Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Legal booze flowing again by Christmas


Mother's in the kitchen washing out the jugs, Sister's in the pantry bottling the suds, Father's in the cellar mixing up the hops, Johnny's on the front porch watching for the cops.
--Prohibition song

By July of 1933, everyone, including Time magazine was eagerly anticipating the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the legal consumption of liquor. “Repeal by Christmas,” suggested a headline in the July, 31, 1933 edition.
The news magazine said that it “looked so close last week that even a good professional Dry like Prohibition Director Alfred Vernon Dalrymple was in favor of letting distilleries resume production immediately under government license to stock up for the coming deluge.”
According to Time then, there was only about 6,000,000 gallons of medicinal hard liquor under government bond and the periodical speculated that the country would gulp that all down in a few weeks.
“Because it takes four years to age real whiskey, an acute domestic liquor shortage looms unless production is again permitted. As it is unlikely that the Federal Government will grant that permission in advance of final Repeal, foreign liquor manufacturers have amassed enormous surplus stocks for shipment to the U.S. at a moment’s notice.”
Time quoted Dalrymple who had recently spent years chasing bootleggers.
“There is no use to kid ourselves and there isn’t any use in delaying the start of liquor manufacture. It will mean putting hundreds of thousands of men back to work and it will mean hundreds of thousands of dollars of new business.”
That July, Arkansas had taken the Repeal effort past the halfway mark, though Drys charged that Wets had paid the poll taxes of indigents in return for their votes and the Arkansas Attorney General warned that under state law, it was still “as dry as a camel’s tonsils.”
“Tennessee gave the Repealists their first scare when it turned in a wet majority of only 9,000 out of nearly 250,000 votes. Memphis and Nashville were barely able to overcome the Dry strength of Republican moonshining East Tennessee,” according to Time.
Oregon refused to listen to William E. (“Pussyfoot”) Johnson, who stomped out of the State declaring his Dry campaign had been a failure and the U.S. was “in for a five year drunk.”
Colorado had scheduled a vote for Sept. 4 and Postmaster General Farley was quoted by Time as saying, “The country is safe. We will have Repeal by Christmas. The President agrees with me.”
That September, the majority of Coloradoans suspended the state’s prohibition laws and then voted two-to-one to ratify the 21st Amendment to repeal National Prohibition. Vestiges of temperance remained for years however, such “Blue Laws” prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, until as recently as 2008.
In the Nov. 18, 1933 edition of the Literary Digest, it was noted “National Prohibition has less than three weeks to live. On Tuesday, December 5, the thirty-sixth State convention will ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment, which came into effect less than 14 years ago, on January 16, 1920.”
It took only about eight and a half months from submission to Congress of the 21st Amendment to ratification by 37 State Conventions.
“The pathway to national repeal is now clear. Speculation and forecasting is over. It has been ruled that not even a formal proclamation from Washington is necessary to bury the 18th Amendment,” said the Digest.
Here in Colorado, the Dec. 6, 1933 edition of the Rocky Mountain News led with “Repeal Celebrators Find Liquor Lacking,” calling attention to the shortage of legal stuff the night before.
“The death of prohibition was being toasted tonight largely with the same illegal liquor used to flout the 18th Amendment’s existence. Officials ruled that bonded liquor in warehouses could not be removed for distribution to wholesalers and in turn to retailers, until Utah formally ratified repeal… There were only about 3,000,000 gallons of rectified liquor on hand on which taxes had been paid.” Utah formally ratified the law later the same evening.
###

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pooka, Patty, Photos, Papers and Let's Ride


According to legend, the Púca is an adroit shapeshifter, capable of assuming a variety of terrifying forms. It may appear as an eagle or as a large black goat, but it most commonly takes the form of a sleek black or white horse with a flowing mane and glowing yellow eyes. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns. By the beginning of the 21st century, depictions and conceptions of the Púca have changed from a fierce, terrifying spirit to a harmless, shy, garden-gnomish. The Púca is a creature of the mountains and hills, and in those regions there are stories of it appearing on November Day and providing prophecies and warnings to those who consult it. The Púca has the power of human speech, and has been said to call those it feels have slighted or offended it out of their homes for a ride. If they fail to appear, it will tear down fences, scatter livestock, and create general mayhem. From popular culture Puck, the goat-footed satyr made famous in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” draws from the mythology.
___ From Monstropedia, the Monstrous Encyclopedia.

I had never really been around sick and dying people before but for some reason, I think I figured out, or sensed, that was what was happening to Don Wallace.
As I delivered the Durango Herald each day, he waited out there on the porch for the latest on Patty Hearst and smoked roll-your-own cigarettes. His moods varied wildly and he had that far-away look in his eyes.
Some days it would be a surly nod and a distant stare. Other times, obviously happy to engage anyone in conversation, he’d attempt a lame joke or tell me something that he heard on the radio and ask if I had anything about that in the paper. At times, some of his cronies would be there as well.
Ed Gould, a former newspaper man himself, occasionally would drop by with groceries, goats milk, tobacco, or perhaps a bottle of Black Velvet. Gould would disagree with almost anything Don said. It seemed purely by habit.
Don, who knew I lived across the street from his brother Walt Wallace, occasionally would ask me about stories I had heard from Walt, and not refute them but embellish or add details that cast him personally in a favorable light. It seemed almost competitive, the storytelling gene among the Wallace boys.
“In September 1975, a year and a half after her life had been so brutally altered, Patty Hearst was found in an apartment with two other SLA members and arrested by the FBI. They charged her with bank robbery. Her family hired the famous attorney F. Lee Bailey to defend her in court,” according to Katherine Ramsland in article about the controversial trial.
Bailey, who had defended Sam Sheppard and arranged a deal for Albert DeSalvo (the Boston Strangler), accepted the case with the requirement that he be granted book rights.
Don, and his visitors, often had a field day with the circus that the story had become.
I struggled with the weirdness of it.
How could a young woman from a rich and powerful family change so starkly in to bank-robbing terrorist Tania. The newspaper photographs were fascinating.
But the whole world was a little weird back in the mid-1970s.
It felt like we had somehow offended a force for order in our universe, and it was calling us out.
We had no choice in the matter either, if we didn’t go, it would tear down our fences, scatter our livestock and generally create mayhem.
Whether we wanted to, or not, we were all going for a ride.
###

Please click below to see related posts:


• Tales of the future, straight from the horse's mouth.

• Smooth and comfortable on the right side of gate.

• Humor, sadness and the angry bear in a trap.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It is like 'Jurassic Park' in the bathroom there

It started out like one of those B-grade movies you love when you are about 12 years old. Picture a wide shot with a woman preparing to fill up a glass bowl in the sink of an old building. Everything is normal, calm, and tranquil. The old building has been there in downtown Denver for at least 100 years and the plumbing probably saw its last update about 1920. Then the shot zooms in tighter, focusing more on the glass rose bowl and the sink as the water is turned on, and tighter yet, to the tap, as the water begins to fill and then, something small and unrecognizable plops in the bowl. She notices and holds it up to the light to better see.
What is it? It is moving. Are those claws? That, for sure, is a tail.
Yikes! I think it is a baby alligator.
Immediately that opens up the realm of possibilities in my over-active imagination. How did that get in the tapwater. I’ve heard of ‘gators in the sewers before, but is it warm enough in Denver for them to survive? And that was from the tap — hopefully tap and sewer shouldn’t have any connection. And it’s cold, almost Thanksgiving.
According to this month's Colorado Editor, "Clyde, a lizard who mysteriously appeared in running water from a tap in the Colorado Press Association bathroom, has garnered media attention from the Denver Post and National Public Radio to Channel 7 and Channel 9 News. The lizard, which is approximately 1-1/2 inches in length, is thought to have crawled into the tap rather than being a product of the Denver water system. He now resides at Scales and Tails in Lakewood where they hope to determine his exact identity."
Samantha Johnston, Colorado Press Association's executive director (and my boss), found the little bugger when she was filling up the glass bowl upon returning from a recent trip to Mexico.
I think it gives new meaning to the oft-used admonishment for travelers to, "Whatever you do, don't drink the water."
###

