Museum Feature: The Story of Us

If you haven’t had a chance to get to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum lately, an exhibit well worth your time awaits. It’s called “The Story of Us,” and it features the city’s history in an interactive, non-traditional way by representing our history through the alphabet, one letter at a time. Here’s a snapshot of the exhibits, along with some extra commentary based on my experience. Click on the links to read more of my articles that expand on some of the subjects (watch out for N. Four articles are linked there and could be easily missed).
A is for Antlers Hotel. You can view a stained glass window and baluster from the original hotel.
B is for Bloomer Girl. Amelia Bloomer once visited Garden of the Gods, and changed the way women dressed.
C is for Coal, a huge industry in early Colorado Springs. Coal is still mined in southern Colorado today.
D is for Derby, as in Soap Box Derby. In the 1940’s, soap box derbies were hosted every summer down Uintah Street. You can see an original car at the exhibit. My dad used to race in these derbies as a kid.
E is for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who was graduated from Palmer High School in 1969. You can read about her once dating Elvis, and taking his advice about advancing her career.
F is for Fluoride, a mineral found in high quantities in our water. In some areas of town, the fluoride must be removed for the safety of our residents, which is ironic considering most dentists recommend using fluoridated toothpaste. You can tell which residents are truly local by looking at their teeth: if their moms drank local water while they were pregnant, local people will have grey tooth enamel.

Goerke’s camera in front of a famous picture he took (Credit: Sherrie Horn).

G is for Goerke, an interesting character in Colorado Springs history. Paul Goerke bought Balanced Rock and other formations, now a part of Garden of the Gods, for $400 in the 1890s. He and his son set up a concession stand and photography business, erecting a tall fence to block its view from “freeloaders” and charging .25c admission, with pictures extra. Locals thought the formations, like Ship Rock and Mushroom Park, should be free to view and were outraged that tourists were being taken advantage of.
After a lengthy lawsuit between Goerke and the city of Manitou Springs, followed by the site becoming embroiled in a bitter divorce dispute, the formations became property of the city in 1932. A huge “emancipation celebration” marked the event, where the city tore down the fence and the public was granted free access to the famous formations.
H is for Hassell Ironworks, and for HistoricaI Maps. The ironworks display is interesting, but for me, the highlight of the trip is a great interactive map display that allows users to access the contents of the entire exhibit alphabetically, with historical, geographical, and satellite maps available for users to enjoy. The museum is worth visiting just for this!
I is for International Typography Union. The Union Printers Home was established in 1892 to house retired and disabled workers from this union all over the country. Today, it is contracted through the VA to provide care for veterans.
J is for James Bofonda, known as “China Jim.” He moved to Colorado Springs in 1890 and opened up a curio and dry goods shop that catered to the fashionable elite, who were fascinated by the Japanese and Chinese items he brought to the shop from trips to his home in Canton, China, and his journeys all over the Far East. Known as a generous and giving person, China Jim broke cultural and ethnic norms to establish himself as a respected businessman in Colorado Springs at a time when Chinese immigration was banned in America.
K is for Kerr, James Kerr. He was a professor at Colorado College for 44 years starting in 1875 but also was an assayer, chemist, and metallurgical engineer. In 1878 he discovered a fossil of a dinosaur in the mountains near Garden of the Gods, so he sent it to Yale University where it was forgotten for 100 years. When it was discovered in 1997 to be a species found nowhere else on earth, the species was named after him. Kerr is also credited with finding evidence of sea life in the caverns and formations near Manitou Springs. I have seen trilobites there, so it was interesting to learn about the man who discovered them.

Pictures of Lon Chaney (Credit: Sherrie Horn).

L is for Lon Chaney, the “Man of a Thousand Faces.” He used to mimic his friends and neighbors and that’s how his characters started to take shape, getting into theater because his older brother was a stagehand. By 1910 he was living and working in Los Angeles. Star of over 150 films, Chaney said that he was perhaps more famous because he kept his past a mystery, rather than revealing it all. (A few modern celebrities could take a page out of his book.) You can sit and watch Cheney’s silent films right in the exhibit.
M is for Military, the single biggest fund-generator for our city. Boasting four military installations including Fort Carson and the United States Air Force Academy, the military will continue to drive our economy for years to come.

