Thursday, December 22, 2011

Midas touch, saddle burrs, and a generous spirit


Wealth and power can be a burr under the saddle to someone that is not used to taking that seat.  At the end of his life, Cripple Creek’s first, and greatest, millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton, couldn’t touch something without it turning to gold or money. It made him very unhappy.
“This wealth came to a man who had spent most of his life working as a carpenter for $3 a day,” wrote historian Kenneth Jessen in a recent newspaper article in Loveland Reporter Herald. The Independence Mine contributed the bulk of Stratton’s wealth.
“At today’s gold prices, the Independence yielded over $2 billion and when Stratton sold the mine, he received nearly a quarter of a billion dollars,” noted Jesson.
But that is not the interesting part.  The perennial ‘nice guy’ who never forgot where he came from, ended up giving most of it away.  His fortune, born on the Fourth of July, was pretty much spent and/or handed out as gifts by the carpenter-turned-miner at the Christmas of his life.
“On July 4, 1891, Stratton was prospecting on the side of Battle Mountain. Based on geology, he reasoned rich ore could be found there,” says Jesson. “As he searched for gold, Stratton could hear shots fired into the air as miners began their celebration of the Fourth of July. That day, Stratton found and staked out the Washington and the Independence claims.
That claim, and other subsequent moves, made him tremendously wealthy. “He would eventually own one-fifth of the mining land in Cripple Creek and Victor,” writes historian Tom Stockman.
“He was extremely generous, he bought bicycles for the local washer women to use on their rounds, and when Cripple Creek burned in an all-to-common fire, he helped the town rebuild in brick.”
Just a few on the list of Stratton’s other benefactors:
• To “Crazy Bob” Womack, discoverer but not the heir to Cripple Creek riches, Stratton wrote a check for $5,000 as consolation.
• He donated land for the Colorado Springs City Hall, Post Office, a major park and the El Paso County Court House (which now is the Pioneer Museum).
• He greatly expanded the trolley streetcar system in Colorado Springs.
• When he died, he left his money with directions to found a home for itinerant children and the elderly.
•  According to the National Mining Hall of Fame, “most memorable of the needy visitors to his door was H.A.W. Tabor, Leadville’s mining king.  He was a beaten man, whose fortune had collapsed with the end of silver coinage. Stratton gave him $15,000 and saw he was named Postmaster of Denver.
• Rescued the Brown Palace in Denver from the brink of bankruptcy by paying off the noteworthy hotel's delinquent bills.
• Gave a gift of $25,000 to the Colorado School of Mines to finish the “Hall of Metallurgy,” which now bears his name.
• Each Christmas, he had coal delivered to poor families in the mining towns he was familiar with.
According to Tom Stockman, “Disdaining the common practice of building a mansion, Stratton lived in one of the houses he had previously built as a carpenter. His many charitable acts actually drew public disapproval. He eventually attracted so many false applicants for aid that he withdrew from society, becoming a heavy-drinking eccentric recluse.”

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Photo information: W.S. Stratton’s residence on Battle Mountain, with Independence Mine at the rear. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Softness in hard times, light for dark days




