CommunityHistory

A “tailing tale” of Jeanne Hostetler

Colorado History – Part I

By Maggie Magoffin

This next adventure in local Colorado history is from Jeanne Hostetler Ramstetter’s memoirs.

My grandparents were Henry A. and Vina S. Ramstetter. My Grandfather Henry’s parents homesteaded the Guy Hill Ranch, and what follows are some of my most treasured memories.

I lived in Central City during World War II and vividly recall the sound of the air raid sirens. When the siren sounded, all lights had to be turned off; not even a candle was to remain lit. If you were in a car you had to turn the headlights off. It was so quiet. All you could hear was the loud, mournful wailing of those sirens.

My Uncle George owned a grocery store in Central City, and I loved reading the magazines. Phil Harris and Alice Faye were my favorite movie stars. I got to meet Mae West when she came to perform at the Opera House – I thought she was so beautiful! Uncle George later became Mayor of Central and he also started the first bus line from Central to Denver. During the war, everyone was forced to use ration stamps for food, gas, etc. There was a lot of trading of stamps with friends for one thing or another. We were lucky Uncle George had a grocery store! Grandma Koch lived with Uncle George and she liked to sit downstairs and visit with customers

For a while we lived with my Grandma Hartsock – she was my mother’s mom. She had a friend named Swede who sat on the front porch chewing what I thought was a piece of fudge. One time he gave me a little bite and I got sick. It burned my mouth and throat and made me cry. In those days, chewing tobacco came in brick form and it did look a lot like fudge.

We moved around a lot and had a lot of pets. We had two roosters, though one turned out to be a hen! We had dogs and one I remember wagged his tail so hard he had to sit down or he’d fall down. We had cats and chipmunks too. My Uncle Willard (Buddy) helped me catch the chipmunks with cigar boxes and string. My little brother, Ralphie, and I played in the creek. There was red clay in the creek and we spent a lot of time sculpting “masterpieces” out of that soft, messy mud. We’d let our art dry in the sun – they broke easy, but oh what fun!

I learned to read by the age of five and I loved school. When I wasn’t watching Ralphie, I’d at the library across from the Opera House on Main Street. It was in a small, two-story building with creaky stairs and the wonderful smell of books. It was one of my favorite places to hide out. Once in a while, we went to Sunday School at the old Methodist Church next to the library.

There were adventures galore. We spent many hours checking out the old abandoned buildings in Central City. We were warned not to go near them because they weren’t safe – but it was fun and scary! Stories were that there could be money and maps underneath the old wallpaper – now who could resist that? Those old, musty, dirty buildings were like beacons beckoning us to come hither, so we did! Creaky, groaning, fluttering noises surrounded us. We just knew there were ghosts! One time, I stepped on a board with a nail in it and let out a howl that sent my friends running, thinking I’d seen a ghost. When they finally got the nerve to come get me, we saw a bunch of birds fly from the top of the building to the attic. I had to be carried home by a neighbor. He removed the board, soaked my foot in Epsom salt, and then wrapped my foot as there were no doctors in town. The injury was a long time in healing, and it was some time before we ventured again into the old buildings.

There is a gold mine above Central called the Old Glory Hole. It is just off a road going to Idaho Springs. Uncle Walt (my father’s brother) worked in that mine and told the story of him falling down a shaft and landing on a ledge, which luckily broke his fall. That story gave me goose bumps! It still does. They lowered his lunch down to him, which he ate while waiting to be rescued. I wouldn’t have been able to eat a bite! The road that goes past the Old Glory Hole is still a dirt road and it is very narrow and steep. It leads down the back side of the mountain into Idaho Springs and was named “Oh My God Road” because everyone who traveled it hollered, “Oh My God!” It is still just as scary!

Another adventure I enjoyed as a child was getting a nickel and going to the corner drug store on Main Street. At that time, it was located under the apartment where we lived. With the nickel we bought a dab of liquid mercury. We had more fun making the mercury break up into a thousand little balls and then returning to a big ball again. We’d have races and make up a lot of games with that nickel ball of mercury. Mercury was dangerous, but we didn’t know about that then.

We would hike all over the hills in Central and Black Hawk. It wasn’t a safe thing to do, but we did it. There are so many abandoned mines covering those hills. If you’re not careful, it is easy to fall into one. Sometimes, we would lay on our stomachs at the edge of the mines and drop stones down inside to see how long they took to hit the bottom. Sometimes, we would hear a faint splash – or even scarier – nothing at all.

I learned to like pickled pig’s feet. When you were hungry they were quite good. Now, I hate them. The local bars had big bottles of them. The bars also had “punch boards” where you could buy a punch for a dime or a nickel and the unrolled punch told you what you won. It could be a drink or money. We liked to punch out a bunch of them. Then we rolled them back up and put them back in their holes – until we’d get caught.

We spent a lot of time panning for gold in Clear Creek down in Black Hawk thinking we could get rich. We actually did find some gold flakes. Wading in that cold water was such fun.

  Many thanks to Edrie Jeanne Hostetler (Ramstetter) for graciously sharing her memoires.

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