Durango is known for a lot of things: The train, the architecture, the history, the tunnels.
Now, through the first weekend in November, “Underground, ” a haunted guided walking tour, will not only explore downtown’s haunted history above ground, it will take you into one of the town’s tunnels as well.
“The Halloween tours are my new tours just for October, but the whole business started last fall focusing more on the Wild West history of downtown,” said Laine Johnson, owner of Horsefly History Tours. “That’s been my main goal, to tell some of the really fun, interesting stories of actual events that have happened.”
Johnson said she has been kicking around the idea for the tour for about five years, mostly out of her own curiosity about the town’s history. Horsefly History Tours offers other historic trips around town, and to ensure accuracy, one of the business’ advisers is local author and retired Fort Lewis College history professor Duane Smith.
The tourLast Saturday night, the “Underground” tour began at Thru the Lens Photography. Johnson asked the group of about 11 people – mostly from out of town – to introduce themselves, which put everyone at ease. Johnson began by talking about the history of the building, and eased into the more ghostly history, setting the tone for the rest of the hour-and-a-half walk up Main Avenue.
Johnson also provided picture books for participants to use during the tour, which provided photos of the people and buildings she was talking about, making it easier to picture what a building looked like 100 years ago – and what a potential ghost may have looked like as a living person.
Without giving anything away – that would spoil the fun, after all – there is a lot of history even the most seasoned Durango resident may not know. There was a lot of tragedy in the blocks we walk every day downtown that have perhaps been forgotten over time. The isolation and long, hard winters could take their toll on the old-time residents of Durango, Johnson said, and the “soiled doves” or “sporting girls” (prostitutes) had a tough life, sometimes resulting in the women taking their own lives.
“There are people who committed suicide – the soiled doves – in the winter, and these spirits still linger in these buildings,” Johnson said. “And talking to so many businesses, I feel that downtown has such an active ghost life ... so I think there’s just been a lot of energy that’s left behind from the difficult nature of life back then.”
The last stop and finale of the tour was going into one of the town’s storied tunnels.
“It was hard to gain access. I’ve been working with the business owner since last year,” Johnson said. “We’ve gotten to become better and better friends and trust each other.”
While there are numerous tunnels under downtown, they are not something you would want to mess around with, Johnson said.
“Many of them have been filled in or blocked off,” she said. “The reason for that is for security ... and they’re safety hazards – they haven’t been kept up.”
The tunnel Johnson takes her groups into is pretty large; and as you would expect, pretty dark and spooky, but safe.
“You can walk through it and it’s been reinforced, so structurally it’s safe,” she said.
The tour spends about 20 minutes underground, the weight of the town heavy above. The evening ends with Johnson inviting participants to share any ghost stories they may have.
While “Underground” is a lot of fun and a good ghostly time, it provides more than that, especially for residents, Johnson said.
“It gets you to know our downtown. I think there’s a lot of lore that goes around and a lot of stories that are perpetuated, and I’m sure there will be people that are not happy that I’m even talking about the tunnels because that’s kind of this thing that won’t die,” she said. “But it makes Durango so unique, and I feel like there’s so much that needs to be preserved here with the historic buildings – and the basements – and the amazing history and events that have happened in these places.”
And for Johnson, her tours are a way to give back to Durango’s businesses.
“A big goal in my tours is to work closely with businesses, and I really strive to give business back to these places,” she said. “It’s a goal of mine to be mutually beneficial to each other and not just feel like I’m taking, but to give back, and that’s been really fun.”