Haunted Lantern Tour

Dustin, our guide, handed us each a long-burning candle inserted into the bottom of a bucket. We stood just inside the mouth of the cave where enough outside light illuminated an iron gate.
“Iron,” Dustin intoned, “repels spirits and keeps them from leaving the cave. Once we pass that gate, our only light will come from our candles.
“George and Nelly Snider, previous owners of the Manitou Grand Caverns, had a passion for scaring guests, so if your candle flickers or drops out of the bucket, that’s Nelly wanting attention.
“Simply thank her, so she doesn’t get upset and try something worse. If any of you at any time wish to quit this tour, let me know, and I’ll call someone to escort you back to the surface.”
We were with our daughter-in-law Amy, and our 12-year-old grandson Sam at the Cave of the Winds near Manitou Springs, CO. Our son David wisely chose to stay with their dogs.
The Lantern Tour included ducking through a 250-foot-long low passage, no lights except candles, mud, slippery floors, and uneven stairs.
To put it mildly, I abhorred dark, claustrophobic places where I might get lost, but despite his scientific mindset, Sam had chosen this experience over the Discovery Cave Tour with electric lights and paved walkways, and I would do anything for him—even encountering ghosts.
George Snider, a stone mason, arrived in the Manitou Springs area in 1880. Hearing about the caves, he partnered with Charles Rinehart, a successful entrepreneur, to buy the land.
They started tours in 1881, selling tickets for a dollar which roughly translates into $30 today. From the outset, the tours were highly successful, but the partnership wasn’t.
One day, under the influence of alcohol, Snider went hunting and spotted steam spouting from a crevice. It took him a year to remember where he’d found the fissure, but by then he realized it was an opening into a new cave system.
Without telling Rinehart, he offered him 100 percent of the profits from the Cave of the Winds in exchange for the 40 acres where the new caves were located. Rinehart agreed.
Snider secretly dug an entrance, excavated the cave, and then began conducting tours.
A girl named Nelly, who loved caves as much as he did, took his tours repeatedly. They fell in love, and, after marrying, ran the tours together.
But Rinehart sued them for a breach of contract. The suit stretched on year after year, pushing George into heavy debt and upsetting Nelly, who finally suffered a breakdown.
Dustin continued, “One dark night, after Nelly had been released from the mental institution, George went to his office in the cave.
“When he returned home, Nelly had disappeared. George finally found her at the bottom of a nearby cliff. He swore her spirit returned to their beloved cave.
“Brokenhearted, he eventually left the area never to return. Please watch your step and your head as you follow me.”
Not having good night vision, I booked it after him, and the others followed.
Even with our candles, it was dark. Very dark. As we passed a side tunnel, Sam’s candle sputtered and nearly went out.
“Hey,” he whispered, “my candle just flickered.”
“That’s probably not Nelly,” our guide said. “I’ll tell that story on the way out. Keep a good grip on your buckets.”
He led us through the long, low tunnel into a large chamber.
“Up there,” he pointed, “is the original entrance. In 1921, shortly after George Snider died, that entrance collapsed. The Rineharts couldn’t dig it out, so they excavated another one at great expense. That one also collapsed.”
I heard rather than saw Sam’s candle hit the floor. “Thank you, Nelly,” he whispered.
As Dustin picked it up, popped it back into the bucket, and relit it, I reached for Sammy’s hand, which felt cold and clammy. One of the couples asked to be taken back to the surface.
After they left, we stumbled from the Texas Pit to the Grand Opera Hall, the Concert Hall, and Lover’s Lane while Dustin told us about others haunting the premises.
The stories include two boys who disappeared while playing hide and seek, George Snider’s youngest brother who had fallen from a ledge and broken his neck, and a Native American whose grave had been desecrated. That was more than enough tragic stories for me, but Dustin had one more.
On our way back, we passed the tunnel where Sam’s light had first flickered.
“That leads to the Fairy Bridal Chamber,” Dustin said, “where people would get married.
“In 1901, a young woman waited and waited for her fiancé to show up for their wedding. The minister and guests finally left her there still waiting.
“That evening a messenger arrived with a telegram saying her young man had died in a carriage accident. She asked George and Nelly for some time alone, and you can guess what happened. Often people hear her sobbing.”
For the second time, Sam’s candle hit the floor.
“No worries.” Dustin picked it up, reinserted it into the bucket, and lit it with his candle. “Abby’s jealous you are with your family, and she is not.”
“So sorry, Abby.” I thought Sam’s voice quavered slightly.
Later, in the fresh air, we asked him what he thought about the tour.
“Amazing,” he said.
I agreed, but the very best thing was being back in the light with the ones I loved most.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday