A Young Man was walking down 17th street towards Union Station. His eyes fixed on a sign, “railroad ticket office” about a block away.
He was unbothered by the chaotic chorus of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys pulling businessmen in dapper suits and dirt-caked workers alike up and down the streets of downtown Denver.
As he got closer he saw another sign to the right of the door with an enticing advertisement, “ticket to Chicago $5,” which seemed too good to be true since it was $50 for a trip to the Windy City.
This would be good to bring up, he thought as he made his way closer to his destination and meeting with Soapy Smith.
He stepped through the plain pine door and asked for Mr. Smith. An affable gentleman with a feathery smile glanced over at the young stranger and asked, “Which Mr. Smith do you wish to see? It so happens that we have two or three Mr. Smiths in here.”
The affable gentleman behind the bar was one of Soapy’s lieutenants and tasked to size up those who came in about the tickets.
“I’m here to see whichever Mr. Smith can get me the best ticket price to Chicago,” the Young Man said. “I saw the sign out front and it piqued my interest.”
After a few minutes, the affable gentleman learned that the Young Man was looking for a ticket home to Chicago to give his father a report on mining prospects.
“Let me go get the Mr. Smith you’re looking for, but first do you want to take a chance at big money? You look like a lucky man”
“No thank you, but maybe later after I square away a ticket for home,” the Young Man replied.
On one side of the dusty, square room, one of the games made up of a box with large envelopes, each containing varying amounts of bills where you can bet a modest amount to win big. But most of the time the suckers would be lucky to walk away with half of what they bet.
On the other side of the office was another dapper businessman. Before him on the dark wood desk sat a large ore sample from a claim up in Leadville. That was what the Young Man was really looking for. He had been warned about the gambling games in the ticket office and how they were prominently placed to more easily part a hapless man from his money.
Just like clockwork, Soapy appeared from a back room across the way.
“Young Man,” he drawled, in a voice as smooth as an oiled thunderbolt. How may I help you this fine morning?” He came from Georgia, but his voice was more than just Southern: it was the voice of a man confident in his place in the world, and intent on building it up.
For the top con man in Denver, this unassuming man’s look was more unkempt than one would expect.
He wore a homespun vest, free of any ornament, a dark, heavy cotton shirt with a cravat under the collar, and plain brown pants. His neatly-trimmed beard finished the look, which was unremarkable, unmemorable, and notably humdrum.
He looked more like one of his victims than he did the man running the biggest con in town. But maybe this was his aim. In looking like a man leading a humble life, and not the rich con artist he was, people would be quick to think, “How can anyone dressed like that pull one over on me?” And then, before you could say, Jack Robinson, this nondescript, smooth-talking fellow is taking the hard-earned gold dust you laid down moments before.
“I am inquiring about a ticket to Chicago and your sign caught my eye.”
“Oh yeah are you one of these kids that came out to Denver and heading back home because you’re flat broke” Soapy inquired.
“Not at all, I’m in a good spot and can buy a first-class ticket home, but my dad told me never spend a dollar where 50 cents would do just as well so I figured a $ticket will get me home as well as a $50 ticket.”
After a few more minutes of jostling between the two, talk about the $5 ticket faded away and replaced by talk about the piece of ore on the counter the Young Man saw earlier.
The two men wandered over to the counter with the ore with flecks of quartz, sandstone and broad gold streaks running along the sample.
The Young Man let on how he admired the sample, but Soapy refused to sell any of the stock of that mine unless the prospective buyer took home literature about the mine and promised to share it with his father.
“This will be the first thing I’ll talk about with my father when I get home,” the Young Man replied.
Soapy got up and walked to the bookshelf to pick up a few copies of the prospectus.
“What I’m about to give you is very valuable,” Soapy said as he shuffled the pieces of paper before putting them back on the shelf, “Perhaps too valuable to leave my office.”
“Maybe it would be more appropriate for your father to come out to Denver to see the mine’s value himself instead of leaving it to chance that others might learn of it first and buy up the shares.”
This awakened the Young Man’s suspicion. He stood up and walked over to Soapy near the bookshelf to make another plea for the pamphlet one more time.
“I can assure you that nothing will happen to the literature you give me, but my father will be interested with or without it.”
“It would be best if your father came out on such a big decision, but he shouldn’t take his time,” Soapy said. “Excuse me for a moment; one of my men is motioning me about something urgent.”
As Soapy stepped away, the Young Man saw that nobody was paying attention to him. Seeing his chance, he feigned a sneeze and copped a copy of the valuable prospectus.
“I apologize for leaving you in the lurch, but an important matter has come up that requires my attention,” Soap said in a hurried manner. “I’ll leave whatever matters you have to my able barkeep and I hope to see you and your father in my office soon.”
In addition, just like that, Soapy vanished as quickly as he appeared. And so did the bartender. The men left so quickly after realizing the Young Man was not going to be the catch of the day.
The only person left in the drafty room was an old man sweeping out dirt and debris onto the sidewalk. The Young Man felt so much like dirt and debris as he stepped outside with nothing.
The sun overhead was dipping into twilight possibly reflecting the down mood of the Young Man. However, little did anyone know, other than a few well-dressed gentlemen men in town, the Young Man walked away with the final piece of a puzzle to bring down one of the most powerful men in Denver.
The man that Soapy and his gang thought of as a lout and a waste of time was a new cub reporter for The Denver Times. Mere minutes after the uneventful meeting with Soapy he was at his desk on 15th and Lawrence scribbling down his encounter for the exposé.
The Young Man moved to Denver after receiving word that his old friend was the Managing Editor of the newspaper. This gave the Young Man a shot at writing for a daily and his arrival gave the managing editor a chance to bring to light the seamy underbelly of Denver.
“I want you to seek out the vilest men in town, get to know them, earn their trust or invisibility from their scheming eyes,” the editor told his friend. “Be watchful for their contacts in the police and city government, find out their names so we can crack the depravity of this town like a peanut.”
Therefore, he went about his work on the streets, with the look of a rube making his way through town. The reason why the Young Man had a chance at this is the story is his anonymity. There was an understood edict among the con artists not to steal from residents of the town. Denver was small enough that it was easy for them to discern a local citizen from a hayseed fresh off the train.
It really is amazing what a few ounces of whiskey will buy you from the local drunk holding down the bar at the Tivoli Tavern on 17th and Larimer. That is how he learned about the “gold mine” scheme and then planned his ploy to get his hands on a pamphlet.
The trip to the ticket office was the last piece to puzzle and a few hours later the reporter, with the pencil in hand, completed his story and turned it in.
With victory at hand, the Young Man sauntered down Larimer Street wherein front of the arcade, another man motioned to him in salutation.
It was Bat Masterson, formerly the famous marshal of Dodge City, an acquaintance of the reporter. They were talking with one another near the curb when the Young Man looked behind his back and saw, standing in the doorway with a look on his face as if he had seen a ghost, the affable man whom he had met at the ticket office earlier that day.
The Young Man immediately crossed the street, but he knew that his identity discovered. The affable man vanished. He was probably running directly to his boss to tell Soapy what he had seen.
By the time, the reporter got back to the Times office, Soapy and his entire gang were in the managing editor’s office. Soapy was reading the front page story for tomorrow’s edition, composed of the article contained their methods, their haunts, their names and even information about the heavily-guarded prospectus of the rich gold mine.
Nothing was left out; the police and government were implicated in the story. The article spelling their doom was mere hours away from being etched to ink and paper. There’s was no way the gang could stay in Denver if the jig is up. But Soapy had one more card to play before he would abdicate his throne.