A life-sized exhibit showing the locust invasion (Credit: Sherrie Horn)

N is for Natural Disasters, like the 1893 locust invasion and the floods in 1935 and 2013. General Henry McAllister, owner of the McAllister House (the first permanent house in the city, now a museum), paid a kid to wave a stick over his garden to keep the grasshoppers out. Remember, this was at a time when the prairie stretched to the foothills, and the city had barely been planned and plotted. Infestations destroyed what little infrastructure there was, and many people either moved or started over.
O is for Olympics. Our city houses the National Olympic Committee, and construction of the National Olympic Museum is underway. Athletes from all over the world come to train in Colorado Springs’ high altitude and consistent climate.
P is for Poor Farm, established in El Paso County to help those who needed extra support. It sure could help with the homeless population today.

Fossils on display. Credit: Sherrie Horn)

Q is for Quarry. In 1896, the largest mill in the country was built to process the tons upon tons of gold ore being mined in Cripple Creek. This mill was near the Kenmuir Quarry, which supplied sand and sandstone to builders all over the world. The land was bought in 2002 and turned into Red Rocks Open Space, which has some nice trails, and offers unique views of Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City, and Manitou Springs.
R is for Riding Master. Charles Collins arrived in Colorado Springs in 1882 at age 27. He worked as a waiter at the Antlers Hotel, but begin to offer riding instruction in 1884. In less than a month, he was giving lessons three to six days a week. Known as the Riding Master of Colorado Springs, he catered to the elite and anyone who wanted good equestrian skills. He owned a 160-acre ranch east of town where he stabled his horses. Like China Jim, he excelled using his talent and ingenuity, so he was respected regardless of his African-American race. He died of typhoid fever in 1902.
S is for Ski Broadmoor. Opening in 1959 and operating for 32 years, Ski Broadmoor was a highlight not just for Broadmoor patrons, but for anyone looking for a quick run or some ski lessons. After closing, the area was used for horseback riding tours and even boasted an alpine slide before being sanctioned for private use. You can still see the ski runs if you look at the base of Cheyenne Mountain.

Tesla Ball Credit: Sherrie Horn)

T is for Tesla, and for Tuberculosis. Nikola Tesla arrived in Colorado Springs in 1899, already a famous scientist most known for his feud with Edison over AC vs. DC current. Lured by the promise of land and electricity after his lab had burned down, Tesla eagerly came to the city to start fresh. He soon became fascinated by the lightning and weather patterns in the area, and his studies here changed the course of his research. His experimentation with wireless technology reportedly blew out the city’s electrical grid regularly. He only worked here for a couple of years, but his theories about wireless technology pioneered what we know and use today.

As for the Tuberculosis, read more about it in my articles, “Museum Feature: City of Sunshine” and “Pioneer Profiles: Charles Fox Gardiner.”

Ship’s Wheel from the USS Colorado (Credit: Sherrie Horn)

U is for USS Colorado. Commissioned in 1923, the USS Colorado was steeped in nautical tradition. Pictured here is the extra navigation wheel made for the ship. It’s over 5 feet tall!

V is for Vallejo’s Mexican Restaurant, a staple in Colorado Springs for over 50 years. The display gives viewers a chance to see the menu served in the 1960s, but the restaurant still features original recipes of traditional Mexican food.

W is for Water Skiing on Prospect Lake. In the late 1880s, the lake was created by our founder, Colonel William Palmer, as a place for families to share some outdoor recreation. Although the lake is used for little besides fishing and wading nowadays, in times past, families used to water ski, swim, and ice skate there.

The original marker of the first stake driven in Colorado Springs (Credit: Sherrie Horn)

X is for X marks the spot. The first stake of Fountain Colony was placed on July 31, 1871, and the DAR dedicated the stone marker shown in the display on July 4th 1895. The marker was replaced in 1983, and you can see the site of the marker near the corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenues, across from the Antlers Hotel.
Y is for You. A mirror reminds patrons that each person contributes something unique to Colorado Springs’ history and legacy.
Z is for Zoo Park, which, originally owned by Spencer Penrose, was donated to the city of Colorado Springs in 1928 when it became the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Original statuary and interesting early pictures mark the tradition of a zoo which has become world-renowned for its animal conservation and re-population efforts. Did you know our zoo births more giraffes for re-population than any other zoo in the world? Animals live longer and thrive better in lower altitudes because they live and grow in the high altitude and develop into stronger adults as a result.
Intrigued? Then you have no excuse but to get to the museum to check it out, since the museum does not charge admission and is open from 10-5 every day except Sundays and Mondays. Learning about our local history helps us understand our part in shaping it.
Photo By: Sherrie Horn