A Funeral for Denver’s Gyspy Queen

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.





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