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Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Haunted history in Breckenridge: Milne Madhouse, tours bring stories to life for Halloween
Visit some historical haunts in Breckenridge for Halloween, starting with a special Breckenridge Haunted Tour tonight.
The 90-minute tour explores the Breckenridge historic district, as a guide tells stories of unexplained phenomenon and intriguing deaths and tales about some of the town’s most notorious inhabitants. Dive deeper into the stories Thursday with a special edition of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s Tombstone Tales at Twilight tour through Valley Brook Cemetery.
“We cover about 75 percent of the 20-acre cemetery,” said Jen Baldwin, tour guide and genealogist with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. “We kind of tell the story of Breckenridge history through the individual lives of the people who lived it.”
Stroll through the cemetery
Baldwin said that for a lot of people, cemeteries are a place of genuine emotion.
“In today’s society, it’s a place to mourn and grieve a loss,” she said. “We try to present the cemetery as a historic location, and seeing the headstones gives people that one-on-one feeling that they can relate to the individual person rather than a historical event or building.”
If you eat dinner at the Hearthstone Restaurant, for example, you’re sitting in a historical home, but it doesn’t have the same impact as going to the cemetery and seeing the family plot and gravesites of the people who owned the home, Baldwin said.
“You get a perspective on the human level instead of a human to property level,” she said. “It’s just a more emotional connection.”
Baldwin said there’s a big difference between the way people in the United States remember the deceased and the way other cultures do. We see death as a final, lasting thing, she said, rather than celebrating it, and touring the cemetery can help dispel some of the sinister vibes of death.
“It’s a chance for us to share the idea that a cemetery is not necessarily a creepy place,” she said. “When Valley Brook Cemetery opened and was first being used, it was a place to have picnics and parades, and they would go to church and celebrate, rather than just to mourn. It’s a chance to expose our community to all of those elements.”
The Milne Madhouse
The Heritage Alliance is also bringing back the Milne Madhouse for the second year in a row. The haunted house, staged in the Milne home and park on Harris Street in Breckenridge, played host to almost 500 people last year and even more are expected this year when the historic site opens Thursday, said Cindy Hintgen, operations manager for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
“I love Halloween, and I’d say 75 percent of those decorations are mine,” Hintgen said with a laugh about the ghoulish garnishes in the home. “It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and the Milne is a little bit more conducive to having the haunted house because we don’t have to worry about people damaging things like we would (at other historic sites). It has the newspapers on the wall, so it lends itself to being spooky and dark.
“And the name is perfect — the Milne Madhouse.”
Hintgen said she’s never had an encounter with a ghost in the Milne house but said some people who are sensitive to the paranormal have said they’ve picked up on some different feelings in there.
“The creepiest place in that place for me is the bedroom; it’s just a weird vibe,” she said but added that it doesn’t take the appearance ghosts to make the Milne Madhouse frightening. “It’s usually so many kids that our theatrics lend themselves enough to being spooky.”
Keeping with the atmosphere of the house, volunteers will play the parts of history-based characters from Breckenridge’s past. Hintgen will portray Mrs. Briggle at the piano because she was known for giving piano lessons. Other characters include Pug Ryan; Sylvia, the ghost who is said to haunt the former Prospector Restaurant; prospector turned accused cannibal Alfie Packer and Ada Finding, a little girl who was thought to be dead and then came back to life for two days before eventually dying of diphtheria.
“Having these historically based characters gets people’s curiosity started,” Hintgen said. “They come through and hear about the characters and then they’ll look them up and read about them.”
The Heritage Alliance sees Halloween as an opportunity to engage and educate in a fun way, Baldwin said. Today’s version of Halloween is highly commercialized, so the concept behind the organization’s activities is taking something that’s popular in today’s culture and giving it a positive, learning-based slant within the community, she said.
“We can take a site like the cemetery and use the exposure of Halloween to educate people about the value of what is there and hopefully get them back at some other time,” Baldwin said.
Hintgen said a visit to the Milne Madhouse or a trek through the town or cemetery is a chance to see some of the people who built the town, lived here, died here and were buried here brought back to life.
“It’s a perfect way for us to share the history and be a part of Halloween,” she said.