Friday, May 27, 2011

Not only 'dry' early, but 'bone dry'


Colorado was not only one of the first states in the nation to go dry at midnight in 1916, it went “Bone Dry” with passage of tighter alcohol restrictions in 1919, as other states belatedly joined the fray.

“New Year’s Eve, 1915 marked the end of an era in Colorado,” wrote Tom I. Romero, II, in a historical perspective for the Colorado Bar Association. “At midnight 1916, Colorado became one the first states in the nation to go dry.”

“Mourning not only the ready availability of fine spirits, but the closing of the western saloon as a central community institution, patrons of Denver’s Heidelberg Café sang ‘Last Night was the End of the World,’ as barkeepers tapped their last glasses on December 31, 1915. ”

The so-called “Bone Dry Act,” Chap. 141, Sess. Laws of 1919 had been voted on by the state’s voters and passed the previous November.

But not everyone was happy about it, even in Colorado Springs, which had been a “dry town” for years.

“This state has passed a prohibition law which is illustrative of the way that we are apt to tackle a problem in this country, namely, through a policy fanaticism,” wrote an unnamed Colorado Springs letter-writer to the editor of the New York Times on Jan. 12, 1916. “I think any fair-minded person familiar with the conditions of the mining camps of this State and the senseless abuse in the use of alcohol would agree that something should be done to ameliorate these wretched conditions. Likewise, in Denver, there is no question that a great many crimes and an enormous amount of misery were directly traceable to cheap whiskey.

But instead of endeavoring to remedy these ills by some sane method, like the Gothenburg system, which has been tried with so much success in the Scandinavian countries and parts of England, the problem has resulted in an uncompromising struggle to the death between what the newspapers call ‘the liquor interests’ and the teetotalers. After a fight of many years the latter have had a complete and overwhelming victory, with the result that it is now against the law to buy, sell, or give away anything that can be eaten or drunk that contains alcohol. It is just as illegal to sell a piece of mince pie as it is to sell a drink of whiskey – flavoring extracts are just as much taboo. A newspaper which contains any advertisements for wines, beers or any alcoholic beverages cannot be sold on any newsstand in the State. As a doctor can only give a prescription for a maximum of four ounces of anything alcoholic that can be consumed as a beverage, it would need two separate doctor’s prescriptions to enable a person to get sufficient alcohol for a rub.

I suppose the particularly grotesque feature of this law will be softened by judicial decisions in the near future, but even so, the effect on the community generally will be to put almost everyone in the category of the lawbreaker, with the result that the law will be held in contempt,” said the letter appearing in the Jan. 23, 1916 edition of the New York Times.

And held in contempt it was.

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Prohibition bust

Harry Mellon Rhoads, photographer, photo taken before 1920

People watch men open cases of liquor from the Blue Valley Distillery Company in Colorado. The men use crowbars to open the wooden cases. The Harry M. Rhoads Photograph Collection. Western History, Denver Public Library.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chin Lin Sou: Out of sight and out of mind




