From Auraria's archives: Degrees of separation from Thomas Hornsby Ferril's autograph

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Thomas Hornsby Ferril was the poet laureate of Colorado until his death in 1988. The home where he spent most of his life is a Denver landmark that Colorado Humanities plans to sell.

But Ferril left other things to remember him by, including books of poetry that are part of the Auraria archives.

Rosemary Evetts, the purple-haired archivist at the Auraria Library, recently invited me to visit the archives, where so much of Denver's history is written, typed, filed, numbered, boxed and shelved right there on the Auraria Library's third floor. The archives are not just open to students; anyone with an interest in Denver's history is welcome.

Evetts had set aside three books for me to look at. The first was a copy of a collection of Ferril's poetry that he'd signed for Donald Sutherland, a classics professor at the University of Colorado: Words for Denver and Other Poems. Ferrill's signature appears right under the title in a plain, straightforward cursive; his inscription also includes the phrase "Ave Atque Ave" -- likely some variation on the Latin phrase "Ave Atque Vale," which means "Hail and Farewell" -- and the date: February 7, 1967. In the bottom corner is a quarter-sized doodle of a trumpet. An arrow drawn next to the trumpet instructs the reader to turn the page over.

On the next page is an inscription written in a different pen: "The trumpet refers to Alex Sutherland, who in the Battle of Balaclava, sounded the charge of the Light Brigade. He was later in Denver and he and his trumpet are buried there."

The Battle of Balaclava is renowned for being an unmitigated disaster that took place between Russia and the allied British, French and Turkish forces during the Crimean War. The British fought under the command of Lord Raglan, and a misinterpretation of an order he gave led to the well-known and ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade. The blunder caused the deaths of nearly a sixth of the soldiers in the Light Brigade, and many others were wounded. The action was immortalized in an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem called "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The trumpet that set off this notorious charge belonged to Alex Sutherland.

Alex Sutherland later moved to Denver and, in the 1860s, founded the Denver Municipal Band, billed as the "oldest professional concert band in the continental United States." The Denver Municipal Band still performs, rehearsing at the King Center on the Auraria Campus on Tuesdays. Alex Sutherland died in 1904.

The two Sutherlands don't appear to be related; Donald Sutherland was the son of a Dan Sutherland, who was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, before later becoming a politician in Alaska. It's possible that Ferril simply assumed there was a relation, or just liked the synchronicity of the two similar names.

What matters is that Ferril drew a sketch of a trumpet, a reference he assumed Donald Sutherland would understand -- and that Ferril is still connecting people to Denver's history 24 years after his death.

Watch for more artifacts from Auraria's archives in future posts.

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