Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cops and cons and the dangers done



“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” __ Robert F. Kennedy
Law enforcement has always a delicate balancing act, but explosive population growth and the rough-and-tumble attitude of a transient work force in the Cripple Creek Gold District at the turn of the century created its own particular challenges.
By 1901, the City of Cripple Creek itself, had at least a dozen officers on its paid force and surrounding ‘cities’ of Victor, Altman, Goldfield, Gillette Flats and others offered their own compliments. Until 1899, when it was part of El Paso County, the services of officers for larger metropolitan areas like Colorado Springs were available to come to the rescue. With police work, the obvious dangers lurked behind every barstool. But not so obvious perils proliferated as well.
Take for example the August 9, 1901, death of Cripple Creek patrolman E.T. Clark. Clark was electrocuted when he attempted to pull a fire alarm on a town street. Wires had crossed resulting in his electrocution.
Also consider the unenviable task of El Paso County Sheriff Frank Bowers when he had to serve papers on 101 members of the Free Coinage Union No. 19 in the early 1890s.
“Well-meaning Frank was just like the harried cops in the old keystone comedies, handlebar mustache and all,” wrote Marshall Sprague in “Money Mountain.”
“He had a big heart and he yearned be loved by everybody, which is why it almost killed him to have to be a key figure in the strike conflict.” And his situation continued to spiral out of control resulting with the rather uncomfortable results of Gov. Davis H. “Bloody Bridles” Waite sending in the Colorado Militia, eventually martial law being declared, and calls to President Grover Cleveland to send in the U.S. Army, but that was another story.
Officers were not the only one in danger in those relatively more dangerous times. Criminals, and even spirited ‘rowdies’ could suffer at the hands of fate and accidental violence.
“Three Prisoners in the Victor City Jail Cremated,” offered the headlines reported from Denver to Summit County on Feb. 12, 1898.
“Harry Haley, Thomas Quinn and James Connor lost their lives this morning in a fire which partially consumed the city jail here, and Patrick M. McAuliffe lies in a precarious condition at the Iowa house as a result of the same cause,” read the Summit County Journal at the time.
“All of the men were graders in the employ of Contractor Dumphy of the Florence and Cripple Creek Railway. The catastrophe was the most horrible ever occurring in Victor, with the single exception of the Anna Lee mine disaster of some two years ago.”
According to the paper, “The firing of the jail was the frenzied act of James Connor while crazed by drink. About 6 o'clock this morning the jail building was discovered to be on fire, and shortly afterward flames were bursting through the pitch pine structure. The fire department reached the scene promptly and two streams of water were at once directed upon the flames, which were soon under control.”
According to the account, “When it was stated that four prisoners were confined in the building, the assembled crowd was filled with horror, and citizens, police and firemen worked like Trojans to rescue the unfortunate from the horrible fate which threatened them. It seemed like an almost hopeless task from the first, so fierce were the flames and dense the smoke. Yet the rescuers worked on, and at last groped through the blinding smoke to the large room in the rear of the jail, where three men were stretched apparently lifeless on the floor, and laying hold of them dragged them out into the air. Two were dead, having succumbed to the suffocating smoke, and the third, P. M. McAuliffe, was gasping and struggling for breath. He was moved to the Iowa house and Doctors McKenzie and George summoned. After a prolonged effort they succeeded in restoring McAuliffe to consciousness, and he is now thought to be out of danger.
As soon as the flames had been subdued, an examination of the jail was made, and in a cell at the rear of the building was found the blackened, charred and almost unrecognizable body of James Connors, whose rash act was the cause of the terrible catastrophe.”
Ah, these were dangerous times, indeed. It reminds me of a reference in “Pirates of Penzance,” by W.S. Gilbert from 1879. “When the constabulary duty’s to be done, the policeman’s lot is not a happy one!”
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Love, commitment nudges skaters on for 50 years

