I first came across the story of Clifford Griffin while browsing websites about Colorado ghost towns. The story of Clifford Griffin, who has also become known as the “ghost of Silver Plume”, is a convoluted and mysterious one. It’s the kind of story that‘s well suited for legend. Griffin ran the Seven Thirty Mine with his brother on Silver Plume Mountain in the 1880s. Legend has it that his fiancée died the day before their wedding and to escape his grief he joined the Colorado gold rush. He lived in a cabin near the mine and played the violin every night to an appreciative audience in the town of Silver Plume below. The story ends tragically when he takes his own life in a grave of his own making after playing his last notes on violin. Over the years, people have asserted that Clifford Griffin can still be heard playing his melancholic solos on summer evenings over Silver Plume.

I took a trip up to Silver Plume this summer in order to hike up to the large granite memorial and final resting place of Clifford Griffin, which is situated high above the town.  It was a cool and overcast day that turned to light rain almost immediately after starting up the trail. The rain washed over the aspen trunks and gave them a soft bronze glow. I hiked through mining debris and a gulch of avalanche destruction. The trail wound itself above Silver Plume and as it rose, more and more mine shafts became apparent. Many of the mine shafts have been covered with large steel grates. After several miscalculations and trail deviations, I arrived at the memorial. It reads,

Clifford Griffin,
son of Alfred Griffin Esquire
of Brand Hall.
Shropshire,  England.
Born July 2, 1847.
Died June 19, 1887.
and in compliance with his own request, buried near this spot.

Interestingly, on my first trip up to the memorial, I was there the exact same morning the miners found Clifford’s body 122 years previously. I enjoyed the hike so much that I returned just a few days later, after an extensive day at the library to research Clifford Griffin and the Seven Thirty Mine. My second trip to the site was to take reference photos that I combined with the historical photos of Clifford Griffin to make the work for Biographic.

My research into Clifford’s life yielded as many questions as answers. The locals at the Silver Plume Saloon recalled the story of “some guy who played violin” but were more interested in explaining the benefits of living in a town small enough to have no active police force. Some historical accounts portrayed Clifford as a “beloved wastrel”, others likened him to the prodigal son who wastes his inheritance on vice and suffers from the depression that accompanies great loss. One account said that Clifford spent a great deal of time “staring at the mountains”[1] and that he developed a habit of watching the sunrise from a jutting point of rocks a few hundred yards east of the mine. It seemed that Clifford had a tendency to drift off – before even arriving in Colorado a report of his years in college stated that he spent time “day-dreaming in the tall grasses at the side of the River Cam.”[2] I began to liken Clifford to the subjects of Caspar David Friedrich paintings – isolated, overlooking vast natural wonders.

While at the Denver Public Library I was able to view two original photographs of Clifford that showed him exactly as I had pictured – alone on a rocky outcropping. I combined those historical images with my own photographs of the area.

Upon further reading, I found that Clifford had actually intended to go to college to be a poet but was persuaded otherwise by his well-intending father. Suddenly, the distant nature of this man seemed fitting and I found myself relating to him in new ways. After leaving his family and Brand Hall estate in England, Clifford continued drifting – searching for contentment and meaningful work. It was said that “although he performed his duties [as superintendant of the Seven Thirty Mine] with excellence, he showed no enthusiasm.”[1] This sense of restlessness is something I believe still plagues many people today and part of what has made Clifford’s story meaningful to me. Although its validity is contested, his story could be about the tragic loss of a loved one and never recovering from that loss. It could also be about a solitary man who spent his evenings looking out over Silver Plume valley in search of his white whale.

[1] Martin, MaryJoy, “Suicide Legends, Homicide Rumors; The Griffin Mystery”, Spes in Deo Publications, Montrose, Colorado, 1986. 8.

[2] Ibid, 19.

March 2020


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