Monday, December 6, 2010

Walls of white with power and might


When I was much younger, I worked for a guy that had cabins up in Horse Gulch above Rico, and on certain winters, the spring snow had to be cleared from the roofs or they would collapse. We would ski in on a moonlit night to avoid ending up in a avalanche and shovel for days, as well try to get the cabins warm enough that the snow would slide off the tin roof.
I always had a lot of respect for slides after seeing a little one in Burns Canyon (also near Rico) run one time, and witnessing the damage that a slide was capable in several locations on the Upper Dolores.
But avalanche caution was sort of institutionalized in San Juans.
Take for example this Feb. 20 report in the Fairplay Flume in 1897
“There was a reign of terror in the mountains yesterday. Reports from Leadville, Aspen, Ouray, Red Cliff, Telluride and other towns tell of snow slides by the dozens. Huge volumes of snow tumbled down from every peak and crag, and those who had to travel on the mountain trails were in fear of their lives. J. E. BELL, a mail carrier of Ouray, was caught and killed in a big slide at Riverside”
It went on to tell of railroad travel being blocked on all of the lines centering at Leadville, and down in the southern part of the state the Rio Grande Southern was tied up at different points by snow.
Earlier reports from papers in the East such as this account in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan 27, 1886 had initiated talk of such dangers.
“Another snow-slide horror is reported from the extreme southwestern part of the State. Leonard Sutton, who has been at work in the Silver Lake basin in the La Plata Mountains, reached Durango last night with a frightful account of a slide which wrecked the cabin at the Daylight Mine on Tuesday last. While he was sitting in the cabin with Henry Thomas, his partner, and a fierce storm was raging outside, a slide from the mountain side suddenly struck the cabin and demolished it.
“Sutton says he was hurled some distance and buried fifteen feet under the snow. He managed to drag himself out, and set about to find Thomas, who was buried about ten feet deep. But the man’s leg was broken, and he was otherwise so badly injured that he could not sit up. Thomas begged Sutton to kill him and thus put him out of his misery. Sutton refused to kill him, and then Thomas begged him to leave at once and save himself. Believing Thomas would not live more than a few minutes he finally consented to leave him to his fate. Before his departure Thomas requested him to return in the spring and bury his body and send his money and other property to his sister, Miss Hannah Thomas, who resides in New York.”
And more recently Caroline Arlen quotes Silverton miner and former county commissioner David Calhoon, on the perils of the area in her book Colorado Mining Stories: Hazards, Heroics & Humor.
“We dug people out of avalanches. Most of them dead. Just digging out bodies. It’s unbelievable the force those avalanches have. It’s terrific.”
Calhoon tells of a state highway dozer operator from Durango lost to the snows near Silverton.
“ … An old D-7. It had just come up from the Durango shop and was freshly painted. He had finished plowing out the slide, and the road was open. Some people came by and said they noticed that he was sitting in the tractor eating lunch. Anyway, there was another slide come down, and it took that Cat clear across the canyon.”
Calhoon told Arlen that, “When we got down there, we got two tractors to get hold of the Cat and pull it up. Those arms on the side were bent, but there were no abrasion marks on the new paint. No stuff went by it, no rocks or anything. I think it’s because of a force that’s in front of those slides. Those slides come so fast, they’re pushing air in front of them. All his blood vessels were filled up. I think you’re dead before the snow ever hits.”
The April 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times tells of the freakish work of snow slide in the San Juan District.
“… For the avalanche is even more erratic than a cyclone. Some slides follow a certain path every year, and then, for no apparent reason, they will take a sudden shoot to one side or the other and make an entirely new path, probably killing a few men in blazing a new trail. If the big slide at Silverton this year had come down its usual path there would have been no damage. But its course was changed, in some unexplained manner, and it tore through mine buildings and ended by leaping into the Animas River, which it dammed to such an extent that some miners living along the river bottom were forced to vacate their cabins.”
The same account talked about another massive slide in the Ouray area.
“Last year a big slide carried away the Banker’s National Mine boarding house and killed eight men. A big force from the Camp Bird Mine was soon on the spot. Electric wires were stretched and systematic work of rescue was carried on. One man expired of suffocation just as he was drawn from the slide. Another was taken out alive, clinging to the wreck of a guitar which he had been playing when he was carried away by the slide. The cook was missing and ‘soundings’ were taken with long-handled shovels. A cheer went up when one of these shovels was wrenched from the hand of a rescuer. At the same time a curious rattling sound was heard, which puzzled the rescuers until thy dug down and found the cook rattling the stove damper, the noise being carried up the stovepipe through the great mass of snow. At the time the slide struck, the cook was standing by his range. He dropped down beside the stove, and the iron protected him from the weight of the timbers above him. He was able to move a little and had plenty of fresh air, hence was none the worse for his experience when he was released.”
In February of 1897, a slide took out the railroad station at Ophir.
“A monster snow slide came down this after noon and demolished Ophir Station, on the Rio Grande Southern railroad between Rico and Vance Junction, with four loaded freight cars and four empty ones standing on the side track,” reported the Boise Idaho Statesman on Feb. 21, 1897.
“Agent E.L. Gamble had his ankle severely sprained and Mrs. Gamble was badly bruised. She was knocked under a table over which timbers fell, which probably saved her life. The depot is a complete wreck. Snow and debris is piled up on the main and the side tracks near the site of the depot 50 feet in depth by 500 feet in width.”
###

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deep snow, steep slopes, wringing the Liberty Bell


“The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches.”
__ e.e. cummings


Deep snow in winter is an obvious reality in Colorado, and particularly in the San Juans. Where there is deep snow and steep slopes, it is only a matter of time before something or someone is lost in a slide.
“The Colorado Mountain railroads are endeavoring to keep their trains moving, but it is with considerable difficulty,” read the Feb. 23, 1897 edition of the New York Times. “They no sooner clear a dozen snow slides from some canyon road before a half dozen more come down the side of the mountain, and pile up debris higher than ever.”
The same edition called attention to Aspen’s isolation caused by the slides.
“The first train arrived in Aspen today since Friday, and for three days it has been bucking snow in the Grand Canyon, near Glenwood Springs. The storm shifted its course tonight and the snow is falling faster than ever. Since Friday, eleven feet on the level has fallen. A slide came down Aspen Mountain this evening and swept away John Kauble, an ore hauler, and his team. He escaped but his horses were killed.”
In San Juan Range, that same storm struck with even greater vengeance.
“In the Ouray district the snow is deeper than at Aspen, and avalanches occur three and four times a day. One carried away Henry Jones and a pack train of eleven Jacks, every one of the latter being killed. On Cumbres Hill, between Durango and Alamosa, the snow is fifteen feet deep, which breaks the record for twelve years.”
Five years later the snow caused real trouble in the Telluride area. “Devastating Snow Slides Kill Scores,” barked the heads in the Feb. 28, 1902 edition of the Telluride Daily Journal.
“At 7:30 this morning a tremendous snow slide swept away the boarding and bunk house and the tramway station and ore loading house at the Liberty Bell Mine.”
Early reports placed the dead at 50 to 75 because it was thought all mining buildings were wiped off the slope, but the slide was selective.
“The buildings destroyed and swept away are the boarding house, tram house, and one corner of the new bunk house. The old bunk house, in which the night shift was sleeping — some sixty men — escaped,” according to the report in the Telluride paper.
The same paper relates an account of L.M. Umsted who was in a nearby stable, preparing his horse to go to work on the Tram.
“The stable grew suddenly dark as night, and stepping to the door he opened it and found the outside totally dark and air filled with flying snow. Thinking it was a terrific gust of wind, he slammed the stable door shut and waiting for a few seconds, he peered through a crack and as it grew light again he opened the door and saw the tram cable swinging about and the buckets rolling down the hill. As the snow in the air settled, he stepped out a few feet and looking up towards the boarding house, he could see no signs of these buildings. Then looking down the hill he saw boards and timbers sticking out of the snow and scattered about.”
Umsted, at that point tried to help.
“He then went up to the ore and tram house, or where it had stood, and saw what he thought was a piece of overalls. Grasping it and attempting to pull it out he found he had hold of a man’s body; tearing away the snow and boards he pulled out the body of Gus Kraul. His body was terribly mangled and his head crushed till is was no thicker than two hands laid flatly together.”
Those who rushed to help the first slide victims, became victims themselves.
“At 1:30 word came to town from the Liberty Bell office asking that bulletins be posted asking for all the help possible, as a second slide had come down covering the rescue party… At 2:15 word came to town to send no more men up: that the storm was so severe that the work of rescue could only be carried on under the most extreme danger to the living, and that men buried in the snow were all dead beyond question.”
An account about Colorado avalanches in the April 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times labeled the Liberty Bell disaster the worst to date.
“The worst snowslide in the history of Colorado was that which overwhelmed the Liberty Bell Mine, in the Telluride district, in 1902.”
It noted that the second slide killed nearly a score of rescuers.
“Then came one slide after another, the first having loosened great masses of snow at the top of the mountain. Six slides came in rapid succession, burying victims in a mass of wreckage eighty feet deep. For many days no work of rescue could be carried on. The place was fenced off and guards were put about the mine property to keep people away from the scene of horror. It was not until summer, when the snow had melted, that the bodies of the victims could be recovered."
###

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Smooth and comfortable on the right side of gate


In the mountainous or hill region Ireland, many small lakes or springs are known as the Pooka’s Pool or Pollaphuca, named in respect for the changeling of Irish folklore. Some of these are the source of Irish rivers like the Liffey or River Bann. In County Down, Pollaphuca on the Mountain Mourne, is the home of a pooka of great notoriety. In rural County Down it still a custom to make the right side of your front door and gate comfortable, with the top of the gatepost smooth, and a with a bench. The left side gatepost is built with jagged rocks. The good friendly pooka will sit for a chat outside a house on the right of the door. The left side, with its rough and uncomfortable furnishings is reserved for malicious fairies, which are generally not as welcome.


