Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Colorado Railroad Museum

Located in Golden, Colorado, twelve miles and about half an hour west of Denver, this museum is not to be missed if you are interested in trains and Colorado history. Heyes and Kid would feel right at home here, as they undoubtedly would recognize many of the trains on display (see photo at right). And for ASJ fanfic writers, the Colorado Railroad Museum provides a wealth of useful information.

One of the indoor exhibits is a room set up like a telegraph office (see photo at right), with an explanation of Morse code and a description of the types of messages that would be sent about train arrivals and departures. Another exhibit showcases a huge model train set-up, constructed by local train aficionados; deposit a quarter and watch the trains circle around and through various aspects of Colorado history. Other displays indoors describe the history of train travel in Colorado, with information about particular railroad companies such as the Denver & Rio Grande, whose trains can be seen in numerous ASJ episodes (see photo above; click on the image to enlarge and read the text).

Outside, throughout the grounds of the museum, are actual train cars. Engines (see photo at right), cabooses, passenger cars, and railroad post office cars ranging in age from the latter part of the nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century are exhibited. Many have informational signs that describe their history. It is also possible to enter many of the cars and experience for oneself what it might have been like to work on a train or be a passenger on one (see photo at right). There is also a replica water tower that resembles those seen in various ASJ episodes.

Exploring all the indoor exhibits and train cars outdoors takes at least a couple hours. With a well-stocked gift shop, a shady picnic area, and a reference library available to those interested in researching railroad history, a visit to the Colorado Railroad Museum is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Website for the Colorado Railroad Museum:
http://www.coloradorailroadmuseum.org/

More information about the museum, with descriptions of many of the cars on exhibit:
http://w3.uwyo.edu/~zeus/crrm/guide.html

Denver: The Denver Mint

Heyes and Kid were right to disregard Harry Wagoner’s plan for blowing up the Denver Mint, as mentioned in How to Rob a Bank in One Hard Lesson: Although there have been several attempts, the Denver Mint (see photo at right) has never been successfully robbed. It would have been much more feasible for the Devil’s Hole Gang to rob a train bringing a shipment of gold to the Denver Mint, as Harry Briscoe expected would happen in Wrong Train to Brimstone.

Free guided tours of the Denver Mint (see photo below), which last about thirty minutes, explain the history and process of creating coins and paper money. After passing through metal detectors, visitors enter an exhibition room that explains the history of money around the world. Ascending to the second floor, a short video is shown. After that, the tour guide, accompanied by security guards, explains how coins are minted and visitors can observe the process on the machines on the floor below. There are also exhibits visitors can look at that describe the tools and materials used to make money. The building where this part of the tour occurs does not date from the nineteenth century, even though a mint in Denver was authorized by Congress in 1863. In fact, the oldest part of the building currently housing the Denver Mint is only from the early part of the twentieth century.

According to the tour guide, paper money has never been made at the Denver Mint, only coins. However, gold bullion is currently stored there, somewhere—the tour guide said he wasn’t privy to where; hence the need for heavy security. The tour ends at what originally was the main entrance to the Denver Mint (see photo at right). Souvenirs can be purchased at the gift shop but I was disappointed that there was no book specifically about the history of the Denver Mint.

Slideshow about how coins are made by the U.S. Mint:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=I75ldtLzvLk

Webpage for information about tours of the Denver Mint:
https://www.usmint.gov/about/mint-tours-facilities/denver/visiting-the-denver-mint

Denver: The Brown Palace Hotel

“They have the greatest hotel you ever saw. Brown Palace. You can look right up through the center and see the top floor.” So says Heyes to Brigitte Jordan in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit, as he answers her question about what Denver is like. Perhaps one reason Heyes was impressed was because the hotel (see photo at right) is in the shape of a triangle, like many of the saloons he and Kid frequented!

