While most people probably think of a “ghost town” as something from the 1800s or early 1900s, really it’s any town that has been wholesale abandoned by living people so that essentially only ghosts remain. Or zombies, or whatever. When we first visited Gilman, Colorado, close to fifteen years ago, the place felt like the residents had left only a week before. In fact, they had been evicted about fifteen years earlier, in 1984, when the EPA mandated the evacuation due to toxic pollutants as a result of the mining operations. Something like 8 million tons of mining waste was bestowed Superfund designation. So this year marks 30 years since Gilman was abandoned.
It would have been a beautiful town to live in … surrounded by and embedded in swaths of golden aspen, perched on a shelf on the side of Battle Mountain smack dab in the middle of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. There were still daisies in bloom, even among patches of snow recently fallen; I imagine in spring there are lovely fields of mountain flowers. The first photo below is taken from the train station in the valley, looking up ... you can just make out some of the town buildings at the top.
I’m not sure exactly what year Gilman was incorporated as a town, but that area was first developed in the 1880s, and was mined pretty much perpetually since then until 1984. Minerals to come from that ground included gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. Parts of the town seemed not too much changed since our last visit, notably the mine shaft building in the middle of town, maybe because parts of it are too creepy for vandals to hang out in for very long! Especially the dim locker room in the shaft house with the baskets and hooks hanging from the ceiling. This shot managed to let a lot of light in, but really it's quite dark and spooky. Something about the pink room (inside a house) gave me the creeps, too, even though I thought it kind of picturesque.
Some of the most interesting "artifacts" are various newspapers and newspaper clippings I found lying around the floors. I also got a real kick out of finding this old washing machine, below ... I have fond childhood memories of helping my grandma do laundry with one of these machines. She always scolded me so severely to keep my distance so as not to get my hand stuck in between the rollers. Probably my form of "helping" was more truthfully just watching and making grandma nervous.
I had no idea what an addressograph was; when I first made this post I said for anyone who knows to send me a message. And several people did! Thank you and I'll copy the most informative answer I received: "Those were machines that were used to print address on letters or advertising material sent to customers on a frequent basis. A metal plate was made for each customer/client and kept in a drawer in alphabetical order. When needed, the plates were loaded in a vertical feeder that loaded one plate at a time into the ink slot and then into the print slot where a hammer arm would stamp the inserted document and cycle to the next and so on till the plates needed replenishing."
Lots of other cryptic office equipment takes up floor space in the abandoned buildings and curiosity space in my head. Also file cabinets by the dozens and log books, bins of machinery parts, etc. -- in short, tons of random stuff from domestic items to office items to industrial items. Some more shots below of some of the buildings and areas in town. The little wooden structure seen out the window is a fire hydrant/hose house. Lots of these dot the grounds of the town. Sometimes the copious graffiti seemed to ruin a shot, but then you realize it just adds to the bizarre-ness of this modern ghost town.
We had expected a somewhat humble station, but to our delight, we found a whole little complex of buildings comprising a rather massive processing and loading operation at the train station. This is the kind of situation that is candy to me and Erik. We spent a couple of hours exploring. Most of the time we were split up, doing our own thing, rendezvousing now and then to ensure we had each seen what the other had, or to point out some good find. It's fun to explore together, but it's also kind of magical to explore by yourself, to take in each new unexpected room filled with unexpected and largely mysterious things into your own private bubble of curiosity. The abandoned train station, more than any other ghost town or ancient ruin I've been to, was an adventure in surprise. Not knowing anything about mining and railway operations, I had zero idea what I might find in the next building or room I walked into. And often after I walked into it, I still had zero idea what I was actually looking at. So ... it's like a mystery wrapped in a mystery. haha. But I'm OK being stumped.
In addition to simply loading mined materials onto train cars, there were processing facilities with huge rotating drums, a maze of rooms and floors with scads of heavy duty equipment and an ungodly number of pipes and electrical wires, fuse boxes and gauges. This is when we understood the real depth of the operations here. You know how different places evoke different senses as the primary one … even though this was a “ghost town,” completely silent save for the racket made by me and Erik ourselves climbing around, what I associate most with it is noise. The noise when everything was simultaneously operational must have been stupendous. Oftentimes I stood and tried to imagine how it must have sounded ... all the massive machinery, the pipes and gears and tracks and pumps, and a train whistle to boot.
There are several entrances to the mine itself … I’ve breached the entrance of many mines, both abandoned and used, as well as caves, so I'm familiar with their typical temperature, but somehow the air coming from the Eagle Mine seemed freakishly cold. I presume it’s from all the zombie breath that accumulates in there … that’s clearly where they sleep during the day. There are gates in front the mine shafts to keep people from walking in, but you can poke your head over them. Here's a pic of me crossing this half-pipe just as I dropped my water bottle which rolled all the way to the bottom where Erik had to retrieve it (and then snapped my pic). To my enduring surprise, considering my knack for getting in unusual accidents, I did not follow the path of my water bottle.
If you decide to explore Gilman yourself, it's very important to wear sturdy footwear with thick soles. The ground is carpeted with broken glass, rusty nails, and all sorts of pointy things. Some of the floors are rotting through or rusting through, so step cautiously. A flashlight can be handy. The townsite is accessed from Highway 24, the train station from the road to Redcliff. And if you see any ghosts or zombies, just play it cool ... I bet they're friendly sorts of chaps. :)