Sermon on the Mount
"I don't see her," says the security guard standing across the street from the Black Hawk Casino by Hyatt. "Where is this goddess supposed to be? In the light-colored rock? Wait -- maybe I can see her, a little. Looks like someone laying down with a big stomach and her legs in the air."
Not a very celestial pose for a deity. Roaming around Black Hawk, I spotted her from the top of Miner's Mesa, and to me she looked like a wispy woman with long hair, doing a Grateful Dead-type dance on the half-mountain behind the Hyatt casino. From the top floor of the parking garage, I saw her outline in the rock, up close and fuzzy. And huge.
I've been called here by Delores Risberg of Wheat Ridge. Delores is obsessed with the mountain, which was cut in half -- its rubble dumped into a nearby valley -- in order to accommodate Colorado's largest casino. A typical visionary would conclude that this hurt the mountain, or at least pissed it off. Not Delores.
"The figure of Hathor, the great sky goddess that gave birth to the universe, is in this mountain," she says. "There is not another place on the face of our earth like this one little corner of a mountain, in Black Hawk, Colorado. The mountain wanted to come down and the casino to go up. Spiritually, the mountain gave birth to the casino."
When the casino was still under construction, Delores's psychic guides told her that it would prosper like no other gaming establishment in the eleven-year history of limited stakes. She wasn't surprised when the Hyatt announced plans for a luxury hotel to adjoin the casino. That hotel has yet to be built, however, and rumors of a looming bankruptcy filing are circulating -- the casino's reportedly had trouble making interest payments. But Delores's analysis is different. The casino's exhibit on the history of gambling, located in a second-floor hall, is simply not Hathor-friendly. It does contain a brief mention of the moment when Zeus, Hades and Poseidon shot craps to divide up the realms of the world, but Hathor sees this as a slap in the face.
"They're dealing with a spiritual being here, not just a physical casino," Delores says. "It feels to me that Hathor is heartbroken at the casino's refusal to acknowledge her."
Health problems keep Delores from traveling to Black Hawk as often as she'd like, and when she comes, it's only to stand on the sixth floor of the parking garage, as close as she can get to Hathor. She has no interest in gambling.
"I don't gamble, either," observes one Black Hawk security guard. "I hate Black Hawk! I hate what they've done to it. My first month on this job I was inside, listening to the machines all day, thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?" And then I found out. These people need someone who cares. You see the old ones come in at eight in the morning, set down in front of a slot, and at two they're still there, without having had anything to eat or drink. They pass out. They just fall right off their stools."
He's come to feel protective of these people -- the crowds of mostly seniors who arrive by the busload on weekdays. He prefers them to the weekend rowdies.
That's understandable: There's something contagiously peppy about the senior days that most of Black Hawk's casinos feature during the week. As Hyatt speakers release a hopeful stream of "Get Up and Boogie" at 9 a.m. one recent Monday, the grandmas and grandpas start pouring in. Down in the city, worker bees are filing into their hives. Here, the goddess rules.
"Is this about Hathor again?" asks a woman at the Hyatt management office. People at the casino are familiar with the goddess, and with Delores Risberg. They claim to be exhausted by the whole thing -- they say Delores has managed to briefly interest the media, from 60 Minutes to National Geographic -- but I get the feeling it gives them a secret kick. What other casino has its own deranged visionary? They've looked up Hathor on Egyptian mythology Web sites, just to see who they're dealing with.
Within five minutes, however, word comes down from the Hyatt general manager that discussion of Hathor is to cease. He's tired of Delores's constant interruptions, her bizarre fervor, her promise not to "let this go until this magical mountain is known to everyone."
I'm politely escorted from the administrative wing of the casino.
My knowledge of supernatural/ancient goddess stuff is hazy, but I could swear that Hathor, spurned by the Hyatt and dismissed by the masses, has been busy elsewhere in Black Hawk. Specifically, at Crook's Palace, a boarded-up bar on Gregory Street, said -- by a sign on its own wall -- to be the oldest saloon in Colorado.
"It's not," says Roger Baker, who used to work for the City of Black Hawk and is now the interim clerk for Gilpin County. "It might be the oldest bar in Black Hawk, but only because what else is left? It's certainly not the oldest bar in Central City. There's no truth in advertising in signage around here."
With the advent of gambling, Crook's Palace made the transition along with the rest of the town from run-down, old-enough mountain place to spiffy new casino, but now it seems to be heading back to its roots. With that broken plate-glass window, it looks like it hosted a giant bar brawl right before it closed. It looks the way you'd expect a bar to look when its backers suddenly run of out money. Sad. Depressed. Beat up.
Hathor to the rescue!
The new owner of Crook's Palace, as of this past week, is Stanford University.
"It was an anonymous gift, although I know exactly who gave it to us," says Bill Phillips, Stanford's managing director of real estate. The saloon came to Stanford in the form of a seriously unpaid mortgage, but Phillips is prepared to deal with that. "We have quite an extensive background with gifts of real estate from alumni, and we like to take these things on. It's a really nice gift, a lovely piece of property. I have a picture of Crook's Palace right above my desk. The snow is just beginning to fall, and it looks wonderful. I don't have a picture of any of our other holdings above my desk."
In a town with as many good-luck charms as gamblers, is it really so odd to believe that an Egyptian goddess has a stake in the fortunes of a large casino?
"Reminds me a little of the Shroud of Turin," says Peggy Brown, director of the Colorado Council on Problem Gambling. She once had her own trousseau of gambling rituals and might have welcomed Hathor's intervention. "I would get a feeling when I walked by a machine, and I knew I was lucky," she recalls. "In retrospect, what was all that, really? I had a lucky coin for dog racing; I sometimes wore a lucky 777 pin. The further I get past it, though, the more I can't relate."
"You see the rubber crucifixes on top of the slots, the plastic Jesuses," says Lois Rice, director of the Colorado Gaming Association. "The little things people do, the rabbit's feet. Or maybe they just have their favorite machines. Or they only play Double Diamond or Wheel of Fortune."
The Calkins family -- father Loran, mother Josephine and second son Garry -- have their own system. Once a month, they arrive in Black Hawk around 8:30 a.m., each with twenty bucks to burn, then take in three casinos, lose their money and go home happy.
"Luck? Doesn't exist," Loran says. "Nah."
"No such thing," says Garry. "Only a spin of the wheel."
"I won $1,250 one time, but not here," Loran recalls. "It was in Arizona. She spent it all."
"I doubt if you let me spend anything!" Josephine protests. "If you did, I'd have bought Beanie Babies."
"That," observes Loran, "is no damn lie. Me, I'd just smoke it up."
At the moment, Josephine is 45 bucks up and the two men are holding steady. Maybe Hathor likes them, too.
"Yes, I've heard of that goddess," Loran says. "That's a big old tale that's been circulating around here for years, since before gambling. Of course, back then we only came up here to look at mountains."
In the coming months, Robin Chotzinoff will commemorate Westword's 25th anniversary with 25 profiles of Denver today. Click here to read these stories.
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