From the start, that was one the reasons I was drawn to the newspaper business. The “Daily Miracle” was periodically new every time you picked it up. And the business marinated in the latest thing — in change. Maybe it is my short little span of attention, but the constant change appealed to me.
I liked elements of the past but the big draw was how much, and how fast, the world moved.
“A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow, “ wrote Edward R. Murrow. “There is nothing tangible of yesterday. All I can say I’ve done is agitate the air 10 or 15 minutes and then boom — it’s gone.”
It is true, you don’t change much yourself, but at least you are right there when it does.
Early exposure in the hot-type backshop of the Dolores Star, and then again, while hauling daily copies of the Durango Herald around in the front and back of the pouch that my head poked through the center of, seemed to rub off on me like the black from the paper itself.
I liked the way people waited for the news everyday. It was nice to be needed.
Patty Hearst, the Nixon resignation, the Watergate hearings, even sightings of the Florida Skunk Ape… they were all things that they cared about.
I liked the clang and ka-chunk of the linotype… the smell of lead burning into the oak floors along with the distinctive waft of ink and solvent, and good-natured razzing of the pressmen.
“Robber who Carries a gun,” is how printer Filbert “Shorty” Lobato used to mangle my name at every appearance in the Star building.
Later, when I dropped bundles of other papers I had worked on, I would still marvel at the usefulness of the product. And of particular usefulness, the small-town weekly paper.
Dean Alfred Vivian of College of Agriculture of Ohio State University wrote of the importance in the early part of the last century.
“Unless personal convenience is placed first, I think it could be shown that a country community needs a home newspaper even more than it needs telephones. Telephones are convenient means of communicating between individuals mainly for their personal concerns. The home-town paper speaks not with an individual voice, but for the community, not to individuals but to everyone, from the rich man on the hill to the poor man in the roadside cottage. Nothing goes further toward unifying a neighborhood than a good weekly or semi-weekly paper.”
It was the unifying effect of the paper (but in this case a daily) that I recognized back in 1974 as folks like Don Wallace, Emmy Froede and Bill McCabe waited each afternoon for the latest installment in the continuing saga of Patty Hearst, the seven-headed cobra and Symbionese Liberation Army, or President Nixon and White House tapes, possible impeachment and Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
I was an agent of change, or at least the messenger, and the right side of their gatepost was smooth and comfortable for me when I would arrive. They would always offer up space on the bench to go over what appeared in the papers that day, or the day before. And together we would speculate on what would appear tomorrow.
###
Please click below to see related posts:

• Tales of the future, straight from the horse's mouth.

• Pooka, Patty, Photos, Papers and let's ride.

• Humor, sadness and the angry bear in a trap.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Too stunned to believe what they were seeing


Since the advent of airplanes, stretching nearly back to the Wright brothers, there have been air shows in Colorado. And almost since then, distinctively in Colorado, there have been air show disasters.
Ralph Johnstone, who was trained by the Wright Brothers at Wright Flying School, of course established the pattern when he dropped from the sky in front of thousands of spectators at Overland Park in Denver in 1910. Arch Hoxsey, the other half of the ‘Stardust Twins’ as he and Johnstone were known for their exploits in Wright Exhibition Flying Team, crashed and was killed a very similar crash about a month later on New Year's Eve in a Los Angeles accident while trying set the altitude record. Just a few hours before taking off in that effort, Hoxsey had telegrammed his condolences to the family John Bevins Moisant, who died in air crash near New Orleans the day before.
Flying was hazardous in those early days.
But it was still deadly 40 years later.
“Flagler, Colo. — As the single-engine plane roared toward the crowd, Lyle Stone saw his parents each grab two children under their arms, jump off the low air field fence, and run as fast as they could. Moments later, virtually everyone left on the fence was killed as the plane cut through the crowd like scythe. Twenty were killed including the pilot,” according to Kit Miniclier of the Denver Post in article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. Of the twenty, thirteen were children.
“Rhynold Fager remembers seeing a friend on her knees, dying, impaled by a propeller blade. Charlie Keller, whose wife and two children were killed that day, was able to identify his wife’s remains only by a birthmark on her leg.”
Today, a granite memorial with the names of those killed on Sept. 15, 1951, rests in a park across I-70 from the airfield.
William Barker, a Denver Post reporter that was covering the event at the time described it this way in the Post and the weekly Flagler News the next day:
“The plane crashed into the stunned mass of spectators from an altitude of less than 200 feet, cutting a bloody swath and strewing gasoline-drenched wreckage over a 150-yard area… The chaos that followed is beyond description … it was like the end of the world. Bodies were everywhere. The blood was everywhere too,” wrote Barker in 1951.
“I stopped as the scene ravaged my senses. Cars crushed. Bodies … and parts of bodies… Blood on staring faces. People milling like sheep around the fallen. Voices rising and falling oddly, without hysteria. Without panic. Stunned. Too stunned yet to believe what we were all seeing.”
Flagler, a town of only 600, had a hospital, but only two doctors, John C. Straub and William L. McBride. McBride, it was said, had delivered nine of the 13 children killed in the disaster. Medical personnel from miles around soon arrived to help out.
Though it was the worst, the Flagler incident was not Colorado’s last air show mishap.
In June of 1997, and Korean War-era F-86 fighter jet performing before a crowd estimated at 50,000 at air show in Broomfield, crashed in a massive fireball after failing to pull out of a steep dive. Retired Colonel, “Smiling Jack” Rosamond, 63, the pilot of jet was the only casualty when the plane plowed into the ground 300 yards from the nearest spectators.
In October of 2000, again it was only the pilot killed, when the Russian-made Sukhoi 26X, spun out of control at the Telluride airport during an air show, crashed near the runway and burst into flames, killing pilot Kent Pfleider, of Grand Junction.
###

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daredevil Aviator: "It's going to get me someday."









































A hundred years ago — to most folks — flying in an airplane seemed to be just taking one step toward death’s door. The presumption was reinforced at Overland Park in Denver one November afternoon in 1910, as thousands of air show spectators watched Ralph Johnstone plummet to his death in front of them.
“He had gambled with death once too often, but he played the game to the end, fighting coolly and grimly to the last second to regain control of his broken machine. Fresh from his triumphs at Belmont Park, where he had broken the world’s record for altitude with a flight of 9,714 feet, Johnstone attempted to give the thousands of spectators an extra thrill with is most daring feat, the spiral glide, which had made the Wright aviators famous. The spectators got their thrill, but it cost Johnstone his life,” according to newspaper accounts at the time.
It was actually Johnstone’s second flight that fateful day. He had gone through a series of dips, rolls and glides without incident with others of the Wright Brothers trained flying crew. The former Vaudeville bicycle stunt performer took the biplane up once more and out toward the foothills to gain altitude.
“Still ascending, he swept back in a big circle, and as he reached the north end of the enclosure, he started his spiral glide. He was then at an altitude of about 800 feet. With his plane tilted at an angle of almost 90 degrees, he swooped down in a narrow circle, the aeroplane seeming to turn almost in its own length. As he started the second circle, the middle spur, which braces the left side of the lower plane, gave way, and the wing tips of both upper and lower planes folded up as though they had been hinged. For a second, Johnstone attempted to right the plane by warping the other wing up. Then the horrified spectators saw the plane swerve like a wounded bird and plunged straight toward the earth,” said a report appearing in the Savannah Tribune at the time.
Ever a cool one, the young aviator didn’t panic however.
“Johnstone was thrown from his seat as the nose of the plane swung downward. He caught on one of the wire stays between the airplane and grasped one of the wooden braces of the upper plane with both hands. Then, working with hands and feet, he fought by main strength to warp the planes so that their surfaces might catch the air and check his descent. For a second it seemed that he might succeed, for the football helmet the wore blew off and fell much more rapidly than the plane.”
About 300 feet from the ground the plane turned end-over-end then plunged, scattering fleeing spectators.
“Scarcely had Johnstone hit the ground before morbid men and women swarmed over the wreckage, fighting with each other for souvenirs. One of the broken wooden stays had gone almost through Johnstone’s body. Before doctors or police could reach the scene, one mad had torn this splinter from the body and run away, carrying his trophy with the aviators blood still dripping from its ends. The crowd tore away the canvass from over the body, and even fought for the gloves that had protected Johnstone’s hands from the cold,” said the Savannah paper.
When Ralph Johnstone died his widow was quoted in the Kansas City Times, "I never was worried about Ralph. He was so brave and careful. It seemed nothing could happen to him. I did not take into consideration a mishap to his machine."
Just three days before his final flight Johnstone was quoted one last time. "It's going to get me some day. It's sooner or later going to get us all. Don't think our Aim is the advancement of science. That is secondary and is worked out by the men on the ground. When you get into the air, you get the intoxication of flying. No man can help feeling it. Then he begins to flirt with it, tilt his plane into all sorts of dangerous angles, dips and circles. This feeling is only the trap it sets for us... the non-mankilling airplane of the future will be created from our crushed bodies."
A year later, reports in the New York Times noted that his wife had decided to take up flying herself.
“Widow of Man Who Was Dashed to Death to Try for License,” said the the Sept. 14, 1911, headline in the Times.
“Although leading aviation schools have steadfastly refused to teach feminine pupils at any price, women are gradually forcing their way into the hazardous game, and followers of the sport are discussing with interest today the report that Mrs. Ralph Johnstone of Kansas City, whose husband was killed at Denver, is soon coming to New York to master the craft that widowed her. It is understood that she will take lessons at the aviation colony on Long Island with a view to becoming a licensed professional aviator. There are only two licensed women aviators in this country at present-- Miss Mathilde Moisant and Miss Harriet Quimby---both of whom are now on Long Island,” reported the Times.

