Courthouse ‘ghost’ frequented law library


RBC | County employees are preparing to leave their temporary offices in the next few weeks and take up residence in the completely remodeled courthouse.
Some long-term employees wonder if the 80-plus year old building’s otherworldly guest will be there to welcome them back with a repertoire of strange noises, lighting malfunctions, misplaced objects, unplugged vacuum cleaners, window shades that open and close by themselves, and random elevator operations.
The original Rio Blanco County courthouse was built in the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The WPA was part of the New Deal policy, intended to put people back to work after the Depression by employing them for the construction of public roads and buildings. An addition was added in 1956.
Nicknamed “Otis” by former maintenance supervisor Katie Proctor, the courthouse “ghost” doesn’t appear to be malicious or malevolent, but he/she/it has startled many a county employee, particularly those working the graveyard shift.
“I would go to work about 4 a.m.,” Proctor said. “I was the last one out and the first one back. Odd things would happen.”
Proctor said many of the disturbances she noticed were limited to the courtroom and the law library, located on the third floor of the building on the west end.
“The cleaning crew was allowed to get a jail trustee to help. Inmates would go into the courtroom and come out white as a sheet with their eyes all wide and refuse to go back inside,” Proctor said.
Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Brice Glasscock, who worked as a jailer in the building for four years, described several memorable events.
“The lights would come on, then turn off, then come back on. Locked doors would open and close.”
Glasscock said at one point he entered the law library and saw papers suspended vertically about a foot off the floor, “Like someone was sitting on the floor reading them.”
“That’s when I stopped going in the law library,” he said.
Proctor and Glasscock said it was fairly common to go into the library and find the same three or four books removed from a shelf and tossed on the floor. Proctor said she tried putting the books back in different places, or placing them on a table, but they would end up back on the floor.
Jury chairs were regularly turned around the wrong way when Proctor came to work in the morning.
“On court days I had to be in early to make sure Otis hadn’t messed stuff up,” she said.
Others mentioned a “cold wind” blowing through the third floor when there were no open windows or ventilation, and Deputy Otis Hayes—not to be confused with the ghostly Otis—said the law library was always 10-15 degrees colder than the rest of the building.
Proctor said the old traction elevator in the building used to go up to the third floor and back down of its own accord. On one of those occasions Proctor went into the elevator when the doors opened and looked up. There was a tag above the door that read “Otis Elevator Company,” so she tagged the courthouse ghost with the name. Interestingly, the Otis Elevator Company was founded in 1853, the year the company’s founder invented the elevator safety brake. Otis elevators are found in the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.
According to Hayes, “Around the first of October the activity would kick up until mid-spring, then slow down again.”
Patrol Sergeant Travis Mobley said it was common to hear “weird noises” and for the courtroom lights to turn off and on, “just on that third floor.” It was also common for ceiling fans to begin spinning on their own.
Hayes said he thinks the otherworldly visitor may have made the trek to the new justice center, citing lights dimming for no apparent reason from room to room and shadows visible on the catwalk.
“He (Otis) figured out how to work the new elevator,” Hayes added.
Not everyone who worked in the building noticed anything awry. Pete Larsen attributed the noises to the old steam boiler.
Rio Blanco County Treasurer Karen Arnold said her staff reported coming in to their offices in the morning and finding the adding machines turned on and all the adding machine tape curled up on the floor, as if they’d been printing all night.
All of those who spoke to the Herald Times agreed that they never felt threatened by Otis.
“He never did anything mean,” Glasscock said.
“Nobody I know of has ever seen Otis, but you could feel a presence, like someone’s watching you,” Proctor said.
According to Glasscock, the area of the courthouse where the law library and courtroom used to be will now be the county commissioners’ meeting room.