The Flood of 1965

— photos and text by Dennis Bauer

In the evening of June 16,1965, a wall of water described by some as 15 feet high roared down the South Platte River, the result of extremely severe thunderstorms many miles south of Littleton, Colorado. By midnight, the torrent crested at twenty-five feet above normal and was carrying forty times the normal flow. In its wake, the course of the South Platte River from Littleton to the Colorado-Nebraska border was a mud-encased, wreckage-strewn landscape of desolation.

The great South Platte River flood of 1965 was one of the biggest – and costliest – in the history of Denver.

I was between my freshman and sophomore year at the University of Denver, a journalism major with dreams of becoming a photojournalist for the Denver Post when I graduated college. On that very day, June 16, I had become the proud owner of a new Nikon F 35 mm camera and two lenses: the standard 50mm and a 200 mm telephoto! I was in photojournalist heaven!

As the radio reports followed the disaster, I talked a D.U. friend into driving us downtown, so I could use my new camera and capture images of this historic event. At one point a Denver policeman confronted us, saying, “You do not have permission to be this close to the river. Get going!” I responded by telling the officer I was photographing the flood for the University’s student newspaper, the Clarion, and yearbook, the Kynewisbok. This did not impress the cop who said I would be arrested if I stayed.

Well, we left that spot, but I was able to photograph the flood and its aftermath.

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B50 Note: The two most serious floods in the history of Denver were separated by 101 years; 1864 and 1965. The 1965 flood caused extensive damage from Littleton through Denver, especially along the Valley Highway (now known as I-25), prompting Congress to provide funding for Chatfield Dam. Dennis Bauer is a Denver native who has spent the past 20 years working as a teacher. When he retires in two months, he plans to grow his photography business, db Photography. Text and photographs are courtesy of the author.

The following audio remembrance of the Denver Flood of 1965 was recorded by Charles A. Roessler. Mr. Roessler is a retired member of the Denver Fire Department.
[audio:1965flood_roessler.mp3 |titles=The Flood of 1965 |artists=Charles A. Roessler]

The Jonas Brothers (Real and Retro)

— by M Thornton

Buckfifty has become my biography, the story of Denver before I arrived, the story of Denver that I live, and the story that gives credence to the Denver of the future. Here’s one more tidbit, and I hope it connects me to you, to the place, to the community that is built on the stories, the gospel of its residents, because the stories are forever changing, thanks to the chroniclers and listeners.

The Jonas Brothers of Denver

Back in 1974, after a fleeting separation from a girlfriend in Chicago, the college girl I could have fun with, like hitchhiking downtown from college, before missing our post-college marriage, I moved back to Denver, and found a job near my apartment in Capitol Hill, at Jonas Brothers. I became a taxidermist apprentice, for six months, and told the students whom I teach now about that experience, and they all agreed that this was a story that would endure me to people everywhere — that’s probably because they have not dealt with wild animals in their lives, and neither had I. (I typically use this experience to shock high schoolers into imagining that at one time, in this far outpost of civilization, game trophies mattered.)

Jonas Brothers hired me because I responded to an ad in the paper, I passed a polygraph, and I was interested. The fur salon on the first floor of the building at 10th and Broadway featured a standing polar bear, one of the last to be legally hunted and stuffed. (This polar bear looked so much better than the shaggy ones I grew up seeing at the Denver Zoo.) It no longer could claw or kill, but the magnificence of this creature suggested a wild habitat, where people could nonetheless safely purchase real fur coats. This was my introduction to taxidermy.

Once I started working around these people who devoted their lives to capturing the animal instinct, the bizarre nature of this old world craft never bothered me. The professional taxidermists who worked on the upper floors sculpted trophies made to mimic the wild haunts of the animals whose hides arrived through the alley door. Crates were unloaded, with hides that needed stretching, and skulls that required stripping in cauldrons of chlorine.

I would unpack an elephant foot, and over days of spraying it with water and tamping sand into it with a compactor, the foot would eventually regain its posture. We would add a circular plywood form to the inside, and top off the foot with a padded seat. An elephant foot stool. We would place the skulls of antelopes into a gigantic vat of bleach, where the final remnants of life would be stripped away, issuing ivory skulls a month later, to which we added missing teeth before we mounted them on a wood plaque. I learned about mixing epoxy glue to cement the dentures in skulls. I searched for missing incisors from drawers of teeth, catalogued by animal. My days were interesting indeed.