###

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dangerous driving, and image of 'Dead Wagon.'


The hard, dangerous work and the reckless nature of the miner’s lifestyle in the Cripple Creek District at the turn of the 20th century led to more than its fair share of violent accidents.
“It was almost a daily thing to see the ambulance toiling up the steep Third Street hill to the Sister’s St. Nicholas Hospital, or to some cabin or boarding house,” wrote Raymond G. Colwell in a paper for the Denver Westerners, in July of 1960. Colwell first arrived in the District in October of 1899 and attended grade school and high school during the peak period of the gold camp.
“The ambulance was a light spring wagon affair drawn by a team of horses, with canvas sides with a big red cross painted on them, and a canvas curtain at the back which flapped out behind. There was just room for two plain canvas litters on its floor, side by side, and if there was a doctor along, he rode up front with the driver.”
Colwell remembered the appalling number of fatal accidents reported from the district.
“It was also a too frequent sight to see the ‘dead wagon’ as we called it. This was a peculiar looking vehicle, and it seems to me there was a similar one in use in Colorado Springs in the first years we came here. It was a one-horse job, with a black oilcloth covered framework over the narrow wagon body, which was just high enough to accommodate a basket or a rough box (casket case). It was an odd looking affair, because the enclosed body was considerably lower than the drivers seat, and for that reason looked much longer for some reason, to us kids at least, more gruesome. It seemed to me that the undertaker’s assistant who drove it always wore a black suit and derby hat which added to the effect.”
Along with accidents, there was also the ever-present danger of fire.
“The town itself was visible from almost all the railroads and mines on that side of Gold and Globe Hills. Occasionally we would be awakened by a chorus of short, sharp toots from the trains and mines in the dead of night, and we’d roll out to see where the fire was,” wrote Colwell.
“Another commonly-used fire alarm was five or six pistol shots as fast as the gun could be discharged. The townspeople were naturally fire conscious. Some of them remembered the big fires of 1896, and everyone realized that like all mining camps, another conflagration could occur at any time.”
At that time, just getting to a fire could by life threatening.
“Driving a spirited, excited team to a fire wagon could become quite a trick on some of the streets in Cripple Creek, especially when there was snow on the ground,” noted Colwell. “I well remember one bad crackup when No. 2, the Old Town Company, came down Fourth Street and tried to turn on Eaton. The horses, a beautiful team, slid around and into the fireplug there and turned over. I believe the driver was fatally hurt and two other firemen put in the hospital. The wagon was completely wrecked, and I think one of the horses had to be shot.”
###

Sunday, October 24, 2010

120 years later, populists look sort of familiar





Bryan pushes Free Silver, $100,000 bet placed, and cross of gold touted


by Rob Carrigan

The populist movement of more than 120 years ago looks familiar. “Mr. Gold” from Cripple Creek weighed in. The very first time Colorado voters gave their electoral votes to a Democrat, it came on the heels of a speech by William Jennings Bryan, who first delivered it July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” ended Bryan.
His dramatic speaking style and rhetoric roused the crowd to a frenzy. The response, wrote one reporter, “came like one great burst of artillery.” Men and women screamed and waved their hats and canes. “Some,” wrote another reporter, “like demented things, divested themselves of their coats and flung them high in the air.” The next day the convention nominated Bryan for President on the fifth ballot, according to History Matters.
Such bi-metalism sentiments made Bryan a tremendous hit here in Colorado at the time.
In the 1896 election here, Bryan overwhelmed Republican McKinley in the state, 161,269 to 26,279. Alva Adams was selected for Colorado Governor and most of the state offices were filled by a Democratic-Silver Republican slate.
The fame of Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech led him to repeat it numerous times on the Chautauqua lecture circuit where he was an enormously popular speaker.
Some of the rhetoric is even familiar, sounding very similar to one of today’s presidential candidates, despite the lack of substance in some cases.
“The people of Nebraska are for free silver, and I’m for free silver.  I will look the arguments later,” said Bryan to a crowd in a nearby state. In 1903, thousands gathered to hear the master deliver the same speech from the balcony of the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride (see photo).
In 1896, the issue was whether to endorse the free coinage of silver at a ratio of silver to gold of 16 to 1. (This inflationary measure would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers.) Bryan, who was 36, at the time became the youngest candidate to be selected by a major party and went on to run for election in 1900 and again in 1908.
“Not the strangest of the many strange episodes during the campaign was the action of Colorado’s “Mr. Gold” himself — Cripple Creek’s Winfield Stratton — who endorsed free silver and Bryan,” writes Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith in “A Colorado History.”
“In fact Stratton went even further. He announced a public wager of up to $100,000 that Bryan would win, a possibility that the regular Republicans believed would immediately and substantially reduce his own personal fortune.”
“He not only came out for Bryan,” wrote Marshall Sprague in Money Mountain. “But he placed on deposit at the First National Bank $100,000 in cash to be bet on Bryan if someone would put up $300,000 on McKinley. If Stratton lost the bet, that was that, if he won, the $300,000 would be given to the Colorado Springs Free Reading Room and Library Association.”
“News of that bet flashed around the world and for a week McKinley and Bryan found themselves losing much front-page space to Stratton. His bet was the largest ever offered by one man on an election. And to most people it seemed as peculiar an act as a man could commit. Why, if Bryan won and the United States resumed silver coinage at sixteen to one, Stratton’s gold wealth would be cut in half!” Sprague wrote.
Stratton explained himself in a note given to each reporter at a press conference in Colorado Springs:
“I don’t make the offer because of any information that I have on the election, but I have a feeling that Bryan is going to win. I am deeply interested to see Bryan elected. I realize that the maintenance of the gold standard would perhaps be the best for me individually, but I believe that free silver is the best thing for the working masses of this country. It is because I have great respect for the intelligence and patriotism of the working people and I believe that they will see their duty at the polls that I am willing to make such an offer,” said Stratton’s note.
The move put the Republicans on the defensive and though they made all sorts of noise and motions to give the impression that they were happy to cover such a bet, they never did, which in retrospect was fortunate for Stratton.
Byron was a clear winner in Colorado. In the rest of the nation, however, McKinley carried the majority of the states and Bryan and Free Silver was defeated.
Bryan, sometimes called the perennial candidate, later became a key figure in the prohibition movement and anti-Darwinism efforts and eventually served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.