“Mr. Manager,” he began in a strong, earnest tone and manner “we are all here, for I could not believe what I was told; now I have read it and I know.”
“When you publish that, these men you see,” indicating his followers sitting about “and I will not be here:”
Leaning impressively towards the editor, in a low intense voice, he offered his terms of capitulation:
“If you want anybody beat up, we’ll do it; if you want any papers destroyed or stolen, we’ll do it; do you want a force in politics, we have it. If you want a ballot-box destroyed, we’ll destroy it pronto. If you wish to dispose of anybody permanently, we shall make his disappearance absolutely final. If there is anything want to be done, we’ll do it. But not publish that story.”
The exposé about Soapy and his gang was omitted from next day’s edition of The Times. The cub reporter received it back.
We’ll never know the real reason behind the Managing Editor’s decision to suppress the story. Maybe the real con was for the Managing Editor to have the upper hand on Soapy and the covenant of a favor tucked in his pocket, and the promise of being able to cash in that valuable chip at any time.
The story is dedicated to the power of print. It is based off an article printed in 1927 by the Rocky Mountain News about the untold stories of Soapy Smith. The plea from Soapy is verbatim from the original article.
A house is as much alive as the people who had it built.
The house carries the personality from the families that dwell within. They are born out of brick and mortar and live for an underdetermined amount of time, protecting the people who dwell in them from the elements. Unfortunately, sometimes they are torn down in the name of progress.
In 1948, The Denver Post started a 30-part series chronicling the most notable mansions in the Mile High City for a new wave of residents moving to our town following World War II.
Denver Post reporter Edith Eudora Kohl penned the series, but little did she know that roughly less than half of the mansions would survive to 2018. The series was to help new Denverites moving to the dusty town to learn more about the history of a time gone by. Many of the old houses of Denver were razed to make way for the post-World War II boom the city was experiencing, and Kohl’s intention was to highlight the ones that remained for posterity.
The homes were built by the affluent who earned their wealth in the early days of Denver and the Colorado territory. Miners, bankers, railroad tycoons, retailers, and others built opulent mansions to reflect the wealth earned from the gold and silver rushes in the Rocky Mountains.
Of the homes featured in Kohl’s article that were spared from the demolition teams, 15 of the homes still exist. Some are still used as private residences, while others were preserved before the wrecking ball sealed their fate. Boettcher, Bonfils, Evans, Woodbury and Brown are a few of the names that built castles on the edge of the Rockies. This three-part series will feature the homes profiled by Kohl and their fates.
Brown’s Bluff was one of Denver’s first subdivisions that stretched the city limits eastward from Broadway to Logan and 20th Avenue to 12th Avenue. IIt was nicknamed this for the original owner of the land, Henry C. Brown, one of Denver’s first settlers and also the Brown Palace Hotel’s namesake.
This area was considered a suburb of Denver and was home to some of the most expensive mansions for those who struck it rich from mining, banking, railroads and real estate dealings.
Many of the mansions north of Colfax were replaced by commercial buildings, but a number remain symbolizing the wealth that attracted Denver’s first settlers.
William Church House
1000 Corona Street
1890 – 1965
“It was a sign that set all Denver agog that striking white lava and red Manitou sandstone palace set high on Quality hill.”
William Church built his 25-room, $40,000 castle on the corner of 10th and Corona. Comparatively speaking, an 8-room house in Denver was built for $3,500. The Illinois man came to Denver in 1866 at 25 years-old and became involved in mining in Clear Creek, Gilpin and Boulder areas. He went to Arizona in 1880 to invest in copper mining operations and eventually moved back to Denver to invest in real estate.
The castle was constructed out of gray rusticated stone and sported a reception hall that was heavily paneled in hardwood. It also featured a staircase with removable railing which allowed it to double as a stage for musicals held in the mansion. The library had stained-glass windows, hand-tooled leather covering the upper walls carved peeling in Moorish design with Persian-style fireplace.
The house also had a two-manual pipe organ. The pipe ran underneath the stage landing. ‘A room adjacent to the stage featured a large, cut glass window imported from Paris that cast rainbows across the room. The basement had a photograph dark room and bowling alley. The tower held the servants quarters.
After Church died in 1891, his heirs sold the property and by the 1920s it was operated as the Castle Hotel. The name was later changed to the Tutwiler and was made into a rooming house. In the 1930s it was rumored drug smugglers was operating out of the house.
During World War II, it was used a housing for soldiers and returned to rooming house duties after 1945. It changed hands again in the late 1950s and served as a guest house until it was wrecked in 1965. The land now holds two apartments buildings separated by a parking lot.
John Good House
1007 Pennsylvania Street
1890 – 1965
“Many palatial homes were built in Denver during the mining boom but the Good place, known as “The Castle” is one to which the name truly applies.”
The former mansion that was on the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania was originally built for Denver and Rio Grande railroad Chief Engineer John A. McMurtie, who helped build the Royal Gorge rail line segment. The Pennsylvania man came to Denver in 1871 and earned the bulk of his fortune from local real estate and other businesses. He also built the first fireproof building on 16th and Cleveland.
When he died in 1891, his family sold the house to Dr. J.W. Graham who owned the house briefly until it was re-sold to John Good. Good earned his fortune in mining and railroads and in investing in the Tivoli Brewery.
The house was constructed out of red Colorado sandstone and was topped with a red tile roof. The property stretched 60 feet by 100 feet along 10th Avenue. Each room in the house was finished in a different color, including the Rose Room, which had a plaster ceiling comparable to ivory with elaborate designs and rose-themed wallpaper covering the walls. The property also included a garden to the north of the house .
Old timer Denver residents of 1948 would know the Good House as a scene of multiple family tragedies. Four of Good’s children died after moving into the house. John Good died in 1918 and a fifth son, John Edward Good died suddenly in 1931.
Good’s wife lived in the house until until her death in 1936. The home was sold to Forrest Goody in 1941, who converted it into rooming house for college-age men. By the late 1950s upkeep of the house was being too expensive to maintain. The vacant mansion was eventually razed in 1965 and an apartment building now occupies the space today.
11th and Pennsylvania
“Standing close to the street with a broad flight of steps to the main entrance, the four-story structure of smooth red stone towered like a chiseled mountain wall, a notable contrast to the elaborate carving which had been the vogue”
The mansion on the southwest corner of 11th and Pennsylvania was built for Thomas B. Croke, a school teacher turn owner of 3,500-acre farm in what is now the suburb of Northglenn.
In less than six months after Croke moved in, he decided to sell the mansion and move to his ranch. The mansion was then traded to Thomas M. Patterson who was the owner of the Rocky Mountain News and a US senator for Colorado, for additional farm land.
Patterson then owned the mansion in 1893 and it stayed within the family for three decades. In 1930, the mansion was converted into apartments.
The interior had a spacious design with hand-polished oak on either side of the double doors, casings and fireplaces were sawed from the same log in order that the grain might match. The library, parlor and dining room were located on either side of the great hall.
The ballroom was on the ground floor (basement) with the kitchen, laundry and other utility rooms in a wing connected to the main building by an imposing archway.
There was a large playroom on the top floor, near the servant’s quarters.
Over the years, the Croke-Patterson mansion also earned a reputation for alleged paranormal activity with reported hauntings. Croke’s mother passed away in the short time his family lived there, while Patterson and his wife also died within the house.
