RIVERTON — Strolling down the streets of Riverton with Alma Law is to see the Rendezvous City in a whole new light.
A dark and haunted light.
Many will be familiar with ghost stories surrounding Riverton’s old Acme Theater, where patrons have sometimes seen a strange and shadowy figure watching movies from the balcony. Law knows that one, as well as a few others about the Acme.
But he also has all kinds of ghost stories lurking downtown, any one of which makes a popcorn worthy moment.
Take Bar 10 on Broadway as just one fun example.
It’s an older building in town, of course, so one wouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s a ghost story hiding behind those historic bricks. But, as it happens, that’s not where this particular ghost is hanging out after all.
The back of Bar 10 used to be a jail. It was eventually given to the fire department, which ran a haunted house there every Halloween.
But the jail is not where the ghost is either.
Adjacent to the Bar 10 building is the old police department. And Law knows a fun story there, too, about how there came to be a thick concrete wall on what used to be the police department’s front entrance.
A sniper once tried to take out a dispatcher with a rifle, shooting from way back in the trees through the front window.
Whoever it was missed — and was never caught — but it prompted the construction of a thick concrete wall, painted white, to provide those inside the police department with a little more protection from would-be, disgruntled snipers.
Before that wall was built, however, that’s where the front door was, and that’s where, on one Halloween Night in 1973, two police officers named Bart and Ed had an unexpected encounter with the unknown.
New To Riverton
Bart Ringer would one day retire from the police force a sergeant in the early 2000s, while Ed McAuslan was later County Coroner, Law said. But at the time, both had only been on the job a few months, and they were new in town.
On the particular night in question, the two men were at the end of their shift, and it was 11 o’clock at night. Ed had already handed in his paperwork for the night, and Bart was about to do the same.
“Bart walks through the front door — the barrier wasn’t there at the time — and then he walks back, and tries to continue his story, but Ed silences him,” Law said. “He closes his fist and shush
At that time, there was no building on the corner, so Ed had a clear view of the adjacent street. Bart could see his partner staring fixedly at something on that street, so he turned to see what was going on.
“It’s a man in the middle of the road, dressed in like a white jumpsuit, white tracksuit, jogging down the center of the road,” Law said.
Later Bart would realize that the jogger’s footsteps weren’t making any sounds, but in the moment, neither Ed nor Bart noticed that.
Ed called out to the man, asking him how he’s doing.
“That’s a classic cop line,” Law said. “It’s just to break the tension and establish that they’re watching you.”
The jogger didn’t react at all. He just kept going to the middle of the intersection, then turned south on Broadway.
“So, Ed jumps in his car and Bart’s like, ‘I’m right behind you,’” Law said.
Ed zipped around one direction, while Bart spotlighted the guy from another —moves intended to ensure the individual has nowhere to go and is within view the entire time.
The jogger, pinned in, jumped the lilac bushes at the entrance of an old building that used to be Riverton’s hospital.
“Not in 1973,” Law said. “But if you go to the origin of this building, it was the first, standalone hospital in Riverton.”
From There, Nowhere
Bart threw his spotlight on the bushes, running right up to them right behind the jogger. Ed, who had zipped around through the alley and up the other side, also threw his spotlight on the bushes from his angle.
“Both of them very cautiously approach while giving warning,” Law said.
But there’s no man there anymore, and there’s no possible hiding place the man could have gone to anywhere nearby.
“They both saw the guy in white jump behind the bushes, and now he’s just gone,” Law said.
The chase had been noisy, so both men had more paperwork to file.
“People heard them, so they had to report what they were after,” Law said. “And they had to say there was nobody there.”
But the story of the midnight jogger wasn’t over.
A few years later, on another Halloween night about 11 o’clock at night, two new officers were on patrol about a block away from where Bart and Ed saw the midnight jogger all dressed in white.
“They’re on Third Street, driving up, driving down, Third Street South,” Law said. “And they passed this street, which is Washington, and they’re on the next block, and going from alley to alley they see a man completely dressed in a white tracksuit.”
The man jogs right in front of their car, not even looking both ways, and not responding when the officers told him to stop.
Now both of these men had heard the jokes about Ed and Bart’s white jogger, Law said. But they cannot ignore this guy who just cut in front of them and now appears to be running away.
“The guy in the passenger seat was the rookie of the two and he was also the runner, so he says, ‘I’ll pursue him on foot,’” Law said.
After the rookie gets out, the other guy zips around the block as fast as possible, quickly positioning himself right in front of the house that used to be a hospital. He puts a spotlight on things. No one is going to disappear this time.
The guy on foot, meanwhile, says, “Hey buddy, can you give me a minute?”
But the jogger still won’t respond and just keeps going.
“From the alley, (the jogger) goes behind the building, into the darkness, and you can still see the white jumpsuit,” Law said. “The guy behind him watches, and the guy here doesn’t see anything, and he describes it like this: ‘The front of him pulls up and out, into the sky, and the back of him then caught up like a rubber band.’”