###

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tales of the future, straight from horse's mouth



In Irish folklore, the Pooka is a changeling that is both feared and respected, and often considered a harbinger of changing fortune.
And though it can take many forms, it most commonly appears as jet-black horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and long wild mane. Folklore expert Douglas Hyde called it a ‘plump, sleek, terrible steed’ which appears out of the hills and speaks in a human voice to people gathered to hear its prophecies and warnings on the first day of November. Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanaugh (home of the original Carrigans) is also known as the “Peak of the Speaking Horse.” According to Hyde, it offered “intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill…”

When I was 12 years old, beginning in April of 1974, as I delivered copies of Durango Herald every afternoon in Dolores, Colo., I befriended an old man by the name of Don Wallace that would wait for his paper every day on the back porch of his Pepto-Bismol colored house near the river.
He was a former ranch hand, cowboy, and veteran of various other vocations, that (although I didn’t really understand it at the time) was dying of cancer.
Don followed with great interest the unfolding saga of kidnap victim turned bank robber Patty Hearst and Sybionese Liberation Army.
Waiting for the paper was a pretty regular thing for the folks on my paper route through that summer of 1974, as President Nixon faced possible impeachment and eventually resigned in early August. Among other events, there was the Dixie County sighting of a Florida Skunk Ape in July that year. It really wasn’t what you would call a slow news period.
But the Patty Hearst story was compelling.
“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people,” was the slogan of the SLA and a seven-headed cobra snake its symbol. The members of the army were known on occasion to use cyanide-laced bullets.
Patty Hearst’s conversion from the straight-laced heiress of the Hearst newspaper fortune to a bank-robbing “fundraiser” renamed Tania, sporting automatic weapons at various robberies and car jackings with the terrorist group was a hot topic. In May, Patty (a.ka. Tania) fired a series of warning shots at a storeowner that was trying to detain SLA members, Bill And Emily Harris, when they were caught shoplifting in sporting goods store in Los Angles.
The next day, in a two-hour gun battle between the SLA and 500 Los Angeles police officers, where nine thousand rounds were fired, and six SLA “soldiers” were killed, the SLA sealed their international notoriety. Hearst was eventually arrested in 1975 and brought to trial in a sensational legal event, in which she was defended by superstar lawyer F. Lee Bailey.
I think Don Wallace was struck by the changing nature of the world that summer and the newspaper that I dropped every afternoon, was his way of dealing with it.
He would tell me stories of the wild west of his childhood, talk about his dreams for the world and suggest books that I should read.
He claimed, among other things:
• He could kill fruit flies at a distance of 15 feet with the .22 caliber revolver that rested on the table next to him out there on his porch as he waited for the paper.
• He also swore that his former acquaintance Brushy Bill Roberts was really Billy the Kid.
• A revolution was in the works with the emergence of groups like the S.L.A.
• Tom Horn was the opportunistic alcoholic assassin hired by absentee English cattle barrons and eventually got everything he deserved.
• He once had a shoot out in a New Mexico chicken house.

But Don also told me of a wild-eyed, jet-black stallion that he once owned. He swore up and down, that the horse could talk to him.
I remember asking him what they talked about and he said that the horse told him about dreams and such — about things to come.
###
Please click on the following to view:

• Smooth and comfortable on the right side of gate.

• Pooka, Patty, Photos, Papers and let's ride.

• Humor, sadness and the angry bear in a trap.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Victor Hotel spirits in Bird Cage, down the hall


At 9,700 feet elevation on the south flank of Pikes Peak, winters are tough in Victor, even today. But in its boom times of over 100 years ago, absent the modern conveniences of backhoe, a person passing from this world into another, might have to wait for spring (or perhaps summer) until the ground was soft enough to be buried. Stories have it, that out of convenience, bodies waited for the thaw out in what is now the fourth floor of the Victor Hotel.
“It is apparently many of these long dead Victor residents that haunt the historic hotel today,” according to Legends of America. “Though seemingly harmless, several people have witnessed the site of disembodied apparitions on the fourth floor. Reports include what look like doctors and patients, sometimes without arms, legs and even heads, moving about this place that once acted as a ‘holding cell’ for the dead.”
The fourth floor functioned as a hospital of sorts, where medical staff performed operations such as an emergency appendectomy as early as 1906.
Lowell Thomas father, physician H.G. Thomas maintained his office in the building as well. On the main floor, banks such as the First National Bank of Victor and later City Bank operated along side, at various times, grocery stores, restaurants, Barrett’s Furniture, the Colorado Telephone Company and Western Union Telegraph in the building. City Bank failed in the 1930s.
After years of neglect, the Hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 1991 and 1992 under the direction of new owners represented by Marjoe D. Bandimere of Arvada.
But the ghosts from the fourth floor are apparently not alone according to local folklore.
“Our most famous ghost is Eddie, who lived in the Victor Hotel, Room 301 during the early part of the 1900s,” says the hotel’s web site.
“Eddie worked in the mines wearing his heavey, steel-toed work boots. One night Eddie got up in the wee hours of the morning and pressed the Bird Cage elevator to go down. When the doors opened. Eddie got in, but there wasn’t an elevator there. He fell to his death and was later laid out for viewing in his room. Today, our 106-year-old Bird Cage elevator door’s open and close and at times the elevator goes up to the third floor without anyone touching the buttons. The elevator never stops on the second or fourth floors at these times, only the third. Eddie is still trying to get the elevator up to the third! Eddie is heard walking the halls at all hours of the night. Many times the guests have been awakened by loud footsteps in the hall. Upon looking out the door, no one is there.”
But that is not end of the spirit business in the historic building.
“Other guests have seen Charlie, who wears a black hat, torn jeans and a plaid shirt. Charlie is very friendly ghost who appears to be about 60-years-old and seems to have a good sense of humor. During the Christmas season of 2003, a young woman was seen several times in the lobby late at night walking around observing the decorations. She was seen on nights when absolutely no one was even checked into the hotel,” according to the hotel’s literature.
###


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Cog Road and no rest for the mattress man



Zalmon Gilbert Simmons boasted on occasion that he would live for forever. Impossible, of course, but how many more successful businesses would he have been able to string together if he did?
Founder of the Northwestern Wire Mattress Co. (eventually producing Simmons Beautyrest), Director of Western Union Co. (and several other telegraph companies), President of Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island Rail Road, Wisconsin cheese box manufacturer, President of First National Bank of Kenosha, Mayor of Kenosha, and Wisconsin assemblyman.
But in this neck of the woods, he was known for the truly amazing feat of organizing a railroad ascending to top of Pikes Peak.
“Legend has it that Simmons’ first trip to the summit of Pikes Peak was athwart a mule named Balaam,” according to a historic paper by Frank R. Hollenbeck for the Denver Westerner’s Round Up published in April of 1962. “Upon his return to Manitou, silk hat askew, white beard and coattails flying, Simmons is supposed to have declared, ‘I’m going to ride up that beautiful mountain in the greatest comfort science can provide,’ or words to that effect.”
Simmons embraced a plan by one-time Manitou Mayor John Hulbert that was concocted in Hulbert’s Agate Hill home.
“Simmons called Hulbert in and announced his intention of building a railroad to the top of Pikes Peak. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Co. was incorporated under the laws of Colorado November 14, 1888. Named to the board were John Hulbert, David H. Moffat, R.R. Cable, Jerome B. Wheeler, and Henry Watson. Hulbert became president. Moffat, at that time was president of the Denver and Rio Grande, while Cable headed the Rock Island, and Wheeler, the Colorado Midland. Nowhere in the articles did Simmon’s name appear,” wrote Hollenback.
Signed by Hulbert and William Bell, of Manitou, among others, Simmons name was not shown anywhere in the articles but after Simmon’s death in 1910, the Rocky Mountain News reported he owned 96% of the Cog Road bonds and 98% of the stock.
“Simmons and company employed the best engineering brains for his project. One engineer for his work on the Brooklyn bridge. Another, William Hildebrand, came from Switzerland as Roman Abt’s representative, and supervised tracklaying. Col. Roswell E. Briggs was chief engineer of the Denver and Rio Grande as well as the Cog Road; T.F. Richardson was his assistant. B. Lantry & Sons of Strong City (Kansas), Santa Fe and Colorado Midland builder, was the contractor,” Hollenback said.
“Simmon’s acumen was nowhere better displayed than in an anecdote from the planning days of the Cog Road. The two engineers just mentioned were concerned about the feasibility of anchoring the track on a 25% grade without a superficial support. Simmons believed the rails could very simply be fastened into the solid granite. He held to the idea that ‘the natural stone would anchor the road for 1,000 years.’”
The engineers refused to go along with the idea. One of them quit outright and the other would only remain on the condition that a waiver relieving him of any responsibility if the anchoring scheme failed was signed. The same fastenings have held the track in the Pikes Peak Granite since 1890 without slippage.
The Cog Road was completed to the top of Pikes Peak and opened for traffic in 1891.
###

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Waved to his wife and headed for a train wreck


