Art News

And the Beat Goes the Denver Public Library

The Sutton Betti statue of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac that would be installed at Sonny Lawson Park.
The Sutton Betti statue of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac that would be installed at Sonny Lawson Park. courtesy Mark Bliesener
Jack Kerouac first visited Denver in 1947, but the legend of On the Road stretches on forever.

The Denver Public Library is getting an early start on the eleventh Neal Cassady Birthday Bash — an annual celebration of the Mile High City's most famous miscreant, who inspired On the Road's Dean Moriarty — set for February 7 at the Mercury Cafe. On Friday, January 10, Neal Cassady’s Denver, a small exhibit that focuses on some of the places Cassady haunted when he was growing up in the Mile High City, as well as spots that Kerouac frequented and later referenced in On the Road, will open at the Central Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway.

“Generally, Neal loved the Denver Public Library and spent lots of time at the old Central Branch,” says Brian Trembath, special collections librarian, Western History & Genealogy. “It’s where he met Hal Chase, who was a student at Columbia and thought Neal would be interested in meeting his friend Jack Kerouac, who was also attending Columbia at the time. I think this exhibit will be especially interesting to people who have recently moved to Denver and aren’t aware of all the places with Beat connections that are still around.”

And there are plenty of those, from Five Points to the home that Kerouac owned (briefly) in Lakewood to the bar he visited in Central City ("Beyond the back door was a view of mountainsides in the moonlight. I let out a yahoo. The night was on.”).

While Trembath says the library could have filled the whole floor with those connections, it settled on a choice selection. The biggest attraction may well be the DPL's first edition of On the Road. The exhibit will also include two cases that focus on Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s wife (“Camille” in On the Road); one that highlights the ballpark Kerouac visited in Five points, and another that showcases the proposed Sutton Betti statue of Cassady and Kerouac that Mark Bliesener, organizer of the birthday bash, and John Lane are campaigning to place right at the entrance to the ballpark.

That ballpark is now known as Sonny Lawson Park (renamed in 1972 after the first African-American pharmacist in Five Points), and inspired these lines in On the Road:

“Down at 23rd and Welton a softball game was going on under the floodlights which also illuminated the gas tank. A great eager crowd roared at every play. The strange young heroes of all kinds, white, colored, Mexican, pure Indian, were on the field, performing with heart-breaking seriousness. Just sandlot kids in uniform […] Near me sat an old Negro who apparently watched the games every night. Next to him was an old white bum, then a Mexican family, then some girls, some boys - all humanity, the lot. Oh, the sadness of the lights that night! The young pitcher looked just like Dean. A pretty blonde in the seats looked just like Marylou. It was the Denver Night; All I did was die."

Neal Cassady's Denver will be open during library hours at 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway starting January 10; find out more about the February 7 Neal Cassady Birthday Bash here.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun