Off Limits

The Beat goes on and on: Back in the spring of 1951, Jack Kerouac sat down in a New York apartment and in twenty days typed out the manuscript of On the Road, which stretched 120 feet on a single scroll of paper, and fifty years (and counting) in literary legend.

Last week, that original manuscript was auctioned off for $2.46 million -- a record for a literary work, according to Christie's. The winner, James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, plans to find a place for the manuscript in an Indiana museum but says he may also take it on the road, retracing Kerouac's travels.

And that would make Denver a must-stop, since local places and faces pop up frequently in On the Road. (Unlike the published version, the original manuscript included real names -- if no paragraph indents.)

Kerouac first visited here in 1947, ten years before On the Road was finally published, inspired by a Columbia University classmate's tales of the legendary Cassadys, Neal Sr. and Neal Jr.; his last visit was in May 1950, the year before he wrote the book, although he kept promising to return. He liked hanging among the "old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street" -- the ballpark neighborhood that's been yuppified almost beyond recognition. In 1969, the year he died, Kerouac lamented the loss of historic structures in a letter to architect Ed White (Tim Gray in On the Road): "Examples of 'vernacular American' should certainly not be cast to the ground, or places like Denver'll lose their historical aspect (remember the old hotel on Larimer Street where Mae West and Baby Doe and Lucius Beebe and Neal Cassady slept) (together, I hope?)..."

Other landmarks still stand. Kerouac frequented the Rossonian Lounge in Five Points and wrote of "the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered me was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night..." The city has restored the Rossonian, although it's still trying to find a tenant for the nightclub. Then there's the Walgreen's at 801 16th Street, where Cassady spotted fifteen-year-old LuAnn Henderson that summer of '47, pronouncing on the spot that he would marry her (which he did a few months later); the D&F Tower, where Kerouac once had a book-signing (and where Allen Ginsberg, who went on to become the most famous Beat poet and a stalwart at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Boulder's Naropa Institute, once worked as a stock boy); the Lighthouse, one of Kerouac's regular haunts, at 1209 East 13th Avenue, now Cricket on the Hill; and the phone booth at My Brother's Bar, which contains a letter from Cassady, then in reform school, asking a friend to pay off his tab at Paul's Place, then the occupant of 2376 15th Street.

Kerouac knew that reviewers accused him of writing books in which people go nowhere. But as he wrote White, "They were always going to Denver, and that is a definite destination indeed."


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