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Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs (just outside of Colorado Springs) was constructed in 1895 by a Catholic priest from France named Father Jean Baptist Francolon. Father Francolon came to the United States in 1878 and was in charge of several missions in New Mexico. Because of the unrest between the French and the Spanish in the Catholic Church, he was not well-liked among the predominately Spanish-heritage people of the area, and was allegedly poisoned.

He came to Manitou Springs in 1892; the town was famous for its clean air and healing waters, and he hoped to restore his health. His widowed mother joined him a year later, and the home that Father Francolon built for them is Maramont Castle.

Father Francolon and his mother Madam Francolon returned to France a few years later, taking much of the artwork from the home but leaving the furniture. The Madam died within a short time of their return. Although Father Francolon returned to America and died in New York, he never again set foot in Colorado.

Miramont Castle then passed to the Sisters of Mercy for use as a hospital - or, as it was called in those days - a sanitarium. The main illness that was treated was tuberculosis, or as they called it in those days, "consumption." The sisters were known "for the excellence of their table, the cleanliness of their rooms and their motherly care of the health-seekers."

The sisters closed the sanitarium in 1928, and it was used as a boarding house for wealthy visitors to Manitou. At some point it became a vacation retreat for Catholic clergy, and was eventually left empty. It was sold in 1946 to private owners. After changing hands a few times, Miramont Castle was purchased by the Manitou Springs Historical Society on February 17, 1976.

It is now a beautifully restored tour home, housing a museum of Manitou Springs firefighting, rooms re-created in the style of the castle's day, and even a tea room that is open to visitors.

Some say that spirits from the days of the sisters still roam the hallways of Miramont Castle. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported on October 28, 2007: Sister Henrietta sometimes walks the halls, headless. They say she hanged herself from the third floor solarium after discovering she was pregnant. You can hear the nuns singing and soft piano music in rooms that are empty. They say an American Indian was violently murdered somewhere outside the castle's walls. His soul rests within an upstairs closet, a place the castle keeper refuses to enter. The door turns to ice when his spirit is awake, she says.

They say a girl, a fair-skinned 4-year-old, stays up in the gift shop near the porcelain-doll collection. And a boy, killed in a grocery store fire many years ago, plays near the store's replica in the miniatures room. Victorian mannequins left facing one direction face another in the morning. The face of a black-veiled widow appears in the mirrors. Stained glass hangings in the gift shop float to the ground. This place, they say, is haunted.

"I have rooms that people won't go into because there's something in there that they don't like," said castle historian Linda Pineda.

The only sure things: Noises can be heard throughout the castle, and the guest book is filled with accounts of spirit sightings.

Viola Butler, Miramont's castle keeper, said she's heard singing in the tea room when the castle was empty. She's also listened to wooden floors creak under invisible footsteps and heard doors slamming where there are no doors. For the first few weeks of work, she'd find the fireplace littered with ashes, though nothing had been burned and the flue was closed.

"It's like the castle awakes for a certain routine," Butler said. Most of the ghosts are friendly, she said. Except for the spirit that lurks in the chapel. Staff members blame a replica painting of El Greco's "Portrait of a Cardinal."

The red-clad man in the painting is believed to be Cardinal Don Fernando Ni'o de Guevara, the grand inquisitor and archbishop of Seville, Spain, in the late 1500s.

There's no record of a connection between the cardinal and the castle, but the staff believes the cardinal was evil. Guests and volunteers didn't complain about the chapel until the portrait was hung, Pineda said.

Miramont Castle
9 Capitol Hill Ave.
Manitou Springs, CO
open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

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