Because It Had To Be Done

Don Ziska's War Protest at 1999 Broadway
Don Ziska's War Protest at 1999 Broadway

Those who know Don call him a saint, but he just shrugs off such idle talk. For the year that ended this Veterans Day, Don could be found each Saturday morning at the foot of the memorial to a fallen soldier, next to Holy Ghost Church, in the shadow of 1999 Broadway. He took this protest action on because, in his words, which I can only faintly reconstruct, it felt like it had to be done. Most Saturdays during the year, only Don and his pet sheltie Juliet could be seen between 8 and 9 in the morning. Some mornings, a few of Don’s friends or his nephew would stand by him. Sometimes the dogs outnumbered the people.

If you know the memorial, it is one of those sad scenes depicting the reality of war, a soldier draped with a blanket lying prone atop a ten-foot pedestal. Those who stood with Don on many of those Saturdays also recognize this spot as one of the coldest in Denver. At first, he might’ve raised a few eyebrows from the security personnel at the shiny high-rise beast that envelops the church and memorial, but they soon ignored Don and his motley attendants, who could be seen shivering out in the cold. Instead, the homeless who would visit Holy Ghost Church for a cup of coffee paid attention to Don; he could always be hit up for a bit of change or a dollar.

Through the summer, Don and his cohorts imagined if the Democratic National Convention would pay attention to this protest, but it seems that the feds were much more interested in masked activists. Not a fellow who makes his voice heard in more private ways. Not a middle-aged slightly built man bundled up sitting on a campstool reading Thomas Merton. Not someone who will always give money to a person asking for a handout. Certainly not a person who had gathered at this same memorial some twenty years earlier in support of Vietnam veterans gathered for peace; he sometimes arranged food for their meetings, even though he had not served in that war. The DNC paid Don no attention. So, there never was publicity. Only the regular weekend drivers and riders of light rail might have noticed Don. But that was fine with Don – it still felt like it had to be done.

M. Thornton

The buckfifty manifesto

On November 22nd, 1858, William Larimer and a gang of town promoters from Kansas founded Denver City by crossing cottonwood sticks at the center of a one mile square plat on the east side of Cherry Creek at the confluence with the Platte River.

Of course, it wasn’t really theirs to claim, as it had been deeded to the plains tribes in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, but Larimer made a deal with William McGaa, who had founded the town of St. Charles earlier in the year. McGaa would give up his rights to the city, and Larimer would give him whisky and name a street after him. It was a good deal all around (though the city leaders eventually took away McGaa’s street). Then on April 6, 1860, Denver merged with Auraria, located just across the creek – and the price of the deal, no surprise, was a barrel of whisky.

In the first two years of the city’s existence, 100,000 people came across the plains to Denver in search of gold. Of those, 75,000 would leave disappointed. In the past 150 years, Denver has pulled its ass out of the fire any number of times. Whether it was the flood of 1864 (or 1965), the silver crash of 1893, the great depression, the oil bust of the eighties, or countless other struggles, Denver and the people who live here have reinvented themselves through community, art, and story.

Over the course of the upcoming season we will offer up our favorite 150 different expressions of the city, its neighborhoods, people, and culture. All media whether in image, text, or video will be published. Along the way, we’ll be offering up some opportunities for getting together to share some new stories and some whisky too.

We hope that you will join us in celebrating Denver’s past and present, and in building our future. We welcome your input and your thoughts. If you are interested in submitting content to be part of the buckfifty, visit our how to submit page for more information.