The tale unfolded as all good scary stories do: on the Nextdoor app.
The Tuesday post, titled “Paranormal,” gave a brief synopsis of some haunting experiences that McKenna Smallbone, Mackenzie Wideman and guests of their Denver Uptown Square apartment have endured in the month since the friends moved in together.
At first, there were incidents that Smallbone and Wideman noted but shrugged off: tall shadows lurking, pets behaving oddly, a sense of being watched, a bedroom door that normally won’t stay shut somehow locking itself from the inside.
Then the situation escalated this week when Smallbone’s boyfriend — a former paranormal non-believer — stayed the night and was jolted awake around 3:15 a.m. to find the figure of a tall man with a wrinkled face staring back at him through a bedroom window.
“He even blinked and rubbed his eyes, and the guy was still standing there when he opened them again,” Smallbone, 24, said in a Denver Post interview. “And then the guy just disappeared.”
Commenters on the Nextdoor post posited several arguments for the sighting, from a potential carbon monoxide leak to a peeping Tom. There was one problem to that theory, Smallbone said: Their apartment is on the top floor.
The apartment at the center of the activity — which has driven the roommates to sleeping in the same room out of fear of being alone with whatever it is that goes bump in the night — is located on the site of the former St. Luke’s Hospital.
Phil Goodstein, author of “The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill” (which has a chapter that notes St. Luke’s history), said the hospital was established in 1881 and was not popular with the neighbors — so much so that some who called it “a death house” got the city to stop construction before a court overrode that decision, Goodstein said. St. Luke’s merged with Presbyterian Hospital in 1990 and they moved operations further east, but the former St. Luke’s campus suffered from environmental contamination, according to Goodstein and the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.
“All hospitals usually would have radioactive waste areas because of the technology,” Goodstein said. “Then there’s always the question of whether doctors leave their mistakes behind, and are there patients out there who are disgruntled that are maybe trying to call justice to the medical profession?”
The Nextdoor post’s comment section, which neared 300 contributions as of Thursday afternoon, continued to offer up theories of Denverites’ own and attracted an eclectic array of ghost hunters, spirit cleansers, skeptics, scaredy cats and even former Uptown Square residents sharing their own eerie stories.
Former resident Ryan Cornwell said the post popped up in his feed a few days ago, and it instantly transported him back to his days of living in what he believed to be a haunted apartment in the Uptown Square apartments.
In a Denver Post interview, Cornwell recalled several examples that raised alarms for him, including a friend’s dog growling at his apartment wall in the middle of the night; a bizarre sleep-talking incident that left Cornwell wondering whether he conversed with a ghost; and his downstairs neighbor complaining about Cornwell jumping up and down all night for weeks on end when the Denverite was simply sleeping.
“There was this energy in the air there,” Cornwell said. “I moved and haven’t felt it since. I literally want to drive by that building and just go look at it again after reading the post on Nextdoor. It brought back all those memories and feelings.”
Smallbone and 22-year-old Wideman, who talked to The Denver Post from the safety of one of their cars, out of earshot of the entity they affectionately named “Buddy” in an effort to keep relations friendly, didn’t want an official exorcism or anything that might upset a lingering spirit.
They reached out to folks in the Nextdoor comments who were offering their services, including a woman who performed a cleansing Wednesday over Facetime. Shortly after, the television turned on by itself while Wideman was on the phone recounting the supernatural saga, so the roommates turned to the Nextdoor comment section again to call in another professional.
Local psychic, tarot reader and medium Robin Wells seemed to fit the bill.
“I’m just a regular, middle-aged woman who has always been fascinated with this world and able to communicate with the dead,” Wells, 58, said. “It’s humbling and it’s very cool to give messages to people that can really help in healing.”
Wells advised anyone dealing with a haunted house to handle things in a way that makes sense to them. For example, she said, if a homeowner was Christian, they could consult a priest or spritz the place with holy water. Mark Haas, spokesman for the Denver Archdiocese, said a Catholic is welcome to meet with their local priest and discuss their specific issues if they’re in the market for a genuine exorcism.
Someone else may feel more at ease sprinkling sea salt in front of the apartment door or burning cleansing rosemary in the space, Wells said. They may want to consult a medium. They might feel empowered speaking to the entity, making an agreement not to scare each other and to cohabitate peacefully.
“You need to do whatever is going to set your mind at ease, because if you start looking for it all the time, you’re going to be scared,” Wells said. “You’re going to manifest what you’re obsessing over.”
Wells is headed to Smallbone and Wideman’s apartment in coming days to see if she can pick up on any information about tenants who aren’t on the lease.
In the meantime, the young women plan to spend a lot of time in their cars — Smallbone has been driving around for hours when Wideman is at work to avoid being alone in the place — and trying to keep the mood lighthearted so they don’t spook themselves further.
“We’re just really freaked out,” said Smallbone, who formerly worked in funeral homes as an aspiring mortician. “I love Halloween and scary things, but I’ve never had anything like this actually happen to me. “I feel uncomfortable in my own room, in my own space, and I don’t want that at all.”