and hearing ghost stories.” 

Suzy Riding leads a Forbidden Fort Collins Tour through Firehouse Alley in 2011, where she claims an apparition believed to be James Howe, who was lynched in Fort Collins for murdering his wife in 1888, appeared to tour goers.

Small scares, not supersized spooks

When Amanda Adams left her well-paying IT job to start a ghost touring business in Greeley, she decided to leave out one of the most well-known tales: The story of spirits haunting The Armory, where the bodies of the 20 children killed in a 1961 collision between a train and a bus crash were kept. The bus crash is considered the state’s worst traffic accident and Greeley’s worst tragedy. That’s not the point of the tour. 

“I’m a mother,” Adams says. “There are people still alive here who remember that horrible time.”

Indeed, when Juszak mentions campfire stories, she means the kind of hair-raising but somewhat harmless stories of long ago that make you jump into your sleeping bag, like tales about a guy with a hook. 

“We aren’t serious about scaring people,” Juszak says. “Some people do get scared because of the nature of the tours, but mostly, they have a lot of fun.”

“We don’t do anything more recent than the early 1900s. We don’t want anyone related to the people we talk about on a tour. We won’t do a tour in a cemetery,” she adds.

They won’t jump-scare either, although they will nudge that rule a bit for teenage birthday parties. 

“We may have a guide stand at the end of a dark tunnel and say hello,” Juszak says and laughs. “We ask the parents first, but they say to scare them.”

As a general rule, kids need to be at least 12 for a tour, and some tours are adult-only, including the ones with pub crawls. 

Adams, who also started a ghostwriting business (which is probably hilarious to no one but us), called on Juszak for advice when she started her own tours of downtown Greeley. She, like Juszak, offers up plenty of history along with some spice in Greeley’s tea. 

Some of the stories are topical: One spot in the basement of the business Girl Talk could be haunted by one of the state’s first female doctors who believed in family planning when that wasn’t common (Adams’ ghost monitors, in fact, beeped on a visit during a brief discussion about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade sparked by the story). 

In addition to the courthouse, where a man was lynched, she visits many downtown businesses on her tour to support them. Adams hopes to host a bar crawl called “Tricks or Drinks.” She even has a partnership with The Strange and Unusual in downtown Greeley, a business that offers crazy and curious trinkets and gifts, and Adams reads tarot cards for her. The tours are doing well even though she’s only been open since the beginning of summer.

“It took off way faster than I expected it to,” Adams says. 

A tour group in front of the Northern Hotel, after their Forbidden Fort Collins Tour.
Photo courtesy of Forbidden Fort Collins Tour.

Fate led to her job

Suzy Riding created the first haunted tour in Fort Collins and ran it for 11 years. It’s quite likely she put on the first in Northern Colorado. Fate, you might say, led her to the career. 

When she was 4, she drowned and was (obviously) resuscitated. She says she died that day and was brought back, and since then, she’s seen dead people. 

“I’ve had many experiences,” Riding says.

Riding is actually a historian who now puts on a tour called Forbidden Fort Collins, filled with dirt, rumors and scandalous tales. She’s put that one on for eight years. 

“I still go to some of the same places,” Riding says, “but it’s more bootlegging and brothels and things like that. I just love, love, love history. Haunted stories give a fascinating platform to teach history.” 

People are more willing to listen to history, she says, if there’s a ghost lurking somewhere in it. Ghosts, she says, are a way to cross over into worlds unlike our own, even the supernatural, without facing danger from it. 

“You can be really stressed out at work and everything else,” she says, “and ghost stories are a way to escape that. Our brains like to be very stimulated to get us out of the mundane.

She admits, “I’ve been threatened by ghosts but really nothing beyond that. Humans scare me much worse.” 

She enjoys it so much that she’s started a tour in Boulder, where she now lives. It’s JUST starting in time for Halloween, she says, but people seem to like it so far. 

As for Adams and Juszak, they aren’t quite as devoted to the idea of spirts as Riding. They both call themselves skeptical, but they aren’t non-believers, either. 

“I’m open-minded,” Adams says. “I’m empathetic. I do believe my customers. I will look for any explanation.” 

Juszak might be more of a skeptic, even, but she’s given too many tours in Old Town Fort Collins. 

“I know there’s something going on, and I don’t know what it is,” Juszak says of Old Town. “I’ve had too many experiences to say no.” 

______________________________________________________________

Dan England is NOCO Style’s assistant editor, and a freelance journalist based in Greeley.