The Haunted Aspen Music Festival

Posted by carrieh in Canary Ghosts

Although there is more speculation than information on precisely who the ghost that haunts the Aspen Music Festival campus is, we do know the history behind the 38 acres of land it occupies.

The history of Aspen, Colorado, and the surrounding area is full of legends, spirits, and hauntings dating back to the first Native Americans that settled in the state hundreds of years ago. As for the acreage now known as home to the Aspen Music Festival, the land started off its history as nothing more than a silver mine.


Foreman Building of the haunted Aspen Music Festival
Photo: Aspen Times

Colonel George Newman and “The Bungalow”

In 1888, an early Aspen pioneer Col. George Newman bought the most profitable mine in Aspen, the Percy LaSalle. In 1903, Newman built what became known as “the bungalow” in Castle Creek Valley at the base of Aspen Mountain. He used the four-bedroom bungalow to run his mine operations as well as a second home, his family home was in Denver.

Newman built an elaborately landscaped acreage with lawns, flowerbeds, stables, riding paths, and ponds stocked with fish, all on top of a working mine. The bungalow itself was an architectural copy of an English Club with a mahogany-paneled living room. He finished his office in cherry, and the building housed a safe. His aim with the property was to have what replicated an English country estate.

The home in Denver was as elaborate and lavish as his bungalow in Aspen. He even put in a racetrack for his ultimate passion for horse racing.

Life of the Rich

In 1905 the Colonel threw a lavish and elegant garden party extravaganza catering to 150 guests. He had his mine manager Mr. Woodward arrange to have the Colorado Midland Railroad pick up his cherished guests at the Midland Depot and bring them up to Castle Creek on the spur line used for the ore shipments. There were lawn games, music provided by Mrs. Woodward, and other fanciful happenings for the guests.

He enjoyed his riches by traveling to Japan and China, collecting many treasures along the way. When the afternoon of festivities ended, Newman gave each guest a personal gift of one of his souvenirs from his travels. The Aspen Democrat-Times wrote the headline story calling the day “Newman’s charming lawn fete.”

The Ghost of Mad Bess

There are stories of a ghost that hangs around the Aspen Music Festival campus, which occupies the land Newman used for a mine and elaborate estate in the early 1900s.

The ghost is known as “Mad Bess” but she has never been seen. She attempts to make her presence known by moving things around. Perhaps this is her subtle way of maintaining her presence without scaring anyone. Those that have experienced her energy combined with the stories passed down through the years believe she is the ghost of George Newman’s wife.

Rumors say Newman had an affair. With all the money and traveling, some may think that he could most definitely have had a wandering eye! Many believe his wife stuck around after her death. Perhaps she is haunting the facility as a form of retaliation against Newman for his wrongdoing. However, her presence is felt in the bungalow, even though the affair didn’t take place there. Allegedly the matter took place in the old foreman’s house on the property. Is she haunting the wrong place, or maybe she knows something we don’t? Only Mad Bess can answer that question!

Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke

The Newman Mine closed in 1920, and in 1946, Walter Paepcke bought the property. Chicago natives – Walter Paepcke and his wife were very influential in the building of the city Aspen.

When Paepcke bought the property, he turned the bungalow into the Four Seasons, where people came to dine, play tennis and go boating on the ponds. The Paepcke’s shared interests in music, literature, art, and the great outdoors.


Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke
Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke
Photo: Aspen Hall of Fame

Paepcke orchestrated a two-week bicentennial festival to honor German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe while in Chicago. He was unable to find a suitable location to hold the event. After visiting and falling in love with the Aspen Mountain area, Walter and Elizabeth headed west to scope out the site for their endeavors. The Paepcke’s began to mold the town into a state-of-the-art cultural retreat. With considerable financial backing from the Paepcke’s, they held the festival in Aspen in 1949.

The event included an intellectual forum, as well as musical performances, and was an enormous success. Paepcke began buying land in Aspen for future festivals. Excited about the festival’s success, Walter founded the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. His vision was for writers, musicians, thinkers, and artists to gather together in the surroundings of the inspiring mountain scenery.

The Aspen Music Festival and School

Along with the Aspen Institute, Walter and Elizabeth founded the Aspen Music Festival and school.

Famous for its concert programming and musical training, the festival is an annual eight-week classical music summer program mainly catering to young adult musicians. It includes more than 400 classical music events, with over 70,000 audience members attending the performances. Concerts by five orchestras and solo and chamber music performances, staged opera productions, master classes, lectures, and children’s programs all make up the itinerary for the festival.

Walter served as the Director of the institute and music festival until 1954 when he turned it over to baritone Mack Harrell. When Walter Paepcke died in 1960, his close associate Robert O. Anderson bought the property. Anderson graciously donated the property to the Music Associates of Aspen to use for a summer music school in 1964.

The Aspen Country Day School Ghost

In 1969, Aspen Country Day School was founded by a group of parents led by Edgar Stern, the chairman of the Aspen Music Festival and School. After signing a lease to use some of the buildings, the school used the Newman bungalow for primary through 12th grade the first few years. The school opened officially on September 8, 1970.

Aspen Country Day School 1976 Graduating class of 4
1976 Graduating Class
Photo: Aspen Times

The building is the Administration building for the campus and has withstood many renovations and remodeling throughout the years. With years under its belt, and lives that passed through the halls, it’s no wonder that the building’s rumored to be haunted.

Although the ghost happenings aren’t scary to most, it is still a cause for some people not wanting to be alone in the building at night.

Who was Mad Bess of the Aspen Music Festival?

Along with the many ghost stories of Mad Bess, who is said to be the disgruntled wife of George Newman, a peculiar tale emerged regarding another spirit named “Bess.” One day a group of students gathered in the cafeteria with the headmaster and one of the founders of the school Carter Hall. One of the students inquired about the purpose of a metal ring attached to the cafeteria floor. The headmaster told them that a woman named Bess had been chained by the neck and forgotten there. When she tried to free herself, she pulled off her head. Carter believes she is the ghost that haunts the school to this day.

Are Mad Bess, the disgruntled wife, and Mad Bess, the woman chained by the neck to the floor, the same spirit? Maybe there is more to the story than we know. Anyone that lived in the days of the bungalow’s beginning is long gone now. Still, the paranormal activity, along with the speculation of who exactly Mad Bess is, will live on through the years, to be told time and time again.

10 Top Haunted Places in Aspen

Falling in the rank of the 10 top haunted places in Aspen, the lives that were lived there are all connected to the beginning when the mountain region grew popular during the great silver mining days in the late 19th century.

Ghost towns, buildings, cemeteries, and the land all have haunted history you can read about to decide for yourself if you are a believer or a skeptic.

If you are in the area, check out one of our ghost tours, you may even witness one of the many paranormal phenomena reported in the area.  Just be careful that you don’t take one of those spirits home with you!


School ghost |

Aspen Music Festival and School – Wikipedia

Newman’s ‘charming lawn fete’ |

Aspen Country Day School

Aspen Historical Society – Aspen Historical Society

About | Aspen Music Festival And School