COBWEB CORNERS: The Pikes Peak signal station

By Mel McFarland

       The first regular military post in the Pikes Peak region was a weather station on top of the Big Mountain. On October 11, 1873, the station was opened by three men: Sgt. Seyboth of Wilmington, N.C., in command, assisted by L. A. Lemman of Indianapolis, Ind., and J. H. Smith of Philadelphia. Seven 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. In later days there were five men at the station. At any one time, only four were there. The other would be in Colorado City or somewhere in between. This is what really got the visitors to the summit started. The station men visited the saloons in town and told great stories of the summit and the view.
       When 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. The snow did not trouble the observers; it provided their only source of water. In the first few weeks, they recorded temperatures as low as 28 below zero and winds up to 90 miles an hour. Wood was the main fuel. Cooking was done in one enormous stove. Smaller stoves were also used near the sleeping area. Wood was brought up from below timberline. Stocking of the wood pile was done mainly in the summer.
       The station men's primary hobby was reading. One resident, however had another method of entertainment. Sergeant O'Keefe became famous while in command of the Pikes Peak signal station in the 1880s. O'Keefe concocted many "tall tales" about the Peak that were published all over the country. A story about the Peak being a volcano and the possibility of an eruption was started by him. His best known was his rat story. It 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. For many years afterward, the fictional grave of "Erin O'Keefe" could be seen near the Summit House.
       The station closed after 15 years. If you go up the Peak now, you can still see a portion of one wall. You can go up in the winter now that the Cog Railway is running year round. There are days, however, when even its trains cannot make it through the storms!