Love is a commitment — an enduring presence that can reach out from the past, or even from beyond the grave. Tuesday, the day after Valentines Day, marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps the worst tragedy in modern American sports history. But from that tragedy, the seeds of renewal were sown.
The entire U.S. Figure Skating team was killed in a plane crash in Brussels, Belgium on February 15, 1961.
The team was on their way to the world championships in Prague when 18 skaters, six coaches, and 10 judges, officials and family members died a few miles short of the Brussels airport, along with the other 27 passengers and crew of 11. At least eight passengers were Colorado Springs residents.
"Can you imagine what would happen to a sport when the entire team and coaches for that team and some of the officials all died at the same time?" Patricia St. Peter, current president of U.S. Figure Skating, was quoted in an Associated Press story Saturday. "Literally, this organization was starting over."
The story goes on to note that future American skaters owe that tragic team for almost everything.
“Whether it was a young Peggy Fleming getting money for a new pair of skates from the Memorial Fund, established in honor of those killed, or Evan Lysacek and Michelle Kwan absorbing the lessons Frank Carroll had been taught by his coach, Maribel Vinson Owen, every moment of glory U.S. figure skating has had in the past 50 years can be traced to that tragedy in Belgium.”
"They were the springboard for everyone that came after them," 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton says in Rise, a documentary honoring the crash victims that will be shown Thursday night at more than 500 theaters nationwide. "All of us who came after represent their promise, their dream."
The eight Colorado Springs skaters that perished on that flight were all members of the Broadmoor Skating Club.
“To honor and remember the 1961 World Team, we invite you to attend a special ceremony near the memorial bench at the Broadmoor Hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2001 at 9:30 a.m,” says the Broodmoor Skating Club's official website.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, “an exhibit honoring the 1961 world team opened Thursday at the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame in the Springs. A one-night-only showing of “RISE,” a movie on the rebirth of American figure skating, is set for Feb. 17, with three Springs theaters carrying the film. And 1968 Olympic champion Peggy Fleming will speak at a fundraiser Feb. 19 at The Broadmoor, with proceeds to the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund. Patty Bushman, the sister of two-time Olympic figure skater Ken Shelley, chronicled the stories of the 34-person U.S. delegation (in addition to the 18 skaters, six coaches and 10 judges, officials and family members were on board) in a new book, “Indelible Tracings.”
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Monday, February 7, 2011

Colorado planes once topped the world













“The airplane stays up because it doesn't have the time to fall.” ___ Orville Wright

At one time, from 1928 and on into 1929, the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world operated right here in Colorado.

Even today, as you wander through Denver International Airport (DIA) you can still see a reminder of the once successful Colorado plane company hanging at the west end of Concourse B. An Alexander Aircraft Company 1930 Model A-14 Eaglerock that the Antique Airplane Association of Colorado took 25 years to restore, resides there in the upper reaches of the airport to greet air travelers from all over the world.

The Eaglerock biplane, made famous by barnstormers during the 1920s, was manufactured in what is now downtown Englewood, Colorado, and later in Colorado Springs, by the Alexander Aircraft Company. Barnstormers landed the Eaglerock in farm fields across rural America in the 1920s and '30s, giving rides in these ‘new flying machines’ to the brave souls willing to take the risk of flight. Ten-minute rides sold for 50 cents to a dollar,” wrote Ronald E. Newberg, exhibits manager at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in SWAviator in 2000.

An older Model 24 Alexander Eaglerock aircraft also can be found at the Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum, (also rebuilt by the Antique Airplane Association).

The Alexander brothers, J. Don Alexander and S. Don Alexander first business venture was in selling street advertising, and after a brief detour in the chicken business, they established the Alexander Film Company which focused on big screen advertising. As the business grew, they relocated to Englewood, Colo., from their home state of Washington in order to be more centrally located.

“It was J. Don Alexander who came up with the idea of equipping his growing sales force with airplanes. This would serve two purposes: first, it would attract attention, and second, it would expedite distribution of the advertising films. The first plane, purchased by older brother S. Don Alexander, was a 1920 Laird "Swallow," powered by an OX5. When the Swallow arrived in Denver it landed at Lowry Field, located at 38th and Daliah Streets in Denver. The next additions to the Alexander aircraft fleet were Longren biplanes,” according to Newberg.