In the hardest of times, some people show a certain softness. From darkness, light can appear spontaneously. Maybe it is as Eleanor Roosevelt said in the depths of the Depression, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Folks in Palmer Lake, Colorado, seem to have taken that to heart years ago.
Every morning in December now, as I turn North toward Denver, I am guided by the huge lighted star on Sundance Mountain. Every night of the season until January 1, as I walk my hound dogs, I’m comforted by its presence on the steep slope to the Northwest.
“In 1935, during the dark days of the Great Depression, the former railroad company town of Palmer Lake found a way to light the holidays, beginning a tradition that continues today,” wrote Cathleen Norman in a 2008 story in the Denver Post.
“The 500-foot, five-point Palmer Lake Christmas star is the bright idea of B.E. Jack, who managed the Mountain Utilities electric company. He teamed up with Sloan's Cafe owner Bert Sloan, who saw the idea as a way to draw drivers to his restaurant near Colorado 105, a popular route between Denver and Colorado Springs.”
Norman quoted Sloan in her story. "We tried to keep the town from dying, and make it a good place to live. We wanted to do something the town could be proud of for many years, and the star did just that."
According to a story penned by Rod VanVelson and Jane VanVelson Potts  in 1980 for the Palmer Lake Historical Society, “After coffee Mr. Jack took Bert for a ride and stopped about ten miles south of town. Mr. Jack explained how he had visualized a giant star on Sundance Mountain that would be noticeable for miles. He felt such a star would be Palmer Lake's contribution for many future holiday seasons. Bert agreed and knew this novelty would be enjoyed by many because in 1935 the Denver - Colorado Springs highway passed through the Town of Palmer Lake. They spent most of that morning driving around looking at Sundance mountain from different angles trying to imagine how the star would look and discussing the problems of its construction. Both men agreed to discuss this idea of a star with other Palmer Lake residents.”
As the story goes, a few days later, Jack gave the exact same tour to Richard Wolf, a linemen in his employ at Palmer Lake an the idea began to take shape as a very real possibility.
“Palmer Lake was a small town and the word of a star spread quickly. The back booth at Sloan's Cafe had often been the favorite gathering spot for the young men of the town. They spent several summer evenings discussing and drawing plans over this back table before the actual work got underway. C. E. Rader, another Mountain Utilities lineman, drew the electrical wiring plans, as this was his line of work,” wrote VanVelson and Potts.
“Most of the construction organization was left to Bert Sloan, Richard Wolf, C. E. Rader and Byron Medlock, all residents of Palmer Lake. Because of his surveying experience Byron Medlock assumed responsibility for planning the size and layout of the star. Mr. Jack was physically unable to climb and work with the younger men but it was Mr. Jack who convinced Mountain Utilities to contribute used poles and cable for this worthwhile project. He gladly advised the volunteer crew and made available much of the necessary equipment. Sundance Mountain was a perfect place for the star but posed a real challenge. The 60 percent slope with its underbrush, yucca and rocks made working conditions difficult.”
Most of the work was done by hand, with many of the posts set in concrete because of the shallow depth of rock on the mountain. The concrete was mixed by hand and carried up in buckets.
“Finding time to work on the star was difficult since most of the men worked six or seven days a week. Many late evenings and Sundays were spent completing the task. Finding time was especially hard for Bert because summer weekends were the busiest time of all in the cafe. Nevertheless he found time as did Richard, Byron, C. E. Rader, Gilbert Wolf, Floyd Bellinger, George Sill, Jess Kruger and many other townspeople.”
Perhaps one of the truest heroes of the process was not a man however, or even human.
“One avid worker during the building of the star who deserves mention was Bert's dog, a German Shepherd, named Dizzy after Dizzy Dean the famous baseball player of that era. Dizzy was Bert's constant companion. Bert made a small pack that he strapped to Dizzy. As the crews worked and moved about the mountainside Dizzy carried supplies from one group to another. Everything from hammers to electrical wire and even light bulbs were placed in Dizzy's pack. A short whistle or a call of his name and 'Ol Diz was soon there with energy left over.”
Beginning in 1936, the star has been lit each year from December 1st until January 1st. The star is also lit on the Memorial Day weekend. Except for blackout purposes during WWII, the Star has shined brightly since 1935.
“In the beginning the city paid for the electricity until December 15, while Mountain Utilities donated it for the rest of the month. This arrangement lasted for several years. In 1937 the Palmer Lake Volunteer Fire Department became custodian of the star while the city contributed financial support. The custody and maintenance of the star today still rests with the Volunteer Fire Department. Funds to maintain the star are partly raised at a widely attended annual ‘Chili Supper’ hosted by the PLVFD.”
According to the Palmer Lake Historical Society account, revised in 2008 by Rogers Davis and H. Edwards, “The cable, wiring and posts of the original star survived the tests of time until 1976. At that time as part of the Bi-Centennial, Colonel Carl Frederick Duffner, a Palmer Lake resident, spearheaded a fund raising campaign to replace the posts and rewire the star. This time rather than Bert, Richard, Dizzy and the rest carrying every ounce of equipment up the mountainside a helicopter airlifted the new wire and steel posts. The original cable installed in 1935 did not need to be replaced. Wet concrete was airlifted rather than carried up the mountain in buckets. This 1976 airlift of equipment took three hours compared to over three months of labor in 1935.
In 2002, the star needed renovation once again. Project Engineer Todd Bell led a community project to rebuild the star. The 50+ volunteers came from the Fire Department, Historical Society, town officials, and citizens of the Tri-Lakes area. This renovation involved replacing the electrical wiring and other major components. A new automated controller complying with the American With Disabilities Act allows remote control operation of the star. A new type of connector was installed on all sockets to prevent wire damage and also allow bulb positioning adjustments. The lights were repositioned for symmetry and another bulb was added for a new total of 92.”
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Please click below to see related story.
• Yule Log warms through the ages.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Scars on home hill with a full scoop


Some scars point to character
I know I cherish mine.
The crease on my noggin
Plowed by a rock on the hill,
Cut furrows like a tine.

Still present after the years
And inscribed in my head
Written in the memory
Forever imprint
Cut deeper ‘til dead.

On a snow-covered slope,
Eight inches new snow
Scoop shovel sled
Three boys,
one riding, two tow

Fly down the rocky slope
At the launch, the tow stops
Careful near the bitter end
Watch out, dudes!
At the bottom, sharp rocks.

The jagged stones loom large
Unyielding, not forgiving
No swerve, reroute or stop
Crash landing sandstone
I’m lucky to be living

But on a cold day when flakes fall
I think of the home hill,
The rip 'cross my skull
The life had its dangers
There’s blood in the snow,
But times in the scoop shovel — full.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Light from the edge



The light leaked out into the eastern edge of the sky, slowly at first, and then with greater urgency and resolve. It was always like this, but unique every time, too.
Light helped. It relieved the weight of the world he felt, continuous pressure, little things and big, — a weight like someone standing on him with one foot in the middle of his back. He could carry it, but surely, it gets old after a while.
But there it was. Bright, glorious, colorful light — and shadow, revealing the terrain in all it features, texture, intensity, bumps, rises, peaks and valleys.
With camera in hand, he had raced the sunrise all his life. Likewise, he, at times, had lain in waiting, for the sunset. 
In the middle of the day, he tried to work with it, sometimes successfully, but it was just that, work. But around the edges of the day, the light, threads from heaven, worked with him, rather than against.
In the old days of the dark room, as he rolled the grey plastic in a non-touching spiral, emulsion side down, on the wire rolls, and dropped them into the stainless steel canisters, absence of light was important too.  There was power and purpose in the darkness.
Sometimes he missed those simpler times when everything was black and white, or at least only about 256 shades of grey. Then, the light went through a screen that was sucked down over the paper on the vacuum board. In those days, the most pressing requirements were being sure to keep the right side up, or down, or in between. That, and constant metallic feel and taste of D-76 in the back of the throat. Or remembering if it was necessary to push film, shot in available light from basketball game two stops or one, and is it going to be ready in time, or does it need use of the Japan dryer to hit deadline?
There was no need for help, then. His was a solitary existence at times but he never asked for any help and didn’t ever think he would need it. Like the rest of the family, he would never admit he didn’t know something, which was OK for the longest time because, then he could remember things that others could not, like whether or not to push two stops or one, with film shot in available light in a specific gym.
Memory is eventually treacherous, however.
With time, it is susceptible to double-cross. It is shaky ground upon which we are prone to build upon anyway, but can fall away — leaving no foundation underneath. Photos and other important products of the light, like truth and sunshine, seemed more stable.
What’s the answer? A guess maybe, it is to build like a spider instead, sending out strands past furthest ramparts of security, past the comfort zones, into the woods, and sky, and even into the light.
As he probably always suspected, there was comfort, grace, solace — and perhaps even life itself, in the light.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink.




