By Renée Jean, Tourism and Business Reporter
Cowboy State Daily
In the still night air after most folks have gone to bed, the sound of a horse pawing at her stall is sometimes heard, insisting on one last midnight ride.
This is what some have reported hearing in the vicinity of what was once a mansion on Cattle Baron’s Way that belonged to one of Cheyenne’s most famous cattlemen, R.S. Van Tassel.
Van Tassell, a friend and riding partner with President Teddy Roosevelt, was known for keeping a great riding horse named Gypsy. At night, he was in the habit of taking Gypsy out for a ride, and there are some who believe the sound they’ve heard is her ghost begging for one last midnight adventure.
The tale is just the latest in a 30-year-long series of ghost stories unearthed by Cheyenne’s own ghost whisperer, Val Martin, and her late father Bob Morgan. Both served as drivers for the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley tour.
Martin wrote this year’s Frightseeing Trolley Tour and is working on next year’s, which has already been themed “The Story I Heard Last Night.”
Gypsy’s tale will likely be told as part of that as well, construction allowing.
The ghost tours are different each year, drawing on old and new tales to keep things fresh and fun.
Wild West Tales
In the early days of the tour, Martin said she and her father were really only telling Wild West history. But as they would stop along the way, passengers on the trolley would tell them oral history about houses they had lived in or neighbors they had known.
Sometimes a story could only be explained as something supernatural.
Eventually, Martin and her father had so many supernatural anecdotes there was only one thing to do – create a Trolley Ghost Tour.
An Uncertain Experiment
The first year, it was an uncertain experiment.
“We didn’t know if it would last or if one year was all we’d get,” Martin said. “So, we went to our bosses and said, ‘We will offer you two truck drivers at the price of one.”
Martin’s father wore a top hat and a villain’s cape for the occasion — a perfect match to his handlebar mustache. Martin, meanwhile, wore an ivory-colored Victorian gown she had made.
The tour was wildly successful and has been a popular feature of Cheyenne’s Halloween scene since.
Tours are held each weekend in the Halloween season and Oct. 31. Tickets must be bought in advance online.
While the tours are fast and fun, Martin admits she has spent hours at the Wyoming State Archives researching stories she’s been told to understand any history that might lie behind the tale.
“After somebody gets done telling me about their ghost in their home, and it does this or that, I want to know why you have a ghost in your home,” she said. “I’m at the State Archives. I’ve even made friends go with me.”
Martin also has researched the theories behind ghosts, though she’s careful about what movies or shows she watches. She doesn’t want a fictional show to influence her retelling of local ghost stories.
“The history just fascinates me,” she said. “I keep a list on my phone of things to research, and I just keep adding to it.”
Many of the stories Martin collected for the tour also appear in books by Jill Pope, who was Martin’s trolley boss for a time.
Train That Never Sleeps
Among the many stories on this year’s ghost tour is that of a ghost train, which travels the city every year on the same night at the same time.
“Lights flash, bells ring, but no train’s ever actually seen,” says the guide, who bills himself as “The Ever-Eccentric Tucker.” He speaks in a hushed one on a recent tour.
The story goes that late on the night of Aug. 3, 1950, from 10 miles up the line, a big steam engine known as No. 820 slowly began to roll away down Sherman Hill. Its brake lines had been slowly bleeding off and now the locomotive was loose. The runaway train rapidly picked up speed and was soon rolling at 70 mph or more.
There was a tower 10 minutes west of Cheyenne where railway workers hoped to derail the engine. Otherwise, it would be running loose until Archer, well east of Cheyenne.
But much to their dismay, No. 820 had picked up much more speed than expected and, before they could reach the tower, had already passed it by.
“In the confusion, no one had time to think about Al and his crew with train Engine 1148 pulling boxcars off the tracks,” Tucker said.
The runaway train smashed into the men and No. 1148.
Parts of bodies and the engine went flying, and there was a horrendous sound that reportedly woke children as far as 3 miles away.
“Tom was thrown from the 1148 with great fury and Bill was standing in the middle of the track, until his body was found 500 feet away,” Tucker said.
Meanwhile, Al and his fireman, Jim, perished alongside the 1148 “like captains going down with their ship,” Tucker said.
After everything settled, all that could be heard aside from the hissing steam of the now still and broken No. 820 were bells ringing and lights flashing as the railroad crossarms finally came down.
The spot is still haunted, some say, as the crossarms continue to warn without provocation.
“Lights flash, bells ring and no train is ever seen,” Tucker said.
Other Unexplained Happenings
From there, the tour winds around the town, telling tales of the Hynds Building, or what used to better known as the Inter-Ocean Hotel. Tellers on one floor tell of money being moved around drawers; never taken, just moved from where it had been the day before.
Others recounted missing dental tools, finally found for no reason in the building’s elevator.
George Gets Busy
Perhaps one of the spookiest tales Martin has been told recently is from a friend who moved his art gallery across the alleyway near the Mendocino Brothers Building on 17th Street.
“He was in there getting everything ready, and he had gotten his phone system hooked up and had the recorder and everything ready to go,” Martin said.
With everything just so, he went home. But while Martin’s friend was home, he decided to test his new setup. He called the new phone system to make sure everything was working.
“He got a busy signal,” Martin said. “And he knew he shouldn’t get a busy signal, because he had hooked up the voice recorder.”
He immediately returned to the studio and checking the building’s security, which ensured the building could not casually be accessed by pranksters, he found that the phone cord had been wrapped around his office chair and the phone receiver sitting on the chair.
That happens to be exactly what used to happen at Wyoming Home, Martin said, which was across the alley, by a ghost known as George.
“So I was wondering, you know, ghost does the same thing, it’s right across the alley, is it traveling? Is it George?” Martin asked.
There may never be a way know for sure, but one thing is certain. Wherever there is a new ghost tale to research, you may well find Martin turning the pages of history to track down obscure dates and facts as she records yet another Cheyenne ghost tale to share.