Saturday, October 24, 2009
“We communists are like seeds and the people are like the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people, take root and blossom among them.” — Mao Tse-Tung, 1966.
Dolores seemed like an unlikely place to harbor communist ideals or to produce a Marxist model for utopian cooperation and advancement. But right there it was. Evidence, plain as the nose on you face.
It started out innocent enough. Lynn Leavell had a simple wish. He hoped that one day, all the neighborhood kids would enjoy basketball.
Not just watching it on TV, or playing under the tyrannical guidance of an oppressive coach in gym class or after school — but in the freedom of someone’s own back yard. His — for example.
So, despite only being 9 or 10-years-old, and of limited resources and abilities, he set out to make that happen.
To set the record straight, Lynn was generally a capitalist. He had strong beliefs in the monetary system, the exchange of goods and services, the advancement of a man (or woman) by hard work, and careful administration and application of the fruits of that toil.
But it was like that well-worn Polish joke, “What’s the difference between capitalism and communism? Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man; Communism is the reverse.”
The first step was to convince his dad, who worked out at the sawmill at the time (or maybe it was his mom for she worked out there as well,) to bring home a big old pole. It had to be one tall enough and sturdy enough to hang a backboard from.
The pole appeared one day finally, without fanfare, and was deposited right there at the edge of the yard, parallel with Mary Ruth Major’s fence.
And what a knarly-looking monster it was? It was straight and tall, without bends, curves, irregularities or deviation regarding its reach toward the sky. But man, it was not pretty.
Every six to ten inches, all the way up and all the way around, little nubs, where once a small limb had hastily been trimmed with a chainsaw, protruded slightly from the pole. Some were smashed down flat. Others, the size a man’s thumb, needed the attention of additional sawmilling.
Not to be discouraged, Lynn set work with a hand saw and in some instances a hammer, or wood rasp, and occasionally even a hack saw, in his efforts to smooth over the problem protrusions.
His efforts were rewarded with a passably-smooth pole that was eventually raised, part of it submerged in a deep hole, and set with concrete out in the back of the back yard, near where the old shed used to be, but with plenty of space all the way around. Most of the time a basketball would fall within the confines of Leavell property, no matter how errant a shot.
Time passed and indeed, the neighbor kids did find the wooden backboard at regulation height upon the great knobby pole, to be quite satisfactory. Hours were wiled away after school, on weekends, vacations and during the summers. So much so, that a big brown hole was worn into the lawn and endless contests of H-O-R-S-E, Around the World, one on one, two on two, two on one, and whatever variation you could think of, would occur at all times of day. Every so often, a player, or the game’s host, would pause temporarily and the saw would be summoned to deal with the as-yet-untouched, but never the less still dangerous, knot on the pole.
The games and the yard itself developed a unique, or perhaps unheard of, quality of fairness and equality. Players of awesome ability were matched against those of mediocre, or even sub-par ability with little or no ill effect. Young men played side-by-side with young women. Men against boys. Brother versus sister. Good opposed evil, and so on.
That is where the reference to communism surfaced that I warned you about. Communism, pure and simple, blossoming right there in the soil of Leavell’s back yard on Seventh Street and Hillside Avenue in Dolores, Colorado.
Communism — in its distilled state … disproving Will Rogers often repeated remark, “Communism is like prohibition. It is a good idea but it won’t work.” Or lying bare the idea that a cow of many, is well milked and badly fed.
But old Karl Marx couldn’t have set it up any more perfectly. For in that back yard emerged a genuine model, the real deal.
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Other Related Stories
A missed thankyou
Saturday, October 17, 2009
It is easy to dismiss the idea of a ghost or spirit in the light of day.
Alone, under the stars or in the dim lighting of an ancient building, among the night sounds of creaky floors, unknown varmints, sagging ceilings and the frightening history of a once violent 100-year-old mining camp, it can be an entirely different deal.
Maybe it is that sudden unexplained draft in the room, or the feeling of not being alone, or the dog’s low growl and raised hair on her back. Or perhaps the fleeting image (at least you think you saw it) of young girl, dressed in the old fashioned garb and saddest of looks, at the foot of the stairs -- that convinces you to reconsider.
The Dunn Building, at 213 Victor Avenue, in Victor, Colorado, has all the pre-described elements that might make such a statement.
The building was once the prosperous business address of one Thomas F. Dunn, undertaker, who also lived with his wife in the upstairs apartments above the busy funeral parlor. By some accounts, Dunn was an artist at patching up bodies that had been shot, stabbed, dynamited, buried in ruble, fallen from great heights, entangled in machinery, or otherwise twisted and torn in rigors of the gold camp mines, saloons and brothels.
But death eventually catches up to us all, and T.F. Dunn passed from this world before the turn of the century. As surely as we all will pass some time.
Mrs. Dunn, surviving her husband by many years, of course was left to cope. To do so, she converted the upstairs apartments into a boarding house taking on tenants.
In the 1983 book “Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek,” by Chas Clifton, then owner of the Dunn building Skip Phillips is quoted, “I love my ghosts,” and says he has felt Mrs. Dunn presence and referred to her as his caretaker.
