The Colorado History Museum's current exhibition, The Italians of Denver, celebrates the numerous contributions made by the proud immigrant families who came here from Italy and settled primarily in the northwest part of town, and even attacks the discrimination that Italian immigrants faced in America, including stereotypes about gangsters and the Black Hand. But for one painting in the exhibition — "The Agony in the Garden," credited to one Clyde Smaldone — the curator's notes are a bit skimpy. While other prominent local Italian names, such as Ciancio, Leprino and Onofrio, receive extensive biographies, the Smaldone family gets ugatz. So let's set the record straight.
The painting is by Clyde "Flip Flop" Smaldone, a religious artist who perfected his craft during long periods of contemplation and seclusion. This Gethsamene scene was painted while he was a resident of the federal prison at Leavenworth in the 1950s, serving a seven-year stretch for jury tampering. Clyde and his brothers, Eugene "Checkers" Smaldone and Clarence "Chauncey" Smaldone, were the closest thing Denver ever had to an old-school crime syndicate. (Checkers died in 1992, Clyde six years later, at the age of 91, and Chauncey just last year.) The Smaldones ran gambling and bookmaking operations, dressed well and were occasionally linked to sensational crimes that were never officially solved.
They also gave generously to Catholic charities and ran restaurants — Frank Sinatra ate at Gaetano's in the old, old days. But people tend to remember the rough stuff: Clyde, for example, also did some time in the 1940s for a bombing that blew a rival gambler's car apart but didn't kill him. So it's nice to see Flip Flop's artwork remembered — even if his other achievements go unmentioned.
Railroaded: Is this any way to run a railroad?
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Many of the folks who traveled to Georgetown this past weekend for the annual Historic Railroad Days Celebration were surprised to find that there was no railroad to celebrate: Engine problems caused the Georgetown Loop narrow-gauge railroad to delay its seasonal start until June 15. But those dismayed tourists would have been better informed if they'd googled "Georgetown, Colorado" and clicked on the first site that popped up: www.georgetowncolorado.com, a website that lists the myriad problems recently plaguing the Loop and fervently encourages riders to consider riding the Historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad instead.
The page is the handiwork of Mark Greksa, the former Georgetown Loop operator. In 2004, Greksa's company lost its 32-year-old relationship with the Colorado Historical Society in a very acrimonious parting that forced him to relinquish control over railroad operations — but not over the high-profile addresses www. georgetowncolorado.com, www.georgetownloop.com or www.gtownloop.com. Greksa now uses those pages to disparage the CHS and the railroad's beleaguered new operator, Railstar Corporation, as well as to promote his Royal Gorge railroad business. "Do I have an ax to grind?" asks Greksa. "I just want people to know what happened. We made it look easy, and the CHS wanted it for themselves. I don't think they realized how difficult it is to operate."
The Colorado Historical Society does now. Not only must it grapple with equipment problems, but also with a top tourism website for Georgetown that actively discourages visitors from riding the train. "I think there's been an overall sense of confusion," says CHS spokeswoman Rebecca Laurie, who encourages tourists to visit the Loop's official site, the less Googlicious and more ungainly www.georgetownlooprr.com. "There seems to be two entities: a Georgetown Loop and another Georgetown Loop."
Greksa maintains that he'll consider surrendering his sites. "If you want to purchase these sites, make us an offer," he says. But considering his wide-gauge grudge, it probably won't be cheap to force him out of the Loop.