A wall of water, described by some as nearly 16-feet high crashed and roared down the debris-strewn South Platte River steam bed on the evening on June 16, 1965. Reports had it taking out, or at least damaging, every bridge along that watershed, all the way the Kansas border and beyond.
Saturated by previous rains, the normally sparse steam flow of East and West Plum Creek, south of Castle Rock, became a raging torrent with microburst rainfall, tornados, and a ripping and roaring water drop, near the Palmer Lake area.
The Weather and Climate Assessment Science Program evaluation estimates, “The rains began to fall on the eastern foothills of Colorado on June 13. During June 13-16, weak frontal systems were present in the Colorado region. Warm, moist air flowed into the state from the south, producing convective storms. Many of these storms were severe and produced large hail and funnel clouds. The storms on June 14-15 occurred in the Greeley-Sterling area, in the Bijou Creek basin southwest of Deer Trail, and in the Colorado Springs area. The rains were generally heavy with reports of damaging hail in some areas, especially around Colorado Springs, on June 14. An unofficial report of 12 inches fell during the night of June 14-15 at a ranch near Rockport, about 36 miles northeast of Fort Collins. A cold front settled into the region and became a stationary front by the morning of June 15.
“By June 16 rainfall amounts increased immensely over much of eastern and southeastern Colorado and the storms turned more violent. The orographic effects of the divide between Colorado Springs and Limon and the divide extending from a point between Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico, generally eastward to the Panhandle of Oklahoma were quite pronounced during the storms of June 16 and 17. Unofficial rain amounts for June 16 in the South Platte basin were unprecedented. Heavy rains, unofficially 5” to 10”, also occurred to the south near Trinidad and a reported 3” to 7” fell in the vicinity of Cripple Creek. The torrential rains continued late into June 17. Rainfall amounts of over 5 inches for the 24-hour period ending in the late afternoon of June 17 were common in the storm area.”Residents of Littleton and metropolitan Denver had little reason to anticipate a flood on Monday afternoon, June 16. Although a rare tornado and severe thunderstorms had hit Loveland a couple of days before, the forecast was for scattered thundershowers typical for a summer afternoon. In fact, it was not even local precipitation which fueled the flood, but a violent cloudburst many miles south near Castle Rock,” according to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management in “Historical Colorado Events.” 
“Police were able to give people in Littleton several hours warning, so they could be evacuated. The first local casualty was the Columbine Country Club southwest of town, whose golf course and luxury homes were devastated. Overland Park golf course north of town suffered a similar fate. In between, Centennial Race Track, which was within days of opening its racing season, had most of its track and stable areas inundated. A massive rescue operation by owners, trainers and jockeys saved some 140 horses. The City's water supply, which consisted mainly of a series of wells along the river, was nearly destroyed. A network of fire hoses run from the nearest Denver outlets provided emergency water for months.”
The Division of Emergency Management describes the toll taken. 
“All told, it was estimated that the damage came to some $540 million, plus 28 persons lost their lives. The state could count itself fortunate that so few citizens were killed in one of Colorado's worst natural disasters because it began in broad daylight and few people were caught without some notice. On the positive side, much of the eastern plains received relief from a three-year drought and farmers made the most of the situation. Plans were quickly finalized and construction began on the Chatfield Dam, being completed in 1972. And with a massive cleanup required all along the South Platte, municipalities began to turn the valley into a beautiful greenbelt which today belies its garbage dump past. The river finally got its respect.” 
According to the City of Littleton’s web site, “As the flood continued north, it was more than just water bashing the countryside -- it now included all the old cars and refrigerators and both old and new debris. This battering ram carried away or destroyed 26 bridges, including every one from Littleton north to the Colfax viaduct. Both Public Service Company power plants along the river were shut down, and emergency circuits became waterlogged and shorted out. As the flood continued north, other tributaries added their weight, Sand Creek and Clear Creek, and further north the Bijou and Little Beaver and the Poudre River. The communities of Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush became isolated as the waters spread out over a quarter-million acres of farmland.”

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Riding yesterday's 'train of tomorrow' in style



For 21 years and two days, the California Zephyr moved passengers from San Francisco to Chicago in “the train of tomorrow.”

My co-worker at Colorado Press, Laura Higashi and her husband Tom, recall their ride on a just a piece of the Zephyr, the Silver Solarium, as “truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“When the Silver Solarium, one of the old California Zephyr railcars, left Denver’s Union Station for Glenwood Springs on August 1, 1987, and we were on it,” wrote Higashi. “The railcar’s owners, Nav and Snick Fosse, are the parents of our close friends, hence the invitation to ride."

On the invitation from Fosse for a wine and cheese party on the railcar the day before, it said “For twenty-one years, ending March 1970, this unforgettable stainless steel ‘cruise ship’ ran between Chicago and San Francisco. Owned and operated by three railroads, the Burlington, Rio Grande and Western Pacific, this greatest Zephyr was designed and scheduled for comfort and superb scenery, crossing Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and descending Feather River Canyon in California by daylight. One of the famous tailend cars has now been fully restored to better than new condition by Nav and Snick Fosse of Nashua, Iowa. The Silver Solarium is mechanically compatible to Amtrak’s latest equipment, yet it retains the charm of her famous days in California Zephyr service.”

