Saturday, January 21, 2017

Remembering Texas Seven's capture 16 years ago

Now, it has been more than 16 years since members of “The Texas Seven,” a group of prisoners who escaped from the John B. Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas, on Dec. 13, 2000, and later killed Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins on Dec. 19, 2000, were arrested about a month later on a cold January Monday, right here in Woodland Park.

Autopsy showed that Officer Hawkins had sustained 11 gunshots and had been run over by the escaped convicts as they fled the scene of robbery in Irving, Texas. Four of the convicts were arrested at the Western Convenience Store on U.S. Highway 24, in Woodland Park, Jan 21, 2001. One of the seven committed suicide in an RV park nearby, rather than be arrested. The remaining two others were apprehended at hotel on Garden of the Gods Road, two days later on Jan. 23, 2001, in Colorado Springs.

Locally, Teller County Sheriff Frank Fehn got a tip from people who had watched the program America’s Most Wanted that Saturday night long ago, and said that “The Texas Seven” might be living in the RV park down the road. The sheriff, posing as a tourist, loaded up his wife's RV with heavily-armed state and federal agents, and that Sunday night drove into the trailer park so he could monitor the group. On that Monday morning, when Rivas and two others jumped in their Jeep and left the trailer park, the police made a decision to act. Frank Fehn told it this way.

"They were followed to a Western Convenience Store. They pull up to the gas pumps. Two units come from behind.

At least three, if not four, units boxed them in and immediately exited the police vehicles, weapons drawn, and totally surprised them.”

Rivas recalled it like this: “There was a man in front of me with an AR-15 pointing at my chest, officer next to me suited up in body armor. Car was still on, it was in gear. I had my foot on the brake. I had an opportunity to run.”

But Fehn says the escapees had no chance to flee.

“They did not have an opportunity to resist. If they did, it would not have been a blood bath, but three people woulda been dead.”

The three, Fehn noted, would have been the inmates.

Frank Fehn, legendary former Sheriff of Teller County (and at one time Teller County Coroner), also a former New York homicide detective, passed away peacefully at home on April 23, 2013. Services were held at Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, CO. He is interned at Fort Logan National Cemetery with military honors in Denver. Frank was retired and lived in Lake Havasu City, AZ with his wife of 27 years, Lucile.

Lucile Fehn, Frank's wife was Teller County Commissioner at the time. When I talked to her last week, she described those eventful days 16 years ago this way.

"I was going to a meeting on open space in Canon City with Kevin Tanski, (Teller County Parks Coordinator), that morning," Lucile said. "And Frank had been out most the night, and I didn't really talk to him about it, but I noticed that morning that he came home and changed the license plates on my RV, and left with it," Lucile Fehn told me last week.

"When we got to the meeting Canon City, one of the County Commissioners there said, 'Your husband got five of the Texas Seven. Two were still on the loose. I told Tanski to watch for the vehicle they were described as driving," Lucile Fehn said.

For months afterward, Frank was on TV, in newspapers, and Lucile said Frank "talked with George Rivas for days on end in Teller County jail, before he was moved back to Texas."

El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson, described it like this, back then.

"We have had this location under surveillance since before 2 o'clock this morning, so we know they didn't slip out during this time. So they do have a bit of a head start on us."

Anderson said Halprin was treated for a gunshot in the foot, which the sheriff said the escapee had suffered before Monday's arrest —possibly on the night of a robbery in Irving, Texas, in which the escapees are suspected of killing police officer Aubrey Hawkins.

Anderson said at the time he didn't know if Halprin had been shot by Hawkins or whether the wound was self-inflicted.

Teller County (Colorado) Undersheriff Kevin Dougherty said three of the men were arrested in the area of the Coachlight Motel and R.V. Park.

"Three of them were arrested out of a silver Jeep that was pulled over down at the Western Convenience as it left the motor home that's up in the Coachlight area. And the fourth one was taken from the motor home area," he said.

Anderson characterized the surrender of the three as "reluctant but overwhelmed."

"The SWAT team descended on that vehicle in a pretty significant way," Anderson said. "I think they would have fought it out if there had been less of a presence, but I think they realized it would be fruitless."

Dougherty said he believed weapons were confiscated in the arrest.

Anderson said two of the three captured in the Jeep -- he didn't say which -- had tried to alter their appearance. One, he said, had dyed his hair blonde and another "almost orange-red."

Police arrested four of the seven men, who escaped from a maximum security prison in Texas on December 13, that Monday morning

Mac Stringfellow, chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the four were captured without incident. "No shots were fired," Stringfellow said.

Authorities said those under arrest are: George Rivas, Joseph Garcia, Michael Rodriguez and Randy Halprin.

I remember it like this.

On that Monday morning many years ago, we watched out the front window of the Ute Pass Courier newspaper office in Woodland Park, Colo., as multiple emergency vehicles began filling up the newspaper parking lot.

“No information at this time,” is what they emergency staff told us when we tried to find out what was going on.

After nearly 20 minutes of being completely in the dark of what kind of operation was taking place in our own neighborhood, we discovered that police, including local city and county officers, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI and federal marshals, arrested members of the Texas Seven in the Coachlight mobile home park directly to the east of us.

The seven inmates made their break from a maximum-security prison near San Antonio, Texas, six weeks prior to the excitement near our office. Before showing up in our town, police say the fugitives killed an Irving, Texas, police officer, shooting him 11 times and then running over him as they looted a sporting goods store for clothing, weapons, ammunition and more than $70,000 in cash.

On August 14, 2008, Michael Anthony Rodriguez became the first of the gang to be executed for his part in the killing of Irving Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve in 2000. The rest of the surviving Seven’s cases are in various stages of appeal in the Texas courts.

Rodriguez, claiming a religious conversion on death row, asked for years that his appeals be dropped so that he could face his punishment and stand a better chance at going to heaven.

George Rivas, was executed almost four years later, on February 29, 2012.

Donald Newbury, was executed by lethal injection on February 4, 2015.

The remaining three members are incarcerated on death row at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, located in West Livingston.

Three of the escapees were surrounded in Woodland Park by a police SWAT team at a convenience store a few miles down the road as they left the Coachlight RV Park to get their morning coffee. At the same time that was happening, police surrounded the RV in the park with two other fugitives inside. By using a bullhorn, police were able to get one of the two in the RV to surrender. The holdout, Ron Harper, took his own life by shooting himself twice in the chest. He used two different weapons, according to information released later by the county coroner. Two of the men remained at large for two more days and were finally captured in a Colorado Springs hotel room about 15 miles from here.

By the time we knew what was happening, the calls from Texas television stations, CNN and other national media were already coming in. At times, three people from our newspaper would be on a phone with TV stations or other news organizations. With only four voice lines, it made it tough to get our own business taken care of. The TV stations would call and then pass us back and forth between affiliates, live talk shows, and various news programs. By late afternoon, however, area phone lines became too busy to call us or anyone else in Woodland Park.

From Monday night until early Wednesday morning, TV trucks with satellite dishes on top and shivering reporters out front, stretched from the bottom of our parking lot, down a half mile of Highway 24. We loaned phone lines, fax machines, desk space, and offered directions, travel advice and restaurant recommendations for reporters and photographers working for outfits including Reuters, The New York Times, America’s Most Wanted, Time, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune and others.

The media circus gradually split up and migrated to several nearby locations including the Teller County Jail, the Teller County Courthouse in Cripple Creek, and down the hill to Colorado Springs where the last two were captured.

Reporter stragglers for various national publications and TV shows were still wandering into our office a month later.

In the midst of the excitement that Tuesday morning, reporters and photographers from The Denver Post, working a story about the little newspaper office near the big story, had a good laugh about our light tables.

Their amusement with our antique equipment, the instant info and live feeds, along with the exposure to national media’s top-of-the-line technology made us realize how fast the news business is evolving, even in the weekly newspaper world.

Granted, our papers were probably about seven years behind where we should be in terms of technology, but how things have changed, even for a one- or two-horse operation like ours. Seven years ago, a small weekly probably wouldn’t be moving photos and pages around on the Internet. No PDF workflows. No affordable digital cameras. No cell phones that worked in our mountains. No laptops connected to the cell phones to file stories with. Not even much of a World Wide Web.

