Ghost stories scarier when based in reality

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Ghost stories, good ghost stories with actual historical characters, are hard to come by and even harder for some of us to remember.

I never had a really good one until a few years ago. But the following ghost tale really happened one blustery fall near a historic gravesite. My wife will swear it’s true — she lived through the baffling nightmare.

The setting was the hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colo., just weeks before Halloween. My wife was a patient there and after nearly two weeks in the hospital following a bad accident, she had just been moved to the rehab wing to begin her recovery. Her new room looked out on the flat-topped ridge on the east side of the city. Atop that very ridge was an old cemetery with graves dating back to the late 1800s.

Anyone who’s a Western history buff like my wife would know that that graveyard is reputed to hold the bones of the infamous “Doc” Holliday, a survivor and some say instigator of the O.K. Corral shootout in Tombstone, Ariz., 125 years ago. Doc retired to Glenwood Springs in failing health to take advantage of the therapeutic mineral baths and ended up dying there.

Doc looms large in Glenwood with a bar carrying his famous name and an O.K. Corral shootout re-enactment occurring each year at a festival bearing the gunslinging dentist’s moniker.

After my wife moved into her new room — that night before leaving the hospital — I remarked she should keep an eye out for Doc’s ghost leaving the cemetery. She laughed, but it was a powerful suggestion for her injury-burdened brain to accommodate. She’s fascinated by ghost stories, especially those of the Old West, and has read every book and seen every TV special on the subject.

The next morning I reported to the hospital to have breakfast with my wife and while we were waiting on her tray she became very solemn.

“Karl, I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but I think I really did see Doc Holliday out my window early this morning.”

“That’s nice dear. Drink your coffee; it’ll help clear your brain,” I said.

She went on describing a man in a cowboy hat, tall boots with pants tucked inside, a long duster and drooping handlebar mustache. I was looking around for the nurse to ask what type of medications they’d doled out last night when I noticed the dietary aide standing there with the breakfast tray.

“Oh, that was just my dad,” the aide said, apologizing for having overheard the conversation. “He was out there on the hill real early this morning looking over the site for the new hospital addition.”

I didn’t know the young lady, so I asked who her father was.

“John Martin,” she replied.

At that point all three of us broke into side-splitting laughter.

John Martin is a Glenwood policeman and bootmaker turned county commissioner. He is also one of the regular re-enactment gunfighters for the annual O.K. Corral gunfight. John didn’t stop with playing Old West gunfighter once a year — he dressed the part 365 days a year and he was in full regalia that morning.

I don’t think John ever wore his shootin’ iron to a commission meeting but I’m sure he was tempted. He is likely the most distinctive character to walk the streets of Glenwood since Doc Holliday himself.

When we finally stopped laughing I canceled the order for the white-coated orderlies, the straight-jacket and the rubber truck and apologized to my wife. First of all for doubting her and secondly for being so mean as to have introduced the thought of Doc’s ghost to her mind in the first place.

Doc Holliday’s ghost may indeed haunt the east side of Glenwood Springs, but it’s the image of County Commissioner John Martin who still visits my wife’s nightmares.