“J. Don Alexander wanted to purchase some forty to fifty planes for his salesmen. However, no one, not even the government, was buying that many aircraft in the 1920s, so the existing aircraft manufacturers would not take Mr. Alexander’s proposal seriously. This prompted him start his own aircraft manufacturing company,” Newberg said.

The company built more than 900 planes in 1920s and 1930s and by 1928, it needed to expand again.

“Forced out of the Denver area by a landowner’s refusal to sell the land needed for expansion, Alexander Aircraft relocated to Colorado Springs.”

“The Alexander Aircraft Company went on to build the unsuccessful "Alexander Transport," a high wing, seven-passenger monoplane. However, other more successful models followed. In the 1928 - 1929 time frame the Alexander Aircraft Company was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, with the capacity of manufacturing eight airplanes a day,” according to Newberg.

In 1927, J. Don Alexander wrote “Some fifteen months ago we of Alexander Industries began construction of a new light commercial airplane. The new ship’s performance was exceptional and price quoted in Denver was less than manufacturer’s costs on the first fifty produced. Therefore, as Emerson once said, ‘the world should have made a beaten path to’ the manufacturer’s door. But careful and expectant watching showed no signs of such a movement. We soon saw that we would have to carefully survey the path, pave it, and put signposts up along its course before the public would even look in this very right direction.”

That same year J.Don noted that only a year earlier, the company could only produce one ship per month but now were producing one per day and were still behind. “At this writing, we are forty-one ships behind sales.”

But not all reports were positive.

"One area manufacturer of planes about that time was the Alexander Company in Colorado Springs, which produced the Eaglerock plane. These aircraft...had more than their share of crashes. It got so bad that people made crude jokes about them such as: They call the planes Eaglerocks because they fly like an eagle and fall like a rock. Their track record finally became so bad that, as I understand, the authorities in charge of flying regulations banned further manufacturing of the Eaglerock," wrote Robert Esterday in his 1993 book “A Kid’s-Eye View of Early Greeley.”

Unfortunately, because of the depression, the company was forced to liquidate in the early 1930s, though remnants of the company lived on as Air Mechanics Inc., and even designed a five-seat low-wing monoplane in 1934.

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Always a double feature

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The place is a part of my heart, memory part of me.



He came from my hometown.
He wore his passion for his woman
like a thorny crown.
He said Dolores,
I live in fear.
My love for you is so overpowering
I'm afraid that I will disappear.
Slip slidin' away
Slip slidin' away
You know the nearer your destination,
The more you're slip slidin' away.
__ Paul Simon

I made a flying trip across the state this weekend back to where I grew up. It was a pretty sad deal for me because the purpose was to help my younger sister put some things in order at my parent’s house (and my boyhood home). My Mom and Dad are now staying in ‘memory unit’ in northern Colorado at Loveland.
After renting for several months in Cortez, my parents moved into that place sometime in 1963 or 1964.
They raised my older and younger sister, my brother and me, there on the corner. And by many accounts — despite what perhaps a few of various detractors may come up with — we mostly turned out Okay.
I spoke to someone yesterday who worked for years with my father at one the garages there, and he described how Dad was always proud of his children’s education and accomplishments and talked about it all the time. He always took great pride in us, the man said. I told him that meant a lot to me.
Dolores has changed over the years, but the spirit and soul of the place is pretty much intact. I marvel at the dirt streets, the warm sandy rocks on the hillside, the river, the familiar buildings and the reduced pace of life there.
A friend of mine who works for the Denver Post claims there is some sort of time warp or universal worm-hole that drivers on State Highway 160 pass through, in the vicinity of Mancos Hill, and I wonder sometimes if that is not correct.
One thing I know for sure however, is that when I pass through that portal, I feel somehow different — like the place is a part of me.
Remembrance is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.
But sometimes, in the process of letting go, the memories and thinking about it … well, I guess to be honest, it breaks my heart.
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