Efforts were made in the early 1970s to save the mansion from demolition and was eventually listed as a Denver landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The mansion was converted into a bed and breakfast and features refurbished hardwood trim, has original stained-glass windows, vintage telephones and restored chandeliers.
Crawford Hill Mansion
11th and Sherman
“The Crawford Hill home at Sherman Street and East 10th avenue, a gray brick French colonial residence standing behind a high iron fence, was for almost a half century the home of one of America’s most noted families and a center of Denver society.”
Crawford Hill was the son of Nathaniel Peter Hill, newspaper publisher of the Denver Republican newspaper and a wealthy metallurgist who helped cement the mining industry. Nathaniel Hill was later was elected as one of Colorado’s first senators.
Crawford began running the family’s various businesses in 1900 after his father passed away. He married Louise Sneed in 1895, the Southern Belle who would control Denver’s elite social scene for nearly 50 years.
Their house on 11th and Sherman was the center of Denver’s high society activity and hosted numerous parties and received U.S. Presidents and other dignitaries.
The main entrance to the 22-room French Renaissance-style mansion opened into a large reception hall with a large winding white staircase boasting red Vatican velvet carpeting. The hall included ivory walls and 15th century Renaissance furniture. The dining room had a large fireplace in one and was furnished with a glass-topped table, French ivory chairs and console.
The mansion’s south porch overlooking the garden was Mrs. Hill’s seat of social power where she held informal tea and cocktail parties.
At the time of the article was published in 1948, Louise Hill was one of the few residents who was still alive. She was no longer lived in the mansa resident but had an apartment at the Brown Palace. In 1947. Many of the opulent furnishings were auctioned away.
The Crawford Hill Mansion is still standing and functions as a private office building.
“In many ways, the old mansion on Grant Street is an expression of Dennis Sheedy’s big, open life and original ideas.”
Dennis Sheedy was a self-made man who came into Denver penniless, but went on to earn a fortune through creating a wholesale grocery business and buying and selling cattle. He eventually acquire some interest in Colorado National Bank and was elected President and General Manager of a Smelting business in the Globeville area. He also built the McNamara Dry Goods Building, which still exists on the corner of 15th and Larimer.
Construction of his mansion was completed in 1892 and included many sets of wide sliding double doors, which would allow the first floor to be used as a massive space for various social activities.
The beamed ceilings and woodwork were made of solid polished oak and the walls of the reception hall and dining room are tapestried in rich metal cloth of various colors and artistic design. Other rooms used sheep hide for wall covering.
Sheedy passed away at his home from pneumonia on October 16, 1923 at the age of 77. After his death, the Mansion was converted into a fine arts studio, by prominent local philanthropist Helen Bonfils, for 50 years until 1974 when it was converted into an office building.
1885 – 1970
“Thousands of visitor from many parts of the world pass through the high-fenced grounds and up the stone steps into this house as rich in Colorado history as it is in fine arts.”
The 22-room Redstone mansion was built in 1885 to be the family home of the Horace Wilson Bennets, a real estate tycoon. The home was eventually sold to David May, the founder of the May company stores.
When the May department’s headquarters was moved to the Midwest, the home was sold yet again to Delos Chappell, an engineer and industrialist who made his fortune in public utilities. Following Chappell’s death in 1922, he left the house to the Denver Art Association.
The mansion included open stairs winding from the great reception hall to the top of the house. The inlaid white oak floors were bordered with dark brown walnut in mosaic patterns. White marble steps lead to the conservatory or sun porch with its marble fountains and a mirror wall. Small marble brick of rainbow hues line the bathrooms an in one there still remains a huge old-fashioned tub with an elaborate flower-painted border. Another feature of the house included a face of Cecile Bennet as a child sculptured in the outside wall above the first floor windows of the south tower.
As a part of the Chappell’s’ will the mansion became the home of the Denver Art Museum for four decades until it was razed in 1970.
Molly Brown House
“Among Denver’s pioneer empire-builders, none were more spectacular than the J. J. Browns. And the mansion they built at 1340 Pennsylvania Street typifies the color they lent early-day Denver.”
One of the first Denver mansions saved by the wrecking ball was built by J.J. and Margaret “Molly” Brown. James Joseph Brown was a talented “metal man” in Colorado history. He was the chief advisor for Moffat and discovered the Little Johnny gold mine, one of the largest ever discovered.
As the money came in from the claim, J.J. Brown built the mansion on 1340 Pennsylvania. The house was to help his wife, Mrs. Margaret Brown’s attempt into Denver’s high society. The grandiose mansion did not impress the social elite in Denver, so she left Denver to see the world.
Her claim to fame came when the Titanic struck an iceberg “She was crowned as a heroine for her bravery in the sinking of the Titanic, when gun in hand, she took command of a lifeboat, alternately tongue-lashing the crew at the oars and singing hymns to the passengers,” Kohl wrote.
The Queen Anne-style House of Lions was built with quarry-faced pink and gray rhyolite with red sandstone trim featured stone walls lions imported from Italy at the main entrance.
After Molly Brown’s death, the house was used as a bachelors’ rooming house, a home for wayward girls and nearly demolished until Historic Denver Inc. rescued and restored to its former glory.
The interior were restored from its carved woodwork and furnishings from the Brown era. The two-story carriage house was converted to a visitor center and gift shop.
Chester S. Morey Mansion
1555 Sherman Street
“The dignified old place with its square stone walls and shrub-sequestered gardens stands within the shadows of the great gold dome of Colorado’s capitol.”
The house on 1555 Sherman was a place that held several prominent families over its time. It was first built by grocery magnate Chester S. Morey the Italianate style house and was said to have dormers, dentils, semi-circular towers with balconies, belt courses and a stone base.
Soon after his wife’s death in 1900, he sold the home to Simon Guggenheim, whose family became wealthy from mining. He was elected to the U.S. senate in 1906 and served one six-year term. He built the Guggenheim hall at the Colorado School of Mines and helped build the National Jewish hospital. After Simon died in 1941, the house was sold to Bradish Morse. The house was eventually razed in 1953 after the foundation was damaged by construction of a nearby building.
Donald Fletcher Mansion
1575 Grant Street
1888 – 1961
“One of the few early-day Denver millionaires not connected with mining, Fletcher made his fortune in real estate.”
Unlike many of his neighbors, Donald Fletcher made his fortune through real estate during Denver’s first building boom from 1886 to 1890. He purchased and sold land in the second residential subdivision east of Brown’s Bluff between 7th and 8th avenues from Marion to Clarkson streets.
Construction of the 22-room mansion was delayed following the silver crash of 1893 and wasn’t completed until 1900.
The house was finished in English oak, mahogany and cherry wood. The floors throughout were made out of white quarter-sawed oak except the library which was laid with marble. The entire house was double-floored with two inches concrete in between for fire protection.
On the ground floor, beneath the main floor was a bowling alley and a 30-foot-long plunge equipped with heating radiators.
The third floor featured a 450-square foot room designed to serve as a gymnasium, skating rink, theater, ballroom and auditorium. The servant’s quarters and general purpose rooms were also on the third floor.
The mansion also included an underground heating systems, through which steam was funneled from the barns to the house, which could be made into a cooling system.
Water from the artesian well was pumped into tanks on the tower of the stables for household use. The five bathrooms in the house included a huge Turkish bath were finished in Italian marble.
The house was purchased in 1919 by the Knights of Columbus to be used a club and recreation center until it was demolished. What remains of the structure is a great hall that was built to connect to the main residents by the Knights of Columbus.