If you pulled the down side of the one-and-half-inch sisal rope on the pulley-driven mechanism, the entire floor, in about a 10 foot by 12-foot section, would gradually start to drop. Keep the continuous loop of rope moving and it would take maybe as long as a minute to drop to the level below. The platform elevator toward the back of the old Exon Mercantile building (turned Dolores Star’s print shop) would lower you into the damp, dark underworld of a time long forgotten.
The basement was mostly empty, except for some long-outdated Christmas ornaments that were once put up on all the light poles around Dolores, and several large wooden boxes in the high dry area. Interestingly enough, the wooden crates were covered with undecipherable foreign writing that I could only imagine what was said. I was told that the boxes probably dated back to the time when Chinese workers labored locally on the railroad.
Under the golden dome here in Colorado, there is a stained glass portrait honoring of Chin Lin Sou at the State Capital. Also called “Willie Chin,” he founded six companies here in Colorado, including one, known as the Chinese Trading and Insurance Companies, that sold supplies to Chinese railroad workers. He is credited with enabling the completion of the Kansas Pacific and the Union Pacific in Colorado.
Chinese immigrants working on the railroad, of course, was commonplace throughout much of America’s western expansion.
Chin Lin Sou arrived in America in 1859, and because he was fluent in both Chinese and English, he became a foreman working on the completion of the transcontinental railroad in California and across the West. During the 1860's, 10,000 Chinese were said to be involved in the building of the western leg of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Chief Engineer Sam S. Montague cites the Chinese in the work force in his message to the Board of the CPRR for 1865:"It became apparent early in the season, that the amount of labor likely to be required during the summer could only be supplied by the employment of the Chinese element, of our population. Some distrust was at first felt regarding the capacity af this class for the service required, but the experiment has proved eminently successful. They are faithful and industrious, and under proper supervision, soon become skillful in the performance of their duties. Many of them are becoming very expert in drilling, blasting, and other departments of rock work.
In fact, it was a Chinese crew that laid the last rail.
"When the railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, an eight man Chinese crew was selected to place the last section of rail – a symbol to honor the dedication and hard work of these laborers. A few of the speakers mentioned the invaluable contributions of the Chinese ...” __ National Park Service
“The more famous A.J. Russell photograph could not include the Chinese workers photographed earlier participating in the joining of the rails ceremony because at the moment the famous photo was being taken it was after the conclusion of the ceremony and the Chinese workers were away from the two locomotives to dine at J.H. Strobridge's boarding car, being honored and cheered by the CPRR management,” according to the Central Pacific Photographic History Museum.
When railroad building slowed in the 1870s, Chin resettled in Blackhawk, hit pay dirt in two of his own mines which he sold for a tidy sum.
“During this time,” according to History Colorado, “Chinese workers were discriminated against. Many white people thought they were stealing American jobs. Anti-Chinese violence erupted in many cities, including Denver. Using his language talents, Chin tried to find jobs for fellow Chinese, but it was hard. In 1882, the U.S. government made it even harder. It passed a law that prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens, which meant they could not defend themselves in a court of law.”
Despite this environment, Chin prospered because of his command of both languages and his solid business acumen, but it wasn’t easy. Examples of negative treatment for Chinese Americans, particularly in the mining communities of Colorado, which were dominated by other ethnic collections of newly-arrived Irish and Italian immigrants, made for pronounced racial tension. Following are local examples.
• From January 20, 1900 edition of the Silverton Standard
“Hop joints raided."
“Last Tuesday night Marshal Lyle and Night watchman Leonard raided a few “hop’ joints took the inmates who were “hitting the pipe.” The following, almond-eyed heathens were gobbled up by the officers: Joe, Dutch, Wang and Tom, who gave bond to appear before Squire Watson’s the following day. The places raid are located over the Saddle Rock Restaurant and Jack Smith’s place opposite Ludwig’s dance hall on Blair Street. No one was found in the latter dive. The case was continued until Wednesday. Case was called promptly on time and resulted as follows: Joe, $18.70; Wang pleaded not guilty and was accessed $8.70. Tom pleaded guilty to smoking and fined $27.70. Dutch, for keeping joint $37.70. We failed to find out what they did with John Doe and Richard Roe.
"These dens of iniquity should be raided every opportunity as it’s rotten spot on the character of the city the size of Silverton to be infected with such hell-holes. The officers in doing their duty deserve the thanks of the entire community.”
• From February 28, 1891 edition of the Silverton Standard
“Chinese Leaving.”
“About three-fourths of the Chinks have left Silverton and ‘ere long the bland face of a Chinaman will be a curiosity.”
Chin Lin Sou was an influential Chinese leader in Colorado and in 1870 was elected mayor of Denver's Chinatown, or "Hop Alley," an enclave that was eventually razed in 1950.
The Chinese-inscribed boxes in the basement of the Exon building never were satisfactorily explained to me, but I suspect it was much like the photos taken of other workers finishing the transcontinental railroad: out of sight and out of mind.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

