Happy Lucky’s Teahouse serves a cup of spooky stories

Sam Sedoryk

Fort Collins has had a long and notorious history of crime since its establishment in the late 1800s. Many in Fort Collins were arrested for bootlegging, prostitution and murder. In the name of justice, they were thrown away in the old municipal jail located in Old Town on Walnut Street.

The basement of Happy Lucky’s Teahouse in Old Town contains surplus tea and smells strongly of chai, but historically, the basement was a home to Fort Collins prisoners. Oct. 26 (Alyssa Uhl | The Collegian)

That jail is now home to Happy Lucky’s Teahouse.

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This building was once a firehouse, police station and jail until the late 1900s. The jail once held a variety of notorious criminals from around Northern Colorado. The particularly unsavory inmates were held in the solitary confinement cell, which is the size of a small closet. It is rumored that some of these inmates never left.

“You don’t get a lot of room in solitary confinement,” said George Grossman, Chief Leafster and Owner of Happy Lucky’s Teahouse.

Several spooky encounters in the teahouse have caused rumors of spirits to circulate around local storytellers. 

What was supposed to be a few nights in the cell turns into a death sentence.” -Michael Murphy, owner and operator of Magic Bus Tours

One story is of Jack Williams. Williams was a local drunk and could never hold a job in town for longer than a few weeks. Williams had one job as a local cook at the Opera House. One evening, Williams didn’t show up for his shift due to his intoxication. The Opera House replaced him that evening with another cook. When Williams sobered up, he headed to work to see he was replaced. Williams became furious and went into a rage against the other cook. The police caught the belligerent Williams.

Because of Williams’ unpredictability, the jailers placed him in the solitary confinement cell down in the dark depths of the basement.

“What was supposed to be a few nights in the cell turns into a death sentence,” said Michael Murphy, owner and operator of Magic Bus Tours.

Over the next few weeks, Williams was isolated and neglected. One morning, the jailers came in to check on Williams, but he was dead. The autopsy showed reports of starvation. Though Williams’ body was removed, Murphy claims his spirit remains inside over a century later.

“You ask some of the employees at Happy Lucky’s of being down there by themselves, but knowing they’re not alone,” Murphy said. Murphy also shared his own experience with ghostly encounters.

“In one of our tours, we were walking down to the solitary confinement cell to tell the story of Williams when we heard a loud ‘no’ in the back of the teahouse basement,” Murphy said. “We thought someone was messing with us, but no one was down there.”

Jack Williams isn’t the only unlucky soul who met his demise in the basement of Happy Lucky’s. 

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Another story is of Jack Cassidy, a gambler from the 1880s. Cassidy was known to cheat his hand in cards. One day, Cassidy got caught cheating in a game of cards. The police took Cassidy down to the jail and they realized the inmates had all lost money to Cassidy.

The jailer decided to place him in solitary confinement, but Cassidy claimed he didn’t like the dark. He pleaded with the jailer, but they refused. Cassidy was locked in the basement cell for the night.

The next morning, the jailers checked up on Cassidy. He was still there, but not among the living. Cassidy’s corpse was shriveled up in the corner; he suffered a panic attack during the night.

“They say Jack Cassidy scared himself to death,” said Shane Sheridan, a local tour guide and ghost storyteller.

Some of the inmates confined to the basement of the old firehouse had a profound effect on the topography of Fort Collins’ history. James Howes was one of these infamous characters. 

Howes was a brick miller in the 1880s. Howes was arrested after murdering his wife in broad daylight. After Howes’ arrest, the citizens of Fort Collins were outraged by his actions and stormed the jail. The citizens held the jailers at gunpoint, then dragged Howes from the old jail to a construction site and lynched him.

The basement of Happy Lucky’s Teahouse has rows of storage with haunting lights above. Oct. 26 (Alyssa Uhl | The Collegian)

Howes’ actions eventually led to the implementation of prohibition in Fort Collins.

“He was allegedly drunk as he came from one of the local drinking establishments, and this ties to prohibition,” Sheridan said. “This is one of the reasons Elizabeth Stone called for the town to go dry.”

The building that is now Happy Lucky’s Teahouse is one destination out of many in Fort Collins that is reported to be haunted.

“It would be easier to show you which buildings are not haunted here,” said Suzy Riding, a local author.  

The incidents and experiences of patrons and employees at Happy Lucky’s have attracted paranormal teams and psychics to learn more about the spirits that haunt the building.

“I’ve had a paranormal group come through here; they recorded some things earlier in August, and we are still waiting for results,” Grossman said.

Though the building where the teahouse is now located had a morbid history, Riding claims the spirits that reside there do not mean anyone harm. They are often just looking for attention.

“I’ve had experiences where we’ve walked by where Jack Williams stands and things have fallen down,” Riding said. “Williams (is) trying to make his presence known.”

Sam Sedoryk can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @samsedoryk