Monday, June 30, 2008
“Good evening everybody.!”
That is how a favorite Colorado Newspaper character opened his trademark reports for decades.
Lowell Thomas, former editor of the Victor Daily Record and Victor News, died of a heart attack in 1981, two weeks after last visiting his boyhood hometown in the small Colorado mining hamlet of Victor.
Both of those Victor newspapers eventually merged into the Cripple Creek Gold Rush, a 1,000-circulation, paid weekly that I once published.
After viewing one of Thomas lectures, or Television or radio reports, listeners often experienced a sense, or distinct feeling, that they were listening to a very eloquent friend, telling stories that actually happened to the storyteller personally.
He would often break into a yarn in some fascinating exotic location as if was telling about something that happened to him that morning, and maybe it did.
“That reminds me of a story,” he would say.
Thomas was the Forest Gump of the 20th Century. The man was everywhere.
In 1900, when Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning in Victor for William McKinley, who was not very popular in a state that supported the free coinage of silver and William Jennings Bryan.
When Roosevelt appeared in Victor, the crowd was polite for a while, but the future president was forced to cut his speech short as catcalls and taunts from “democratic hoodlums” escalated into almost a full-scale riot at Midland Terminal.
Roosevelt, his pince-nez knocked from his face, was blinded to the onslaught.
One of the “democratic hoodlums” picked up a wooden two by four and swung at Roosevelt’s head.
“That is where I first advise a president,” said Thomas on several occasions. “I pulled on his coattail and told him to duck.”
Actually, a guy by the name of Danny Sullivan, blocked the two by four’s arc from cracking the future president’s head. He reportedly received a red sapphire ring as a token of Roosevelt’s appreciation on the train ride out of the mining district.
Back to Thomas, however.
Born in Woodington, Ohio, in 1892, Thomas moved to Victor at the age of eight and as a boy of 10, joined the newsboy union. He first folded and delivered the Victor Daily Record but later began hawking The Denver Post in the gambling halls, red light districts and saloons of Victor and Cripple Creek.
He also worked as a gold miner, range-rider, waiter, short-order cook, milker and pitched hay on the Ute Mountain Indian reservation to help finance his education.
In 1911, at age 19, he became the editor of the Record. In 1912, he moved over to the Victor News, but left shortly afterward to become a reporter at the Chicago Journal, where he worked until 1914. During his stint at the Journal, Thomas attended law school, where he also taught oratory.
“The ability to speak is a short-cut to distinction. In puts a man in the limelight, raises him head and shoulders above the crowd,” Thomas is frequently quoted as saying.
According to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (HAADA), Thomas earned four college degrees, one each at Valparaiso University, University of Denver, Kent College of Law and Princeton University.
He also received 25 honorary degrees from other institutions. In addition to HAADA, Thomas’ achievements landed him in such varied institutions as the Radio Hall of Fame, Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
President Ford awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1976.
As pioneer of radio journalism, newsreel services and then television news, Thomas established himself as the voice of world travel and adventure in his long and prolific career. He wrote 52 books, many of them best sellers, was the first reporter to enter Germany following World War I, broadcast news during World War II from a mobile truck behind the front lines and flew over Berlin in a P-51 Mustang during the final battle between Russians and Germans.
President Woodrow Wilson commissioned Thomas to create a historical record of World War I battles.
His experiences in Arabia with T.E. Lawrence during that commission were the basis of a series of films, lectures and his book, “With Lawrence in Arabia.”
He wasn’t a fan of the film, however. “They only got two things right, the camels and the sand,” Thomas said.
Other journalistic firsts for Thomas include the narration, in 1925, of the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe; and his 17-year career at Fox Movietone News, heard weekly by nearly 100 million people.
Want more? He also helped pioneer the development of Cinerama, a film technology, participated in the first flight across Antarctica and hosted the PBS television series, “Lowell Thomas Remembers.”
He crammed a lot of things to remember during his 89 years on Earth. “After the age of 80, everything reminds you of something else,” Thomas said.
His son, Lowell Thomas Jr., who once served as the lieutenant governor of Alaska, produced the television series “High Adventure,” a weekly series in which Thomas appeared. The two also co-authored “Famous First Flights That Changed History.”
Of his travels and adventures, Thomas said his personal quest was “to know more about this globe than anyone else ever has.”
To learn more about Thomas’ life and achievements, I recommend you travel to Victor and visit the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum at the corner of Third Street and Victor Avenue.
The museum is currently raising funds to save the Reynolds Block, where the Museum has been housed since 1960. The Victor Improvement Association which owns the museum collection and the building, recently was awarded a $208,177 grant from the State Historical Fund and now needs to raise $70,000 in matching funds.