The last devil in Dolores



Getting in a rut has been described as nothing but a grave with both ends kicked out.
But slowing down, taking a look around, remembering …
It is an inexpensive, entertaining, comforting and valuable exercise in my game.
Among my earliest memories, oddly enough, are times spent in a newspaper office. I say ‘odd’ because, I have, for the most part, spent pretty much of my entire life in one newspaper office or another. Given that experience, you would think something else, other than ‘the business,’ would stand out in my collective recollection.
But the ‘ink in veins’ description is real. And ‘the business’ has changed so much in the last 45 years, I can barely recognize the newspaper office of my misspent youth.
When I talk with most current practitioners of the craft, their eyes glaze over, and a blank stare appears when I start to discuss the world of burning-hot lead, pouring pigs, the clang and crunch of the linotype, of ‘turtles,’ chase, and quoins.
But that is the world of the first newspaper I came in contact with.
The first time I set foot in the Dolores Star, I might have been all of three years old. My next-door neighbors, Larry and Marilyn Pleasant owned “The Star” at that time and their son Andy, was a few months younger than I.
Andy and I played in the attic balcony office, somewhat out of danger of running our tiny fingers through the machinery in busy office below. The Star then, was in between John Lambert’s (the one-legged blacksmith) and Mary Akin’s little shop, but with growing job printing and the tendency for the Pleasants to collect stuff, things were pretty tightly crammed in there. A huge, white, clapboard cabinet contained a few toys in the overhead office but the real entertainment was below.
As the business grew, (and the amount of stuff collected), it became increasingly necessary to find a bigger home for Dolores Star.
The Exon Mercantile Building, built by old man Exon shortly after the town moved up from Big Bend in 1891, was just across what we called Main Street then, and on the corner.
It was a typical turn-of-century, brick building, with decorative cornice work and wood floors, an office up front that looked out on the sidewalk though large windows, and a massive open room with wooden shelves that ran up the walls all the way to the 12-foot pressed tin ceilings. There was another long room extending the length of the building on the side behind the office; and wooden locker-like storage rooms near the back of the open room. Behind them was my favorite ‘old building’ feature of all time — the rope and pulley-powered platform elevator to the basement. Out the back door on the downriver side, was another room that had been the old smoke house. A barn and assorted sheds filled out the property toward the back.
The move of “The Star” building to what formerly constituted Exon Mercantile was quite a deal, as I remember it. Linotype machines, and presses, and other heavy printing equipment rolled across the street on iron pipe, that was moved from the back of the machines, up to the front. Tons of iron inched forward across the street, pushed and pulled by straining men and a few women. Amazingly, I think moving the big stuff took less than a week. But for years afterward, additional items (some involving the newspaper or printing business, but much of it, local historic arcana) continued to collect in the sprawling buildings at the corner of Fourth and Main.
I remember everything from ore buckets to Victrolas; abandoned post offices, to entire antique telephone circuits; sheep crooks, mineral samples, old bottles, insulators, WWII scuba gear, old magazines, old-fashioned irons, eye glasses, dentistry tools … and the list went on. It was a virtual ‘valuable junk’ paradise spread out over nearly half a city block and interspersed with various-era, still-functioning, newspaper and printing equipment. I loved the place.
 Time spent there was a ‘living history’ project, as they still produced the paper on one of the last remaining hot type operations in the state. They still etched photo plates on wood blocks in the meat locker turned dark room. Several linotypes still clanked and clunked, and burning lead burrowed its way into the wooden floorboards. The world of chase and “turtle” and “hell box” and “pouring pigs” was still alive as it had been at the turn of the century. And I was the closest thing to a ‘printer’s devil’ as 1970 had ever seen.

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Del Rio Hotel in Dolores, 1931, across the street from the Exon Building. The three-story Château-style hotel has a stucco surface, steep gabled roof, dormer windows, a corner entrance, and large windows on the first floor. Men stand on the sidewalk near scaffolding and construction equipment. A sign on the building next door reads: “Stroud’s Cash Store, Groceries, Dry Goods, Meats. Colorado Historical Society

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ffestiniog 'Slim Gauge,' Porthmadog & Gen. Palmer