Henry Brown (see photo below), who had come to Denver in 1860 to make money off the miners who hoped to strike it rich during the Pikes Peak or Bust gold rush, opened the Henry C. Brown Palace Hotel in 1892. It cost $2,000,000 to build the hotel; the china, linens, and other furnishings were all imported. There are 318 guest rooms on the second through seventh floors—the first floor is for Reception, restaurants, shops, and the atrium in the lobby. When the hotel opened, guests were charged between three and five dollars per night and, because the city had no skyscrapers at the time, they were asked if they preferred the morning or afternoon sun in their room. The Brown Palace also has its own artesian well that provides water to guests’ rooms.

Centrally located, the Brown Palace has hosted every U.S. President since Teddy Roosevelt except Calvin Coolidge and Barack Obama. Three executive suites are named after TR, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. Many other famous celebrities have also stayed at the hotel. A 75-minute tour of the Brown Palace is offered, for a fee, every Wednesday and Saturday by the hotel historian, who shares many additional interesting facts about the building.

Afternoon tea in the atrium is a special treat, though I doubt Heyes and Curry would have ever had the means to enjoy it, unless they became very successful businessmen after receiving their amnesty. Guests can enjoy pots of three different types of tea, along with scones, finger sandwiches, and other petits-fours. Gazing up at the stained glass skylight in the ceiling (see top photo at right) from the lobby (see bottom photo at right), it is easy to understand why Heyes thought the Brown Palace was a great hotel!

Article about the Brown Palace Hotel:
http://arizonanotebook.com/?p=1001

Website for the Brown Palace Hotel:
https://www.brownpalace.com

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Denver: The Byers-Evans House

It’s not nearly as grand as Soapy’s mansion seen in A Fistful of Diamonds or Silky’s in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, but if Heyes and Kid got their amnesty, and had successful, honest careers and decided to settle in Denver, perhaps they would live in a home similar to the Byers-Evans House. Built in 1883 by William Byers, who was the publisher of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News newspaper, the house is a wonderful example of a late nineteenth/early twentieth century home and its contents offer a window into how well-to-do citizens of the time lived.

The Byers family, and the Evans family to whom they sold the home in 1889, were prominent members of Denver society and the interior reflects their wealth and interests. Guided tours are given of the home and enhance the experience of a visit. Most but not all the furnishings are original to the home. According to the tour guide, green was a very popular color at this time (see photo above); walls were painted green, and trim and wallpaper also featured that color.

The interior of the Byers-Evans home is rather dim on the ground floor, perhaps because the furniture tended to be a heavy, dark wood or maybe it is to protect the furnishings from damage caused by the sun. The room off the main entrance exemplifies this very well (see photo at right). Lighting was originally by candle but eventually electricity was installed, as can be seen by the wall sconces over the piano. Although the house appears small in comparison to the buildings around it—it’s in a district where office buildings are now more prevalent than single family homes—that is deceptive because there are many rooms, of various sizes, inside the two-story building. The Evans family had four children and the three daughters lived in the home as adults (one returned after she was widowed). Bedrooms on the second floor are brighter and typically have dressing tables, bookcases, chairs, a closet, nightstands and small tables in them (see photo above).

There are two bathrooms; one is from the nineteenth century and the other was installed in the twentieth century. On the first floor, there is a large, well-appointed kitchen (see photo at right). Kid would never go hungry if he lived here! Note the stove and the icebox, which is the wooden box-like piece of furniture at the right in the photo.

A far cry from life on the trail, Heyes and Kid would certainly be very comfortable in a home like this!

Colorado Historical Society webpage about the house:
http://www.historycolorado.org/museums/byers-evans-house-museum

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Denver: The Mile High City

"Denver is a likeable town." -- Hannibal Heyes at the end of The Root of it All.

Several other episodes of ASJ also either mention or are partially set in Denver: Return to Devil's Hole; The Posse that Wouldn’t Quit; Dreadful Sorry, Clementine; The Men that Corrupted Hadleyburg; Bad Night in Big Butte; The Clementine Ingredient. Although it is situated 5,280 feet above sea level (see photo of marker at right), Denver receives lots of sunshine and has a generally pleasant climate. So it seemed appropriate to go to Denver on vacation and spend my time there engaging in various Old West activities.