Born from the Exposition Flyer idea back in late 1930s, and trussed up with the Burlington road’s new revolution in streamlined, diesel-powered passenger trains, came the Burlington's Zephyrs, which the CZ was but one of many. Created from a Partnership between the WP, D&RGW and the Burlington, and the initial orders were placed with Budd Manufacturing Company.

The special train took another leap forward when “C. R. Osborn, General Manager of GM's Electro-Motive Division, riding through Colorado's Glenwood Canyon on Independence Day, 1944, in one of his Company's new diesels, was struck by how dramatic the scenery appeared from his perch in the cab of his F-unit. When a man in his position gets an idea, it gets accomplished, and thus the Vista-Dome car was born. The first was rebuilt from a standard Budd chair car, and was an instant success. GM's Train of Tomorrow touted several of the gleaming beauties on its tour of the country, and soon they became a hallmark of the Burlington's Zephyr fleet,” according to “A History of the California Zephyr,” by John Wilson and Alan Radecki. 


Commonly called “the Silver Lady,” the first train was christened in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight, Mayor of San Francisco Elmer Robinson, and Western Pacific President Harry A. Mitchell looked on. For the inaugural run in 1949, every female passenger on the train was given a corsage of "silver" and orange orchids that were specially flown in from Hilo, Hawaii. The women who worked as car hostesses on this train were known as "Zephyrettes."

Built in 1948, Silver Solarium ran in service for the original California Zephyr for 20 years until that train was discontinued in 1970. Amtrak purchased the Vista-dome in 1971 and used it for long-distance service until 1980, when it was retired by the arrival of the Superliners. The first private owner purchased the car from Amtrak in 1985. During its lifetime of regular service, Silver Solarium has traveled well over 7 million miles.

Silver Solarium was one of six Dome Sleeper Observation cars originally built for the California Zephyr. These cars were the 'Last Word' in passenger comfort and accommodation, and included a drawing room with shower, a glass-walled cocktail lounge under the dome, an observation lounge in the elegant round end, and of course the Vista-Dome which seated 24 sleeping car passengers, according to CalZephyrRailcar.com.

Literature from the company that now operates railcar charters of the Silver Solarium says, “When Silver Solarium was purchased from Amtrak, it contained neither dome windows nor the observation end windows. Mushrooms and trees were growing inside the car. Many years were spent refurbishing it to the condition you see today.

Silver Solarium received all new mechanical systems, and the Amtrak-mandated overhaul of its trucks, as well as installation of a new electrical system, which operates on power supplied by the locomotive, rather than power stored in batteries.

Silver Solarium is built of stainless steel, including most structural members. Silver Solarium features a depressed floor under the dome. This meant traditional car-building techniques were not feasible. Consequently, major structural loads are cantilevered through the dome structure to make up for the loss of a center sill. The soundness of this design was proven by the manufacturer, when the car was hydraulically squeezed, without deformation, to 1,800,000 pounds of force.”

Silver Solarium is over 85 feet long, 10 feet wide and 15 feet, 10 inches tall above the rails. It carries 500 gallons of water. The car weighs approximately 155,000 pounds. It seats up to 24 passengers at lounge tables in the vista-dome, 11 people in the observation lounge, and has beds for 11. Silver Solarium is home-ported in Oakland, California when not on charter.”

“Because of its historical significance, many photographers were seen on the route as we made our way out of Denver to Glenwood Springs. Mr. Fosse even offered a total stranger, a rail car buff, to join us on the ride to Glenwood Springs. Needless to say, that stranger also had the ride of his life,” says Laura Higashi.

“The curved bar area had a beautiful linoleum sculpture by French artist Pierre Bourdelle, a beautiful baby blue background with white birds adorning it. Every car had a different sculpture around the bar. When Mr. Fosse bought the railcar, the bar picture was covered with carpeting. Imagine the surprise when the carpet was removed and there was the original Bourdelle sculpture!," says Higashi.



# # #
Photos courtesy of Laura Higashi, from 1987 train ride.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Animal awakens on Fridays in November