Charles B. Kountze Mansion
1601 Grant Street
1882 – 1959
“The Kountzes were not gamblers in development as were Dave Moffat and many others; they were as solid as the great thick-walled mansion that Charles had built on the Bluff, their banks weathered wars, panics and commercial disasters”
Charles Bremer Kountze built one of the first mansions on Brown’s Bluff, or better known as Capitol Hill at 1615 Grant Street.
Kountze’s was co-founder and president of the Colorado National Bank, which was started by him and his brother in the 1860s when they moved to Denver. The 40-room Queen Anne-style mansion was built on what was considered the prairie with little to no neighbors and was accessible by “rutted road”
Features included two-foot-thick double walls, comprised of stone and brick to make the mansion fireproof. Kountze also had cinders poured between the wall and plaster to make the residence soundproof.
The mansion was transformed into apartments with few changes made over the years. The reception hall with broad stairs and imported carved woodwork remained unaltered. The same heating plant in the stabled funneled steam to the house when it was in use.
In the mid-1940s the house was purchased by Clarence Daly, president of the Capitol Life Insurance company from the Kountze family. He remodeled the stables to be used as offices for the company. At the time of the Kohl’s article ran, the Kountze mansion was fighting possible demolition, but it was finally demolished in 1959. Now an 11-story commercial building sits in its place.
Richard Pearce Mansion
1881 – 1969
“Among the first of the stately mansions to be built on Brown’s Bluff and one with dramatic history is that of Richard Pearce.”
Richard Pearce was a literal game changer for Colorado’s fledgling mining industry when he brought his expertise in metallurgy to Colorado. Pearce built a smelter at Empire, Colorado. He was the manager of the Argo plant in Denver, which was the first in the U.S. to separate silver ore to matte.
Each of the 20-rooms in the mansion included hand-carved fireplaces. His mansion on 17th and Sherman included a special wing with a nursery and playrooms for his four sons and visiting miners. Unfortunately his home turned into a house of tragedy when each of his four sons, wife died. One of his grandson’s also was killed in World War I.
Richard Pearce eventually locked the doors of his great mansion and sailed for Europe never to return. He passed away in 1927 was considered the king of Colorado mining.
The mansion was converted into the Democratic club where the library was used as its dining room and the drawing room as a reception parlor. Prior to its demolition in the 1960s it was a rooming house. The site is occupied by a high-rise office building.
Platt Rogers Mansion
1500 Washington Street
1884 – 1957
“The most outstanding features as we remember the mansion were its spaciousness and comfort.”
The Platt Rogers house was located on Colfax and Washington, long before it was known as the wicked street in America. The home was on the extreme edge of settled space in the Denver area. Mrs. Dess Rogers described the mansion as so remote that “only friends with horse and carriage came calling.”
Platt Rogers was not as wealthy as others in Capitol Hill, he worked as a lawyer, elected mayor of Denver from 1891-1893 and the first judge to serve in Denver’s criminal court. While Robert Speer is credited with building the park system that’s flourishes to this day, Rogers was the who initiated the idea a decade earlier during his time as mayor.
The simple house of brick with long double French doors and windows was expanded to a 22-room mansion. In the winter, the sunken gardens were turned into an ice rink.
The main entrance, on Washington Street, opened onto a vestibule leading into the parlor. Behind it was the living room with French windows opening onto the terrace on Colfax. The home had 10 bedrooms and six bathrooms. The dining room was capable of seating 30 to 40 guests.
Roger and Dess raised five children in the mansion and all but five were born within its walls. Roger Platt passed away in 1928, his funeral was held in his home with his three sons and two son-laws serving as pallbearers. Dess lived in the house for more than a decade. The home was eventually razed for commercial space.
Next Up: Explore the area known as Quality Hill, a neighborhood south of Quality Hill that is home to the official residence for Colorado’s Governor, razed dwelling of mansions of some of Colorado’s most prominent figures and a house that history forgot.
Soapy Smith and his gang set up shot in Creede, Colorado where he opened the Orleans Club saloon and gambling hall.
Soapy ran the town, by corrupting local officials to intimidating any that wouldn’t take a kickback. The gang killed with near impunity claiming self-defense if anyone spoke up or questioned the cons they fell victim to.
Soapy eventually put his fingers in the political scene. He made his brother-in-law chief of police and in the 1892 municipal election, Soapy ran a slate of candidates who were bought and paid for by the con man. The Creede city hall was held in the back room of the Orleans Club.
The number of schemes going on ran the gamut, from his gang taking a “collection” in the saloon and gambling halls to build a church to setting up a mining syndicate office to fleece prospects of their gold dust. Anyone complaining about being ripped off was met with guns. More times than not the miners gave up their ore than their lives.
After a fire devastated downtown Creede, a Soapy returned to Denver to run his schemes again, but the town changed during his short time away. He adapted by opening the Tivoli Club on the corner of 17th and Larimer.
In the evenings Soapy would go down to the first floor saloon to deal poker and three-card Monte to the rubes his men steered in from the street.
Soapy made it back to Denver just in time to be a footnote in the City Hall War, a showdown between Colorado’s Governor Davis Waite and local officials he appointed to oversee the city. Several commissioners were asked to resign and when they didn’t, the Governor mustered the Colorado National Guard to surround City Hall on 14th and Larimer and remove the commissioners from office by force.
The Commissioners weren’t going to be removed without a fight; they called on the Police and hastily appointed sheriff’s deputies, including Soapy Smith, to stand off against the militia. Some of the 200-plus men on the side of the Denver officials were con artists like Soapy Smith and his gang.
It was rumored that Soapy yelled at the militia: “If your men take one step against city hall you and Waite will be dead.”
Eventually the standoff ended with no bloodshed and the deputized grifters faded back to their seedy roles around Union Station. Even though the locals were not to be swindled, it didn’t mean that all were in love with what Soapy and others were doing. Efforts were being made to “clean up” Larimer and Market streets from the bad reputation it fostered.
The reformation movement wasn’t the main reason Soapy moved onto greener pastures, but the silver crash of 1893. In 1894, he spent some time in Houston he met with the President of Mexico and proposed creating a Mexican Foreign Legion with Soapy in command.
“Colonel” Smith wanted 80,000 pesos to run the recruiting operation but the President offered 4,000. He went back to Denver to set up a recruiting office on Larimer, which attracted a good number of volunteers.
The contract was canceled after the President learned about Soapy’s nefarious activities. Soapy’s reputation made it nearly impossible to grift at his regular haunts. The reformation movement in Denver prevented him from starting up again and even Creede shunned him. The police chief told him to keep moving by with other towns like Salida, Leadville, Aspen, Telluride and Silverton giving him the same response.
Soapy and the gang eventually reunited in Seattle where they convinced him that better prospects in Skagway, Alaska. They sailed for new fortune in the Klondike in the summer of 1897.
Once in Skagway, he opened Jeff’s Place and made it his base of operations. It was a perfect place to swindle gold rush fortunes since prospectors were stranded in town when winter set in.
When he couldn’t get the gold dust from the miners through gambling, he invited them in to see an eagle he had in a back room. He’d knock them out and the miner would wake up in the alley without any legal recourse to gain their money back.
He recycled previous schemes like establishing an enlistment office for the Spanish-American War. When the recruiters undressed for a medical examination, Soapy’s men rifled through their clothes.
