Washington’s Birthday and Cherry Pie Festival

Masons distribute portraits of George Washington to local school children

By Patty Unruh

  Gilpin County school children joined members of the Mason’s Central Lodge No. 6 on February 19 to celebrate pieces of history while they chowed down on pieces of delicious cherry pie. The climax of the fun and educational evening was a “Q & A” session with one of the Masons, who handed out pictures of George Washington – in the form of crisp, new one-dollar bills — to each child for answering questions about “the father of our country.”

  It was time once again to celebrate Washington’s birthday and to recall the legend of Washington as a young boy stripping the bark off his father’s prized cherry tree. A very special part of the evening highlighted an important figure in Colorado history as well – Henry Teller, portrayed by Neal Standard of the Colorado Historical Society.

  About fifty children and their parents joined the Masons on a snowy evening at the beautiful lodge, surrounded by hand painted murals and three-dimensional frescoes portraying the lectures of the degrees of Masonry. The group enjoyed a picnic-style supper of hot dogs, sloppy joes, baked beans, chips, and yummy cherry pies, tarts, cake, and strawberries for dessert.

  Following the dinner, Greg Atencio, Worshipful Master of the Lodge, welcomed the guests and introduced the main speaker, Neal Standard. Standard enacted the role of Henry Teller, giving the students a fascinating personal look at this Colorado character.

  Standard began by relating Teller’s beginnings in New York, where Teller was a teacher and studied law. In 1861, he heard of the gold strike in Colorado; he also heard that there were no lawyers in Central City. That was all it took for Teller to journey to our area to make his fortune. It took Teller two weeks to make the trip by train, spending a whole day stranded in Nebraska as a huge herd of buffalo surrounded the train.

  As a lawyer in Central City, Teller would often take payment from his clients in the form of mining interests. After ten years, those mining interests helped make him a millionaire.

  Standard told the guests about several of Teller’s accomplishments. Teller was grand master of the Masons and was instrumental in building the lodge they were sitting in that evening. He also helped build Central City High School, which now houses the Historical Society. In 1872, he helped in bringing the railroad up Golden Gate Canyon from Golden. Teller was also one of the principals who built the Teller House Hotel and St. James United Methodist Church. He served as a state senator, being re-elected six times and serving Colorado for 33 years. He was proudest of his role in a piece of legislation granting free tuition to any Native American who desired to attend Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Teller died in Denver in 1914.

  Some of the children asked whether slavery was still being practiced in those days. Standard responded, “That’s a good question. Yes, it was. Teller was very much against it.” He added that Teller championed rights for blacks, women, and Native Americans.

  Standard made a connection between Teller’s history and the present day by informing the crowd that Teller’s great-great-great-grandson, John Teller, would be competing the following day at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. John Teller’s sport is skicross, a new event this year. When Teller is not skiing, he works full time as a mechanic in Mammoth Lakes, California.

  Following the presentation about Henry Teller, the children heard from Mason Mike Katich. Katich called the students up to engage them personally in a question and answer session about George Washington. He first led them in a hearty rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Washington. Then he turned to point out the first president’s portrait, which hangs prominently at the front of the Hall.

  “He had lousy taste in shoes,” Katich deadpanned. “Don’t you think he should have worn Nikes?” Katich went on to tell the kids that Washington’s beliefs made our country what it is today. He also regaled them with bits of trivia about Washington.

  “What was the name of his dog?” Katich asked the kids.

  “Spot?” was one guess.

  “No, but he probably made a spot,” Katich smiled.

  He also questioned them about the president’s powdered wig, the color of Washington’s white horse (hmm, that’s a tough one), and whether Washington had lived in the White House. In case you aren’t sure, the answer is “no” – it hadn’t been built yet. 

  Katich said the evening was not only about George Washington, but also about friendship and camaraderie. In the past, Katich related, he used to give out dollar coins, but said it is getting more difficult to find coins with only Washington’s likeness. That was the reason for handing out the paper money; however, he also brought some of the coins to the event.

  Many individuals contributed a lot of hard work to make the event a success. Several of the Mason’s wives prepared and served food, including Drina Johnson, Dianna Wagner, Cindy Snyder, Atidah Holbird, and others. Samantha and Paul Baker were recognized for helping with logistics. Two special helpers were tenth graders Alaina Wittner, honor queen, and Laurah Duff, senior princess, of the Job’s Daughters of Bethel 43 auxiliary chapter in Golden.

  The cherry pie festival was begun in the 1940’s and continued till the early 1960’s. Mason George Snyder resurrected the tradition eight years ago.

  As Katich said, it was an evening for friendship, not to mention a fun history lesson and scrumptious cherry desserts – all under the dignified gaze of George Washington.

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