COBWEB CORNERS: The Pikes Peak Signal Station

By Mel McFarland

       The first regular military post in the Pike's Peak region was a weather station on top of the big mountain.
        On Oct. 11, 1873, the station was opened, manned by three men - Sergeant Seyboth of Wilmington, N.C., in command, assisted by L. A. Lemman, of Indianapolis, Ind., and J. H. Smith of Philadelphia. Observations were made each day, at 5:42, 7 and 10:07 a.m., and 2:43, 4 and 9:07 p.m. The Station, a single-room, stone building with walls some two feet thick sat at the southern end of the east edge of the summit.
        Once the station was opened, the temperature did not rise higher than 34 degrees before the next spring. In the middle of January the snow around the building averaged six feet deep, however, snow does not spend much time at the summit unless it is in a drift; otherwise it swirls right off. The snow did not trouble the observers, it provided their only source of water. Water boils at 178 degrees, and it takes four hours to boil potatoes to tenderness. Dry beans do not cook in less than 24 hours of cooking. In the first few weeks of recording temperatures, a low of 28 below zero was recorded and winds up to nearly 90 miles an hour were regularly measured. Wood was the main fuel used for the heat, as well as cooking, done on the same enormous stove. Smaller stoves are also used near the sleeping area. Wood was brought from some distance below at timber line. Stocking of the wood pile was done in the summer.
       When not involved with recording the weather, the primary activity was reading. One resident, however had another method of entertainment. Sergeant O'Keefe became famous while at the Pike's Peak signal station in the 1880s. A visit with the men was popular for the hundreds who hiked up during the summer. It was O'Keefe who concocted many stories about the peak that were published all over the country. One story about a volcano in the peak and the possibility of an eruption was started by him. His best known was a story told of his fictional wife and child who lived at the summit. The child however was eaten on a cold winter night by the rats, and for many years the fictional grave of “Erin O'Keefe” could be seen near the summit house.
       If you go up the peak today you can still see a portion of one wall, but Erin's grave is gone.