Outside, even in grade school, I remember marveling at the curved, laminated-wood beams that arched over the guts of the building like a rib cage. It reminded me of an animal, sleeping mostly, on its back, awaiting the buzzer on Friday that would awaken it on a cold, dark, winter night.
Inside then, every five or ten years it seemed, they would tear up the hard wood floor and replace it with a new one. With the periodic tear-up, it amazed me to see the sump pumps that secretly ran below the surface there, silently protecting and endlessly fighting the longest war of seeping dampness. Unchecked, the dreary muck, and primordial ooze, would certainly have crept back in. Built in a swamp, I was told, or the river ran through it. The high school gym was fixture in the town, and its personality was reflected.
It was like Jean Giraudoux’s invisible garment woven around us from our earliest years. It was made of the way we eat, and the way we walk, and the way we greet people. Woven of the tastes, and colors, sounds and perfumes that our senses sported on though childhood.
Sure, the gym was home to difficult afternoons when Bill Estes would maniacally line us up and give all that missed a layup, light swats, for instructional purposes. Violence lived in the running head shots of killer dodgeball games in P.E. classes of the day. And back and forth “suicides” were no fun to anyone.
Ah, but the Friday nights in November, spent in its brightly lit, and unashamedly loud compactness; when the whole town turned out to jam themselves in next to their neighbor on the hard, varnished, bench seats and shuffle their feet though the sticky spots on cement-floor aisles.
They would funnel through one of the double doors early in the evening, along the edge of the steel rails, back toward the plywood ticket shack inside on the edge. Down the cement steps they would lumber, past the door opening to a long narrow hall to concession stand “dungeon,” and file on past the wooden stage, up the steps and on to the other side.
After the JV game, the dungeon would fill with coffee-swilling parent clusters, and teachers, and pixie-stick-crazed younger brothers and sisters would crowd to the front of the opening in the back wall.
“Give me candy, hot dogs, hot cocoa, popcorn, Coke.”
And fulfilled -- they would saunter away carrying precariously, red-and-white, wax-covered, logo-emblazened cups full of the flat, black liquid to spill on the way back to their seats.
Then, as varsity players hit the hardwood for pregame, all would once again funnel back into the belly of the beast, and take our respective positions under the black and white banners of champions past.
At the jump, the gymnasium became a living, breathing thing.
And as the night wore on, and the building warms to the crowd…
Stomp, stomp, stomp —Stomp, stomp, stomp.
In a small voice, tentatively at first:
“I've paid my dues. Time after time. I've done my sentence. But committed no crime…” Eventually working our way into:
We are the Champions. We are the Champions. No time for losers.”
It was enough to make visitors timid and fearful — to cower the whole town of Mancos.
And the show… zebras with whistles, the band, pom-poms, cheerleaders and of course … warriors of the court.
I was never much of a basketball player, but man, that gymnasium was it.
At a very young age, Lynn and James and I, would angle for the opportunity to run the big, six-foot mops over the wood surface at half times. After the games, we would stay late into evenings to help James’ grandfather, Lee Squires, clean the joint — a labor of love.
Later, when I couldn’t stand the thought of missing one of the Friday night worship services, I would volunteer to keep stats, just to be a part.
And I recall the great players through the years, the ball hogs and the hustlers. Coaches that you cussed, losses that would break your heart. Close calls. Near misses. Teams on to state, and rebuilding years. Times when folks silently filed out, orderly, quietly, with hangdog dejectedness, and their heads down all the way to their cars, which were still half in snow banks along the front.
Other times, when the crowds barely able to contain themselves, burst out at the crash bars on the double doors, on to the slick sidewalks and into yard and parking lot, yelling — no screaming, just to keep the place from exploding.
But nothing felt quite like the uneven breath and the restless heart beat of that gymnasium on a Friday night in November.
“When the Dolores Bears fall into line, we’re going win this game …”




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Friday, November 4, 2011

Looking back at history through the viewfinder

History can be cold and sterile or it can offer warmth and understanding. It can be very personal at times. A few years ago, I attended a very interesting program introducing a new book about Estemere Mansion, by my friend Dan Edwards and the owner of the house, Roger Ward. 
Edwards and Ward had a book signing when they finished the book a few years ago at Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake for “A Victorian Mansion in the Colorado Rockies: The Estemere Estate at Palmer Lake.” These two take history personally, and I recommend the book and DVD, just from that perspective. 
Though my thought today developed from that presentation, it is not necessarily about the mansion.
In that context, Ward described, in great detail how they relied on a photograph taken in 1893 of Estemere to restore the property during the past decade. The photo revealed mysteries about lions at the steps of the house, the stained glass in the windows, even the light on the porch, and lightning rods on the gables.
The photo was taken by one H.S. (Horace Swartley) Poley.
As some of you know, or have guessed, I have great love for old photos. And in cases, I feel like I have come to know a few of these old shutterbugs from a hundred years ago, or at least their style and work. It is a fascinating bit of time travel for me. I have, of course, seen Poley's stuff before.
He has a famous and exhaustive set of photos of the bull fights in Gillett in 1895. He completed fabulous work in his decades of documenting Southwestern archeology and Native American culture. His train and railroad photography rivals giants of the period, such as William Henry Jackson, Robert Richardson, and Otto Perry.
But who is this character?
I can only give you what I know today. Perhaps, as is the way with digging in the history pile,  I will know more tomorrow. 
"Horace Swartley Poley created a major collection of photographic images of Native Americans in the southwestern United States. Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1864, Poley moved to Colorado in the 1880s and was a resident of Colorado Springs for sixty-two years. Poley started a commercial photo studio in 1892 and remained an active photographer until 1935. In addition to his photographic work, Poley served as head of the U.S. Postal registry department in Colorado Springs. During summer vacations, Poley served as photographer with archaeological expeditions in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and southwest Colorado. He recorded landscapes, cityscapes, and events in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. Poley was noted for his travelogue lectures employing his images in "magic lantern" shows," from Genealogy.com.
The Denver Public Library obtained the Poley collection in 1937.
But how about a photo of the photographer? What was he like? And his family? Let's try to personalize this.
Well, I got lucky and found the above photo with the following information.
Studio bust portrait of the Poley family. Margret Ferguson Poley has short bangs and wears a pince nez, a blouse and jacket with puffed sleeves and ruffled lace collar with a flower or heart charm. Frank Ferguson Poley has short hair and wears a shirt with probably a wide starched collar, Horace Swartley Poley has a mustache and wears a bow tie and jacket over a shirt with a straight, starched collar. Elizabeth Poley Schrader has short bangs and wears a dress with puffed sleeves and wide laced collar.
Margret Ferguson Poley, Frank Ferguson Poley, Horace Swartley Poley, Eliszabeth Schader and "about 1893" inked on verso. 
I feel like I know the fellow a little better, even though it has been more than 100 years. 
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ghost of Emma or Essie? & fishing with grenades