He also created other phony businesses, a merchants’ exchange, cut-rate ticket office, reliable packers and telegraph office. It would cost $5 to send a telegram to the States with a reply costing another $5. Soapy was able to hide the fact that there were no telegraph lines out of Skagway.
Soapy was running the town in the spring of 1898, but the honest locals were already not happy with his con games.
His downfall came when a miner put down a dollar for a drink and complained about not getting change back and the bartender threw him out.
The miner returned a U.S. Marshal and Soapy’s bartender shot both men. A vigilante crowd grabbed the bartender to hang him, but Soapy stepped in claiming that there would be a trial.
But the bartender was found not guilty, proving that he had total control over Skagway. In the summer of 1897 a Committee of 101 was formed to protect the townspeople. In response, Soapy created his own Committee of 303
The July 4th parade was the breaking point for the Committee of 101 where members were incensed about Soapy’s strutting during the parade. They met in secret to figure out a way to rid themselves of Soapy, but his gang dispersed the gatherers.
On July 8th a miner came to Skagway with $2,300 in gold dust. He was lured by the eagle ruse to Soapy’s back room where he was robbed. The victim went to Frank H. Reid, the head of the Committee of 101 where the group marched to Jeff’s Place.
Soapy met them with Winchester rifle in hand, so the mob retired to a wharf and barricaded themselves in for a meeting. Soapy went in to confront the Committee, Reid saw him coming and fatally shot him. As he was fatally struck, he shot mortally wounded the guard.
Soapy’s funeral was a simple ceremony with few attendees. The text read was from Proverbs 13:15 “The way of the transgressor is hard.” He was buried in a pine box with an unmarked grave.
The man who shot Soapy Smith died 12 days after getting shot and was the hero of Skagway. His grave was 20 feet from Soapy’s with an epitaph that read, “He gave his life for the honor of Skagway.”
While Soapy was remembered primarily as a villain in Alaska, many of his friends in Denver from the old days recalled a different Soapy.
Following his death, The Denver Times reported that Soapy was known as much for his charity as he swindling abilities. He returned losses to those he knew couldn’t afford it. On Christmas day he bought turkeys and passed them out from the same site as his soap stand with the greeting, “Merry Christmas and good luck.”
“He was the warmest-hearted man I ever knew. He never threw over a friend.”
Early Denver was built on promise. The promise of fortune was to be had in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The promise of finding a fresh start by striking it rich on a claim. The promise of showing off your wealth with the comforts home in the middle of the Wild West.
However, the city did not look as wild as it was in the beginning. By the time the 1880s rolled around, wooden frame, buildings gave way to brick and mortar structures. Log cabins were razed for early mansions reflecting the wealth dug out of the Rockies. As new arrivals explored the city and passed by Millionaire’s Row on 14th street, it made them more earnest in their quest to be part of the action.
By now the boom city was witness to 20 years of a gold and silver rush, some who staked their claim are wealthy beyond their dreams, but many are eking out an existing and waiting for the chance of a quick score.
While the sidewalks were built out of wooden planks, but they were no less busy, carrying people to daily tasks. Many are visitors still searching for an easy score.
The dream of an ungodly wealth is why many still pour out of Union Station to find a quick rest bit in the town before venturing west to a mining town. A young man with a few coins in his pocket might get a room at the Oxford hotel, which is a few feet away from the station, while others might venture to Larimer Street to the Windsor Hotel, the most prominent hotel of 1880s Denver.
That young men traveling through Denver might see a well-dressed gentleman setting up shop on 17th and Larimer. Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith was setting up shop for weary travelers. His product of choice was a simple bars of soap, at 25 cents apiece. Smith’s soft southern drawl would peddle the soap to newcomers who just came off the dusty trail, from either train or horseback. The neatly dressed, well-groomed unassuming man had a trustworthy face, something that was lacking for road-weary travelers.
Some would call his price for soap highway robbery since you could find the same bar of soap at some shops for 5 cents. In comparison, 25 cents back in the 1880s would be the equivalent to $5 or $6 today.
But many walking by will drop two bits for soap because convenience fancies practicality sometimes. Even through traveling by train was the fastest mode of transportations for the time, but you would still be on the road from point A to point B for days, if not weeks. Why not spend a little bit more for a necessity, not the first time anyone would pay for convenience, nor the last.
Later in the day, Smith would change his tune and put a higher value on soap. “Cleanliness is next to godliness, but crisp greenbacks in the pocket is a paradise itself. For $5 you get a bar of soap and maybe $100!”
During his speech, he wrapped money of various denominations $100, $20, $10, $5 and dollar bills around the soap and replaced the blue-paper wrapper. He tossed the re-wrapped soap into the basket and several onlookers stepped up for their chance at doubling their money, or possibly more.
The first participants unwrapped their soup and found $5 or $10 and then a loud yell would come out of the crowd from a man who won $20 dollars. The noise would draw the attention of more and hurried murmurs of the man who won it big would move from person to person until even more would drop their money in the southern gentleman’s hand.
But little did they know, aside from those on the take, that a fool and their money just parted. Many an unsuspecting visitor to Denver fell for one of the most famous cons in town. Soapy played an elaborate game to swindle what would be today’s equivalent of $100 from those fresh on the hopes of winning big with little effort.
He did wrap some of the soap with larger bills, but used sleight of hand to remove lower denomination dollars from the soap. For the ones that still held $20 or $100, he slightly crinkled these bars of wrapped soap so that his assistants would grab them to start the run on the unofficial lottery.
The fix was in from the very start any person peaked interest in making easy on the streets of Denver. The town was also built on the promise of con artists, swindlers, chiselers and miscreants fleecing visitors to town out of their hard-earned money.
If a person duped would cause a stir, some of Soapy’s gang would rough up or even kill them. This helped keep the wild in the Wild West on the streets, because even though civilization was creeping in from all sides, chaos still ruled downtown Denver.
Legend has it, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith was born in Georgia in 1860. Following the Civil War, his family moved to Texas for better prospects. As a teenager he was a cowpoke on the Chisholm Trail, which made him acquainted with saloons, gambling halls and bunco artists in Texas and Kansas cow towns.
He became intrigued with the con artist life after he was cleaned out in a walnut shell game at a carnival in Abilene Texas. He went to a friend to borrow $20.
“You don’t mean you’re going to try again?” the friend asked.
“No” said Soapy.
“I’m going to join the show and learn that game.”
His mentor at the carnival was Clubfoot Hall.
In 1878, the carnival arrived in Leadville where he learned the soap scam from “Old Man” Taylor
Soapy and his associates moved to Denver in the 1880s to run any number of schemes in town. All bets were off for newcomers, but there was an ironclad rule that not even Soapy would break, “don’t steal from Denver residents.”
The rule was established by Denver’s boss of the underworld, Lou Blonger who said it was okay to run any number of schemes on others traveling through the city but leave the locals alone.
Reasons for this rule were simple: Strangers to a city are less likely to contact the police for fear of embarrassment. Nobody new to a city wants to admit they were bilked out of money from three-card Monty.
It was easier to take care of any complainers who were duped out of their money. There may not be a public outcry to find a missing traveler, but there would be hell to pay for any blue-collar worker not making it home from work that day.
The city government of that time also favored kickbacks and under-the-table deals with bunco artists than cleaning up town. Soapy flourished in this environment until citizens were pushing hard for reform.
But in 1892 there was a reformation movement going on in town. Soapy read the writing on the wall and moved to the southern Colorado mining camp, Creede, the latest boomtown in Denver to not only run the con games in town but the government itself.