This story broke on a Monday, which from a deadline standpoint was not bad for us as a weekly newspaper. We print our main product, the Ute Pass Courier, Tuesday afternoon and are on the street by Wednesday morning. Our initial coverage was very similar to that of the local dailies and national reporters.

On that first day, everybody was being fed much of the same info as fast as the police could pull it together. Tuesday, a few minutes before we were leaving for the printer, we received word that the police had found what they thought to be the remaining two fugitives’ van, and were conducting a room-by-room search of nearby hotel rooms in Colorado Springs. With this information, we ran with a small update box on the front of our paper near the main write-through.

As fast-moving as this story was, however, by the time we hit the street with our edition Wednesday, the remaining two fugitives were in custody, having been talked out of a Holiday Inn room with the promise of five minutes of airtime each on a local TV station.

Wednesday morning, after speaking with our news staff and realizing how frustrated they were at not being able to keep up with the story with our regular weekly schedule, we bumped the press time for another of our weekly news products and made arrangements for a special edition that would hit Thursday night. We printed enough of the special editions to insert in all three of our weekly nameplates, each having different drop dates beginning with Friday and carrying through the following week. We also printed an additional 2,500 to distribute free as soon as they were back from the 100-mile round-trip to the printer Thursday afternoon. All 2,500 were distributed to countertops at local high-traffic areas in our market by Friday night.

Competing with local dailies, national newspapers, magazines, television and news services that had larger crews dispatched on this story than we have staff in the whole building, we tried to put a good package together with "first-light" information that still had a shelf life into the next week. The special edition stretched our resources to see-through levels, but when it was put to bed, we felt pretty good about both our first-day information and the special section.

One of our reporters, Pat Hill, put together two excellent color pieces on the role local emergency services played in the raid. She then left immediately for an emergency appendectomy before the editors had a chance to read her stories.

Other reporters on our staff were offered as much as $250 per quote to shag quotes for national media outlets.

Even after a few months, locals were still talking about it, of course, and comparing their own Texas Seven stories. A few area businesses with little or no shame were trying to capitalize on the national attention, by doing things like offering "Texas Seven pizzas" or trying to auction off a pool table on Ebay that the infamous group reportedly played on. I’ve even heard members of the local chamber of commerce half-jokingly suggest changing the chamber motto from "City Above the Clouds" to "Escape to Woodland Park."

But most people here in Woodland Park were just happy that none of the locals were hurt, the bad guys were caught, and law enforcement was able to perform so efficiently.


  1. Photos of “The Texas Seven” distributed after their escape.
  2. Frank and Lucile Fehn, in 2013.

  3. Lucile Fehn, last week, in Woodland Park.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Right here at the source of any water fight

