Looming Strawman

The creature of Clark’s grocery, the Looming Strawman, lunges at store manager Mike Jackman Tuesday. According to its maker, the scarecrow is “out for blood,” so passersby should “watch their backs.” (Photo by Rob Story/Telluride Daily Planet)


All Hallows’ Eve is the scariest night of the year, and local establishments are expert at drumming up the dread in their seasonal come-ons. 

Telluride’s Haunted Hospital has for years taken over the Telluride Historical Museum and suggested attendees bring flashlights “and courage” to its Halloween-night event. 

Timothy Walters, who has overseen the construction of the Ouray Elks Lodge’s Haunted House for the past few years, estimates he’s ramped up the fear factor from “G-Rated” to “PG-13” over the past several seasons (“So we’re getting there,” he said). Walters grew up on Long Island, where over-the-top scary haunted houses — and sheer, unmitigated fear — are the point. 

“My mom took me to a haunted house when I was 4,” he recalled. “I shouldn’t have been there. I was so terrified that I screamed bloody murder. I truly thought I was going to die.” 

So frightened was Walters that a kindly horror house staffer quickly turned on the lights, “and showed me how the knives were fake and everything.” 

The architect of this year’s Haunted Maze in Ouray has vowed to do the same for any too-freaked-out youngster who crosses the premises of Elks Lodge this Halloween. Full disclosure: somewhere in, or near, the maze lurks a monster. But fear not: The lodge will supply liquid courage for adults (in the form of a full bar, which opens at 4:30 p.m.) and youngsters alike. 

“I give little kids a glow stick at the entrance,” Walters said, “so if the monster is too scary, it will protect them.” 

Then again, maybe there’s nothing to be too creeped out about. Western Slope residents — and husband-and-wife writing team — Kym and Mark O’Connell-Todd are spirit-sleuths year-round. Their book, “Wild West Ghosts: An Ametuer Ghost Hunting Guide for Haunted Hotels in Southwest Colorado,” is now in its third printing. The Todds tend to do their ghosthunting by daylight. 

“We do our investigations by day,” Mark explained quite reasonably, “so we can see things.” The Todds were invited by the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” program to attend a taping last year at the Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose. The program focused on “the Empire House,” Kym said, “but the most productive place (in terms of paranormal activity) that we’ve found was the little railroad section house,” she said. “One of the most interesting things that happened there wasn’t even caught on camera. A little dark, racoon-sized figure, a shadow figure, scurried along the wall next to the ceiling. Three people saw it.” 

Built in 1882, the building was the first railroad depot in Olathe. The Todds have investigated the building four or five times. 

“One of the psychics who went with us has told us there’s an entity who worked for the railroad who is sometimes very active in the building. People often report feeling a presence in the vicinity,” Kym said. “It’s easy to miss — you can easily walk right past it. It’s a little 25-by-40-foot bunkhouse with not a lot in it” (except for a light inside that the spirit is apparently very protective of). 

Other local haunts the Todds recommend include Fairlamb House Bed & Breakfast in Delta and The Beaumont Hotel in Ouray. In both those places, the Todds asked a spiritual presence to switch off their flashlight, and said spirit(s) apparently complied (“the flashlight only switches off in haunted hotels,” Mark said). 

There is also the Hotel Norwood, where four of the most paranormally “active” rooms “aren’t even listed on the hotel’s website,” Mark said (“Please call us for details on the rooms available in the historic section of the property,” a note at hotel-norwood.com reads). Owner Jerry Nolan agreed the place could be haunted: “The people who used to manage this place a few years ago told me they saw and heard strange things, including a woman who levitated up a staircase. And a cowboy who stayed here told me he felt cold air and saw an apparition. I believed what he said because I believed him. 

“If there are ghosts here, they’re good ghosts,” Nolan added. 

The Todds’ experience has been the same. In all their years of paranormal sleuthing, “We’ve never encountered anything really dark or scary,” Mark said. “We don’t go in expecting to be frightened or attacked. It’s just never occurred to us. Most people” — even formerly living people, it seems — “are inherently good. They may be unhappy, but they’re not evil.” Happy Halloween!

—Leslie Vreeland


Is the animatronic scarecrow in the entryway of Clark’s the scariest ghoul in Telluride? It very well could be, if judged on sheer number of frights administered. 

