The following is a truncated and slightly edited version of a ghost story that I posted a couple years ago. A rocky switch to a new blog platform earlier this year sort of buried this little story, and it hasn’t been too prominent on this incarnation of the website. One of the first pieces I’ve ever written, this is the tale of my search for the famed White Lady of Latuda. Enjoy.
Liberty Fuel Coal mining office in Latuda
(used with permission from the Western Mining & Railroad Museum)
THEY SAY THAT FALL signifies summer’s day fading into winter’s wilted dusk. What makes sense is mankind’s association of autumn with the melancholy. What baffles me is mankind’s warped fascination with it. Once fall begins something wonderful happens. For one month- one beautiful month- nostalgia for summer softly subsides and gives way to eager thoughts of eerie woods and jack-o-lanterns.
And let’s not forget- ghost towns.
It’s a gray October evening I find myself driving along Spring Canyon Road, the crumbling narrow byway that begins at the outskirts of Helper and winds its way through the mountains and back in time.
The sleepy town of Helper, Utah, is nestled at the mouth of Price Canyon and the gateway to Castle Country. A former mining hub, Helper was so named for the “helper” engines needed to assist westbound trains up the long, steep grade to Soldier Summit. It’s a classic Old Western town with a Main Street lined with century old buildings.
No sooner do I enter the canyon than I spot the ruins of old Peerless with its stone staircases leading to a collage of rocky foundations. The sun begins to set and shadows dance on the canyon walls. I’ve been listening to a local radio station but reception is cutting out, so I turn it off. I roll down my window despite the chilly air and listen to my tires roll along this all but forgotten road.
Spring Canyon is home to several small ghost towns and abandoned mining camps. The remains of these towns are readily visible on both sides of the canyon from the road. Wooden shanties still stand on eroding ledges and strange buildings built right into rock faces blend into the cliffs like optical illusions. Time has taken its toll on Ghost Town Row, but many buildings remain impressively intact. The overgrowth makes it difficult to trace the old street routes, but it’s still possible to map out the towns using stone foundations and heaps of wooden planks as landmarks. One could spend weeks on end exploring these towns and the history that lurks behind half-standing walls and beneath weathered grave markers.
It’s getting dark now, and that’s important. That’s when my naturally skeptical mind starts to wander, and I find my eyes cautiously avoiding the old roadside wash.
The town of Rains in its heyday.
(used with permission from the Western Mining & Railroad Museum)
THE WHITE LADY
Like most ghost towns, the Spring Canyon towns have their spooky lore. An old miner’s ghost here, a graveyard apparition there- people want a good story, and ghost towns are the perfect places to spark the imagination. The creepy cowgirl mentioned something about the “White Lady of Latuda,” a story well known in these parts. After that trip I read that the story has several variations, but all conclude that the ghost of a woman wearing a white dress haunts the canyon- specifically the canyon wash.
One version of the story- the best sourced version- was told by Claude Lambert, an old miner who lived in a rock house in the canyon. Mr. Lambert knew the woman in question and worked with her husband. In the early 50’s he laid out the facts as he knew them.
The couple lived next to a store in Peerless with their infant child. Like many wives of the day, the woman lost her husband in the mine. But her husband met his end from blood poisoning caused by an infected tooth, not a mining accident. Thus, the company had no obligation to pay her any compensation or benefits, and she was turned away at the mine office in Latuda. Desperate and without recourse, the woman took her baby down to the wash and drowned it, so as to spare it from starvation.
Entrance to the Liberty Fuel coal mine in Latuda
(photograph by Clint Thomsen)
She spent some time at a Provo Mental facility before escaping and returning to Peerless to look for her baby. Her restless search did not end when she died. Some miners claimed the White Lady would appear in front of the mine, luring miners inside. To follow her, they said, was suicide. Other sightings have her walking in the direction of the mining office. Most people see her near the wash.
The wash below the Latuda townsite (photograph by Clint Thomsen)
Time passed and the boom towns died out, leaving only tailings piles, vacant buildings, and the White Lady. To this day, the stories go, the woman wanders the canyon, dejected and vengeful. She wears a beautiful white dress. Her face is pale and empty and she floats several feet off the ground. The sightings increased as the legend grew, and the old ghost town of Latuda became a popular destination for teenagers looking for a few thrills. In 1969, one disturbed young man, Delmont Gentry of Price, acquired a blasting cap and blew up the old mining office in Latuda in an attempt to “kill the ghost of the White Lady.”
Though I believe they exist, I’ve never seen a ghost. I think most ghost stories are nonsense. That said, I’ve been in eerie places. Places where I’ve felt watched. Places I won’t go at night. This is my first time in Spring Canyon after sunset.
The sun has set and dark begins to fall in Spring Canyon. It’s much cooler now and my first reaction is to roll up the window, but I don’t. I want to experience this place in the raw. As I drive toward Latuda something catches my eye in the distance. I think I should stop here, but my foot remains steady on the gas pedal, almost uncontrollably. It’s a figure- light in color but not illuminated. It doesn’t react to my approach, but it does seem to drift from side to side. As the road curves I lose sight of it in the trees. I’m a little spooked but I’m not scared. The figure seems to beckon me, and I comply. I slow down and turn the car so that the headlights shine into the woods just above the wash. Then I get out and walk toward where I saw it last.
As I walk, a slight breeze blows something into my view from behind a tree. It appears again and I notice that it is the skirt of a faded white dress hovering about 3 feet from the ground. I walk around the tree, and there she is…
Well, maybe not her. Maybe “it.”
A long, old fashioned white dress hangs by a rope from the tree, waving softly in the breeze. My caution turns to laughter and my laughter turns to amazement. Whoever hung this dress here placed it so expertly so that you see it from afar, but lose it in the trees as you get closer. The trees blocked the dress from the roadside, and I never would have found it had I not set into the woods on foot. Who knows how many wary travelers this ghostly frock has frightened?
I look up at the rope from which the White Lady hangs and notice that the knot is coming loose. One more stiff gust will tear her free; the effect will be ruined and the dress will blow away. I stand on the branch of a nearby tree and secure the knot.
“Sorry,” I tell her. “You’re staying put tonight.”
I decide to follow the road further up the canyon toward the ghost towns of Rains and Mutual. The bed and breakfast from hell looks abandoned. Has for about 2 years now. I’m amazed how fast the structure has deteriorated. The gate is open and I continue to Mutual. I turn around at the impressive remains of the old Mutual Store and drive back toward Helper. As I pass Standardville, a Jeep passes me heading up the canyon and I wave. I can’t help but smile as I think about how it’s passengers will react to the floating specter just around the bend. I’m glad I tightened that knot. —
My origninal version of this story (The White Lady: Ghostly Encounter in Spring Canyon) contains more info on Spring Canyon, additional thoughts, and related links.