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.

Under the Viaducts

The viaducts were designed to carry automobile traffic over the railroads, Platte River and flood plain. Ten viaducts spanned the Platte Valley from 6th Avenue to the Brighton Street Viaduct.. Eventually the viaducts deteriorated and were replaced with ground level roadways that created access to the development we see today. I see the future potential of Denver with my mind, but the wonderful memories of the old viaducts stay in my heart.

Let’s go back to the viaducts from 1983-1993. The viaducts were beautiful, full of magnificent curves and straight lines of strength! The viaducts’ roadways offered expansive views of the city or the mountains. A closer view gazed down the Platte Valley or at a nearby historic structure.

For me, however, my favorite place was on the ground, sharing time with the steel and concrete viaducts. Only the 15th Street Viaduct had road travel directly beneath it at ground level. This road serviced the huge Post Office Terminal, Wazee Supper Club and My Brothers Bar. The old Monarch Mills building at Delgany Street was demolished and replaced with the superb new MCA building and the old Moffatt Train Station, which still stands a couple of blocks to the west.

Walking under the viaducts was generally quiet; some of my neighbors were rabbits and birds. The sight and sound of trains sometimes interrupted my peaceful wandering to remind me of the railroads’ heritage in the valley. The viaducts themselves arose from the dirt with powerful, unswerving lines and beautiful curves and arches. They were surrounded at each end by buildings and asphalt that replaced the dirt. The supporting beams or columns of the viaducts provided natural frames for structures or scenes near them.

From the top of the viaduct, strong shadows cast down to the surface, suggesting a place where grand mysteries lived. I will miss some of those meditative journeys; most people were not able to experience the viaduct world. If in this text and photos you get a small look and a little sense of the past, then I have done my job.

— Kim Allen
Images ©1986-1991, denverphotoarchive.com

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Visiting the Forney

by Jill Hadley Hooper

I’m a Denver native. And by Denver, I mean Denver; my family rarely ventured west and into the mountains. They were dangerous places full of bad weather, sharp turns and the antisocial. We were plains folk. We liked to be able to see people coming.

Denver in the 60’s and 70’s was a small but growing city and it had its perks. My parents took full advantage of the many museums, parks and libraries. Sundays were spent, not in church, but at the library downtown or classes at the art museum, natural history museum or the Forney.

The Forney Museum in the 1980s
The Forney Museum in the 1980s
I was in REI last week, it’s a beautiful building. And these days it’s so clean which is very different from it’s previous incarnations. It was born as the Tramway Power House, built in 1901 to house the boilers and engines to generate the electricity for the Denver Trolley system.

When the trolley system went caput in the 1950’s the Forney Museum moved in. The Forney was (and is) a transportation museum. It’s a collection of cars, horse drawn carriages, trolleys, train cars, motorcycles and bicycles, anything that will get you from A to B. It’s a Colorado museum soup to nuts: the collection originated with Mr. Forney, who started modestly with his own cars and eventually traded tools for unused and unloved vehicles until he found himself with a collection that needed housing. It’s first stop was the then *new and glamorous* Cinderella City for two years before settling in Platte and 15th.

This was a grand and dusty place to visit. The building dwarfed the vehicles. Inside the place offered independence from parents; a kid could wander alone up and down the cars, it seemed to go on forever. In the yard there were train cars you could climb on and cars you could sit in. The weeds were knee high. The place had the feeling of being an underdog. I bought a conductors cap when I was seven and wore it for a year.

By my teens I had become immersed in the suburbs and school and downtown was lost to me. All these places that had been second homes fell away in favor of Houlihan’s, Skate City, and parks filled with kegs and kids. I left for college in 1982 and returned to Denver in ‘87.

In 1989 I moved into the Highlands and the Forney became my neighbor. I also worked as a waitress at My Brother’s Bar, a close companion to the Tramway Building for over 100 years. I became reacquainted with the museum. My newly minted art school sensibilities—so observant and superior—were numbed by visits to the Forney. It was so earnest, so beautiful, and without irony. You couldn’t take a bad photograph in there. There were pigeons roosting that came and went through the high broken windows, and dusty paths of light that created a cathedral effect. It felt like yours too, a still hidden gem no one had claimed. Best of all, in my absence they had added a wax figure diorama of Alfred Packer.

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