Denver of the late 19th century wasn’t a city, but more a cluster of communities separated by economics and ethnicity. The dwellings west of the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek were the homes for some of the wealthy who wanted to escape the plumes of black smoke billowing out of the downtown area, and also a popular locale for newly-arrived Irish and Italian immigrants.
The new residents brought their faith and customs to the Mile High City and while Irish immigrants established St. Patrick’s church at 33rd and Pecos in the mid-1880s as a place of worship, Italians yearned for a sanctuary of their own.
Assistance would come in 1893, when Father Felice Mariano Lepore arrived from New York City to serve God and his Italian brethren. He was described as a champion for the poor Italian immigrants and became the face of the Mount Carmel Society, a group dedicated to bringing a Parish to the Italian neighborhood.
But his tenure in Denver came with plenty of controversy.
The effort to establish Mount Carmel Church wasn’t popular with everyone in the neighborhood. A rival Italian group, the St. Rocco Society, wanted to establish a parish as well. The conflict came to a head when a fire destroyed the first Mt. Carmel church in August 1898, some of whom believed to be an act of arson. In spite of the fire, the Church was going to be rebuilt and as Father Lepore helped lay the cornerstone for the new Mt. Carmel in 1899, he would not see its formal dedication in five years..
On a gray evening in November 1903, Father Lepore and an acquaintance, Joseph Sorice, were playing cards in the priest’s study. Lepore’s nephew, Frank, stepped in to the office to warm up from the cold and made his way to his room on the second floor of the church.
Lepore’s cook was also in the church and later told the Denver Republican newspaper that he hadn’t heard any signs of conflict until he heard gunshots ring out at about before 10 p.m.
Frank ran downstairs, half-dressed, and saw his uncle and the stranger struggling in the kitchen. Father Lepore was able to struggle the gun from Sorice and another shot rang out. Father Lepore broke away from the assailant and ran into the church’s sanctuary section, while the other man ran down into the basement.
Both the cook and Frank said they had no clue why the two went from peacefully playing cards to a mortal struggle.
When the police arrived, they found Father Lepore at the altar, in front of the life-sized statue of Christ. His head was laying on a prayer cushion and his blood stained the carpet of the altar steps.
Both men were carried to an ambulance and transported to St. Joseph Hospital.
At the hospital, doctors determined that Lepore’s wound above his intestines was mortal. The bullet entered the left side side above the hip, passed through the abdomen and came out below the navel.The second bullet struck the right elbow and passed through the forearm. The third bullet struck him at the angle of the jaw and came out at the point of the chin. The one shot fired at Sorice struck him in the front of the abdomen and passed through his body.
There was enough time for Lepore to offer a deathbed statement, that was radically different from what the two witnesses reported. He said that he wasn’t playing cards but writing at his desk when Sorice came in very drunk and had some words for the priest. Lepore didn’t say what those words were, but Sorice shot him without warning or provocation.
“My name is Felice Lepore. I am 46 years old. I was shot by Joseph Sorice at about 9 o’clock tonight. I was sitting in my office working and he walked into the office. He said nothing to me. I saw him coming into the office and asked him to sit down. He said nothing to me, but pulled out a revolver and began to shoot. We had no trouble before and I did not expect him to shoot me. He came from Pittsburg about a month ago. I had no trouble with any of his relatives or friends, so far as I know. He had no relatives here that I know of.”
Lepore also said that he was afraid that Sorice was sent out from the East, presumably from New York, to kill him. He first met Sorice a month prior to the shooting. Lepore stated that there were no warnings from back East but felt that he was going to kill him from the first moment he met the man.
“He shot me three times and then started to run away out of the back door. I ran after him to the back door and I caught him and said: ‘You have shot me.’ Then, I grabbed the revolver which he had in his hand and turned it towards his breast and shot him. He held the revolver in his hand when I shot him. I could not pull it away from him. He had no friends here.”
The doctors who worked on Lepore had little hope for the wounded priest. His brother, Felice, and nephew were at Lepore’s bedside. The priest embraced and kissed his relatives and said to his brother. “Take charge of everything, my brother; I have only two or three hours to live.” He succumbed to his wounds early next morning.
In a nearby room, Sorice never said a word, but simply groaned all the time until he succumbed to his wound.
Father Lepore was interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. His funeral was described as one of the largest attended in the city’s history. Mt. Carmel was filled to capacity, while a large crowd of mourners remained outside.
The casket rested in front of the altar and candles burned above the lifeless figure. Following the funeral services within the church, the casket was placed in a hearse and the procession moved slowly, led by a large brass band to Union Station, where a special funeral train took the mourners to Mt. Olivet where Father Lepore was laid to rest.
Most would think that this is the end of the story, but following the funeral, conspiracy theories flourished concerning Lepore’s death.
The bad blood Lepore created didn’t end as he lay dying in a hospital.
“This shooting had to be just from the nature of the man,” said prominent community member Frank Damasclo the morning of Lepore’s death. “I did not know of course, who would do it, nor the reason for it would be done, but a man who lives as he has done is sure to be shot down sooner or later.”
The Denver Republican postulated that Lepore was shot from a previous feud between the two men dating back to the priest’s days in New York City and possibly as far back as the old country, since both came from the same province of Avellino, Italy.
Several weeks after the murder, Sorice’s companion, Pasquale Cortuso, was arrested by the police. He was found drunk, brandishing a stiletto and threatened anyone who would approach him. The police seized and took him into custody before any retribution could be taken out on him by Lepore’s supporters.
According to Pasquale’s interrogation, the pair did not have any ill will towards Lepore. In fact, Sorice was supposedly Lepore’s godfather. He did acknowledge that Sorice was a professional gambler who regularly cheated at cards. Perhaps this is one reason why an altercation took place between Father Lepore and Sorice.
Sorice and an acquaintance were rumored to have approached Lepore for $240 when they arrived in Denver just weeks before the shoo
ting. Lepore refused to pay the money, but got them a house to live in and work around town.
The Republican also reported that Sorice and Pasquale both came for Denver from Pittsburgh to get money from Lepore that they had lost from a banking business the priest was involved in.
Sorice quickly gained a reputation around the neighborhood as a shrewd gambler, a trait that both shared. Two weeks after their arrival, Father Lepore told the police that Sorice visited the priest with a revolver and demanded the money owed.
On the day of the murder, Sorice was seen at a card game in the back room of a neighborhood grocery store. He drank a quart of claret until the game was broken up around 6 p.m. At 7:30 Sorice walked into the home of Rena LaBatt, where he spoke to Frank about general topics with no indication of his future deed. He left the house at 9 p.m. where, shortly after, shots rang out less than a half hour later.
Another unusual incident came to light when prior to the shooting Eveyln Benns, a former employee of Lepore called a police captain and said he was the victim of a plot of his enemies. She gave no clue to who was behind the plot but, back in August, she had reported that she was attacked after leaving Mt. Carmel one evening.
Another part of the mystery was that the doctor who worked on both men determined Lepore wasn’t able to shoot Sorice in the way it was described by the two witnesses. Sorice told the doctor that Lepore didn’t fire the gun at him in close range and the shots inflicted would’ve made it unlikely that he could do that.
This brings up the question as to who shot Sorice? The only two men reported in the room were Lepore’s nephew and the cook. Was Father Lepore hiding the person that shot his assailant? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, since in his deathbed statement he said he was working in his study, but even his nephew stated that he was playing cards with Sorice. Is this the bigger conspiracy his former secretary was talking about?
