Letter from Neal Cassady to Justin Brierly, October 23, 1944

Letter from Neal Cassady to Justin Brierly, 1944

October 23, 1944
Colorado State Reformatory
Buena Vista, Colo.

Dear Justin;

At the corner of 15th & Platte streets there’s a cafe called Paul’s Place, where my brother Jack used to be bartender before he joined the army, because of this I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?
I see Phillip Wylie has written another book, “Night Unto Night” supposedly as good as “Generation of Vipers”. Peter Arno also has a new collection of cartoons out, “Man in a shower” its called.
They have the Harvard Classics up here, the five foot shelf of books, I’ve read about 2 feet of it, very nice, I especially enjoy Voltaire & Bacon (Francis).
The football season up here has been a flop. We started out with grand plans; the guards told us if we looked good enough we would go to Salida to play & perhaps one or two other games on the out, but no go. However, I understand the basketball team may get to play some local highschools.
Since the days are getting shorter, because of winter’s approach, we get up at 5 o’clock now, instead of 4 as we had been; banker’s hours, huh?
I’ve been here 2 months today (the 23rd), how time does fly.
Please excuse the penmanship, as I can only see out of one eye; this morning I took the cows out to pasture, but on the way they ran out of the road into the corn field. The jackass I was riding couldn’t run fast enough to head them, so I jumped off & started to tie him to a barbed wire fence so I could chase the cows on foot. Just as I had tied the reins to the wire he jerked so hard it pulled a staple out of the fence post and into my left eye. It gorged a chunk out of my eyeball, but luckily failed to hit the cornea. I may lost that eye.

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

B50 Note:
Allen Ginsburg wrote in his poem Howl of “N.C., secret hero of these poems”. The poem goes on to speak of those:

who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,

Neal Cassady’s earliest surviving letters were written to his benefactor, Justin Brierly, while Neal was incarcerated in the Colorado State Reformatory at the age of 18. In the letter of October 23, 1944 he speaks of “Paul’s Place” at the corner of 15th and Platte Streets in Denver. Paul’s Place is now “My Brother’s Bar”. Neal Cassady was the inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”. He went on to feature in the lives of Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson.

A video of Neal Cassady’s Denver Years is now in production. Find out more on kickstarter.

Denver’s Victory Gardens

— by Barbara Masoner

In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt took the bold initiative to plant a vegetable garden on the White House’s South Lawn. She called it a Victory Garden. Due to severe food shortages in Europe, Eleanor knew home gardens were imperative to feeding millions of American troops overseas and preventing shortages at home. During World War II over 20 million Americans answered Eleanor’s call to action, producing approximately 40% of our country’s produce. School groups and scout groups cleaned up vacant lots and planted community gardens. Factory workers transformed empty lots adjacent to their work places into vegetable gardens that were tended during work breaks. Americans were involved because they wanted to support the troops while saving some money at home.

The City of Denver quickly responded by establishing a Victory Garden Office. On March 28, 1943, just months after Eleanor Roosevelt’s call to action, Mayor Stapleton dedicated Denver’s first Victory Garden. Stapleton said, “The City of Denver believes this is the most important community project that we have ever undertaken.” The community garden was located at East Eighth and Elizabeth, now Congress Park. Denver Urban Gardens continues this tradition by providing technical support to community groups, institutions and individuals throughout Denver.

Victory Garden, WWII Promotional Poster
Victory Garden, WWII Promotional Poster
Denver’s slogan was a “Victory Garden on Every Lot.” Denverites did their part by planting 41,500 gardens that first season and by 1944 over 50,000 Victory Gardens were spread across the City. Denver’s Victory Gardens were valued that first growing season at $578,125. To help Denverites start up a backyard plot, the City of Denver devised a “Model Victory Garden.” A list of vegetables that did best in our climate was provided as well as soil preparation and planting instructions. Colorado State College (now CSU) provided the “technical advice necessary to insure success.” CSU Extension Offices continue to provide valuable information on gardening in our unique climate.

A new Victory Garden movement is sweeping the country and our state. Michael Pollan, a journalist for the New York Times and Professor at UC Berkeley, is leading the charge. His article, Dear Mr. Next President… Food, Food, Food, discusses how vegetable gardens are eloquent solutions to: public health, the local economy, global warming, and education. In response to this article and at many groups’ bequests, Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden on the White House’s South Lawn in March.

Colorado communities are a part of this energetic movement. Leading the effort is Grow Local Colorado. Grow Local is a new project being developed by community leaders, gardeners, locavores, farmers and businesses to help more people grow more food locally. Partners in this effort include representatives from Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Public Library, Denver Urban Gardens and representatives from the City and County of Denver. Their website is a resource hub for information, expertise and partnership in establishing your own food garden in your home, business, or public space. Grow Local’s goal is to establish 2009 gardens in the Metro Denver area by May 30, 2009. Their site also connects people wanting to grow food with unused space, resources and expertise.

Be a part of this exciting movement. Start a new vegetable garden or help a neighbor with theirs. In a few months you’ll reap the benefits of your labor.