That’s the late 1970s, Law added, and it sounds a lot like warp speed on some kind of Star Trek show.
“But I don’t make these up,” Law said. “That is what they told me.”
Why Law Collects Ghost Stories
The story of the midnight jogger is just one of dozens of ghost stories Law has collected over the years. It all started with an at-risk English class many years ago in Riverton.
Law, as a new teacher, had been charged with teaching Freshmen English to those who had failed it. The class was often the last stop for students, before quitting school, where English is so foundational to every subject in school.
Law knew exactly what he was facing when that class landed in his care.
“So I thought if this is the last effort, if they’re going to leave school and never come back to the academic path, let’s at least turn this around and make it not seem so stupid and boring,” Law said.
His first pitch to prove to them that writing isn’t deadly to their soul, or criminal to their mind, was to write stories about what’s cool in Riverton.
“When I said we’re going to study Riverton, and we’re going to say what’s cool about Riverton, they said, ‘Nothing.’”
So Law said, “And we’re going to say, “What are the ghost stories of Riverton?”
Now he had their attention.
“Are there ghost stories in Riverton?” They asked, eyes wide as quarters.
“I was like, ‘Guaranteed,” Law said. “I don’t know, but yes, absolutely.”
The Key Question
Law could be so certain of ghosts in Riverton because of his mother.
“She told ghost stories because she saw them,” he said. “I tell them because I think they’re very interesting, and I’d really like to see them.”
But Law is not one of those people who can, on some level, sense the presence of other-worldly spirits or ghosts. He’s just grown up around someone who could.
“So I was raised with ghost stories are a thing,” he said. “Now and then, somebody walks through, and they aren’t there, but some people can see them, and some people don’t. And I’m one that doesn’t. But I know we’re surrounded by it all the time.”
Now that he’d so boldly pronounced Riverton to be full of ghost stories for his finally interested students, he had to make good. So he started to ask everyone he met his stock questions.
“Is this place haunted?” And “Have you ever seen a ghost or something you cannot explain?”
It turned out, Law wasn’t wrong. There were lots of ghost stories hiding in Riverton. They just wanted someone to ask about them. Someone who would listen, and maybe even believe.
Soon, Law and his students had plenty of stories for his students to write about — and plenty of history for them to research.
“These students, who’ve never read anything — most of them haven’t written anything for an English teacher since grade five — did their research and wrote their historical account about their haunting, and they got everything turned in, because we had to upload it into a website for a tour,” Law said. “I kind of snuck, (the tour) up on them, but one thing at a time. The end result was a page and a half of writing, which could pass Freshman English.”
Law’s idea was so successful, he soon didn’t have many students at all for the Freshmen English retry, and he was moved up to the Sophomore Honors class for English.
His new students promptly begged to be allowed to write ghost stories.
Law agreed that if they could finish the material in their curriculum fast enough, he would make time for them to research and write more ghost stories. That ultimately resulted in an anthology of ghost stories that’s on sale at the Riverton Museum.
Thinking Bigger About Ghosts
Law, who is no longer a teacher, has become well-known in the Riverton area as a ghost story hunter.
He has long offered his haunted city tour once a year, in October, as well as the very popular ghost-story telling night at the Riverton Museum, where the star of the show is the Riverton Museum’s Amelia doll.
But these days, with ghost tourism booming across the country, Law is thinking bigger when it comes to ghost stories.
He wants to make his Riverton tour available once a month for tourists.
If that’s popular enough, he might also consider doing ghost tours in other towns where he’s collected ghost stories, like Thermopolis and Lander.
“I’m more interested in the stories than the science,” Law said, although, the science, too, does interest him, and he has teamed up with paranormal investigators on occasion in the past.
He’s also interested in the sociology of it all. Who sees ghosts and why?
It’s not always just people who are alone in dark spaces late at night.
“A janitor I talked to had no stories, but he was alone the most often,” Law said. “I believe it’s a personality, an ability. Maybe it’s a sensitivity, and maybe it’s a willingness” to allow one’s self to acknowledge an experience as supernatural.
Regardless of what plays into it, Law is hoping he can give Riverton a new tourism angle with the ghost stories he’s spent more than a decade collecting.
“Whenever I go to other towns, I always take their ghost tour,” Law said. “I want Riverton to have a ghost tour of its own, too.”
What Law has learned over the years in collecting ghost stories, is that the community’s stories about ghosts are always in some way about the character of the community, and what it has to offer the world.
“We see a Riverton that’s very inclined towards fun, partying, camaraderie,” Law said. “And we also have a Riverton that’s very dedicated to working long hours, and a work ethic that isn’t known in a lot of cities or states around the country or the world. I think through our ghost stories and through our history, we get a beautiful sense of what it means to be in Riverton. We work hard, we play hard, and we take care of each other, and that’s worth telling.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.