The taxidermists that worked at Jonas Brothers were the best of a dying breed, as they worked to make animals look as wild as possible, in their natural habitats. But safaris were on their way out, as wild game faced extinction, and so these craftsmen toiled as artists, scarcely making a living wage, without doing side work.

Did you know that fish lose their color once out of water? Fish trophies are painted to enact the real catch. Once while I was there, a hippo or rhino — they are both big game — died in one of the American zoos, and these artisans joyfully welcomed a new cast of the animal, that would better reflect how the beast would stand in nature. They would clothe it in hides from the next big game hunter. The taxidermists that I knew only watched PBS programming, Wild Kingdom at that time, constantly studying animals in their habitats, to better capture the life-like motions for their real-life resurrections.

One time I brought my older sister through the gallery of animals to be shipped out. I thought that she would enjoy petting a tiger, but I’m not sure that she thought that I was anything but weird. I broke my ankle wrestling with a friend after a night of drinking, and another worker at Jonas fixed me up with a deer hide cover for my cast, that lasted the length of my working there. I didn’t see my future there, but those taxidermists impressed me no end for their love of animals, and their devotion to capturing beasts at their best.

I finally got a job on the Colorado and Southern railroad, as a gandy dancer on the track gang, yet another step back in time, another step back into a Denver that too often is ignored. The Jonas Brothers’ building still stands at 10th and Broadway, and members of the family still stuff game animals in Louisville, in a business that has been around since 1908. I suppose that “stuff” is not the proper word — maybe recreate and celebrate; and so we compose our legends of Denver.

B50 Note: According to this article published in People Magazine on April 19, 1976, Jonas Brothers was then “the largest taxidermy business in the world.” The article goes on to explain that once a year, at the “Hunter’s Dinner”, Jack Jonas would serve his guests a delicious and diverse menu, including a combination of gnu, elephant, warthog, hippopotamus, python, and other exotic delicacies.

The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado

—by Marshall Sprague (1909-1994)
Excerpted from “Colorado: A History”, published in 1984 by the American Association for State and Local History. Reprinted in paperback in 1996 by W.W. Norton & Company and available from Amazon.com.

“1921 marked the start of one of the most serious aberrations in the state’s history—the rise of the Ku Klux Klan under the Grand Dragonship of a strange Denver physician Dr. John Galen Locke. Many residents of Colorado, like Americans everywhere, found themselves full of fears after World War I—fears of hard times, of the communism of Karl Marx, of Eugene Debs and his American socialism, of the Industrial Workers of the World and their violence, of spies in the land working for foreign governments.

To these fearful people, especially in the Front Range cities, Locke’s program of “One Hundred Percent Americanism” had great appeal. They found joy in Klan activities, dressing in sheets, burning crosses on Table Mountain near Golden and atop Pikes Peak, and boycotting the businesses of their opponents. They persecuted Catholics and Negroes and, especially, successful Jews such as Jesse Shwayder, the son of a Polish immigrant who had created the huge luggage firm, Samsonite Corporation.

The Klansmen took advantage of the unemployment to attack recent immigrants to Colorado from Greece and Hungary who had jobs in the Denver smelters around the Globeville section and at the C. F. & I. steel works of South Pueblo. The Klansmen advised Denverites to cease patronizing restaurants bearing “foreign” names like Pagliacci or Benito or Ciancio or Wong or Torino.

By 1924 the Klan membership was large enough to elect the state’s governor, a senator, the mayor and chief of police of Denver, and a majority in the general assembly. But within months most of these Klansmen turned out to be inept public officials. And when Locke resigned in June of 1925 as Grand Dragon after being jailed for contempt of court in an income-tax matter, the power of the Klan ended abruptly and completely.”

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B50 Note: It is difficult to imagine the amount of power and influence the Klan held in Denver and Colorado between 1920 and 1926; Mayor Ben Stapleton and Governor Clarence Morley were both members of the “Silent Empire.” Eighty years later, Colorado is the only state in the country to have both houses of its legislature headed by African-Americans (Terrance Carroll and Peter Groff).

Marshall Sprague was a author and historian, well known for his prose about the American West. Images are courtesy of The Denver Public Library Western History Collection. The definitive resource on this topic is “Hooded Empire: the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado” by Robert Alan Goldberg, published by University of Illinois Press in 1981. A review of the book (from 1987) is available on Dark Cloud’s site.