By Eve Newman, Cowboy State Daily
With more than 140 years of history and covering 167,000 square feet, the Laramie Plains Civic Center is bound to have secrets – some benign and others supposedly supernatural.
Whether those secrets tiptoe into the realm of the paranormal is a question that’s up for debate. Over the decades, the sprawling, maze-like stone building has grown since it was built in 1878. It’s been expanded several times and has been a civic center for the past 40 years.
And across the decades the building also has continued to build its reputation for being haunted.
Screaming, Crying and Drumming
People who have spent time in the Civic Center, which takes up a full city block at 7th and Garfield Streets near downtown Laramie, have reported seeing shadowy figures follow them at night.
They’ve heard noises that sound at different times like screaming, crying and drumming. They’ve seen items move on their own with no explanation. Toys that were put away for the night are in different places the next morning.
Lights flicker on and off, the smell of rose-scented perfume wafts down hallways, locked doors stand open and the sound of bouncing basketballs echoes from an empty gymnasium, according to civic center lore.
Little Girl Ghost Trixie
Tammy Aumiller has worked in the Civic Center since 2009 directing a program that’s part of Albany County School District 1 called Transition Academy.
“I’ve had some weird experiences there,” she said. “A lot of people have.”
While working in the evening, she’s noticed dark figures in the shadows that were creepy enough to scare her away for the night. Items in her office have moved, seemingly on their own.
She describes seeing the lid to a coffee can suddenly fly across the room one day.
“I tried to come up with a scientific reason behind it, but I couldn’t really think of one,” she said.
Aumiller said she thinks a ghostly little girl is behind some of the mysterious events, and she’s given the ghost the nickname Trixie for her mischievous personality.
“She does play tricks on you,” she said.
Laramie’s Violent Beginning
The Laramie Plains Civic Center was built a few blocks from Laramie’s downtown district 12 years before Wyoming became a state. It was originally called the East Side School and is the oldest school building in Wyoming.
Laramie’s first years were a rough time to be a resident.
Even before Wyoming became a territory, the first settlers of Laramie City began establishing churches and schools. At the same time, gunfights often broke out on city streets in broad daylight and criminal violence abounded.
After the provisional government collapsed in 1868, a vigilance committee was dispatched to bring order.
Had To Move Bodies Before Building
According to some rumors, victims of vigilante killings were buried throughout Laramie, including on the future site of the civic center, and these bodies had to be moved before proper construction could begin a decade later.
Two major additions were added to the civic center in 1928 and 1939, adding complexity and size to the original structure. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
The building was used as a high school and then a junior high until 1978 before transitioning into its current life as a multi-use facility a few years later.
These days, the Laramie Plains Civic Center covers an entire city block and is a confusing place for the uninitiated.
It has two gymnasiums, a theater and a ballroom, but don’t go in the wrong door or you’ll spend time wandering up and down long hallways and climbing unending staircases.
The cavernous basement features a swimming pool that was reportedly never filled because it’s too far underground to drain properly.
The Civic Center is home to dozens of tenants, including art studios, professional offices, nonprofits, school programs, martial arts centers, a radio station and a church, among other entities.
A.J. Johnson runs a nonprofit called Pointguard Ministries that has its headquarters in the Civic Center. Johnson said he’s never encountered phenomena he couldn’t explain, but he won’t rule out the existence of a spiritual realm.
He’s fascinated by old photographs that hang in some hallways, which testify to the facility’s center’s century-long life as a public school.
“It’s got a lot of history,” he said.
‘Hey, Ghosts! I’m Here Today!’
Anne Mason runs Relative Theatrics, a theater company that performs in the Civic Center’s Gryphon Theatre. She describes herself as “agnostic” about paranormal activity, while her colleagues have differing opinions..
“I definitely work with some actors, designers and artists who are absolutely convinced that it is fully haunted,” she said.
She’s had a few late nights in the old building, sometimes with just a single light to illuminate the darkened theater, when she’s heard strange sounds and seen flickering lights.
“It naturally does have its own creaks and quirks to it,” she said of the building.
Perhaps to assuage any lurking specters, she’s occasionally found herself addressing them directly.
“I’ll sometimes give a little shout out, tongue-in-cheek: ‘Hey, ghosts! I’m here today!” Mason joked.
Ghost Rumors on the Stage
Rumors of hauntings at the Laramie Plains Civic Center have even inspired a theater production of their own.
Several years ago, Laramie resident Carole Homer wrote a play titled “A Ghost’s Tale,” which was performed by a senior theater group called the Unexpected Company.
Homer, a longtime Laramie resident, drew on the ghostly stories she had heard over the years in writing the play, which imagines that a historic injustice has marred Laramie’s past for more than a century.
“A relative of mine was working in the Civic Center, and he and his daughter went up to the third floor just to explore,” she said. “They heard some really strange noises, and they couldn’t figure out where the noises were coming from.”
In Homer’s story, characters from Laramie’s past narrate an incident when a student encounters a ghost in the girl’s restroom.
Like Laramie’s actual residents, the characters in the story have a range of opinions about the truth of the story. Some are open to the idea of ghosts, while others decide there’s no such possibility.
While the fictious experiences in “A Ghost’s Tale” confirms the convictions of true believers, truth in the real world is harder to come by.
Aumiller said spooky happenings ebb and flow, and lately things have calmed down. But she still wonders what’s really happening.
“It’s one of those things where you’re just questioning — what just happened?” she said. “Was that real? It’s not to the point where you don’t feel safe, it’s just you wonder about things.”