The first time I heard the story of Emma Mentzer was in Brian Tobin’s history class, as a junior in high school. In between his rants about “screaming Arab regulars,” Tobin was famous for dramatic accounts of seemingly minor details in life and times of eras past. They provided texture and color for history that I have enjoyed to this day.  He told personal stories of fishing with hand grenades as a U.S. Marine in Viet Nam, (toss a grenade in the lagoon, jump back, then gather the fish) and strange and terrible tales of fear and loathing in the heart of American depravity.
But the yarn of Emma’s plight carried special meaning because it was right up the railroad there in Telluride – if only the railroad was still around.
By all accounts, there was no questioning that Emma Mentzer was a fine-looking woman. Variously described as “a handsome woman and very devoted to her husband,” and “pretty woman from Chicago who, by everyone’s estimation had married well when she wed a young physician named O.F. Mentzer,” her story has captured yarn weavers attention for more than a hundred years.
Trouble is, figuring out what is her story.
Swirling around in the snow and thin air up there are several fantastic versions and separating the gold from the overburden is an arduous task.  The various versions twist and turn different ways, even to point of indentifying who she was, and what was her name. Was it Emma, or “Essie?” Was she patron of Chicago society, or former Madam at a house of ill repute? All are questions that have been pondered for a century now, hairs that have been split and examined, but without definitive answer. I’m not sure I am up for answering them either. So, I will tell you what I know.
Oscar F. Mentzer traveled from his native Sweden to the United States in 1881 and by 1890, he had set up a physician’s practice on Larimer Street in Denver.
“He enjoyed a reputation as a skilled surgeon and built up a large practice worth reportedly $15,000 per year,” according to Carol Turner, in her book “Notorious Telluride: Wicked Tales from San Miguel County.”
“Mentzer was also known as a charitable, kind doctor who treated many poor patients without charge.”
Oscar and Emma (formerly Monroe) had met when they were both guests at the Hotel Albert in Denver and were married in Colorado Springs in July of 1894.
“Unfortunately, despite his happy circumstances, thirty-year-old Dr. Mentzer was and alcoholic,” writes Turner. “His drinking soon began to interfere with his practice. He missed days in the office and patients left his care, seeking a more sober physician. Emma Mentzer left her husband and returned to Chicago, where she reportedly divorced him.”
According to Turner’s account, the good doctor announced to his friends that he was getting away from the temptations of the city and moving to Telluride to reform and set up a new practice.
He did so, and after a year in the roaring camp, as Turner describes, he was generally respected around the camp as a “very able surgeon.”
“However there were ‘some incidents where he committed acts that did not meet with the general approval… and he was feared to a certain extent, especially by female patients.’”
In late 1897, Oscar renewed contact with his ex-wife. Reports in the Telluride papers said that she told him that she was “sick and starving and imposed upon and if she didn’t have him, she would have to starve to death.”
The doctor began sending money to his former wife in Chicago and continued throughout 1898, accounting for more $900 that year (which was a tidy sum in those days, equating to substantial annual salary) as revealed in records later. All this time, he begged his wife to return and promised his complete reform. In July, she apparently agreed to meet him in Denver and they renewed their marriage, and returned to Telluride in early August.
On the condition that he stay sober apparently, but that was not to be.
Oscar’s former partner, pharmacist S.A. Gross told the Telluride Journal later, “Mentzer was here six weeks or so ago. He wanted to come back with me again but I told him no. He was too far gone. He looked seedy from drinking so much. He said he was going to stop drinking for good, but I could see that he never again would be the man he had been, so I wouldn’t have him.”
Upon the Mentzer’s return to Telluride, Emma’s brother Will Monroe and his wife, also moved to the camp with intentions of going to work at the Bessie Mill as engineer. They stayed with the Mentzers.
“During the first week in October, Mentzer visited Tompkins Hardware Company in Telluride and purchased a .32 caliber Iver Johnson pistol. He told the salesman he needed protection against “dogs and holdups” when he traveled at night to places like Sawpit. The salesman insisted that Doc Mentzer was perfectly sober when he purchased the weapon or he would not have sold it to him,” says Turner.
Will Munroe, Emma’s brother, told the following account of the night of Oct. 7, in testimony before the court, during Oscar Mentzer’s trial for the murder of Emma Mentzer.
The Monroes and Mentzer’s had a pleasant evening together and the Doctor was jovial and smiling. About 9:30 in the evening, Emma suddenly called to her brother from another room. Arriving right away, he heard a scream and a shot. As he entered the room, the doctor turned to him, smoking gun in hand. The two wrestled for control of the pistol and Will Munroe was able to remove the gun and toss it to his wife who had arrived according to his testimony. She in turn, threw it out in the yard. The two men “both splendid specimens of physical manhood” continued the fray until Will Monroe got the upper hand and knocked the doctor unconscious. He then reportedly dragged him out to the porch and threw him in heap.
Only then did he return to the house and discover his sister had been shot in the temple. Emma died from her wound about half hour later, according to what Will told police. When they arrived, the doctor was still unconscious in a heap on the porch. He remained so even after they carted him off to the sheriff’s office as was deposited on a cot there.
The next issue, the San Miguel Examiner lamented over the death of Emma Mentzer.
“Mrs. Mentzer was a most charming and amiable woman and possessed the traits that made her lovable to all, and her sad fate brings great sorrow to her relatives and the community alike.”
Meanwhile, it became obvious to the authorities finally that the Doctor was suffering from a serious head injury. The two doctors called, Hall and Clark, were unable to revive the man and determined that they must trepan his skull, or drill a hole to relieve pressure on the brain. The procedure seemed to have worked as the doctor, with additional help from another inmate, pulled through.
“Three weeks after the shooting, Mentzer had his preliminary hearing,” writes Carol Turner. “The only witnesses, Will Monroe and his wife, gave mixed and contradictory testimony during the hearing, and observers began to express doubts about their reliability and respectability.”
There was rampant speculation that these witnesses, may in fact, hustle out of town in the middle of the night.
In the doctor’s version of the story, he had no intention of shooting his wife and the gun went off accidently in the struggle with Monroe.
The verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom early in the day on December 5, 1898 finding Oscar Mentzer guilty of second-degree murder, with a recommendation for leniency. He was sentenced to 20 years.
According to Turner, “After the trial, public opinion swung sharply in Mentzer’s favor when detail emerged about the questionable character of the Monroes, including Emma.
(The same day the jury reached a verdict,) Will Monroe’s real wife arrived in town, having traveled all the way from Illinois. It turned out she and her attorneys had been scouring the country looking for Monroe, and the headlines about the shooting had revealed his whereabouts.”
“Mrs. Monroe said her husband had beaten her and strangled her on many occasions. Finally he took her and the children to her sister’s house in Chicago and left them there. After many weeks without word, she hired detectives to hunt them down. They found them in a Chicago bordello with the woman he now claimed was his wife. She stated further that Emma Mentzer was the “landlady” of the Chicago bordello, and at that time was in court facing charges of theft. The Monroes took off and that was the last she knew of them until she read in the papers of the shooting in Telluride.
According to the Telluride Journal at the time:
“The whole history of her (Mrs. Monroe’s) life with Monroe show him to be a most despicable character, and it is a little remarkable that the proven bigamists and self confessed perjurer should be allowed to quietly slip away without punishment. His sister, whose evil influence had much to do with his downfall and outrageous treatment of his wife and children, and their final abandonment, is in her grave, sent there by a bullet fired by the man she had driven into a frenzy.”
By that time, Will Munroe and his “other wife” had disappeared from Telluride. There was talk of a new trial but Oscar Mentzer had already began serving his time in Canon City.
His medical training apparently had a role in securing a spot in the prison dispensary. Injuries sustained from the beating from Monroe made it difficult to sleep and he took chloral hydrate to help. Twenty months into his sentence, with his friends and attorney working on a possible pardon, he appeared at the prison kitchen asking for coffee but before he could take a sip, he fell to the floor and died, cause attributed to an overdose of chloral hydrate. He was 36.
But here is where some versions of the story take on a life of their own.
Tales of “Essie” (instead of Emma) Mentzer being sighted on the Rio Grande Southern railroad became a standard. In most such yarns, the Doctor was a Jekyll an Hyde sort of fellow with not only binge drinking problem but a maniacal drug habit as well. According to the stories, in front of many witnesses, a beautiful woman would appear as real as you or I. People on the train would offer her sympathy and help, but she was inconsolable and frantic, hysterically repeating, “He’s almost here. I have to go.” Then disappear into the thin mountain air, right in front of everybody.
In one version of the story by Dan Asfar appearing in his book, Ghost Stories of Colorado, “with every successive mile, she grew more anxious, feeling the presence of her homicidal husband get stronger and stronger. She always vanished the moment someone on the train recognized and called her by name. If that didn’t happen before she was 10 miles out of town, she would just vanish on her own, unable to deal with the dread of an unseen husband’s approach any longer. Those 10 miles were as far out of Telluride as Essie Mentzer was ever able to get.”
One question from me only, “Do we call the ghost Essie, or Emma?”
I suppose we should inquire as well, if she ever went fishing with hand grenades?
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Murderers can run, but they can't hide.