“Not only does ‘Mrs. Dunn’ manifest as the usual footsteps, Phillips says but an earlier tenant is said to have seen a women dressed in black leaning over his bed upstairs in what had been one of Mrs. Dunn’s eleven rental rooms. The man also told Phillips of a ‘crying’ sound in the building all the time,” according to Clifton’s book.
“Phillips tells how he and other persons have felt ‘watched’ in particular parts of the building, especially around the rear door, and where the stairway comes up from the basement, a point he jocularly refers to as the ‘haunted stairwell.’ Several psychics have told him that ‘something really sad’ happened in an upstairs bedroom, others that they could feel the concentrated essence of sorrow distilled from all the mourners who visited the undertaker decades ago.”
But perhaps it had something to do with Thomas F. Dunn actions before his own death. For that, has become a legendary tale in the district.
“For the longest time, people just assumed the spirits of those bitterly departed that once went in and out of the funeral parlor were responsible for the goings-on in the Dunn building. Until 1899, that is, when a man who had been one of Mr. Dunn’s assistants spoke up about a disturbing incident that took place in the funeral home in 1893,” wrote Dan Asfar in his 2006 book “Ghost Stories of Colorado.”
“According to this man’s story, it happened while Dunn was working on the corpse of a miner who had been badly mutilated in a cave in. He had just begun preparing the miner for burial when the supposed cadaver suddenly twitched on the embalming table. A moment later, the badly bleeding body came to tortured life; one of its hands darted out to grab the startled mortician while the other reached up to feel the remnants of its mangled face. It was an undertaker’s nightmare come true: the dead man at the table wasn’t quite dead yet,” writes Asfar.
“The realization hit the mortician, his assistant and supposed-to-be dead miner with equal force. As Dunn took a few horrified steps backward, the man on the table let out a blood-curdling wail and tried to sit up. Although the miner did manage to get up, it quickly became obvious he didn’t know which way to go; he couldn’t see a thing through his one remaining eye.”
According to legend. Dunn and his assistant administered morphine to quiet the man, and upon evaluation and consideration of what a doctor might be able to do for the man, more morphine was used to put him to his final rest.
“Dunn himself administered the lethal injection and hardly waited at all before resuming his work on the miner. The young assistant couldn’t help noticing that the miner was still producing a faint pulse while he was being prepared for burial,” according to Asfar’s account.
It is said that the badly mangled miner’s spirit haunts the Dunn Building to this day.
For more Ghosts, see following links:
Ghost Hang out at the old school
Gottlieb Fluhmann's Ghost
Maggie and other ghosts in the building
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
These guys go way back with me, almost as far as I can remember -- to use a rather crude expression, longer than a whore’s dream.
There are bad things and good things about longtime friends.
The bad thing is, they will never change.
The good thing is, well -- they will never change.
To paraphrase one of our former coaches, Edsel Page, while running plays as the ‘hamburger squad’ in the ‘hammer’ formation under assistant coach Brian Tobin,
“Screw around, screw around, that’s all you guys do.”
He had a point, but it was probably a mistake to be so mad about it. Sign of weakness, you know, showing us how to get to you.
“Let’s see what happens if we run a “Statue of Liberty play,” was Tobin answer in the next huddle.
Henry Adams said, “One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.”
I can count higher than that. Sometimes, it is a wonder how we manage to be so fortunate.
God, save me from my friends – I can protect myself from my enemies.
And from Mark Twain, “The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.”
Ah, who needs them? I’m seldom wrong.
To lift another vague expression -- Aim low boys, they are riding Shetlands.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Every morning, driving into work, I marvel at the golden dome of the capitol when I turn east onto Colfax Avenue from I-25. It is certainly not the highest building in the Denver skyline, but the shiny edifice off to the right stands out as unique, substantive, and respectable. Many mornings, the sun reflecting off the gilded hemisphere is occasion enough for sunglasses.
Gold is an impressive and appropriate material to cover the top of the state’s top government building. The precious metal helped build and pay for much of the ‘Centennial State’s’ growth and expansion.
It called out to the first Argonauts of 1859 and inspired their push for “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Later, the yellow metal made possible ‘the greatest gold camp in the world’ at Cripple Creek and Victor. Money earned in that district, transformed Colorado Springs into a world class tourist destination and paid for city, county and federal buildings all over town. Huge lumps were pulled from Clear Creek and the central mountains near Breckenridge. If California hadn’t beaten us to it by 10 years, we probably would be known as the Golden State.
But the dome wasn’t always golden. In fact the whole building had a bit of a troubled history. Henry Brown, (the same Brown who built another Denver landmark, the Brown Palace Hotel) donated the land for the building a full eight years before statehood in 1868, but because no fundraising was occurring at the time Colorado became a state, he filed a law suit, and put up a wooden fence around the property. The suit went all the way to the United States Supreme Court where Brown’s revocation of the property was rejected. Even so, builders didn’t turn a shovel on the new structure until 1886. And it was slow going for years afterward.
