Soiled dove Elmira Kier lives again at the Ghost Walk
Here at the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, the main thing we emphasize when studying the past is that the facts don’t need embellishment. Truth is invariably stranger than fiction.
And over the 18 years that we’ve produced the Ghost Walk at Linwood Cemetery, we’ve added a few fascinating and funny facts to our own history of the event. This year was no different.
While getting things in order for the night’s tours, I was making sure we had contact from the cemetery to the trailhead below so we could communicate with one another.
Melissa was the hostess that evening so I sent her cell phone a text. No reply. Time to try calling her; again, no reply.
“Melissa answer your phone. It’s Bill and I need to talk to you.”
Finally a reply: “Sorry Bill, I’m with the poolboy.”
Knowing the keen sense of humor my friend has, I thought, OK, and sent, “You’re funny. Is Elmira there?” (While in character we call the “ghosts” by the name of the person they portray.)
“She’s here too. It’s hot and wet.”
“Is Barry bringing her or is she walking up,” I ask.
“She’s tied up right now. Literally.”
It dawns on me, finally, that this is not Melissa’s cell phone!
I sent the young CMC student acting as our runner, Anatole, down the mountain to make contact with Melissa.
So who is Elmira? Elmira Kier was also known as Mickey Sullivan or the Nine O’ Diamonds. Or, as society in the days of the Wild West would have called her, a Soiled Dove.
The Nine o’ Diamonds was a cursed card, a symbol of bad luck. And bad luck seemed to follow Elmira.
To bring history alive for people on the Ghost Walk, our characters are dressed in period piece costumes and they speak for the dead. Elmira’s ghost tells it like it was.
“I was a working girl about town. At one time I had a place down on Seventh Street between Bennett and Palmer, near the train tracks. It’s what was once known as the Sporting District.”
Like it or not, Glenwood had its disreputable past. Normally we host what we call Hidden History Tours downtown in the summer, in which we discuss Glenwood’s red light district. But this year’s bridge construction put a temporary halt to those tours.
Before you judge Elmira harshly, remember that women coming West, alone in the 1800s, had few career choices. In all likelihood there were three options. They could settle down and marry, become a teacher or a prostitute. Careers in nursing were few and far between in western towns in the 1800s.
The character playing Elmira for the past two years is Christine Porter. She emphatically proclaims what she thinks of anyone’s uninformed judgment of her ill-fated station in life, one that was born of necessity.
In November of 1891 Elmira’s “canvas-roofed, clapboard affair” caught on fire at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. Losing everything, she didn’t even have a crib in a brothel to conduct business, though by the time she died she at least lived in a cabin.
The last time history recorded anything about Elmira, with her name misspelled, was in the Nov. 1, 1900, edition of the Avalanche Echo, “The remains of Elmyra Kier, the nine of diamonds were buried in the Glenwood Cemetery Sunday.”
The paper didn’t mention that Elmira was buried in the Potter’s Field section of the Linwood Cemetery, where paupers found a final resting place.
Back to those witty texts that inspired this column. Those of us who value history sometimes contemplate how much of our present will be lost to the future, with fleeting digital messages that are never permanently recorded in the pages of the past.
Bill Kight is the Executive Director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a column about history monthly.