Community prepares for month of celebrations as Historic Leadville Month weekend approaches
As designated by Colorado’s legislature, April is Historic Leadville Month. This year, according to historian David Wright, celebrations will be held over the weekend of April 22 and 23.
The events have been carefully planned by Wright along with his wife, Jane, fifth-generation resident Judge Neil Reynolds and a host of volunteers. They include an Olde Tyme photo booth, a Bluegrass band, exhibits by nationally-known Leadville artist Joe Grandee and demonstrations on how to play (or cheat at) Faro, a popular 1880’s card game. Reservation-only dinners at the Golden Burro Restaurant will be served both Friday and Saturday, and diners are encouraged to dress casually – or of course, come in costume.
Expect to see character actors impersonating Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, and Leadville’s most notorious, no-nonsense marshal, Irishman Martin Duggan.
There will also be a number of surprises. If you belly up to the bar, for example, you might end up being scolded or shamed by the ladies of the Temperance Movement, recognized by their long black skirts, white blouses, and capes. None of them, however, will smash alcohol bottles with an axe, like the infamous Carrie Nation did a century ago.
Costumed characters fit in well with this town, which looks much like it did when it was founded. In fact, many of the Victorian buildings are registered as historic landmarks. There are five museums within walking distance, as well as antique and souvenir shops, and a short drive will take you to ornate cemeteries and abandoned mines.
The first veins of gold in the area were struck in California Gulch on April 26, 1860 by a prospector named Abe Lee. The settlement that grew afterwards was originally named Oro City. Later, the name was changed to Leadville.
By the late 20th century, Leadville had produced millions of troy ounces of gold and silver and tons of lead, zinc and copper.
Precious metals drew more than just miners and gamblers to the town. It was once home to a number of famous people including former Governor Jesse F. McDonald, Charles Dow, Horace, Augusta and “Baby Doe” Tabor, plus the two who are best remembered for being on-board the Titanic in 1912, Molly Brown and Ben Guggenheim.
Dressed in top hat and tails, at the age of 47, Guggenheim opted “to go down like a gentleman” with the sinking ship. After his house in Leadville was sold, it went through a succession of owners.
During the 1950s and 1960s, it became a boarding facility. There were six apartments and two shared bathrooms — one upstairs and one down. Outlines of the numbers can still be seen on a few of the doors.
The house, located in the center of the town, had been built around 1880 by Mayer Guggenheim after he’d bought an interest in a Leadville mine. He sent Ben, his fifth son, from New York to Colorado to be bookkeeper. Made in an Italianate style, it has bay windows, decorative brackets, narrow rooms, long hallways, and a steep, 16-step stair case.
Unfortunately, after the boarders moved out, the simple yet elegant building sat vacant for nearly 30 years. Windows were broken, graffiti was sprayed on the walls, and trash left on the hardwood floor. Rescued in 1998, it was restored in part due to a grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in New York.
The current owners have taken great care to display reminders of Ben, as well as the Edwardian circles that he moved in, throughout the entire house. His formal portrait is on display in the living room, and the letter G graces hand towels and wine glasses.
Rooms have been decorated with fringed lampshades, spittoons, wind-up clocks and an assortment of turn-of-the century hats. Even reproduction water basins, pitchers, rockers, bedsteads and even a fainting couch have been set up throughout.
Leadville truly was a melting pot of people during its heyday, a mix of rich, poor, dignitary, outlaw and overnight millionaire. Harry Houdini, John Philip Sousa, Oscar Wilde and Anna Held performed at the Tabor Opera house.
Jack Dempsey held a fight there, and the ropes of the boxing ring have been saved in a trunk in the basement.
But on the other hand, Leadville housed the likes of dirty gambler “Soapy” Smith, gunslinger Doc Holliday and outlaws Jesse James and the Younger brothers.
Watch, and you just might see modern-day versions of them, or some other old-time character, coming out of a well-kept building.
For more information on this celebration, contact Dave Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org. ❖