B50 Note: Barbara Masoner is happy that earth day is here and the snow is gone so she can get busy in her own garden. For more local gardening information, she encourages you to visit Grow Local Colorado. If you are interested in the history of urban gardening in the United States, visit Sprouts in the Sidewalk.

The Barnes Dance

Henry A. Barnes, Denver’s First Traffic Engineer
—Compiled and Illustrated by Matt Holman*

B50 note: Henry Barnes implemented Denver’s system to allow pedestrians to co-exist with vehicles; first introduced in Denver in the late 40’s, it is still in use today.

Red Light! Green Light!

“You can’t be a nice guy and solve traffic.”
-Henry A. Barnes

Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman
Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman

In 1947, Denver Mayor Quigg Newton hired the city’s first professional traffic engineer, Henry A. Barnes. Or so it seemed.

Barnes had been working in Flint, Michigan when Newton hired him over the phone and confirmed his appointment by telegram. Barnes flew to Denver, leaving his family behind while he found housing and awaited his first month’s pay. When he landed, no one met him at the airport.

Perplexed, he made his way to the Mayor’s office. He was temporarily relieved when he received a hearty greeting from Mayor Newton. Eager to start his new job, Barnes assured Newton that he would do his best for Denver. “Now, if you’ll tell me where my office is,” he said. There was just one problem, the Mayor explained.

The mayor had been hiring experts from around the Country to help Denver grow to be a major city. “Things went pretty well for a while,” Newton told Barnes, “but now the City Council is beginning to get its back up. They claim I’m putting too many ‘foreigners’ on the payroll.”

Barnes was told he couldn’t “exist officially“ until the Mayor had smoothed the ruffled feathers. Barnes, without money and a job, announced his plan to return to Michigan. That, coupled with an imminent Denver Post story about how badly the city had treated him, encouraged the Mayor, who welcomed Barnes in and was officially introduced as Denver’s first Traffic Engineer.

The Barnes Dance

Barnes is best known for the “Barnes Dance”, a simple idea where traffic is stopped in all directions at an intersection so pedestrians can cross. Continue reading “The Barnes Dance”

Chuck’s Do-Nuts: Two Perspectives

Cliff Whitehouse:

Sometimes, you want the glass window painted “Chuck’s Donuts,” the spring-slammed screen door, the poorly-drawn dinosaur on the smoke-yellowed walls, the curled Polaroids, the cathedral-high ceiling and time-tortured floor, veterans astride rusty barstools, the unseen Chinese baker and his unseen recipe… the psychic struggles of AA contestants bleeding through from the meeting next door, the throwback-bad coffee from the never-washed pot, the carcasses of printed news strewn across the burned and scarred linoleum tables, dads and daughters staring into the display, pointing their choices, the gregarious Downs man (always glazed raised) and his mom (always jelly-filled), the high-octane circus-barker owner, the wall-eyed cashier who lived in a haunted house… the percussion of the cash register, the small talk and mumblings about politics, injustice, weasels in Washington, the senseless violence of the front page… the friend with a cicada practical joke, the plastic letters on the plastic board—sign and prices unchanged in forty years… the membership of stepping into the kitchen, past the WWII-vintage dough machine with the arm-ripping kneaders, navigating the stacks of trays, the sacks of flour, the cool grease to access the primitive toilet… trading low cholesterol to be part of the family…

Sometimes, you just want a donut.

Chuck’s, requiescat in pace.

Daniel Weinshenker:

Everybody has a thing.
For some people it’s a bar.
For others it’s church.
Me and Cliffy, we had Chuck’s.
We’d go on stray mornings over the past five years or so – ever since I moved into the neighborhood. No reason why. Just to do it, I guess. I’d show up, sit on a stool, fiddle with the newspaper and point to an applesauce special. Chuck, who the place was not named after, would set it on the counter on a piece of tissue paper. Cliff would show up and start eating mine, which was ok…because I’d like to think I’m ok with sharing.
Besides, I don’t even like donuts. They’re disgusting, really.

I’ll get fat on ‘em, but Cliff hasn’t been able to put on a pound since he got a nasty case of amoebic dysentery at Hooters. But I’d show up anyway, and Cliff would bring his own coffee in because the coffee there was awful, and we’d sit and talk…to each other, to the guy with down syndrome and his grandmother, sometimes to Chuck behind the counter. We were frequents, and we had a card to prove it – though we never redeemed it.

We went through apple fritters and Cliffy starting his woodshop, raised glazed and me quitting my dumb job, old fashioneds and the intricacies of how to catch woodpeckers.

And now we don’t.

Chuck’s closed a couple years back – a casualty of the war on I-25, though some have flung around rumors of krispy kreme world domination, health code violations and back taxes. Can’t say we were surprised.

I thought I wouldn’t miss it, but I do of course. Not the donuts, but the thing.

So, if you see two guys wandering the streets with a chewed up Frisbee, nice-fitting pants and a sense of longing…don’t be afraid…it’s just me and Cliffy looking for a place to be, a new thing, a place to redeem our card. Anywhere will do.

Chuck\'s Do-Nuts was located at 614 E. Kentucky in West Washington Park from 1948 to 2003.
Chuck's Do-Nuts was located at 614 E. Kentucky in Washington Park from 1948 to 2003.