Not far from my house, very near the present-day North entrance to the United States Air Force Academy, once stood the town of Husted. Named after pioneer lumberman and early El Paso County Commissioner Calvin R. Husted, the town was never what you might call a thriving metropolis. But until the late 1950s, when most of its buildings were removed in preparation for the coming academy, it was an important stop on the Sante Fe and Denver & Rio Grande (D. & R.G.) railroads. It also was the location of one of the most horrific train accidents in Colorado history.
“On the D. & R.G. railroad at West Husted was a round house, turn table that employed several engineers, brakeman, and other crew men all year,” wrote Lucille Lavelett in her book “Monument’s Faded Neighbor Communities and its Folklore.”
“The steam engines had power to pull the freight and passenger trains from Colorado Springs to Husted, but not enough power to pull the steep grade to Palmer lake to the “Divide,” therefore extra helper engines and crews of men were kept at Husted. They turned around at the ‘Y’ at Palmer Lake and returned to Husted,” wrote Lavelett.
The Colorado Springs Gazette of August 14, 1909, related the story of the rail accident there over 101 years ago.
“Nine persons are dead, and others are expected to die; between forty and fifty are injured; three engines are in the ditch; two baggage cars, including the contents, are smashed to kindling wood, and several passenger coaches are badly damaged as the result of a head-on collision between east bound passenger train No. 8, and westbound passenger No. 1, on the Denver & Rio Grande, near Husted, thirteen miles north of this city, at 10:25 a. m. today. The wreck was due to a misunderstanding of orders, it is said.”
Report from papers all over the nation carried the dispatches.
As No. 8 drew into Husted about forty miles an hour, the crew of the engine saw a light engine standing on the switch north of the station.
“Mistaking the engine for the second section of No. 1, the crew did not stop, and went through the station as fast as the two engines could draw the thirteen heavily laden coaches. As soon as the train got out of the station, the engineer of the first engine of No. 8 saw another train coming slowly down the incline. He slammed on the air brakes, and the emergency brakes, and then shouted to the other members of the two crews to jump. Before they had time to jump, No. 3 had rammed No. 1 so hard that all three engines lay in the ditch,’ according to the Nebraska State Journal at the time.
“Fireman J. A. GOSSAGE, of train No. 8, was killed as he was firing his engine, and never knew what struck him. The members of the other crew escaped serious injury by jumping.”
The smoker, attached to train No. 8, was the car in which the people were killed. All those badly injured were in the same car.
Other reports said that J.A. or Jack Gossage, the fireman on the helper engine who lived at Husted and had just waved to his wife as the train passed his home was trapped between the engine and the tender when the collision occurred.
Jack Gossage's wife continued to work for the railroad for many years afterward as a cook for crews in Husted, and the Gossage name eventually became quite famous for other reasons in Colorado Springs. Jack Gossage is grandfather to Colorado Springs standout and major league baseball hall of famer Rick “Goose” Gossage.
“The wreck occurred just east of the east switch at Husted. The impact of the trains was terrific and the locomotives and the baggage and smoking cars of both trains were badly damaged,” reported papers at the time.
“The shrieks of the wounded were pitiful and those who were not injured among the passengers immediately started the work of rescue. It was impossible to accurately determine the number of dead, but first reports indicated that eight had been killed.”
Later reports blamed the wreck on one of the train crews negligence.
An August 20, 1909, account in Carbon County, Utah, related the following:
“The coroner's jury which investigated the head on collision on the Denver & Rio Grande railroad at Husted, Colo, Saturday morning, when ten persons were killed and three score injured returned its verdict on Tuesday. The verdict finds that the wreck was due to criminal negligence on the part of the train crew, composed of Engineers Lezsig, and Hollingsworth, Fireman Wright, Conductor Dalton and Brakeman McElhern. The verdict also declares that the evidence shows that a defective system for issuing train orders was employed by the railroad at the time of the wreck. An order was sent to Denver to arrest the members of the train crew.”
Wilbur F. Fulker and his brother Iven were passengers on the southbound train out of Monument involved in the collision. Wilbur took a series of photographs with a new camera using glass plates that famously chronicled the accident. Wilbur’s son, also Wilbur, is the tuba-playing inspiration for the Colorado Spring’s landmark “Uncle Wilber’s Fountain” at Acacia Park and longtime teacher and administrator at the Colorado Deaf and Blind.
###

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ski Stoner and you can ski anywhere

The first time, on long wooden skis, heavy leather boots,
They laced both front and back.
It started there and progressed up slope —
Until you got the knack.
With bamboo poles, a jacket snug and
Cable bindings snapped down tight.
To the bunny hill, a glove-eating monster
A hundred kids, like ants, on hills of white.
The diesel smell and clang of fitful starts and stops,
The rope tow’s safe, you know
Oscar Hamilton will save you fingers, if only treated right.
As you aged and skied and learned the ropes,
The T bar loomed, the ridge, the trees,
The bumps, the open track.
On holidays and weekends, for just nine bucks
Stoner slopes always asked with grace,
Nudged politely, said its piece,
“Please come back.”
The red plastic locks would form a chain on winter coats,
and tell of countless visits,
Chili in the lodge and hundreds of people
Drinking in the mountain spirits.
If you helped the Clarks, and stayed at the lodge,
You knew you may be scrubbing dishes.
The T-bar spring was a deadly tool.
It would take your hat, rip your shirt, rake your back,
Snatch you bald, and prove the fool.
The trick it seems, you skied it twice
On boards, its true, both up and down the hill
From ‘51 to ’83, to the slope, the kids they came,
From towns along the river,
but the special use permit was not renewed,
and Tramway asked for things that area just couldn’t deliver.
It closed, they pulled the hut, the T-bar was taken down.
By ’91, the deed was done. The area was no more.
But if you learned it there, skiing up and down its slopes,
‘Ski Stoner,” they said. “And you can ski anywhere.”
###

Monday, September 6, 2010

High-flying haylift for hard luck horse


There are many paths to the top of a mountain but the view is always the same.
In truth, Bugs was just a regular packhorse that happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. And, like Andy Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes of worldwide fame for people of the future, Bugs transformed into “Elijah” the marooned horse of the Colorado Rockies as the world worried about him.
“Stranded forlornly on the two-mile high Continental Divide in Colorado, a shaggy dark bay horse named Bugs was a prisoner of and the most-worried-about horse in the U.S.,” said the April 30, 1956, edition of Life Magazine. “Last autumn, Bugs and another horse, a gray, strayed off from a pack string belonging to surveyors mapping the range. Obeying the horsey instinct to seek higher ground they retreated before deepening valley snow to the ridge and were cut off by 40 foot drifts.”
Gunnison pilots Wally Powell and Gordon Warren discovered the two horses, in February as they were flying over the Collegiate Range near Buena Vista.
“Mayor Ben Jorganson, of Gunnison, Colo., hired Powell to drop hay to the horses. On the first haylift flight, Powell discovered that the gray horse had disappeared. Newspapers, recalling the stranded prophet who was nourished by ravens, renamed the survivor Elijah. People sent money to the mayor and two expeditions set out to rescue the horse,” according to the story in Life.
Reporter George McWilliams from the Denver Post, who had christened the shaggy equine Elijah, offered daily updates, often dominating the front page and all sorts of complex plans to rescue the poor bugger were contemplated.
“Officers at the U.S. army’s Mountain Cold Weather Training Command at Camp Hale, Colorado, began studying the idea of using infantry troops to rescue the hapless horse. An American Airlines pilot bound from New York to Los Angeles asked for Elijah’s precise location so that he could point out the animal to his passengers. Officials at the Centennial Race Track on the outskirts of Denver started a fund with which to feed Elijah and kicked in the first $100 themselves. They also offered to feed and stable the horse if no one claimed him after his rescue, but dozens of children clamored for the chance to keep him too,” wrote Gayle C. Shirley in Amazing Animals of Colorado: Incredible True Stories.
“On the morning of April, 11, a five-person Post rescue team led by Bill and Art Turner donned snowshoes and made the 7-mile climb to Elijah’s windswept hermitage. Although they weren't able to return with the horse in tow, they did bring back two important bits of information: Elijah was ‘fat and sassy’ and he was most definitely Bugs,” Shirley wrote.
According to the Denver Post, “the Turners … called the horse to them, put a rope halter on him and fed him a bag of oats. Bill Turner said he not only recognized Elijah as his horse, but found his brand — Heart Two Bar — on the horse’s left shoulder.”
But because of the drifts this rescue party was still unable to retrieve the horse and the haylift continued for nearly another month.
Finally, in late May, armed with snow shovels and prepared to dig through 20-foot drifts, Turners were able to retrieve the horse after two days of slow-going, back-breaking, path clearing to a high mountain road.
The horse was welcomed into Buena Vista by hundreds with an impromptu parade in his honor, but that was just a start. Thousands paid tribute at Centennial Race Track that afternoon as he was whisked up there for a ceremony, more parades in Denver, visits to Denver Post, and few days later he was briefly checked in to the Brown Palace Hotel.
“Elijah was given a small stall that had been specially prepared for him in one corner of the lobby. The management had taken the preparation of laying a piece of canvas under his bead of straw,” according to a report in the Denver Post.
“It was first planned to have the horse on view in the lobby all day. But he seemed so anxious to get away from it all that the Turner brothers led him back to the trailer and returned him to the track.”
A Reader’s Digest story, written by Bill Hosokawa, executive news director for the Denver Post, telling the tale of Elijah further fanned the flames of fame for Bugs but the humble packhorse was eventually able to return to a rather simple life.
“During his last years, Elijah was free to roam in his chosen pastures during the winter months, high above the hustle-bustle of humans,” wrote Kenneth Jessen in “Bizarre Colorado: A Legacy of Unusual Events & People.”
“In March, 1971, Bill Turner came across Elijah, crippled and in poor condition. The 27-year-old horse was suffering from a broken leg and could not be moved from his high mountain pasture. Bill Turner did the humane thing and put a bullet into the indomitable old horse. He didn’t notify the media at first because he figured Elijah had already had his share of publicity. Elijah’s carcass was left in a cluster of rocks among the tall, majestic peaks,” wrote Jessen.
###

