The very essence of history is at stake.
About ten years ago, after the City of Denver installed new signs around its parks, Roger Oram noticed two inaccuracies: Berkeley Park was missing the final "e," and Sloan's Lake Park was missing the "'s." Oram, who lives halfway between the two northwest Denver parks, called city officials to let them know. The Berkeley problem "was changed rather immediately," he says. But Sloan's Lake Park continued to be Sloan Lake Park.
"It annoyed me," he says. "Thomas M. Sloan himself called it Sloan's Lake because it belonged to him. And all the people here in this neighborhood call it Sloan's Lake. I think that it's an important thing to get history right."
For several years, Oram just watched as that history rewrote itself with the wrong punctuation. By 1999, he'd had enough. Only one man could give homesteader Thomas Sloan his lake back, and Oram was that man.
In 1861, the story goes, Sloan dug a well on a parcel of land he was farming west of what was then Denver. The next morning, much to his dismay, he discovered that water had been spilling out of the well all night and had begun to form a lake. "Word of the gushing well spread to the fledgling town of Denver," writes Ruth Wiberg in Rediscovering Northwest Denver, which offers a commonly accepted version of the tale. "People rode out on horseback to see the phenomenon of Farmer Sloan's well and talked as they watched the water spread."
"Sloan's Leak," as it was jokingly called then, quickly developed into a popular recreational spot, especially for pleasure boating and sightseeing. In 1872, Sloan, who'd come to own 157 acres, tried to sell part of his property by running this classified ad in the Rocky Mountain News: "The best farm in Colorado, of 100 acres of land, in section 31, township 3, range 68, fronting on the road from Denver to Georgetown, and running back to Sloan's Lake."
Sloan was never able to sell or develop his land, however, and he died in 1874. Seven years later, the new owners of Sloan's farm platted the property, which they called Sloan Lake Subdivision, according to Arapahoe County documents that Oram dug up during the course of his research into the park's history.
Oram speculates that the name may have been changed to represent the fact that Sloan no longer owned the land. "It gets more confusing as time goes on, and after a while, it does become Sloan Lake, and that's what the written historical record will show, and that's just not correct," he insists.
City documents, maps and newspaper articles that Oram has collected show that the lake alternately has been called Sloan, Sloans and Sloan's. In 1953, the Historical Society of Colorado and the City of Denver mounted an informational plaque on the lake's boathouse. It reads, in part: "On the Northwest Shore of Sloan's Lake was Manhattan Beach: Popular Amusement Park of the Gay Nineties."
In fact, in documents ranging from press releases to resolutions to construction orders, the city often refers to both the park and the lake as Sloan's. For instance, a 2001 bill that renamed a city-owned recreation center at Berkeley Park in honor of recently deceased former city councilman Bill Scheitler reports that Scheitler "successfully pushed for an ordinance that protected the view plane of the City's skyline from Sloan's Lake..."
"We would like to have this big debate settled ourselves, to apostrophe or not," says Susan Baird, a senior planner with the parks department. "Names are funny things. I spent my first five years here training myself to say 'Sloan' instead of 'Sloan's.' In terms of common usage and history, that's what people call it."
Nevertheless, the city, in an effort to be consistent, doesn't officially include apostrophes in the titles of any of its 200-plus parks, no matter who they were named for -- not in Barnum Park, not in Cramner Park, not in Lawson Park.
"It's not Cook's Park; it's Cook Park. It's not Washington's Park; it's Washington Park," says Tim Celesta, chairman of the Denver Parks and Recreation advisory board, which oversees the naming and renaming of parks, among many other tasks. "But in Roger's eyes and the neighbors' eyes, there's a lot of history to it."
Make that history that may soon make history. A few months ago, Oram collected signatures from a weighty group of locals, including Denver City Councilman Dennis Gallagher; City Auditor Don Mares; historians Wiberg, Tom Noel, Phil Goodstein and Ida Uchill; and state senator Rob Hernandez. He then presented that list of supporters, along with his research, to the advisory board in an effort to get the parks department to acknowledge that the park should never had been called Sloan in the first place.
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It didn't work. "The requirements for changing a name are a lot stricter than naming new parks, and this is truly the renaming of an existing park," Celesta says. "So we are making Roger go through the same requirements." Oram is now in the process of collecting 500 signatures from registered Denver voters, contacting every neighborhood association within a mile of the park, and solidifying his historical evidence that the park should be called Sloan's. A public hearing has been scheduled for June 13, and Oram will have to distribute fliers about the hearing to every house that abuts the park.
"We do this to bring out any people who might be against it," Celesta adds. "I'm not anticipating any opposition, but that's why we have the hearing. I think Roger wants to do this; I think he's excited to do it."
And how. Although Oram admits that collecting 500 signatures will be "a bit of a burden," he has no intention of stopping until his mission is accomplished, no matter how much time or effort it takes. "I've spoken with some people at work about it, and some have suggested that I'd be a lot better off taking on another job and earning some more money instead. But not everything amounts to money in life, and that's why I'm doing it."