Gilpin Historical Society tells of those who rest beneath the ground
by Patty Unruh
Hard-rock miner, undertaker, saloon owner, educator. These and others were real people who lived in Gilpin County in the 1800’s and are buried at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Cemetery on Eureka Street above Central City.
Names on gravestones became real-life stories last Saturday, August 25, at the Gilpin Historical Society’s (GHS) 30th Annual Cemetery Crawl. GHS members told the tales of folks who populated our county 150 years ago.
The event is presented every year at one of Gilpin’s eleven cemeteries, attracting hundreds. The proceeds support the efforts of GHS to keep Gilpin history alive.
11 GHS actors portrayed the “spirits” of people buried at the IOOF cemetery, and about 20 other volunteers served as guides, moving groups from one gravesite to the next. GHS helpers also ran the ticket booth, sold history books and snacks, and entertained musically. Still others did research and cemetery grounds maintenance prior to the event.
Gilpin History Museum director Dave Forsyth served as the “gatekeeper.” He welcomed the attendees and paid tribute to former GHS president Linda Jones, who started the cemetery crawl and coordinated it for many years.
Before hearing the tales, visitors learned about the history of the cemetery itself. Louis Brenner from Rocky Mountain Lodge #2 IOOF explained that the Lodge has been part of Central City since 1865, when it received its charter, 11 years prior to Colorado becoming a state. It is now the oldest Odd Fellows Lodge in Colorado. This cemetery is likely the oldest Odd Fellows cemetery in the state.
The Odd Fellows fraternity got its name when it began in England in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s. The members were all from the poor working class and helped each other by visiting the sick, educating orphans, and burying the dead. The gentry of the time found it very odd that men would actually band together to take care of each other. Thus, they became known as “those Odd Fellows.” The fraternity started in North America in 1818.
GHS actors performed their roles with humor and pathos. Life in Gilpin County back then was very hard, and not many lived to old age. Yet, people seemed to accomplish much in their short lives, traveling from Europe to America, raising families, starting businesses, engaging in public service, and bringing law and order to the West. Their philosophy seemed to be, “What’s life without adventure?”
Joseph S. Beaman (1833-1911) was born in Baden, Germany, and learned the brewing trade from his father. At 17, he boarded a steamer to America and took up cabinet making upon arrival. When he heard of gold being found in Colorado Territory, he made his way to Central City and purchased a claim in Russell Gulch. His cabinet-making experience stood him in good stead as the first undertaker in Black Hawk. He also owned a lumber mill, a bottling and beer business, and the Belvidere Theatre, which still stands in Central City. Beaman was portrayed by Eric Chinn.
Volunteer Chuck Webster related the tale of his personal hero, Thorvald Crook, who lived from 1861-1929. Crook came to our area from Denmark and opened Crook’s Saloon. He had a lot of competition from other saloons in the area, mainly from the Toll Gate, which boasted a saloon, casino, and prostitutes. Local breweries like Coors and Mack supplied the saloons, using hops that still grow in Central City. The Temperance Movement and Prohibition forced Crook to rename his establishment “Crook’s Palace” and start selling soft drinks and cigars. Crook’s is owned today by Black Hawk, which opens it for special events.
Hard-rock miner Hugh Champion and his wife Levinia were originally from Cornwall, England. Levinia didn’t care for the dirty, chaotic life in mining camp, so the couple built a little house where Lawrence and Miner Street intersect today. The house even had a wood stove, a luxury at the time. Their cow, chickens, and garden helped them through lean times. Four of their ten children died as infants, and Hugh died of silicosis – a miner’s lung disease — on New Year’s Day 1886 at age 47.
The character who was “smallest in stature but largest in personality” was Mattie Mosch, known as the Queen of Central City. This creative, fun-loving lady, who rose to the height of 4’2”, lived from 1884-1967. Mattie worked as a nurse in World War I at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. She loved performing more than nursing, however, and kept the soldiers entertained by dancing, singing, and reciting poetry. In 1918, she came to Colorado to cook in the mining camps, met and married Walter Mosch, and moved to Central City. Walter passed away of miner’s lung, but Mattie stayed, working as a waitress and entertaining customers at the Central City Café until she was 76. When she died, one thousand dollars was spent on a life-size bust for her headstone. It was stolen a year later. Jennifer Black portrayed Mattie.
John Remine (1830-1869), enacted by Mike Keeler, was born in Virginia and decided on a law career. The West drew him, especially Central City.
“It didn’t even have a jail. There was no law!” Keeler’s character exulted. It was the young lawyer’s chance. He took a stagecoach out, which was attacked by Indians along the way. Arriving in Central City, Remine found it crude, filthy, and full of miners, so he gave it a shot. He was one of the best criminal lawyers around, even prosecuting the notorious Reynolds gang – a huge group of former Confederate soldiers who terrorized the state. He was shot in the back by gang members who had a vendetta against him and died at age 39.
Other characters related building mills, being elected sheriff, or teaching in an innovative two-room schoolhouse. They described the beer-making process, gold stamping, and miner’s justice.
Crawl patrons examined unique grave markers, including a zinc headstone, a cabin fashioned from a block of limestone, and tree trunk markers. The tree trunks were part of a movement to turn the focus of death back to life and recalled the Bible’s trees of life and of knowledge.
GCEF volunteers included Delaney Grant, Jennifer Black, Chuck Roberts, Mike Keeler, Stephen Weidner, Tom Matthews, Brandi, Eric Chinn, Ed Schuendast, Randy and Robin, Chuck Webster, Suzanne Matthews, Bill Cavanagh, Bryce Young, Sue Young, Roger Lickey, Chuck Fullen, Gail Keeler, Anne Schafer, Ray Wilber, Bobbi Meyer, Tim Casey, Roy Ince, Jan Doell, Carol Mirarck, Ashley Blondo, Jonas Schrock, Robbie Zmuda, Margaret Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Colleen Stewart, Nicki Friedeck, Patrice LeBlanc, Alan Demers, Jim Prochaska, LeeAnna Jonas, Lolli Hughes, and others whose names were unavailable.