Friday, March 19, 2010

Turning up your nose at the stockyards

For decades, "the river ran red" with packinghouse waste 

By Rob Carrigan,

When you live most of your days out in the middle of nowhere, (otherwise known as a remote ranch out on Morapos Creek, between Craig and Meeker) you appreciate the chance to ‘go to town’ once in a while. My Granddad liked to ride the train into the stockyards at Denver with the product when he sold cattle. By most accounts, he looked forward to it all year.
“For most of a century, Denver's stockyards teemed with cows and other critters all year long - not just when the annual stock show rolled into town.
From the 1880s through the 1960s, Denver was the region's go-to bazaar for buying and selling livestock,” wrote Joanne Kelley in a 2006 article in the Rocky Mountain News.
For decades, "the river ran red" with packinghouse waste until rendering plants began processing it, according to Colorado historian Tom Noel's book, “Riding High.”
"Though they cleaned up the river, rendering plants fouled the air with pungent odors that downwind Denverites sniffed about," according to Noel.
But with better roads and the growth of the trucking industry, the stockyards and the packing plants dispersed into local ‘sale barns’ and the big plants moved away from the city. By 1980, the big yards in Denver were all but shut down as a year-round concern and only memories remained of its former prominence.
“I was born in Chicago about the time of the Spanish-American War. My father, Ralph C. Edwards, had been employed by Stafford Brothers in the Chicago Stockyards. He got a position at $40 a month with Clay, Robinson & Co, at the Denver Union Stockyards,” wrote Mrs. Avery Edwards Abbott in an article titled “I Remember Denver,” in the September, 1962 edition of the Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup. “Our first home in Denver was at 36th and Williams, near old Chutes Park (which terrified the daylights out of me).”
“I recall the old Denver Carnivals, held in the fall, I think. These were a kind of Mardi Gras, with parades and so on, to which my mother took me. Carfare was a nickel, and so was a loaf of bread. We could buy enough beef for supper for a dime, and the butcher gave you a piece of liverwurst free and threw in enough liver for the cat,” wrote Abbott.
She and her family later moved to Elyria, which was a village in Denver County with a population of 1384 in 1900. It was also called Pullman by the railroad and boasted 26 saloons.
“I remember the torchlight parades, to which Father took me when McKinley was assassinated,” she said. “Father took me for a walk every afternoon and often the walk ended at the Stockyards. I was terrified beyond voice when we took the catwalks above the waving heads of the longhorns in the corrals. The hogs fascinated me, as did the sheep. (Such smelly tastes!”
Abbott tells of Mr. Fine and Mr. Gill at the Stockyards Bank and walking back and forth from home and there for her mother when she was only 6 years old.
“It never occurred to anyone that there was any danger or my purse being snatched or my being molested. The stockmen, many of them knew who I was and stopped to inquire about Mother and my baby brother. They had been faithful in coming to see Father during his last illness.”
She describes taking the Stout Street cars, one which was marked “Stockyards,” when going down town to Hurlbut’s Grocery, in the Loop, where bananas were ten cents a dozen.
“In the winter, Hurlbut’s smelled of hot coffee, buttered popcorn, cupcakes, overshoes and wet clothing. In summer, large glass jars of lemonade were on display, and cookies, candies, magazines and other penny-catchers.”
Butter was 15 cents a pound. Lion and Arbuckle were the popular brands for coffee.
“I remember the day when three Polish workmen at the Omaha and Grant Smelter (the shadow of whose smokestack almost fell across our house, and whose smoke was said to kill all our germs) were sitting on kegs of dynamite while eating their lunch. They had the bad judgment to strike matches on the kegs to light their pipes. Parts of the men were picked up all over town and windows were shattered for several blocks around. It was quite an occasion!”
Of course the perfume of the packinghouses blended with the smelter smoke, she said.
“Some of Mother’s friends turned their noses pretty high when they came to see us. But this was not so they could sniff the perfume to greater advantage.”
With all the different sights, and sounds, and smells and events, it is no wonder that my own grandfather looked forward to ‘going to town’ every year on his trips to the stockyards in Denver.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Observations from a funeral

A frightening gift, or curse?

By Rob Carrigan,

“The Dullahan is possessed of supernatural sight. By holding his severed head aloft, he can see for vast distances across the countryside, even on the darkest night. Using this power, he can spy the house of a dying person, no matter where it lies. Although the dullahan has no head upon his shoulder, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the colour and texture of stale dough or mouldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows from the phosphorescence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the Dullahan stops, a mortal dies.”
___ From Irish Legends at

Every funeral I go to is just one more reminder that we live life on a deadline.
I was talking to her about it, when I came home.
When I told her, she says, “Yes, It can slip away, that’s what I was talking about.”
She’s right, I guess. The years pile up. We should work harder for no regrets.