Ralph Moodys' first book “Little Britches,” about his experiences more than 100 years ago on his family ranch in what is now present-day Littleton and Englewood, relates what kind of water history we have here in Colorado.
When I was a kid, growing up on the Western Slope, it was almost required reading in grade school about what can happen, if you lose a fight over water. Most Western Slope folks still get nervous when populations on the Front Range start talking about "their" water.
The ranch as near as I can figure from Moody’s description has probably been swallowed by development, in the vicinity of Wadsworth Boulevard and Hampden Avenue in the southwest Denver area. The Moodys drew water in the South Platte watershed. It is interesting to note how “god-forsaken,” the country was described.
After unsuccessfully fighting (with bare knuckles, firearms, and in the courts) for years over their share of water that was supposed to travel down the ditch, the Moody family was forced to abandon their hard-scrabble existence and move to town. Moody’s father became a carpenter and foreman in the building trades there. If you can’t beat them, join them, I guess. The senior Moody died shortly after, when his weak lungs gave out.
But here we are, 100 years later, still fighting over having enough water and alternately embracing and rejecting development because of it.
Colorado Division of Water Resources (CDWR) helps mark the stream bed of how Colorado water history has flowed.
"Colorado holds the unique distinction of being the first state to provide for the distribution of water by public officials. In 1879, the legislature created a part of the present administrative system. It provided for the division of the state into ten water districts, nine of which are in the South Platte valley, and one in the Arkansas drainage. In each district, the statute provided for a Water Commissioner to divide the water according to priorities of the various ditches within the district, in accordance with the Prior Appropriation Doctrine of first-in-time, first-in-right," says DCWR in several of their publications.
The priority of each ditch was determined by the district courts based upon the date the ditches were constructed and the water placed to beneficial use. The statute as passed by the legislature in 1879 did not provide for stream measurement.
"The Office of the State Engineer was created in 1881. The primary responsibility of the State Engineer was to measure the water in each stream from which water was diverted for irrigation, starting with those mostly used for irrigation. Three water divisions were created, made up of water districts located within the South Platte, the Arkansas, and the Rio Grande basins. Within six years, each of the remaining four water divisions as they exist today were created. In 1887, the state created a Superintendent of irrigation - who is known today as the Division Engineer - to supervise Water Commissioners within each division," notes CDWR.
In November of 2015, after 30 months of drafting, three draft water plans, eight Basin Implementation Plans, 30,000 public comment periods, and many years of discussions, the CWCB Board voted to approve Colorado’s Water Plan for delivery the to Governor Hickenlooper and the people of Colorado. Hickenlooper embraced the new plan, at that time and issued a proclamation declaring Nov.16, 2015, as Colorado's Water Implementation Day.
One of major studies used to help create that plan, was Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI). Among the top 10 major findings in the 2003 (SWSI), the "Number 1 finding" was that “Significant increases in Colorado’s population, together with agricultural water needs and increased focus on recreational and environmental uses, will intensify competition for water.” That same study pegged the South Platte watershed shortfall at 22 percent, one of the worst shortfalls in the state by the year 2030. Estimates for 2030 water demand by basin versus current anticipated supply were calculated by Colorado Water Conservation Board and the study was delivered to the State legislature.
“New and expanded reservoirs will play a part, as will conservation. One of the study’s major findings, however, is that taking water from irrigated agricultural land and converting it to municipal use will be a primary source of water for cities, one that will be increasingly more attractive if other projects fail.” said Headwaters, a publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.
As many as 400,000 acres of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land could be dried up by 2030, according to that study. Other studies predicted even more dire circumstances.
Locally, that left us right in the center of state-wide water controversy, from the start. 
Dr. Edwin James, a botanist with Maj. Stephen H. Long's 1820 expedition and the first to climb Pikes Peak, also recognized the Colorado Blue Columbines in the area around what later became Palmer Lake. Coloradans naturally selected that for the state flower later. Then in 1843, Lt. John Fremont noted that the flowers near the "dividing ridge" made a "mountain garden" as the "whole valley was radiant with flowers; blue, yellow, pink, white, scarlet and purple, vying with each other in splendor."
The railroads came through in the 1870s and flowers served as a summertime attraction for tourist from all over. One of the interesting aspects of the area's unique history, to me at least, is its use by the railroads to re-water the steam locomotives of the early days of railroads.That ridge divides the the two of the three earliest water divisions created in the state, the Arkansas, and the South Platte water basins.
Where does that leave us today? We are right here at the source, to some extent. Talking with several local water district officials recently, one at a Tri-Lakes Chamber event last week, my conclusion is that we are somewhere very near to the place we were more than 100 years ago when Ralph’s dad had to bare his knuckles and learn to handle a sixshooter.
Not only are we gearing up for some kind of a fight, there will be a lot more of us involved, and our history as it has evolved, will provide layer upon layer of complexity to our ultimate answers.

