2001: A Spaced Odyssey

Prepare for a blast from the past!

But you don't make it to the millennium mark -- even if a city's only been around for 142 years -- without some flexibility. Back in January 1999, Wellington and Wilma Webb had hurried to D.C. to sit with Hillary Clinton during the State of the Union address, where, they'd been assured, President Bill would tout Denver as a millennium community. The honor came so fast that the city had to scramble to put together a millennium project, tapping historian Tom Noel for the job. (Noel's still featured on the city's Web site -- denvergov.org -- discussing Denver history and urging citizens to add to the time capsule of memories that will be buried December 31.) But Clinton never did mention Denver, and it wasn't until earlier this month that the city was named an official millennium community -- the last in a string of more than 550 communities so honored. "Throughout Denver's history," the Millennium Communities Program Web site proclaims, "its citizens have kept hold of the independent pioneer spirit."

That site doesn't mention Soapy Smith, either.


On December 6, the city held its second official millennium event: a reception honoring recipients of the Mayor's Millennium Awards, a total of seventeen individuals and institutions -- a nice round number expanded from the ten initially promised -- that had contributed to making the city what it is today. Culled from a roster of more than 200 nominees -- names that included everyone from Wellington and Wilma Webb to corporate bosses who'd clearly been nominated by their employees -- the final list read like a colorized, as well as whitewashed, history of Denver.

No one had offered up the name of Mattie Silks, for example, even though the notorious madam was certainly as successful a businesswoman as winner Dana Crawford and provided a public health amenity arguably as important as did finalist Florence Sabin. The Webbs were not winners, but they'd taken themselves out of the running; Federico Peña made the cut. Among the few white male honorees -- historically, lists like these have been lousy with white guys -- was Donald Seawell, founder of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the very fellow rousted from the streets last New Year's Eve.

The city's third, and presumably final, millennium event hits town in ten days. The festivities will culminate in a party on the 16th Street Mall, complete with musical acts (although not as many as originally envisioned back when fundraising prospects looked more promising) and street performers (in perhaps a related development, the city earlier this year banned aggressive panhandling), the debut of the World Anthem (which includes electronic snippets of 193 national anthems), and then the fireworks, which won't be quite as elaborate as Paris's. (Back in July, Webb had hoped to set the party in Mile High Stadium, which would have blown up real good.)

"And after this," Roberts says, "the city is out of the new year's business."

Promise, Soapy?

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