"It is long and hard and painful to create life: it is short and easy to steal a life others have made." 
__ George Bernard Shaw, 1921

Human blood is heavy. A person who has shed it, cannot run away.
The terrible, desperate deed – murder – follows those who commit it around like a shadow or ghost.
But worse than that, it can haunt others, victims, witnesses, family members, for a lifetime as well.

Please click on the following stories to read more:

• Colorado Confederate Guerrilla attack.

• Wind in Wyoming.

• Murder near Greenland.

• Tom Tobin, larger than life.


Sam Dugan (i.e. Sandford Dougan) hanged by vigilantes at Denver.
Photographed by Arundel C. Hull, December 2, 1868.
Sandford Dougan, was lynched by a mob after being accused of murder in Denver, Colorado. Shows hat on the ground, handcuffs, a noose and hatchet stuck in the tree trunk. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We have nothing to fear but fear itself



"All houses are haunted. All persons are haunted. Throngs of spirits follow us everywhere. We are never alone." ___
Barney Sarecky

Out walking the dogs late at night, I sometimes imagine I see something ahead in the shadows. Is that a person? Is it moving? Are those burning ember-like illuminations eyes? What's that noise? Is that a man with and axe over his shoulder?... Sometimes, I scare myself.

Please click on the following to read more:

• The pick, pick, pick of the Knockers.

• Up and over the pass with an extra passenger.

• Swinging lanterns, headless baggage, other wrecks.


View of rusticated stone residence on Colfax and Gilpin Street in Denver, features include a tower, dormers, balcony, leaded glass, an arched entry, and sandstone ornaments. Clipping attached to the back of photoprint reads: "Ghosts have been walking in this old house, at East Colfax Avenue and Gilpin Street, many years, in the belief of numerous small boys of the neighborhood. The house has been vacant for over a year and the owner has now obtained a permit by the city to wreck it." November 4, 1933. Western History/Genealogy Dept. Denver Public Library.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Did you get what was coming to you?

"The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and the other begins." - Edgar Allen Poe, The Premature Burial


If you do good, perhaps good will come back to you. 
But if you do evil, if there is any fairness in the equation, the measure will be returned.
Call it Karma or reciprocity, just deserts, what ever  – you are gonna get whatever is coming to you
... or not.


Please click on the following:
• Joe Arridy's pardon comes 73 years too late.
• Lawton first to legally swing in El Paso County.