Victor Christian Science Church lives on in image

Iconic lost Victor landmark inspires Bon Jovi album cover, song

Though long neglected and eventually demolished, the Victor Christian Science Church building continues to inspire and capture the imagination of many who never saw it, says recent information from the Victor Heritage Society.
“An iconic depiction of the Victor Christian Science Church created by photographer Jerry Uelsmann appeared in the introduction to THE OUTER LIMITS, a television show originally broadcast from 1963-65 and recreated for syndication from 1998-2002,” according to the Society.  
“A similar depiction appears as artwork on the cover of a studio album released by the rock band Bon Jovi in November of 2016.  For some, the Uelsmann image depicts a house anchored by deep roots.  Reportedly the image was the inspiration for the album's lead single, "This House Is Not for Sale" and Jon Bon Jovi said ‘That picture told our story…now it’s our album cover’.”
For more details and recently added historic photos of this Lost Victor Landmark, click on this highlighted link to the "Preservation Successes & Challenges" page of Victor Heritage Society web site and scroll to the "Lost Victor Landmarks" section near the bottom of the page.​

  1. "First Church of Christ Scientist, Victor, Colorado," Skolas photo contributed by LaJean Greeson.
  2. Originally constructed in 1900 as a saloon and bowling alley, subsequently converted to a church.
  3. Christian Science Church building before demolition in 2000. One stain glass window may be all that survives.
  4. Bon Jovi album cover.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Holding Pattern: Not in the jailhouse now, but headed there

Things are not going well. You been having a bad evening all night, and it looks like it is headed from bad, to worse.
Three walls of yellow-tinged cinder block, and a fourth wall of heavy-gauge mesh screening with a locked metal metal door surrounds you. There was single big steel key on four-inch key ring that turned the latch that closed door, and locked it without fanfare. The key is now hanging over there on the wall. More yellow-tinge on the reinforced ceiling and a three-inch drain in the middle of the floor in front of you as you look down. A narrow formica-covered, fake woodgrain bench is on the north side of this on the nine foot by nine foot space. Not comfortable, but it wouldn’t be advised for you to try and get comfortable, anyway. You won’t be here long. You can’t stay any longer than six hours, anyway.
You are not in the jailhouse now, but you are headed there.
One of two holding cells in the Monument Police station is your current locale, and you are most-likely headed to the El Paso County Jail. You came in the east entrance downstairs of the Monument Police Building, in one side of the Town Hall, and you were probably in handcuffs, when placed in “Holding Cell 1, or 2.”
The arresting officer will do his, or her paperwork a few feet from you, at the desk there.  Within the comfort of their own reports and computer. Always a bunch of paperwork, when you are arrested. Then they will take you somewhere else for fingerprinting, photographing, more paperwork, booking and lockup.
Officers from Monument Police, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Palmer Lake Police, Colorado State Patrol and others, might have decided to use the temporary holding cell, says Commander Steve Burk, from Monument Police Department. And the arresting officers are responsible for you during your short stay. A sworn person is required to be present when anyone is in the holding cell. That person makes sure you do not become seriously ill, violent, suicidal, or present other problematic behavior.
Sometimes, a lot is going on, and both cells are full, with a possible waiting line. Other times, no one visits the holding cells for weeks, says Burk.
It is one the few locations in northern El Paso County, where such a facility is available. And only became available in the last few years when the new town hall was built.  Before, much of work had to be completed in parked squad car, or at booking into the jail.
Gone, of course, are the days of Otis Campbell in Mayberry, having a key to the front door of the courthouse and the cell keys are hung on a nail near the cells (presumably, to accommodate Otis).
“It is interesting, however,” says Burk. “How it is still the large key turning the lock, to secure the door.”

Photo information:

  1. Still, it is a big key that turns the lock when you find yourself in Monument Police Department’s holding cell 1 or 2.
  2. The yellow-tinged cinder block walls and large-gauge mesh screen in the small space, is no way to spend part of Saturday night.

