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Happy Birthday, Colorado: The Doctor Is In

Happy Birthday, Colorado: The Doctor Is In
Westword

Today is Colorado Day, marking the 142nd anniversary of President Ulysses S. Grant signing the proclamation that made Colorado the 38th state on August 1, 1876.

History Colorado will be celebrating with free admission at any of the community museums around the state on August 1, but the big bash will be at the History Colorado Center at 1200 Broadway, where Governor John Hickenlooper and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne will be on hand this morning to share some birthday cake.

The festivities will continue through the day, with bluegrass music, Colorado-themed crafts, gold panning, cooking demonstrations, Top Hogs trick pigs, vintage dance performances and appearances by Broncos mascot Miles and Colorado Avalanche mascot Bernie. History Colorado has new mascots, too: the five academicians who make up the State Historians Council, including Tom Noel of the University of Colorado Denver, Nicki Gonzales of Regis University, Jared Orsi of Colorado State University, Duane Vandenbusche of Western State Colorado University and William Wei of CU Boulder.

"The role of the State Historians Council will be to provide even greater opportunity to expand the understanding of the historical perspectives, cultures, and places of Colorado," History Colorado explained in announcing the new setup last month. "Councilmembers of the State Historians Council will work with History Colorado to produce and share scholarship about Colorado and connect with more residents throughout the state."

For starters, Wei, Gonzales and Noel will be leading the crowd in a game of Colorado trivia at 2 p.m., dealing with such questions, Noel promises, as "For how many reasons is Colorado called the highest state?"

And here's another bit of trivia: How Noel got his nickname, Dr. Colorado, long before he had his Ph.D.

When he was a grad student, visiting every bar in the city while working on his thesis that would become The City & the Saloon: Denver 1858-1916, Noel got a phone call from Lew Cady, the legendary creative director and beer fan who was organizing activities for a big Johnson & Johnson convention in town. "He knew I was researching bars, mowing lawns for $1 a lawn at that point," Noel remembers.

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Cady asked Noel if he would like to be "Dr. Colorado," set up in a booth at the convention to answer questions about the city and state from spouses of the conventioneers. Cady would provide a lab coat with the title "Dr. Colorado." More important, he'd pay Noel $100 an hour.

The doctor was in. Not long after, Noel got his actual doctorate from the University of Colorado; since 1978, he's taught at the University of Colorado Denver. And for the next year, as chair of the State Historians Council, he'll also serve as state historian, replacing Patty Limerick, the University of Colorado professor and co-founder of the Center of the American West who'd served as state historian since January 2016.

The role has been reconfigured, and in a parting column in the Denver Post, "Prodding a Historic Friend to Do Better," Limerick also suggested that History Colorado itself could use some reconfiguring, including de-emphasizing “history lite and effervescent.”

Is the new State Historians Council the cure? Notes Noel, "I have always been allergic to 'history heavy.'"

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