Career criminal James "Mad Dog" Sherbondy reads a newspaper in his prison cell at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. First convicted in 1937 of murdering a Sheriff, Sherbondy died in a shootout on the sidewalk in front of the Denver Post in 1969. His head is half shaved, bars and galvanized steel line the interior walls behind him. Photographed by Karol Smith, 1950. William K. Patterson, Mss. Collection, Western History / Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Spirits, real or imagined? What's the difference?

The spirits might be outward, visible signs of an inward fear.  Maybe they are a part of us, of our future, or of our history. Real or imagined?  What is the difference? As Henrik Ibsen wrote in Ghosts  in 1881, "I'm inclined to think we are all ghosts – every one of us. It's not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It's all kinds of old, defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that." Regardless, the tales of their exploits are everywhere.

Ghost town of Gothic, Colorado
The massive, craggy face of Gothic Mountain, (12,625 feet) looms over the town of Gothic with its few dilapidated log and frame buildings, in Gunnison County. Possibly Garwood Hall, Judd's (last resident after the boom) cabin shows an automobile and a horse. Mining boom town from 1879 to 1884; bought in 1928, by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for plant and animal research.

Please click on the following for more:
• Ghost from fire across the street?
• Victor Hotel spirits in Bird Cage, down the hall.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Death around every turn in the mine tunnel.



“Life comes to the miners out of their deaths, and death out of their lives.”
__ Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

It was mining, of course, the brought the big rush to Colorado in the first place.  Gold, and then silver miners, flooded into the state from the east in 1859. But the dangerous business, violent surroundings, and unhealthy lifestyle also sent many packing for the pearly gates.
And mines beget more mines. With the influx of people and the need for power and heat, development of massive coalfields in several areas of the state occurred. With coal mining came more death.
“Early coal mining in Colorado was extremely dangerous, and the state had one of the highest death rates in the nation,” according to Miningartifacts.org.  “During the three decades from 1884 to 1914,  more than 1700 men died in Colorado's coal mines."
As in many other states, there was no organized reporting of mine fatalities initially, but in 1884 the death of 59 miners at the Crested Butte coal mine in Gunnison County, brought about legislation in the state requiring mining companies to report their accidents.
But just because the mine companies had to report them, it didn’t mean the deaths and mining accidents stopped occurring – quite the contrary.
Of particular note was the string of bad luck experienced in Las Animas County in 1910.
“On the last day of January, 1910, 35 of the 110 men in Primero mine had already walked out of the mine and another four were in the portal mouth when an explosion shot out of the portal. Three of these four were killed when they were hurled against a set of moving coal cars. One man inside was found alive. The last of the bodies was found three and a half months later for a total of 75 dead,” according to Sangres.com (Your Daily Dose of the Mountains.)
“Then, at ten o'clock on the night of October 8 that same year, 56 were killed by a dust explosion in the Starkville mine. Only a month later at Victor-American's number three mine at Delagua, 79 more were killed, three of these killed by flying rocks and timbers outside the portal. After a four month lull, Cokedale blew; and then Hastings on June 18, 1912. Twelve men were killed by an explosion caused by a defective safety lamp carried by the fire boss. Hastings was to have yet a worse day before the end of the decade.” On April 27, 1917, a fire at the Victor American Hastings Coal Mine in Hastings left 121 miners dead.
But it wasn’t just mining that could get you killed. Organizing and unionizing proved to be deadly for some miners and their family as well. In the notable examples of Ludlow in April of 1914, and the Columbine Mine massacre in 1927, the Colorado National Guard or the Mine Owner’s machine guns could take you out.
In Ludlow, deaths occurred during a night attack by the Colorado National Guard after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. The massacre resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 25 people; sources vary, but all sources include two women and eleven children who were asphyxiated and burned to death under a single tent.
In the case of Columbine Mine, A fight broke out between Colorado state police and a group of striking coalminers. Machine guns were used by the police, or by guards working for the mine (it is not clear which), against the unarmed miners and six strikers were killed. Many more were injured.
Add all that to together with the threat from silicosis if you were a hardrock miner, or black lung disease for coalminers, and general dynamite and equipment accidents – an earlyday Colorado miner didn’t stand much of a chance for a rocking chair passing.
The morticians and the coffin builders did booming business in the camps around the state.
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Photo info: Two images in Las Animas County, Colorado. Top image shows a long funeral procession with carriages, drivers with top hats, horses, and people on foot; a fire, from a mine disaster, shows beyond the town; bottom image shows wagons piled high with wooden coffins. Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Puzzling on the brink of Eternity.

Of the most frightening things in life, it is, of course, the "Unknown" that scares us the most.
T.S. Elliot wrote, "Between the idea. And the reality. Between the motion. And the Act. Falls the Shadow." With all the advancing science and technology, we still sometimes are as helpless today as we were a 100 years ago, or 1,000.  Try as we might, we can't always explain why some things happen, what is the underlying cause. Chances are, there will always be mysteries.

Please consider, if you will, the following:




Friday, October 14, 2011

If only they could speak to us from the darkness

"In nature, the most violent passions are silent; in Tragedy, 
they must speak, and they speak with dignity too. " 
___ Lord Chesterfield, 1752

No tragedy speaks more clearly than untimely death – or an unexplained one. Violence against a person who lives by the sword is understandable, but when a life is taken without reason, without rhyme, without context, it makes us all shake our heads and ask the question "why." But seldom do we find the answer. We call out, out into the darkness, hoping that someone or something speaks to us. The lack of an answer is particularly unsettling as we wander in the darkness.

Click on the following to read stories posing that, and other questions.


• Simple times weren't so simple.


• Murdered mysteriously, brutally, viciously.





Please click on following for related stories:

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