Photos by Rob Carrigan

Monday, December 26, 2016

Bullfights, BS, Soap, Gillett and we are still telling the story

The story was so compelling that United Press International was still retelling their own versions of the yarn across the country 71 years later, in 1966.
"One of Teller County's most famous historical events, the nation's first authentic bull fight back in 1895, was recalled this week in a widely circulated article by the United Press International, the wire service feature published by a large number of daily newspapers across the country," noted the Ute Pass Courier in its Dec. 8 edition in 1966.
"The sheriff said, 'Shoot the bull!' and the Governor cried 'Bring on the militia!" — but the only true bullfight known to have been staged in the United States went on to it's blood conclusion," the UPI story dramatically related.
"That was here in Gillett 71 years ago and the humane association that was ag'in it then, is still ag'in today. So are all the states of the Union, where it is outlawed," went on UPI.
"Mock bull fighting,  in which the bull is teased, but neither wounded or killed, has been tried in various parts of the country but without any resounding success and against the continuing protests of the be-kind-to-animals groups.
"Even that first and apparently only real American bullfight was a short-lived success. The promoters of the 1895 were towering 'Arizona Charlie' Meadows, said to be seven feet tall and noted wild west performer of his day, and Joe Wolfe, a wild west show promoter and hotel operator.  They advertised a 'lady' bullfighter but actually the lady proved to be one Jose Marrerro, described by the Denver Rocky Mountain News as a "magnificent figure with a long, shining sword."
Wolfe himself had a legendary reputation as scoundrel, and locally crossed the path of Cripple Creek Crusher (forerunner to Cripple Creek Times) editor E.C. Gard path in Cripple Creek in his administration and management of the Clarendon Hotel, Gard let loose because he felt Wolfe was attracting too much attention by throwing money around the gaming tables and consorting with shady characters.
“This curious hostelry is run by a red-faced, cock-eyed boob who ought to be back in Missouri flats pulling cockle-burrs out of a cornfield,” wrote Gard in the Crusher in the early 1890s. He proved to be on target when later Wolfe’s efforts to organize one of the only bullfights ever held in the United States at the racetrack at Gillett Flats landed him in jail and fleeing from creditors. But that is part of UPI's yarn.
"'Arizona Charlie' and Wolfe took over the fight at the race track with seats for 500, and 3,000 shouting aficianados  showed up," according to UPI's version. "Written accounts of the bullfight reported that the bull soon began faltering under Marrerro's repeated stabs and the local sheriff was so moved he ran to the promoters to demand it be shot. They said 'no,'  and the fight went on," reported UPI more than seven decades later.
"Another man caught in the middle was Colorado Governor Albert W. McIntyre who wanted to call in the militia to put a stop to the affair but was talked out of it," said wire service version.
"Marrerro was, of course, the victor that historic night of Aug. 24, 1895, although he apparently was not the most accomplished bullfighter extant. In the supreme 'moment of truth,' he missed with his first intended fatal stab, then killed the bull on his second try."
After the first bull, Meadows and Wolfe were arrested and the show was stopped.
"The $5 fines weren't enough to discourage 'Arizona Charlie' and his partner, however, and the show went on the following day.  Apparently though, most of the good folk of Gillett and environs, had had enough. The crowd dwindled to 300,  the fines were upped on the promoters, and that was the end to bullfighting in Colorado," reported UPI more than 50 years ago, 71 years after the only known fight.
Jan Mackell Collins, in her excellent new book,  "Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County" clarified some information and added detail about the bullfights in Gillett, not the smallest of which was the actual stature of "Arizona Charlie."
"The six-foot-six, long-haired, mustachioed man from Arizona must have been startling to the citizens of Gillett," she writes and explains that he started in Payson and Prescott rodeos before working his way into a seven-year stint in Wild West Shows, including Buffalo Bill's traveling troupe. Wolfe's contribution included the purchase of nine and half blocks of real estate. The two partners, after borrowing $5,000 to print tickets and build the 5,000-seat amphitheater, hire matadors, and promote the event with posters faced opposition right from the start.
"The authorities did ultimately stop the bulls and their keepers at the Texas border. But the matadors still came, and Wolfe and Meadows managed to wrangle some local bulls who were anything but fighting bulls. Things took an equally nasty turn when Wolfe invited renowned bunco artist Soapy Smith to set up games of chance outside the entrance to the event. Soapy took so much money from his victims that some of them could not afford the $5 ticket to get in," wrote Mackell Collins.

Photo information:
1. Outside the arena on the first, and most-crowded occasion of the American bullfight in Gillett.
2. Wolfe and Meadows constructed a 5,000 seat amphitheater in Gillett.
3. Wolfe had recently promoted the construction of several hotels in the mining district, including the Clarendon Hotel and the Palace.
4. By the third day of the fights, Aug. 26, 1895, the seats were nearly empty.

