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Ghosts of Gilpin past tell their tales

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Gilpin History presents Quirky Tales of Gilpin County

By David Josselyn

  On Saturday, April 6th, Gilpin History (formerly Gilpin County Historical Society) brought us back to the 1860’s as they presented Quirky Tales of Gilpin County at St. James Methodist Church.  Quirky Tales was performed as an old time radio show featuring Dick Vickery as the radio host. In a similar manner of NPR’s Carl Kasell, Dick’s sonorous bass introduced the audience to ten different characters from Gilpin’s past, interspersed with ads taken straight from the pages of the Register-Call. The cast were dressed in their 19th century best with the ladies in period dresses featuring hoops and petticoats and wearing flowery hats or bonnets while the men looked dapper in their town coats, dusters, and cravats while sporting top hats and derbies on top. The show takes some literary license as their stories take place in the 1860’s and radio was not conventionally used until the 1870’s. The radio show format; however, was an excellent vehicle to tell these stories in an entertaining and educational manner. Gilpin History regaled us with the following stories with much laughter and melodrama.

Gold in the Vasquez River

  John H. Gregory, played by Herman Gaines, told his story of coming to Colorado and finding gold in the Vasquez River, now known as Clear Creek, kick-starting the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859. Mr. Gaines garnered some laughs as he pantomimed panning for gold and had perfect comedic timing as he responded to Dick Vickery’s question, “When did you say that famous word, eureka?” with, “I didn’t.”

A Settlement Called Sonora

  The second to be interviewed was Antoine, the Fur Trader, played by Ralph Barnhardt. Mr. Barnhardt displayed displeasure at the size of the crowd at St. James completely in character as Antoine, who came to the Rocky Mountains to get away from people. The fur trader told the story of the creation of a settlement called Sonora, a collection of five buildings in an ideal location to trap beaver.

A Boy Named Greenberry

  William Green Russell, portrayed by Mike Keeler, informed the audience that his real middle name was Greenberry. Mr. Keeler put on quite a show of embarrassment about the middle name of his character, getting quite a few laughs from the audience. Russell came to Colorado originally from South Carolina and found gold in a valley now called Russell Gulch. He was eventually pushed out of town because of his Southern roots.

The Law Comes to Gilpin

  William Zane Cozens, played by Dave Thomas, told the story of how he came to Colorado as a carpenter and ended up being a bartender, grocery clerk, deputy sheriff, and a carpenter. Mr. Thomas entertained the audience has he pantomimed carrying his boots in his teeth trying to cross Clear Creek during spring runoff. William Cozens married Mary York in Central City, the first official marriage in the area.

A Lady of Questionable Means

  Rose Haydee, played by Anne Luedders, was the next character to be interviewed. Unlike the others, she crashed the interview party uninvited. Ms. Luedders surprised the audience by flirting herself from the back of the church up the aisle, smiling at every male in attendance. She wielded a feathered hand fan like a lady of the evening, enticing the gentlemen for her favors and garnered more than one cat call as she ascended the stage. Rose Haydee was an actress and dancer that started Haydee’s Star Company in 1859. She put on several plays in the Central City area before running away to marry a local miner, Thomas Evans.

Stamping the Gold Out

  Mylo Lee, portrayed by Neal Standard, entered the stage wearing a coonskin hat to tell how he came to Colorado, not for gold, but to process gold ore more efficiently. Mr. Standard was quick witted when his wireless microphone failed to latch onto his belt, telling the audience he always had trouble with this newfangled stuff. Staying in character, he continued to tell everyone how he developed a cheap and efficient way to crush the quartz rock to get the gold out and built the Black Hawk Mill. The name Black Hawk was taken from Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk Indian tribe.

French Father on the Frontier

  Father Machebeuf, played by Chuck Luedders, brought some levity to the interview as he talked about his ‘holy wagon.’ Mr. Luedders, similar to Ms. Luedders, came up the aisle to get to the stage. He blessed the audience in Latin as he went, waving a bible over the heads of those closest to him as he limped his way to the front. He came dressed in an embroidered white alb with a gold, white and red stole draped around his neck. Father Machebeuf told the story of how he came from France to Colorado in his traveling altar dubbed the ‘holy wagon.’ He married William Cozens and Mary York and later suffered an accident that broke his thigh bone causing a limp for the rest of his days.

A Heroine to Those In Bondage

  “Aunt” Clara Brown, played by Glo Gaines, was next on stage. Ms. Gaines was quick to ad lib near the beginning of the interview, “you know I’m black, right?” She sounded just like a woman worn down and tired after years of hard work. Aunt Clara told the story of how she came to Gilpin and did laundry to get by before moving to Denver to help other freed slaves relocate and to search for her long lost daughter.

A 12 Stamp Program

  Ebenezer Smith, portrayed by Gary Huffman, came up to the stage without his notes. Mr. Huffman drew some laughs from the audience when he responded to Dick Vickery’s query about his background with, “I’d be glad to, just as soon as I get my other piece of paper.” After retrieving his forgotten notes, Ebenezer Smith told the audience how he built a new, more efficient, 12-stamp mill in Leavenworth, Kansas, then had it taken apart and shipped to Gilpin where it was reassembled and erected on Lake Gulch. Mr. Smith left the area and went into the pipe organ manufacturing business.

An Irish Road Builder

  Pat Casey, played by J. D. Pashke, was the final character to be interviewed. Mr. Pashke affected a deep Irish brogue as he acted out the part, bringing smiles all around. Mr. Casey told the story of how he could not get his ore down to Black Hawk Point fast enough, so he built a new road from Central City to Black Hawk that the locals call Casey Road.

Original Ads of Yore

  As with any commercial radio station, the interviews were interrupted by ads read by several ladies of Gilpin County and parts nearby. The ads were read verbatim as they were originally published in the papers from the 1860’s. The ads included those for the Nigh Road toll road, Professor Dimmey’s Hair Restorative, Mrs. L. W. Bacon Embroidery, Gurney & Company, Frederick Wertwein’s Meat Market, Dupont & Company’s Gunpowder, David Ettien Dry Goods, T. B. Bond’s Fashionable Hair Dressing Saloon, and the Ladies’ Inflatable Plastic Bosom. The ads were succinctly and comically read by Barbara Thielemann, Alynn Huffman, Colleen Stewart, Karen Swigart, and Linda Jones.

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