For one thing, the grocery store sees a ton of traffic, much from the combined middle and high school located across the street. The 6-foot tall scarecrow lurches frequently at unsuspecting students, as well as anyone else in town who purchases foodstuffs. 

The scarecrow’s manufacturer, Spirit Halloween, boasts that its dummies do “more than scare crows” and warns that people who don’t expect them to move “will definitely jump out of their skin!”

The scary thing at Clark’s “is what kids talk about in October,” said Telluride Elementary School teacher Kelli Coppage. “Sometimes you’re walking out with your groceries and see a terrified kid crying. I know some people complain about it.”

Indeed they do. Clark’s Manager Mike Jackman said, “My wife is a pre-school teacher at and she’s been hearing it from parents.” 

The scarecrow, officially named Looming Strawman, retails for $240 and comes equipped with a ragged tunic, rope belt, pointy hat, twine teeth and blazing red eyes. 

Looming Strawman stays silent if no one encroaches his territory. When his built-in infrared motion sensor detects a lily-livered human, however, he cackles nasty things such as, “You think you can sneak through my neck of the woods without dealing with me? Gotcha!” Then its arms shoot forward and it mocks, “Ha ha ha! I almost had one that time. They’d better watch out! I’m getting faster!”

According to Jackman, Clark’s has now been haunted by three animatronic horrors from Spirit Halloween. 

“When I first got here six years ago, we had a creepy butler offering candy on a tray,” he said. “But its head got knocked off during remodeling. We went to the scary talking trees (aka Deadly Roots) for a couple of years, but because they spun down and around, their motors seemed to wear out easily. The scarecrow, on the other hand, only lunges in one direction.” 

Coppage said that her son Holden and other children were often puzzled by Deadly Root’s randomness. Because it activated sometimes and not others, kids became confident they could elude the motion detector — and the ensuing horror — by dashing past. Yet the specter still sprung, unpredictably, to life. 

Jackman explained the mystery, saying, “The animatronic works on a timer that we set to coincide with the lunch rush and dinner rush.”

It’s not that kids were too fast to elicit a fright; the butler, undead tree or Looming Strawman haunting the store was merely turned off at the time of their passage.

“Sometimes kids unplug it because it creeps them out,” Jackman said. Noting that Spirit Halloween sells far more disturbing frights like maimed zombies, he reasoned, “We don’t want to go too blood and guts, and that’s why we got the scarecrow.” 

Though plenty of patrons are startled by Looming Strawman and may figuratively jump out of their skin, no one is truly traumatized by its annual haunting. Stated Jackman, “We enjoy things that scare us.” 

—Rob Story


Editor’s note: The following is a true story from reader and former longtime local Eric Mishke. 

I managed the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon back in the early 2000s; you crazy kids know it as O’Bannon’s now. The building is 100 years old and the club had been down there since 1984, so there were no shortage of spooky stories form people over the years. 

“I saw a ghostly apparition at the end of the hallway!” or “You’ll see the ghost behind the bar some nights!” but I always just brushed these off as nonsense. I don’t scare easily.

But one night I was down there alone setting up the bar when all of a sudden water started pouring out of the ceiling onto the dance floor. And I mean POURING. Like some next-level Stephen King terror deluge dumping out of the ceiling. As if the San Miguel River had been diverted to my dance floor from above somehow and absolutely flooded the front side of the bar. I immediately blamed the restaurant upstairs and ran up to read them the riot act and stop whatever they were doing that was drowning me below. When I got up there, no one was in the panic mode of a broken main-type situation. I’m just suddenly in their kitchen poking around and they are rightfully saying, “Hey! Get the hell out of here!” I couldn’t find anything that looked like it was causing the catastrophe, so I headed back downstairs to start collecting two of every liquor to store onboard my ark. But when I got down there … nothing. Not a drop. I had witnessed the ceiling collapse in a watery nightmare of disintegrating plaster, and yet, nothing. I walked over to the dance floor and looked up at the ceiling, and it was fine. This event had simply not happened. I watched it with my very eyes, and upon returning, everything existed as it had the day before.

I do not know why I saw what I saw, but I promise your readers; that destruction was real, I was barely drunk at the time, and that was the day I knew that the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon was a haunted demon bar in which I would never again set foot … but they have pinball, so I totally go there all the time.