Remember, that every storyteller has a deadline.
Interesting choice or combination of words, that “deadline.” Nothing much remembered here on earth happens after that line is crossed.

The grieving father was asking a friend of his daughter's if she had learned anything, continuing on in a father’s role, needing to make sure a lesson was learned despite his own personal tragedy.

I got in line, realizing once again that I never have the right words to say to family members at a funeral, How amazingly awkward that conversation is. Yet always feeling compelled to pay respects in person, no matter how strained. Some of the burden lifts when the deed is done but it is still clumsy as hell.

Amazing Grace is the ultimate funeral song. If anyone is listening, play it at mine. Just the right hint of sadness mixed with the need to move on. … And bagpipes maybe.
How selfish that is? Me thinking of my own “last hurrah” as these folks say goodbye forever to a young kid.

I think of the girl and realize that I’m a bit out of place at this child’s funeral, as I didn’t really know her despite my extensive dealings with her dad.
No dad should have to bury his little girl. I can’t imagine the pain.

I think I met this girl once – at the end of meeting. Didn’t she stop by with another friend asking her father to do something? From the picture on the program, I will always believe it so.

And then there is that weird “far away eyes” thing. Yes. I did see her – and her eyes.

And I think I knew then, just like I did with the others. All the others, over the years.
I don’t see dead people. I see it — death, in their eyes, “Faraway eyes” before they go.
What a frightening gift … or curse.
Or am I just imagining it.
Please click on titles to see other related Irish stories.
• Connected? Who is related?
• You know more than myself.
• Irish loving and fighting.
• Irish Pat's walk through history.
• Luck and truth and chasing rainbows.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Long dry spell starts early in Colorado

Colorado passed prohibition three years before most of the rest of the nation

By Rob Carrigan,

“When thirsty grief in wine we steep, When healths and draught go free, Fishes, that tipple in the deep,
Know no such liberty.”

__ Richard Lovelace, 1649

Prohibition or “the long dry spell’ came early to all of Colorado, in January of 1916, and in some communities here, booze was illegal even before that.
“Along with six other states, Colorado passed prohibition three years before most of the rest of the nation, led largely by a crusade of religious leaders and women voters,” wrote Michael Madigan in “Heroes, Villains, Dames & Disasters: 150 Years of Front-Page Stories from the Rocky Mountain News."
“It was estimated that 1,615 saloons and dramshops and 12 breweries were immediately put out of business.”
Personally, I don’t think I could ever forgive such nonsense, and perhaps, like thousands of others, would have sought “alternatives.”
But other “dry” cities struggled with the question long before that. Colorado Springs for example outlawed liquor from day one.
“City founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer had forbidden liquor from being made or sold anywhere in the city,” noted a Dave Phillips of the Colorado Springs Gazette in an article in November of last year.
“Palmer wanted to create an attractive, orderly city that would appeal to new settlers, as opposed to some of the wilder communities in the West with there saloons,” the Gazette article quoted Matt Mayberry of the Colorado Spring Pioneers Museum. “But people still want their alcohol and will come up with inventive ways to get around the law.”
Enter the practice of using booze as medicine.
With a prescription from a doctor, a ‘patient’ was allowed to buy a quart of whiskey.
According to most reports, many a resident in the town suffered from ‘snake bite’ and required a dose from the pharmacy.
“More people are bitten by snakes than in any town of this size I know of,” noted a writer for the Pueblo Chieftain in the 1880s of its Northern neighbor. “It is a little remarkable with what facility a man can get a prescription for snakebite in such a temperance town.”
By the turn of the century, many of the local pharmacies in Colorado Springs had dispensed with the formality of a doctor’s prescription and were quietly pouring drinks at fountain counters. Perhaps you would be required to order a ‘nectar’ or ‘wild strawberry’ by code word but the concoction was generally familiar and refreshing when it arrived from the ‘jerk.’
The profits involved allowed pharmacy owners to pay any steep fines, or legal fees to keep the business rolling and the liquor flowing in most cases.
But by the first of January, 1916, the entire state was once again legally prohibited from selling spirits.
“Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Cripple Creek and all the mountain and other towns went dry at midnight without ceremony,” according to the front page of the Rocky Mountain News. “Most saloons closed their doors before the final hour.”
And in Denver proper. “Toward midnight an immense throng gathered on Curtis Street and other streets in the downtown business section, tooted horns and in other ways welcomed in the New Year.”
The same article observed however that some folks were prone to skirt such laws.
“Meanwhile, the citizens who were loath to break ancient habits with the stroke of the clock were well provided. For days gurgling packages have accompanied the homeowner to the legal security of his cellar.”
Please see related stories:
• Medicinal whiskey and 'the loophole.'
• Raise a glass: celebrate 'Repeal Day.'
• Colorado Whiskey River don't run dry.