Learn about Park City’s mining history, as well as supernatural stories of people who lived and died in the historic homes and buildings.
Note: If you have kids on your trip, don’t worry — none of the tales are too terrifying for young ears. However, be forewarned that several stories were somewhat violent, and some mentioned so-called “fallen doves” (a.k.a. prostitutes), so there may be some lingering questions from little ones.
As Halloween approached in late October, I was looking for a fun activity to get in the spirit of the season (that didn’t involve eating bags of candy). After a brief internet search, I stumbled upon Park City Ghost Tours, a local company that hosts guided walks up and down Main Street. Without knowing exactly what to expect, I figured that a Ghost Tour would be the perfect way to commemorate Halloween.
On a chilly October night, a friend and I took the bus up to Main Street. We met our guide in Miner’s Park a little before 8 p.m., when the tour started. Our theatrical guide began by telling us some interesting tidbits about Park City’s history as a mining town. Soldiers first found silver in the mountains in 1868, we learned, and over the next 50 years, miners who hoped to strike it rich flocked to the area, turning it into a boomtown.
In those days, our guide explained, Park City was one of the wildest “Wild West” towns you could imagine. Because of the influx of miners, Park City was full of bars, brothels, gambling joints, and all the related shady habits. As it turned out, learning about Park City’s early lawless days helped lay the stage for the upcoming ghost stories.
Our guide also told us that two common characteristic exist among the ghosts. First, each ghost had a personal connection to the building that they haunt. Maybe they lived (or died) in the building, or perhaps it was a comfortable, familiar place, such as a favorite restaurant or bar. The second similarity: Most of these ghosts died a violent death.
One of the first stories we heard centered on the ghost of Freddy Hagland, who was a regular at William Kempe’s Saloon (now Firewood) during the mining days. John “Johnny Jump-Up” Westmark was another regular, known for jumping up mid-drink and starting bar fights. One night, Westmark pulled out a gun and shot and killed Freddy. Since Freddy was a known "union scab" (someone who crossed picket lines during strikes — a disgrace in a mining town), Westmark had to serve only a one-year sentence. It’s said that Freddy continues to haunt the place because of the injustice of the punishment.
Then, we continued toward the darker streets of Upper Main. As we left behind the familiar facades of restaurants and bars and huddled by buildings in the moonlight, the supernatural stories started to take a stronger hold of my imagination. At several moments along the way, I felt myself shivering — whether from fear, the chilly night air, or a combination, I can’t say for sure.
Our guide told us about a child ghost whose playful voice still haunts the Washington School House off Park Avenue. One of my favorite tales was about the ghost who leaves puddles of water in the confessional in St. Mary’s Old Town Chapel. It’s supposedly the ghost of a miner who was killed in a tragic mine accident, and had never been able to fulfill his wish of becoming a priest. (Injustice and unfinished business are two common themes in many of the stories.)
To enhance the eeriness, our guide also shared stories from previous tour-takers. Some guests had blurry, white objects appear in their photographs; other have sworn they saw ghostly figures dart by the windows in the haunted buildings.
The Story Behind Park City Ghost Tours
After our evening adventure, I needed to know more about the ghost tour’s backstory. How’d it all begin? Who’s behind it? And most importantly, how did they learn about — and verify — these spirits’ stories?
I reached out to Lela Newey, who owns Park City Ghost Tours, to learn more. She told me that the company began almost 10 years ago when Lela, along with her husband Rob and friend and paranormal research Erik Hutchins, began to look into ghost stories in Park City.
They interviewed and filmed with dozens of long-time locals, and examined many of the buildings you hear about during the tour. The trio also read various books about the characters in Park City’s history — including those by Park City historian Gary Kimball, such as Death & Dying in Old Park City and Saloons of Old Park City, and Colleen Adair Fliedner’s Park City, Utah: Stories In Stone: Miners and Madams, Merchants and Murderers.
Finally, they checked off all their boxes by visiting the Park City Museum and verifying their findings with local historians. “After having the Museum Historical Resident Hal Compton fact check our script for accuracy, we launched Park City Ghost Tours in July 2009,” Newey says.
I’ll be honest: I’m glad I learned that all the stories had been verified and triple-checked for accuracy after the tour. Otherwise, I think I’d find it a little too creepy to be in such close quarters with so many restless spirits. And moving forward, you can be sure I’ll be on high alert for eerie apparitions whenever I’m on Main Street after dark.
Park City Ghost Tours run every night. In the winter season, tours start at 7:00 p.m. and require reservations. Summer tours happen every night at 8:00, rain or shine, and walk ups are welcomed. Tours leave from 415 Main Street at the bronze statue of the Miner, and last about an hour and 15 minutes. Guests are able to sign up and purchase tickets online at any time.