Speaking of his former secretary, another secret made its way to the light. There was a fight for Lepore’s estate, which included several patents he had for fire escapes between his brother and alleged wife Evelyn Benns, who also claimed that the priest had a son.
Evelyn said that prior to Lepore dying at St. Joseph hospital, he told his secret wife, to get the papers to secure his estate. But following his death, Lepore’s brother produced a will created 12 years ago to show that he and his sisters were the rightful heirs.
After several years of litigation, a civil court judge declared Evelyn the legal widow of Father Lepore and Victor Mariano Lepore, born Sept. 15, 1898, the legitimate offspring of the union. The judge ruled that they had a common law marriage dating back to July 1, 1896.
Following the decision, the Catholic church told the Denver Republican newspaper that Lepore was never an ordained minister since he came from a discredited seminary school in Southern Italy. Since he was not elevated to the priesthood, the Church also stated that they recognized the marriage as legitimate.
While the estate wasn’t worth much, she felt vindicated that her son had a legitimate father.
The mystery of Father Lepore’s life and death brings remains unsolved to this day, but his efforts to help build Mt. Carmel church is a testament to his contribution to Denver’s fledgling Italian immigrant community.
Always pay attention to the safety rules when you jump on Lakeside’s Cyclone roller coaster. Some of them are no-brainers, but remember that each rule is posted for a reason.
Case in point, “Do Not Stand up when the roller coaster is in motion.” It seems like an easy one to remember, but there was a time when this was commonplace
On June 18, 1954, a 19-year-old airman unbuckled his safety belt, stood up and flew out of the Cyclone.
The victim was Airman third-class Danny C. Coleman, 19 from Houston. He was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base and worked part-time as a brakeman for the Cyclone roller coaster at Lakeside.
Coleman was thrown out of the car and shattered two supporting posts for the roller coaster’s scaffolding. Jefferson County coroner said that Coleman died instantly and sustained a broken back, smashed skull and internal injuries.
Park officials asked that the ambulance not run its siren so it would not alarm other Lakeside guests. Coleman was thrown from the car as it sped down to the lowest point of the ride where the tracks were four feet from the ground.
Several of his friends had front-row seats of the horrific scene. Minutes before the accident, he told friend that he liked to stand up in the cars of the roller coaster because he got “more kick out of it that way.”
Park officials said that this was the first fatality reported for a rider on the Cyclone, but they must’ve forgotten about the time an 18-year girl was killed in an accident at Lakeside in 1944.
When Coasters collide
Bonnie Marie Hicks was killed and seven others injured when the Cyclone swept out of control around the final curve approaching the loading platform where another car was waiting to start the roller coaster circuit.
The 18-year-old woman died almost instantly of a skull fracture when she fell out of the roller coaster car and landed in a flower bed below the tracks.
Originally from Greeley, Hicks had only been in denver for a year and half and worked as a telegram sorter at Western Union Telegraph Co.
Lakeside officials said that a coupling joint in the brake system that slows the cars’ approach to the platform snapped allowing the car to approach the stopping point at full speed.
The two attendants attempted to slow down the malfunctioning roller coaster by using a hand brake and slowed down the car slightly, which may have prevent more injuries.
Miniature Train Derailment
Elitch Gardens wasn’t immune to death and tragedy when in 1965 a graduation party ends in tragedy when a 15 year-old girl was killed after a miniature train at the park flipped on its side.
The Denver coroner ruled the girl’s death due to a ruptured heart from fright. Gloria Kosciw also had a fractured skull and facial cuts.
The Rocky Mountain News reported that no cause was immediately known for the accident. Eight other people suffered injuries from the accident as well.
The miniature train followed a circular path through the flowered area near the park’s main entrance on 38th and Tennyson.
The 19-year old engineer said the when they were nearing a turn he heard a bang and screens. The train was going 18-miles per hour. Kosciw’s body was found nine feet away from the accident.
Next on Revisit Denver: Tragedy continues to strike Denver’s amusement parks including an accident on Lakeside’s Motor Speedway, a fire in Elitch Gardens Tunnel of Love and a hold up gone wrong for a cashier.
Fire guts Lakeside Swimming Pool
In 1973, parts of Lakeside itself became a victim to a fire that nearly destroyed the entire amusement park.
The Fire cut a trail through the old amusement the summer after a Jefferson County Grand Jury deemed the amusement park a public safety hazard.
Five fire departments battled a blaze that destroyed the park’s old swimming pool and two maintenance shops along 46th and Sheridan. There were no injuries but it took 100 firefighters to halt the blaze and prevent the entire park from going up in smoke.
The safety concerns stemmed from a 12-month investigation that found all of the buildings at Lakeside could be called dangerous due to numerous electrical and fire code violations.
In spite of the low water pressure and initial chaos of having so many different fire departments on scene, the fire was localized to the swimming pool and and workshops.
Since its founding, Denver’s sunny disposition hides an underbelly of con artists, grifters, fortunetellers looking to make a quick buck.
This was brought to light in the autumn of 1970, when Denver residents were witness to a rare event, a funeral befitting a Gypsy Queen. At least that is how it was described in newspaper stories recording the death and funeral of Kathryn Marks. Calling her a Gypsy queen was an inside joke to those within the community, but she was the head of a large family of “Travelers” within the U.S.
The matriarch of the 2,000-strong Marks gypsy tribe passed away at the age of 102. Her husband, Mitchell Marks, passed away in 1944.
While not all gypsies are con artists, their group were associated with several different types of crimes around the Denver Metro area including selling fake products, pitching various door-to-door contractor fraud and setting up fortune telling shops around town. Even Kathryn took an active role in her advanced age after getting arrested at 96 years-old for fortune telling. She was said to have owned fortune-telling shops on the 1700 blocks of Larimer and Curtis.
Following her death, her body was taken to Noonan Mortuary, on 2406 Federal and had a car ready to pick up any mourners flying in to town to pay respects.
Family members like her sons Little Rock John and Dewey Marks, eldest grandson Farmer John Marks, nephew L Marks and many others watched over their dead matriarch body, as part of their custom. They sat with the brass coffin surrounded by wreaths proclaiming “For the Boss of Denver,” “Gypsy Queen” and “The Greatest Fortune Teller Ever.”
At the time, Kathryn left behind 12 sons and daughters, 110 grand and great-grandchildren and around 2,000 members of the Marks clan. More than 200 of the Marks Tribe descended to the Mile High City for Katherine’s funeral. Mourners arrived from across the United States, Siberia and other Eastern European countries.
On the morning of the funeral, one of Kathryn’s last requests included live music as part of her funeral service.
“Bam! Outside the sunlit wintry air was suddenly shattered by the rock group, Reign, wailing into a bluesy “Son, there’s a Smile.” Soon the casket was borne out by grandsons past heart-shaped and palm-shaped and Cadillac shaped wreaths.”
A convoy of Cadillacs and Lincolns made their way to St. Elizabeth’s Church on 1100 Curtis, which is in the middle of Auraria Campus today.
The reporter described the funeral service in “the great high-domed churches yellow interior was filled with these incantations and also with the shattering music of Reign, playing madly on the sidewalk outside.”
The next stop, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, was the final one for Kathryn; the pallbearers carried the bronze casket a half-mile from the gates of Mt. Olivet Cemetery to the grave tie. The casket was opened again at the gravesite then the family started to file by to pay respects.
