22nd Annual Tommyknocker Holidays

At the Historic Teller House in Central City

By Jaclyn Schrock

Each year in the first weekend in December, Central City enjoys a holiday time-warp, celebrating the season at the Teller House on Eureka Street.  This year the Tommyknocker Holiday Bazaar had charming traditional celebrations, door prize registration, Victorian era activities, 32 vendor booths, Elks Ladies Scholarship chili, sandwiches, pies and concessions, JKQ food and beverages and of course the Tommyknocker favorite thrill – Father Christmas.

For the last 22 years many volunteers have prepared with dedicated efforts (of fun) under the coordinated planning and leadership of Barbara Thielemann and Shirley Voorhies. Gilpin County residents, vendors from local area counties and far traveled guests shout out much appreciation for the “best” Tommyknocker Holiday Bazaar.

Approximately 500 folks decked out in holiday festive attire strolled through the bazaar and shopped and showed their appreciation for the contributions and sponsorship of our local traditional December event. Main Street Central City is the main sponsor, and Gilpin County Education Foundation, City of Central, Peak To Peak Rotary, Ermel’s Thrift Shop, Johnny Z’s Casinos, Ron Engels, Zane Laubhan, and many more also made contributions to the 2019 enchanted gathering.

This past week, preparations had been completed with the street decorations in both Black Hawk and Central City. The beautiful, tall, spruce Christmas tree was set next to Scarlett’s on Main Street across from the Big-T parking lot. Tuesday evening, the Elk Ladies meet in the upstairs of the Elks Lodge to pack the ‘goody’ bags for the school children who would come on Thursday afternoon. Wednesday, the Peak to Peak Chorale rehearsed in the Teller House for their Winter Program.

Thursday afternoon, 230+ Gilpin Elementary students came to hang their ornaments on the tree. With the fresh show from earlier in the day, it looked picture perfect with the children’s decorations hanging on the branches. Each one was lovingly made by cherub hands.

Then, students and staff made a parade up Main Street turning on Eureka to the Teller House. Father Christmas met them at the door to welcome them to the party. Seating was on the carpeted floor, and the Gilpin Choir sang traditional songs for the Holiday. Most of the choir members have been to the party with Father Christmas and the Tommyknockers since their elementary years. Father Christmas sits in his grand chair while the oral tradition of storytelling engulfs the minds of these youngsters. Elk Lady volunteers passed out the goody bags as a finale’ as the students return to their buses.

Friday, the decorated Christmas tree stood in grandeur on Main Street. Once night fell, even more glamour was to be revealed. Mayor Fey officially lit the tree at 6:30 p.m. A healthy crowd of perhaps 40 joined in the Candle Walk, singing Carols from Main Street to the Teller House, just as the children had done. A Community Pot Luck, Ugly Sweater Contest, and Peak to Peak Chorale Winter Program kept traditions fresh, entertaining, and well attended.

Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 10-3, the Teller House was festively adorned for the Holiday Victorian Craft Bazaar. Other historic downtown businesses also offered Tommyknocker special sales and discounts to celebrate the tradition.

Upon entering the original doors of the Teller House Hotel, a welcome table was set in front of the grand staircase. Guests could sign up for a door prize. Every 15 minutes a name was drawn, and prizes were awarded to those who were present when their name was drawn.

Inside the first room, Father Christmas welcomed all who arrived. Near him were tables to keep children’s hands busy with the Cookie Decorating and Coloring Contests. The many displays of Gingerbread Houses were nearby to be awarded for creative artistic presentation of gingerbread, candy, pretzels and sugar by youth, amature, and professional categories. Photographs of at least eight categories displayed those dressed in Old West lifestyles or Victorian classics. Contest results are still pending as of press time.

Some tables and vendor booths were set up both Saturday and Sunday, while others were only one day. There were items for the home such as Anderson Windows, live greens, soaps, candles, plants, and tasty things for your kitchen to eat, drink, or find herbal medications. There were historical books from the Gilpin Historical Society, jewelry, cosmetics, and clothing. There were crafted paper books and notepads, fabric, wool, yarn, stained glass, clay, metal, and photographs of our local nature.

The succulent plant starters were noteworthy, as were the felted wool items. Auntie M’s Trunk displayed wools hand-shrunk in hot water, then remade into various items like hats, bags, holiday stockings and sewing pin holders. Smashed Hard Jelly is made from homemade wine using agave rather than sugar for sweetener. Gilpin’s own Rachael Josselyn presented fabulous Angel Girl Sweets using Aqua Faba – liquid from a can of beans to make some gluten free, egg and dairy free pastries and sweets. These gals are very conscious of health concerns to keep our tongues enjoying every bite. Firehouse Farms made homemade soaps from their goat’s milk, adding essential oils for a wonderful scent and moisturizing.

Why does Central City celebrate Tommyknockers?

In the late 1800s, miners immigrated to Colorado from Cornwall, England. News of gold discoveries traveled far and fast.  Being experienced underground miners, they came to work in the gold, silver, and other hard rock metal mines in Gilpin, Jefferson, and Clear Creek Counties.

The Cornish miners brought with them mineral experience for constructing, drilling, and mining as well as the warning signs of danger for miners. They brought tales and superstitions with them of little elf-like creatures who lived in the inner tunnels of the mines. These beings were known as Tommyknockers, and were often heard singing and working, but were rarely seen.

There are considered to be two types of Tommyknockers. The mischievous ones dumped over the miner’s lunch pails, blew out their mining candles and lamps, and hid tools. The friendly Tommyknockers knocked on the walls of the mines to show miners where the richest veins of ore might be found. That is the origin of their name. They were describes as short in stature, standing only two feet tall, wore colorful shirts, and had kindly wrinkled faces with large heads.

There are many tales of Tommyknockers saving the lives of miners. One story tells of a miner who was trapped in a pool of water down in a mine shaft. From nowhere, a pair of hands shoved him from behind, up and out of the pool. Seconds later, a gigantic boulder fell exactly where the miner had been trapped.

Miners were never harsh with the creatures, even with the most mischievous Tommyknockers because they believed the creaking timbers, tapping on pipes, falling stones, and misplaced equipment were indeed warning signs from the Tommyknockers of impending danger. Many miners left tidbits of their lunch to encourage good fortune and safety benefited by these little people.

You may have your own fond memories of Tommyknockers. We hope you will share them with us next year when Central City celebrates the elf-like tricksters once again.

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