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Up and over the pass with an extra passenger


Dangerous, isolated, difficult to build and even to keep open, the Rio Grande Southern had its share strange occurrences, especially in the stretches along the Dolores River and up over Lizard Head Pass from Rico to Telluride.
Frequently beset by blinding blizzards and threatened at any time of year by rock slides, snow slides, and mud slides or any combination of the three, the steep grades and high lonesome stretches also had the ability to inspire spirits, it seems.
Or at least to encourage them to appear.
One such spirit was Isidor Henschel, or ‘Jimmy the Jew’ as he was known in the camp of Rico.
In route to Ophir, Henschel died in a train wreck in 1901 when, hopping a freighter from Rico to save time, he turned out to be in the wrong place at exactly the wrong moment.
“At Rice’s Spur, just over the Sunny Side of Lizard Head Pass, the freighter had stopped to pick up a lumber load,” writes Mary Joy Martin in her 2001 book “Something in the Wind: Spirits, Spooks & Sprites of the San Juan.” “ In the process, the freighter escaped back down the hill toward Rico, piling up at Snow Spur, the flat cars helter-skelter, the caboose wrecked, the body of Jimmy crushed by the timbers.”
For years afterward, as long as the RGS ran, folks claimed Jimmy periodically appeared in trains, including the Galloping Geese, traveling on that same lonesome stretch of tracks.
But according to Dan Asfar, in his book “Ghost Stories of Colorado,” Henschel never did anything to call attention to himself.
“He simply appeared on the train from Rico to Ophir just when the locomotive began chugging up the ascent to Lizard Head Pass. His manifestation was always the same; a young man, looking as real and alive as anyone else, sitting at the window seat, wearing the crisp Navy uniform he had been buried in. Most times, he appeared so gradually that people did not even notice he was there. Then, just as quietly, he would fade out of sight when the train approached Rice Spur.”
###

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three things to be done with a woman



“There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.” — Lawrence Durrell, 1957

Though it is only a painting of a woman, the reverent sentiment survives just the same.
In Telluride in the early 1960s, the legal fight and war of words over a life-sized nude called attention to the painting “The Lady Known as Who?”
“As for the painting itself, it probably wouldn’t make the grade at the Metropolitan Museum. Female it is, the proportions of shoulders and arms leave much to be desired though her hips have never been found wanting by generations of hard rock miners. They are wide and spacious, having the same sweeping curves which characterize the rump of another important and cherished inhabitant of Colorado mining towns, the durable mine mule,” wrote Barron Beshoar in the Denver Westerner’s Monthly Roundup in August of 1961.
The painting’s origin, identity, and ownership all were the subjects of Telluride discussions for years, according to Beshoar.
“The most popular story of the her origin revolves around an impecunious young artist and a girl who worked “On the Line” on Pacific Avenue just a block off Colorado Avenue. According to this oft-repeated tale, the artist, suffering from a severe case of gold fever, drifted into Telluride when the camp was at the height of its boom. Such mines as the Alta, the Black Bear, the Tomboy, the Liberty Bell and the Smuggler, were pouring out millions in gold, copper, lead, and zinc. Hundreds of men crawled over the mountains looking for new properties. But the poor artist couldn’t get together enough money for a grubstake because of a fatal flaw in his physical make-up — his hands were callous free and lily white so naturally no one would trust him.
When he ran completely out of funds, according to the story, he wound up “On the Line’ where one of the girls took pity on him.
“She was a beautiful and good-hearted Erskine Caldwell sort of girl. She provided the artist with meals and various comforts of life, and finally posed for the painting, which he sold for enough money to provide the needed grubstake, and he removed her, via the bonds of holy matrimony, from her life of degradation and shame.”
According to the stories, the couple lived happily ever after when his grubstake was transformed by luck into paying claims. Also, it was rumored that grateful miners continued to bring the now faithful wife rich samples of high-grade ore which the couple processed in their house.
The picture never hung in the bawdy houses on Pacific Avenue of the likes of The Pick and Gad, The Idle Hour, The Gold Belt, The Silver Bell, The White House and the Cozy Corner, but instead made it over to the more respectable climes of Colorado Avenue where it hung on the wall of the National Saloon and the Cosmopolitan.
“Certainly it was traveling between the two saloons fifty years ago as it is clearly remembered by a number of local citizens who were also traveling between the two saloons at that time,” noted Beshoar in 1961.
During prohibition, it ended up over at The Diamond, a gambling and drinking joint run by Harry Counterman.
“After Counterman and his girl, Bessie Young, who ran The Idle hour, went out of business and went off somewhere and committed suicide, Thurston “Slim” Parsons came into possession of the gambling equipment and the painting by paying $300 back taxes to the San Miguel County Treasurer,” said Beshoar.
Parsons kept the painting in several of his businesses over the years including (only briefly) The Roma Bar and Café. But his wife wouldn’t stand for it there, and it was banished to a beer garden up the street, next door to Frank Wilson’s Busy Corner Drug Store. The beer garden closed it doors in the ‘30s and it traveled from there to a private gambling club called The Telluride Club in rooms rented to Parsons by Wilson, above the Drug Store, where it watched over poker games until that club closed in 1948. Parsons left it the rooms when he closed the business.
“From that point on, the stories about the gal in painting begin to differ,” wrote Beshoer.
“Slim Parsons says he asked Druggist Wilson for the picture after the latter had it taken downstairs and put in back on the wall in the beer garden room and is using the one-time beer garden as a gift shop in the summer and storage space for some of his excess from the drugstore.”
According to Parsons quoted by Beshoar, “ I told him I wanted the picture, but he could have some of the chairs and tables and stuff upstairs if he wanted them. I don’t have any sentimental attachment to that picture, but it is my property and I want it. In fact, I don’t really care for it very much, but want to hang it in the Elk’s Club.”
Parsons attributes the paintings origin to a dance hall girl in Telluride of times past but doesn’t think Wilson’s correct in the specific identity.
“There were two such paintings, if the woman Wilson talks about was painted, I think she was the model for the other one,” Parsons told Beshoar back in 1961. “Last I heard, that one was hanging in the Stockman’s Café in Montrose.”
Druggist Wilson had a much different view. He insisted it was not just another nude.
“Why, one day an old miner came in here and squinted up at that picture and said, ‘Why Frank, I see you got a picture of Audrey,’ I said. ‘How do you know that’s Audrey?’ The old fellow said, ‘Why, I would recognize her anywhere.’”
Wilson said he told Parsons that he might want to rent the upstairs rooms and he needed to get his stuff out there. Parsons came by and took some stuff, but left the painting.
“People had drawn all over it. I was going to send out to the dump in the trash, but my son Bob worked on it for about four days cleaning it. He is a history major and he said he would like to have it.”
The cleaned-up painting was hung on the wall downstairs in the former beer garden again, in 1949, but Parsons returned to claim it more than decade later.
“He got right up on the player piano and was going to take it right off the wall,” said Wilson.
Wilson, who according Beshoar had holsters nailed to the underside of his counters in his drugstore and kept several pistols in readiness for possible trouble, cried, “I would not let anyone take this painting and I wouldn’t sell it to anyone.”
Wilson who had a reputation for caution in money matters, added however, “... Course I wouldn’t give a nickel for it, either.”
###