Photos by H.S. Poley.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Weekly miracle at Christmastime, and throughout the year

Three main gifts of newspapers exchanged

After nearly 50 years of knocking around community newspapers at Christmas time, I think it is time to try and distill some wisdom about them. Or if nothing else, some observations.
There are other things involved, but there are really three main gifts from the community newspaper at Christmastime, and throughout the year.
In a nod to short-form story telling ace William Sydney Porter (known by his pen name O. Henry), and his most-known work, let’s call them “Gift of the Magi.”
Porter, in true form of most ink-slingers, wrote a story a week for over a year for the New York World Sunday Magazine. His wit, characterization, and plot twists were adored by his readers, but often panned by critics. And while there in New York, he wrote 381 short stories.
Almost every one of them had a surprise ending.
Which brings us to the first gift.
A valuable community newspaper offers surprise, week in, and week out. Maybe not a jaw-dropping, stun-them-in-their-seat, blow-soup-out-your-nose revelation — but true tidbits that you can’t find anywhere else. And when you read one religiously, and we are doing our job well, you will receive that gift every week, as you read it, and notice something you were not aware of.
The second gift is harder to articulate, but critical for mission, as well.
I call it local character, and it has to do with providing consistent, recognizable, and true-to-community standards coverage, of the personality you strive to cover. That is, a newspaper’s readership, and market, and universe. Local is the key word. And it requires encouraging participation, inclusion, diverse subject attention, and becoming one, with the community.
The third gift we can offer you at Christmas, and every other week, is the hardest to pull off.
Let’s call it the magic. I know, that might sound a bit presumptuous, that we can perform magic on a regular basis with nothing but word processing, digital images and the organization contest that occurs with the weekly miracle.
But I have seen it happen, when we help get the word out about a family in need, or social problem that bedevils the community, or a hero that rises like cream to help us all.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed. O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." In so doing, Dr. O'Hanlon had unwittingly given one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.
I think we can accomplish some of the same kind of magic.
"The Gift of the Magi," Porter’s (O. Henry’s) story about a young couple who are short of money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. Unbeknownst to Jim, Della sells her most valuable possession, her beautiful hair, in order to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch; while unbeknownst to Della, Jim sells his own most valuable possession, his watch, to buy jeweled combs for Della's hair. The essential premise of this story has been copied, re-worked, parodied, and otherwise re-told countless times in the century since it was written.
And the take-away? Perhaps value does not reside in the gifts themselves —  but in the exchange.

Photo Information: From top, down. 

1. William Sydney Porter (known by his pen name O. Henry).
2. Virginia O'Hanlon, about 1895. 
3. Francis Pharcellus Church, editor for New York Sun.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Words remembered, games called, spell it out, and Paul Simon on Spotify

Thought about a poker game, maybe 30 years ago. Right now I'm in my comfortable chair, listening to Paul Simon on Spotify. Trying to think in story form. The words are sometimes friend ... sometimes foe.

"Seven card stud, ace-high Chicago, low-holy split. Don't forget the pagan babies," he called the game this round.

 In a couple of days they're gonna take me away
When the press let the story leak
Now when the radical preacher comes to get me released
Appears all on the cover of Newsweek
And I'm on my way, I don't know where I'm goin'
But I'm on my way, takin' my time, but I don't know where
Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona
Seein' me and Julio down by the schoolyard

 A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard
Bonedigger Bonedigger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore
If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's
a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Now I sit by my window
And I watch the cars
I fear I'll do some damage
One fine day
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years
Still crazy
Still crazy
Still crazy after all these years 


 The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war
I'm going to Graceland
And I could say Oo oo oo
As if everybody here would know
What I was talking about
I mean everybody here would know exactly
What I was talking about
Talking about diamonds
People say I'm crazy
I got diamonds on the soles of my shoes
Well that's one way to lose
These walking blues
Diamonds on the soles of your shoes  


"Maybe you should play a round of three-toed Pete, to build up your reserves, so you don't have to set the rest of the night out," I said, trying to be helpful.
"Nonsense!" you cried. "Seven card no peek, twos, fours, whores, one-eyed Jacks, and Kings with an axe are wild."
And that is how it went.