The first contractor encountered cost overruns early on and was replaced. The Detroit architect who designed the building, Elijah Meyers, was fired after two years on the job. The second architect, Pete Gumry, was killed in an explosion of another building. Striking quarry workers slowed construction. The third architect, James Murdoch, resigned after three years. Local architect, F.E. Edbrooke, (who had designed many local buildings including the Brown Palace) finally finished the job. It was Edbrooke who suggested that the dome be gilded with real Colorado gold. But that part of the project didn’t happen until 1908.
The original dome’s copper sheathing turned a dull greenish hue shortly after completion. A donation of 200 ounces of real Colorado gold, produced by the Colorado Mining Association at the urging of San Juan road-builder, newspaper founder, and general all-purpose pioneer, Otto Mears -- finished off the building. Of course, the price of gold wasn’t $1050 an ounce at that time.
It was re-gilded in 1948, again in1980 and once more in 1991.
“Atop the dome is a glass globe four feet in diameter that surrounds a beacon-like light bulb. Originally it was thought that a statue, of the "most beautiful woman in Colorado" was the most appropriate way to adorn the dome. One board member suggested his own daughter and with the female members of the legislature voting for themselves, the board did the politically correct thing and voted down the proposition,” according to virtual tour information at the state’s web site.
This summer, Gov. Bill Ritter announced that plans to repair the golden dome are on hold, at least for now. The cast iron that makes up the bulk of the dome is rusting and crumbling.
“But the state officials say the public is not in any danger. Visitors have not been allowed on the walkway around the dome since a 10-pound piece of cast iron fell off in 2007,” said a June 30, 2009 article by Claire Trageser in the Denver Post.
In the meantime, the dome still garners iconic status in the minds of Colorado residents as evidenced in former Sport Illustrated columnist and ESPN personality Rick Reilly’s recent ‘licking of the dome’ Tuesday of this week. Reilly, a Colorado native, made good on a promise offered up on the Mike Rosen show in April, that if the Rockies made the playoffs, he would “tongue-bathe the capitol dome.”
Sunday, October 4, 2009
In late September of 1917, Colorado Springs was, for the most part a growing, peaceful, tourist destination bolstered by years of economic vitality related to gold mining in the Cripple Creek mining district and ore processing in Old Colorado City. While some folks were concerned about increasing incidents of influenza, the war in Europe, and other such worldly worries – they became really frightened when a 10-year-old girl vanished, without a trace on September 18, 1917.
“Nellie Ferguson, 10-year-old child, has been reported missing by her parents. She was last seen at the Lowell school yesterday about 3:45 p.m., when she stayed after school and assisted one of the teachers,” according to the Gazette on Sept. 19.
More than 150 men and boys searched all day for the girl in nearly every part of the city, and police officers, opening a full-scale investigation, still, they could not locate Nellie Ferguson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Ferguson of 15 West Rio Grande Street.
By September 21, the city was nearly in a panic. A systematic search performed by volunteers from Colorado College, the high School and Lowell School, under the direction of D.G. Johnson, the Commissioner of Public Safety, scoured the surrounding area within, and 5 miles beyond, city limits. Still, no sign of Nellie.
Rewards from most every group and numerous individuals sprang forth: $25 from the Gazette, Teachers, the PTA and the principal at Lowell School contributed. Students from Lowell School raised $17, which was a substantial sum for school children of that time. Later, the city (by decree of the city council) threw in $100 to reward fund. Postcards by the hundreds, with little Nellie Ferguson’s photo, were mailed all over the state.
“A Mr. and Mrs. William Hamman came under suspicion; they were said to be members of the Pillar of Fire religious sect and had roomed at the Ferguson’s for a while. After moving to another house, the Hammans were said to have become very friendly with Nellie.” according to a 1962 paper by Carl Mathews for the Denver Westerners’ Roundup. Mathews served as superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in the Colorado Springs Police Department for 32 years and retired in 1952.
The Pillar of Fire religious sect, founded by Alma Birdwell White, was later connected with Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s in Colorado, though they have since renounced that connection, calling it a mistake.
“On Sept. 20th, they were located in Fountain. That evening, Acting Chief Hugh Harper with officers of the Police Department, and Sheriff Weir, accompanied by a representative of the Gazette, went there and, after two hours of cross examination, the Hammans were permitted to remain in Fountain. However, they were under police surveillance, which was continued after they went to Pueblo. On the 28th, at the instigation of Fred Ferguson, the father of the girl, a warrant was issued and they were arrested and returned. On October 2nd they were to be arraigned on a charge of ‘Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency,’ but I was unable to find any further mention of that angle,” wrote Mathews in 1962.
By late October, a Grand Jury conducting an investigation questioned many witnesses including Mrs. Ferguson and neighbors living near the Ferguson home, but came up with zip, nothing, zilch, nada.
By mid November, the girl’s father had shifted his own focus to Denver thinking that perhaps the girl had been taken by Gypsies, and the Denver Police Department was reportedly working on several clues. Unfortunately, those efforts turned up nothing. Mr. and Mrs. Fred Ferguson went to their grave without any real idea what happened to their young daughter. Little Nellie Ferguson was never again seen after completing her helpful chores at Lowell School on the afternoon of September 18, 1917.