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Elementary memory like a cherished toy


Like a cherished toy, stored carefully between uses in felt-lined, wooden box, I take my grade-school memories out and play with them at times.
I remember, though not always clearly, all the way back to kindergarten in Dolores. The building was new, maybe even the first year or so, dark red brick, clean polished tile. New metal tables with dark, simulated-wood grain, Formica tops. Morning and afternoon classes. They tabbed me as a morning person. And as students, we were asked to bring a small carpet we could unroll and use for the nap-time break.
Ridiculous, I thought at the time, we don’t need no stinking nap. We are burning daylight. I need to find a girl friend. Such rebellion resulted in an ‘outlaw’ reputation at early age.
First grade was tougher, intentionally, I assume. They sent the ‘outlaws’ to Mrs. Denby’s class. Mrs. McRae’s for those that need nurturing. Mrs. Denby’s for those that need some discipline.
First through third grades were back in the old building. Orange-chipped brick with high-buffed, oaken floors that creaked to the sound of marching munchkins. The floors were always polished to high shine with only the occasional interruption facilitated by the orange-colored, sawdust-like compound that they put down when someone barfed all over them.
In each of the classrooms of that old building was a room not encountered since, a coat room — a long narrow partition with hooks down each side to hang coats, shoes and other articles of childhood. A place to escape to, when the going got rough, to wrestle with the neighbor kid — or if the occasion presented itself, to steal a kiss.
Early in my educational career, the old building was heated with a coal-fired furnace, the kind with two great hoppers that some poor, unfortunate soul every morning had to shovel huge scoops of slow-burning anthracite in though the top opening covered by a red hatch. The furnace room was just off to the right as you pushed the crash bar on one of the big double doors out to the playground. A place of great mystery, and teachers constantly warned of the terrible, disfiguring accidents that could occur if you were to wander into the off-limits area. If it is that dangerous, several of us thought at the time, then why is it right in the middle of the whole campus?
But accidents do happen, I tried to explain.
Like the time I accidentally poked Arthur Meyers in the forehead with a pencil. The teacher’s attempt at a ‘scared straight’ warning, involving potential lead poisoning, fell on deaf ears I am afraid. Because I had it (upon good authority) that modern pencils are constructed almost exclusively with graphite centers.
In those early years, the playground itself was tougher place. Much tougher than the coddled children of recent times experience. Just dirt, and a little gravel with coal cinders under the high-bar swing sets and ‘the maximum vertical lift steel slide of death’ on the far edge of the playground. More than one hapless Dolores student left a hunk of scalp, or several square inches of hide hanging from the metal of that big boy, or in the dirt below.
Of course that was by no means, the only available hazard. Red rubber kick balls flying out of nowhere and everywhere, a decrepit Driver’s Education trailer with steel ‘temporary’ stairs that could knock out the most firmly seated of teeth when properly approached, and students contributing to their own delinquency (everybody was Kung Fu fighting, man those cats were fast as lightning, Huh!)— it is a wonder anybody survived third grade. Later the quality of road rash was vastly improved when, in a stroke of infinite wisdom, it was decided to black top the entire surface.
Third grade was a watershed year.
I, as with other fellow condemned ‘outlaws,’ had the good fortune of once again being placed in the ‘needs discipline’ class. We had two teachers that year, rather than just one.
I recall, on perhaps the very first day, Mrs. Rucker, introducing us to the theory of détente. Standing war-like in an offensive crouch, with a four-foot wooden paddle raised high in hand (the paddle air-vented with several offsetting rows of holes drilled in the center), the five-foot, three-inch, 60-year-old music teacher found it necessary to show us her muscle and identify her willingness to apply corporal punishment.
With the other teacher however, that is where the power resided.
Mrs. Wallace, was not only the afternoon third-grade instructor of English, vocabulary and Social Studies; she was also the principal and perhaps, more importantly, lived diagonally right across the street from my family. She was a person I cared about not disappointing, at least not permanently.
When I went back to Dolores recently after a long absence, I noticed that the old orange-brick building has been replaced. Of course, Mrs. Denby, Mrs. Rucker, Mrs. Wallace and most, if not all, elements of the old playground are now long gone.
But still, stored away in safe place, protected in cushioned fabric and encased in a strong box, are set of memories that could rival the best toys on any shelf, in any toy room.
###

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Springs officer murdered before Thanksgiving

America was a little different then. Colorado Springs too.
On November 26, 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt commented on the upcoming holiday.
“HYDE PARK, Wednesday—Thanksgiving day is the most personal of all our holidays, I think, because it carries us back to our own past history and we are primarily celebrating the survival of our first ancestors in this country. There may be other countries which have their own Thanksgiving days but this is our day, the day when we review the things that we in the United States have to be thankful for.” Less than 10 years separated that time from her husband’s official establishment the holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. Before then, Thanksgiving had moved around a bit.
That same day, actor John Wayne and his entourage touched down at the airport in El Paso, Texas, and the ‘Duke’ stopped on the tarmac to shake hands with a toddler on his way to the premier of “Hondo,” based on the book by Louis L’Amour. The show, of course, was in Three-D and WarnerPhonic Sound and Color.
The population of Colorado Springs, according to the 1950 Census, was 45,472, and that included the recently annexed town Roswell that was brought into the fold in June of that year.
Patrolman Richard Burchfield reported for duty on November 26, 1953 and left the station in Colorado Springs at 7:40 that evening. He had told his wife a few days before that he thought he knew who was involved in a series of stickups around town.
At 7:55 that night, the officer called to ask if any detectives were in, police reports said. When told they were, he stated he would be in shortly. This was taken to mean he had someone in custody or had some pertinent information for the detectives.
“Shortly after 8 p.m., Robert McVay of 540 East Boulder, spotted the police car on the west side of El Paso Street, near Bijou, and five blocks from the police station; he saw a man on the outside of the car, stooping down and looking in. He became suspicious when he and his wife saw the man run up the street and enter a car, so McVay drove two blocks north, made a U-turn and went back. The man was still sitting in the car so McVay drove home, then decided to make another trip and drove to the police car and again saw the man looking into the car; McVay stopped and asked ‘Do you need any help?’ to which the man replied ‘Hell no!’ Returning home, McVay tried to call police but the lines were busy, so he drove to the station and reported the incident. Detective Irion and Officer Garred went to the scene with him and found Burchfield slumped behind the steering wheel dead.,” according to an account by Carl F. Mathews on unsolved crimes in the Pikes Peak region. Mathews was the former Superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in Colorado Springs Police Department.
Burchfield had been shot eight times, behind the right ear, over the right eye, once in the right cheek, twice in the right shoulder and three times in the right arm. Nine shells, (along with the bullets identified by the FBI lab as coming from a Colt Woodsman automatic .22 caliber pistol) were found in the car.
“The suspect was thought to have been the holdup artist who had committed seven stickups in the month previous and had been describes by most witness as young, apparently 17 to 25 years of age, about six feet tall, an of slender build. His latest holdup had been that of Alton Peterson, who had been stopped in the 1400 block of North Cascade at about 7:15 p.m. which led officers to believe the killer was the holdup man,” wrote Mathews.
A witness account by Mary Lowe, living at 233 North El Paso, which was diagonally across the street from the scene of the killing, described hearing shots and an outcry. She told police she looked out her upstairs window and saw a man running up the street to a parked car, apparently a dark Ford Coupe, 1941 or 1942 model. He backed up, made a U-Turn and drove a short distance north, stopped and ran back to the police cruiser where McVay had talked to him after his third trip around the area.
“Police asked all parties who had Colt Woodman pistols to bring them to the station for checking and number I.D. s, but without results so far as any connection with the shells found in the car,” Mathews said.
Burchfield was 34 at the time of his murder and a father of three children. Rewards totaling nearly $1,700 were offered and private contributions and returns from movie houses (perhaps from the Three-D version of “Hondo.”) made up a purse amounting to $3,650, which was given to the widow.
“It was theorized that the man was in the police car when Burchfield started to question him, drew the pistol and shot the officer as outlined. No real clues have ever been found,” wrote Mathews.
Officer Richard Burchfield's murder, five blocks from the police station in his own patrol car, has never been solved. In Colorado Springs that year, for the police, for the family of Richard Burchfield, for witnesses Robert McVay, Mary Lowe and robbery victim Alton Peterson, and for others … it was as the former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “the most personal of all of holidays.”
America, and Colorado Springs, too, is a little different now.
###