If you follow the narrow gauge railroad tracks in Colorado back far enough, through the twists and turns of mountain passes and the heritage of innovative construction engineering to accommodate, it will lead you directly back to Ffestiniog Railway, Porthmadog, Snowdonia National Park and the Welsh Highland Railway.
“For it was this railroad that the founder of the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, visited in December of 1870, as he was preparing to launch the first major narrow-gauge line in America,” according to an August, 1962, article in the Denver Westerner’s Roundup by Charles Ryland.
According to Pat Ward from Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth, an archivist with the Festiniog Railway Company, "The Festiniog Railway Company is the world's oldest independent railway company, established in 1832 by Act of Parliament.”
After Palmer was married to Mary Lincoln (Queen) Mellen on November 8, 1870 in Flushing, New York, where the Mellen family lived at the time, they honeymooned in the British Isles. It was there that Palmer saw the railroading in operation and realized the advantages for use on his own line, with substantial initial savings in manpower and materials. Furthermore, the narrow 3-foot gauge lent itself to mountain construction with the ability to take sharper curves and steeper grades. Thus, Palmer's D & R.G. was built in ‘slim’ gauge, as it was called by some rail engineers of the period. Two narrow gauge remnants remain of Palmer’s former road: the 45-mile Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road, and the 63-mile Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad.
The Ffestinniog was built in 1836 as a slate carrier from the mines to the sea using horses for power. The slate was needed for roofing material, and by 1863, steam power was introduced to keep up with increasing demands.
The gauge was unusual by modern standards (One foot, 11 and 5/8”) and method of power even more so.
“The first locomotives were conventional 0-4-0 but they soon adopted the Farlie Patent 0-4-4-0, which consisted of two engines back-to-back with a stack on each end with two sets of cylinders on four-wheeled bogie trucks. When the D & R. G built over La Veta pass, one of this type of engine, ‘The Mountaineer,’ was purchased from England,” wrote Ryland.
The Ffestiniog history is very much tied to the Spooner family, whose methods and equipment Palmer emulated.
According to the BBC’s Wales page, “In the late 1790s, W. A. Madocks reclaimed land and built an embankment, the Cob, across the estuary of the River Glaslyn at Porthmadog producing a natural harbor. This would transform the slate industry around Blaenau Ffestiniog enabling the construction of a railway to replace the pack animals and farm carts which had carried the slate over rough roads to the River Dwyryd, taken by shallow-bottomed boats to Porthmadog and transferred to sea-going vessels.
“Henry Archer, a businessman from Dublin, joined Sam Holland, a quarry owner at Rhiw, to promote the Festiniog Railway, and James Spooner surveyed and constructed the route. The gauge 23 inches or 597 mm was that used in the quarries,” says archivist Pat Ward.
The line was first worked by horses hauling empty wagons from Porthmadog back up to the quarries, then walking round to ride in dandy carts going down the steep gradient by gravity to the harbor, Ward says.
“James Spooner's son Charles Easton Spooner took control of the railway in 1856 and looked into the use of steam locomotives on a narrow gauge line. In 1863 the first steam locomotives, The Princess and Mountaineer, were built in London and delivered to Porthmadog by rail and horse and cart, entering into service in October. Also in 1863 permission was given to run passenger trains - a first for British narrow gauge. Some of the low four wheeled carriages are still used today on vintage trains,” according to Ward.
Ryland describes a trip on the railroad 50 years ago.
“In July, 1961, it was my good fortune to ride behind two of the Ffestiniog Fairlie engines. The “Taliesin” built in 1885, and the “Merdin Emrys” (Welsh for Earl of Merioneth) built in 1879. Both of these locomotives, and a number of others, were built in the railway’s own shops and foundry. I was also amazed to see the “Prince,” one of the original engines built in 1863. This is probably the oldest locomotive operating regularly,” Ryland wrote in 1962.
“Today the Rheilffordd Ffestiniog is very popular with tourists - and the many volunteers who ensure its survival. The Festiniog Railway Company also operates the Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon) which currently operates from Caernarfon and Rhyd Ddu but which one day will re-open all the way to Porthmadog," according to archivists Pat Ward.
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Like a Phoenix, rising out of the District's ashes











Some places, you can just feel the history, maybe even before it happens. The National Hotel in Cripple Creek might have been such a place. After “the Great Fires” of 1896, residents of the district were anxious to show they had bounced back. The National Hotel was emblematic of the resurgence, rising like a Phoenix out of the ashes to prominence on Bennett Avenue.

“The most impressive addition to the skyline, by all odds, the National Hotel at the corner of Fourth and Bennett Avenue,” wrote Mabel Barbee Lee, in her famous account of life in the district Cripple Creek Days. “ It was said to be fire proof and ‘the cost, maybe as much as $150,000’ was the talk of the town.”

Lee noted that there were skeptics (including her own father) that such high-flying hotel had found its place in the rough and tumble district.

“I often went down an watched the four-story building taking shape. It was of red pressed brick with a brown stone trim and topped by the gabled penthouse of W.K. Gilett. Many of the rooms were en suite, with private baths and service bells; telephones were installed on every floor, and an elevator, the first in the District, would operate 24 hours a day. When word got around that W.S. Stratton had signed a 50-year lease on the swankiest apartment in the building, ‘to show his faith in the District’s future,’ town’s people nicknamed the hostelry ‘the Brown Palace of Cripple Creek,’” wrote Lee.

Raymond G. Colwell worked there for a time in its heyday.

"It was four stories in height, with the help quarters and storage in an attic. Although I hopped bells there in 1907 and 1908, I don’t recall how many rooms it had, but it was a big hotel and would have been a credit to any city. The ground floor was a big lobby, dining room and of course, commodious and finely appointed barroom. The ‘ladies parlor’ on the second floor, and I think there were private dining rooms there also. The hotel had elevators and electric lights and the electric bell system, but no room phones. I don’t remember how many of the rooms had private baths, or hot and cold water basins in them,” wrote Colwell in an account for the Denver Westerner’s in 1960.