All the while, the rock band was playing in the background of the burial service including a “frantic solo” from the drummer. Mourners passed around bottles of wine and whiskey as the coffin lowered into the grave. More coins and bills rained into the grave on top and to the sides of the closed casket.
“Kathryn went to her rest with a spinach garden of dollars laying across her bodice and twined through her waxed fingers “traveling money,” one family member said and according to her wish, to the ear-shattering decibels of funky hard rock dealt out by three long-haired electric guitarists and a wild man of a drummer.”
You can visit Kathryn and her husband, Mitchell today at Mt. Olivet cemetery at Section. 15, Block 10. Leave a token of appreciation for good luck and leave none at your own peril.
In the summer of 1951, Rocky Mountain News reporter Jack Gaskie went on a quest to see how difficult it would be for a regular Joe to buy marijuana in Denver. This was 15 years after the film “Reefer Madness” cemented the idea that marijuana was as dangerous as opium and heroin,
Gaskie’s journey confirmed that finding and buying illegal drugs, at that time, was framed to be as dirty a deed as the product’s effects on the mind.
He pointed out that marijuana had a lot of different names, hay, tea, reefers, muggies or mota. At first, he didn’t use these terms on his first attempt when he went to Five Points when he asked a teenager who bolted after the question.
He thought that at the very least he would be sold Curtis Park grass, a trick played on novices where they purchased grass clippings in cigarette paper.
Gaskie changed his strategy by venturing to an unnamed bar, had a few drinks and after awhile complained about how Denver was a “a dead, no good place where you couldn’t even line up for a ride when you were down.”
The bartender said he couldn’t help him but gave him a name of a bar on Larimer street that might assist. He made his way there and picked a fight to grab attention. After co
ntacting this bartender motioned to a man named “Louie”
Gaskie described Louie as a guy who wasn’t exactly the type that most Denverites would do business with since he smelled as if he hadn’t bathed for months.
Despite several attempts to win over Louie, Gaskie went home empty-handed the first night, but the next evening Louie hesitantly sold him two joints of marijuana.
But he couldn’t
take the joints back to the Rocky Mountain News newsroom and had to smoke them at the bar to prove that he wasn’t keeping them for evidence.
The next step involved Gaskie calling Louie until he answered the phone to buy more reefer, but it took another day of calling before he could set up another meeting.
Gaskie met him at the ballpark in City Park, when he saw Louie he demanded five dollars. Told him where to go and find it, on the top of a box in the men’s room. Went in and found a dirty old sheet of paper with five sticks of marijuana.
After further review, Gaskie reflected that buying marijuana wasn’t worth the effort in time and effect it had given.
“The marijuana itself was just about as dirty as Louie. It isn’t chopped very fine,” he wrote. “The growers and middlemen in the business aren’t very much concerned about competition so no great effort to pamper their clients.”
The marijuana was just a dirty paper wrapped around chopped-up weed that burned acridly, pungently and irritated the the nose.
“It’s supposed to take you for a ride. I found it was at best a walk. It’s supposed to get you “high” It didn’t get me any higher than a bottle of beer.”
AnalysisThe story reinforced the idea that marijuana is one of many vices found in Denver’s underworld of dealers and grifters, preying on good and naive citizens of the city. Gaskie noted that only the most addicted would go to the lengths he did to buy marijuana.
It’s doubtful anyone from that time would see that medical and recreational marijuana would fuel another boom 27 years later. The marijuana trade in
Colorado is one of the strongest across the U.S..
Today, customers don’t need to hang out with a guy named Louie, but simply be over 21 years-old and walk into a shop to purchase marijuana legally. The emphasis on quality control and customer service Gaskie complained about, could be found at any of these shops.
“The West is an interrupted dream. Different groups of people that have come to the west have interrupted the natural evolution of the groups that they found there. We have a constant metting and migration of groups and the real story is how the groups affect each other.”
I heard this on a recent viewing of Ken Burns documentary, “The West.” This can be applied to Denver, our city is an interrupted dream from those who are happy with the city as it is versus those who want to imagine a great city.
That slogan, “Imagine a Great City” is attributed to Mayor Federico Pena, but this has been Denver’s unofficial slogan since its founding. There is a Denver that isn’t satisfied until we are considered a major league city like New York, Los Angeles Miami or Chicago.
Every Mayor since has helped transform Denver into a destination city. Not since post World War II has this town been transformed in such a short amount of time. You can’t deny the change that occurred in northwest Denver, aka the North Side. Portions of downtown Denver is unrecognizable to even the most native Denverite. Real estate developers are tearing through Five Points.
Real estate agencies have turned historic neighborhoods into an acronym soup, LoHi, Rino, SloSo and the name Highlands has been used to describe other neighborhood, East Highlands, South Highlands, East by Southeast Highlands. Anything to increase the property value through uncreative branding.
Denverites do not need a reminder about gentrification, but we got one last week when Ink! Coffee posted a sign that read “Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood since 2014.” The sign was on display at Ink! Coffee’s 29th and Larimer location, part of what is being called the RiNo neighborhood.
— La Suprema Pistola (@theperfectRu) November 22, 2017
This neighborhood is the latest to transformed from a working-class neighborhood populated by a once predominant African American population to another trendy place for yuppies to hang their hat.
Five Points isn’t the first neighborhood to go through a radical transformation. Just look on the other side of I-25 and witness what once Northwest Denver. It’s now LoHi, the HIghlands, a home away from home for young professionals who love yoga, fusion bistros and generic mixed-use condos standing where multi-generational families once stood.
It’s difficult to describe how I feel about what’s going on in Denver without bringing up the history of my neighborhood. Northwest Denver, or the Highlands, Sunnyside portion of town has been home to several different ethnic groups. First the Irish and Italian community called it home, then after a while Mexican-Americans moved in when the suburbs became more appealing to the white middle class.
Learning to live with each other wasn’t easy, cultural differences and stereotypes would be chipped away on an individual basis. Each group understood the value of hard work and pursuing the American Dream.
In the early 2000s, if not sooner the next wave moved in, not looking to maintain the community spirit, but create a vision of their own. House-by-house, realtors purchased parcels of land to transform single-family homes into mixed-use condos. Instead of having five families many times more would live on the same plot of land.
Rent and property value went up, forcing many families who had older family members determine if they can afford to live their or sell to realtors and cash-in while they could. So many of the institutions have been razed or rebranded, Subway Tavern, Dickinson Plaza, Pagliacci’s, Elitch Lanes and many others exist only in memory.
The Ink! Coffee fiasco stings at the heart of many old school Denverites who are losing a piece of their city block-by-block. Not every building is sacred but the wholesale change going on in the Mile High City is nearly unparalleled.
Some would ask what is a Denverite and the simple answer is that it’s any person who is living in Denver. They have moved in for a week or 80 years and they should be considered a Denverite.
The more interesting question is what makes a Denverite? Is it the collective experiences that we share and the places we frequent. This is more difficult since each generation has a different vision of Denver. I grew up during a time when the neighborhood still had Elitch Gardens on 38th and Tennyson, Elitch Lanes across the street, Rock Island, a downtown that wasn’t a trendy hub but full of warehouses. A Chubby’s where you had to wait in line for 45 minutes and an additional half hour for smothered green chile cheese fries.
Weeks after the protests about Ink! Coffee, we will be left with the tale of two Denvers, one who has a foothold in honoring the past and another who wants to keep imagining a great city. Not everyone who has moved to Denver wants to shape our town into something completely different, but Ink! Coffee’s insensitive campaign represents those who neither care or want to attempt to learn about the Denver that was.
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