The discovery of gold in 1858 in the area created a gold rush and in 1859, the settlement on the eastern side of Cherry Creek, which was then part of Kansas Territory, was named after the territorial governor, James Denver. In 1865, Denver became the capital of Colorado Territory and later, the state capitol (see photo of Capitol building at right). Nowadays, this city of approximately 600,000 is a mix of the historical and modern. The downtown area around the 16th Street Mall is full of skyscrapers but smaller buildings from the nineteenth century are still standing.

Eating establishments such as The Blake Street Vault, dating from the 1860s and The Broker, where I ate one night, which is a restaurant created out of a bank vault where customers could view the contents of their safety deposit boxes in privacy (see photo of entrance to the vault at right), maintain their period d├ęcor. (Sadly, The Broker closed at the end of 2017.)  In the lobby of a downtown Wells Fargo bank, a stagecoach representing the company’s history is on display (see photo at right) and upstairs, there is a small exhibit about the history of the bank. This was fun to see as it reminded me of the scene in Return to Devil's Hole when Big Jim tells Heyes about his plan to rob the Wells Fargo Clearinghouse.

Following in the footsteps of Heyes and Kid, I absorbed as much Old West atmosphere as possible during my trip, and future blog entries will showcase some of the places I visited. It sure is easy to see why Heyes and Kid enjoyed Denver as much as they did!

Website about the founding of Denver:
http://www.denver.org/metro/history

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wyoming Renegades

For a completely different characterization of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, watch Wyoming Renegades. In this movie Butch, played by Gene Evans (Phillips in The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg), is a crude, coarse, murderer, very different from the charming rogue depicted by Paul Newman.  Curry--his first name is never mentioned and the actor who played him is not credited--wears a black eye patch and likes to hurt people; he also likes to take his pleasure by force. Peter Brocco (Mr. Pincus in the Pilot and the judge in The Posse that Wouldn't Quit) also has an uncredited role.

Wyoming Renegades starts off with a series of bank and train robberies, interspersed with pictures of wanted posters of members of the Wild Bunch and posses chasing after them. After the opening credits, the scene shifts to a lone man riding slowly into Broken Bow, Wyoming. He ignores the whispering townsfolk and stops at a boarded-up blacksmith's shop.

He turns out to be Brady Sutton, former member of Butch Cassidy's gang and recently released from prison after serving three years. All he wants now is to make a new start, taking over his father's business as a blacksmith, and marrying Nancy, the daughter of the bank owner who still believes in him. However, the townspeople are suspicious and make it clear they don't want Brady in their midst.

Into this combustible situation comes Charlie Veer, who mysteriously bankrolls Brady and becomes his business partner. Slowly, the business becomes a success. Then one day, when Brady is in the bank, the Sundance Kid enters to size it up for a robbery. He had tried to get Brady to rejoin the gang when he left prison, but Brady beat him up instead. Brady sees Sundance but doesn't think the outlaw saw him; he doesn't realize that Sundance saw him in a mirror. Brady goes to the sheriff and warns him of the impending robbery. Wyoming Renegades shows Brady's uncertain status in the town very nicely: Is he still an outlaw, working for the Cassidy gang, or has he truly changed?

Preparations are made to safeguard the bank's money but the outlaws were also prepared. A gunfight ensues and Brady feels he has no recourse but to run because he thinks the town will blame him for the robbery. Charlie goes with him. They search for the Wild Bunch in order to clear Brady's name, find them, and after some tense moments, insinuate themselves into the gang. The rest of Wyoming Renegades deals with Brady and Veer trying to stop the Wild Bunch from getting the money they left behind during the bank robbery.

In the second half of Wyoming Renegades, there is a train robbery. As in the Pilot, the passengers are herded off the train. However, there are some major differences: a) The passengers are robbed of their valuables, and b) the car that presumably holds the safe is successfully blown up. Also, one of the railroad employees is shot point blank when he refuses to do something ordered by Butch Cassidy.

The ending of Wyoming Renegades is a complete surprise. This 1954 movie is action-filled, shows the inner conflict of Brady, the ex-convict, very well and, at 75 minutes maintains suspense throughout. But it's a good thing Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were not modeled on Butch and Sundance as portrayed here, since I doubt Alias Smith and Jones would ever have been made if they had been.