“You must remember that the most prominent mining men in the whole wide world came to Cripple Creek at one time or another, as well as bankers, investors, and world travelers, not to mention politicians and men in public life. They were used to the best in accommodations and the National Hotel was equipped to take care of them. After I graduated from High School in 1907, I worked as a bell boy in the Antlers in Colorado Springs and later at the National in the Creek, and I know my tips were better and the clientele at the National," Colwell said.

Lee described the inaugural banquet at the opening of the fine hotel.

“It was chilly that October evening, but the glow in the sky above the hotel made the surroundings seem warm and bright. Festoons of colored lights draped the front of the building, clear up to the illuminated penthouse and flags billowed from all the windows. Stains of “The Sidewalks of New York” drifted through the transom of the barroom which opened on the street corner, and beyond, a large sign over the main entrance flashed WELCOME, in electric bulbs,” according to Lee.

“The lobby hummed and buzzed with a clatter that almost drowned out Professor Schreiber’s stringed orchestra. Everybody in the District, except my father, must have been there, hailing friends and exclaiming over the luxurious furnishings. We strolled among huge pots of ferns and tall vases of American Beauty roses, sniffing their fragrance and touching their velvety petals… The doors to the dining hall had just been opened and we hurried over with several others to watch the banquet that was in full swing. What a sight to feast the eyes! Immense bowls of bronze and yellow chrysanthemums alternated with twinkling crystal candelabra on the tables. Negro waiters in starched white jackets were deftly removing plates and filling glasses with sparkling wine. Two or three hundred men and women crowded the room, ” Lee wrote.

The District had bounced back big time.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Carrying around the weight of world in my pocket


When we were younger and in our prime

We never wondered if we had enough time

When every day was not like the last

And now it seems like those years have passed

From Three Stones in My Pocket, __The Boondock Saints

I have an old, thermal-lined, canvas vest that I like to wear when I take the dogs out. I’ve had it for years and think it was originally a present for my dad. He never wore it much and eventually gave it back to me saying, “I like to have something warmer around my shoulders.” This story is not about the vest, but about the three stones in its pocket.

They are small pieces of quartz that I picked up over the years as I stumble through the uneven ground of the brown hills as the dogs chase birds, gophers, rabbits and their own tails in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

The milk-colored stones are the second most abundant material on earth, right behind feldspar – so they are certainly of questionable monetary value, but maybe their worth resides elsewhere.

The Irish word for quartz is grian cloch, which means 'stone of the sun'. Quartz was also used Ireland, as well as many other countries, in prehistoric times for stone tools. For me, they are a kind of tool, used to grind away the worry and smooth down the demon roughness when combined with a walk with the dogs, with the wind in your face, in the softness of the first morning sun or the last twilight of the day.

Of the three stones, the largest is very smooth and with rounded edges, shinny and milky white, pure in color. If you were to describe its shape, triangle would be the choice. It is not perfect, but what is? And perhaps it is close. It’s the rock, that if you were destined to be a rock, you might want to be. But with no rough edges and not many imperfections, it almost looks fake, or manufactured. It is my least favorite of the three stones.

Digging into the pocket the second stone lies there, next to a penny that I picked up for good luck. The penny was never the same good-luck value as 1943 steel cent I once found in the road while walking back from motorcycle breakdown up on Granath Mesa, but it still makes you wonder who dropped the coin, and when.

Anyway, the second stone. It is traditional quartz – long, six-sided, prism-shaped with a pyramid on one end. A split has taken a chunk out of a side, leaving a sharp, rough edge that you could cut a rope in two with. It is precise, straight edged and determined on most sides but cracked and obviously torn and ragged on that one edge.

When I am walking and worrying the stones back and forth in the warm vest pocket on a cold winter day, I must be careful that the second stone won’t slice open my thumb. It is that rough and dangerous around the edges.

Finally, the third stone is thin and fingerlike and very smooth to the touch. It looks a little like a section of dried-down tangerine but twists wildly to one side with smooth bumps and knobs that give it a character like no other –– much like the arthritic ring finger on my right hand. It has a knot at the bottom, along with the fingerlike shape, that allows it to fit perfectly between my thumb and the next two fingers. It is the perfect worrying stone because of its precise and comfortable fit. For this reason, it also is my favorite. The rough smoothness soothes and consoles. It gives meaning and purpose to the idle twiddling of my thumb and digits. It offers up a glimpse into its eternal memory. As Saul Bellow said, “A fool can throw a stone in a pond that 100 wise men can not get out.” I respect and admire that particular stone and what it represents. In ways, it has more value to me than a similar lump of gold. Who says the Stone Age is dead.

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