Recreate ’08: Snowballs!

Is it the Denver Public Library or the Way-Bac Machine?
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A couple of blocks from the downtown Denver Public Library, they’re already shutting down and removing the mailboxes outside of the 14th Avenue post office because of “security concerns” during the upcoming DNC. They’re putting special locks on fire hydrants, too, and getting ready for the inevitable herding and prodding of livestock -- er, protesters. It’s enough to make you yearn for the grand old days of a century ago, when Denver was a true cowtown and Democrats were greeted a bit more hospitably.

To return to that era, you need wander no further than the seventh floor of the DPL, where a fabulous exhibit of photos, maps and text evokes the 1908 convention much better than any of the inevitable retrospectives offered by the dailies.

Eager to lure the Dems and advertise its amenities to hordes of future visitors, Denver built the Auditorium Theatre to hold the throngs and ponied up $100,000 to the host committee to defray expenses -- and the unabashed boosterism paid off. The New York Evening World declared Denver “the finest city in the United States” -- except for New York, of course. The Wall Street Journal marveled at the clean air and the homey touches, including the way the city hauled in trainloads of snow and piled it around the theater so delegates could have snowball fights. (Now, of course, any such potential “security concern” would have to be nuked on the spot.) The hotels -- long-vanished palaces like the Albany, the Savoy and the Metropole, as well as the venerable Brown -- did a raging business, while the railroad set up extra Pullman sleepers to handle the overflow.

Delegates took the Georgetown train to Mount McClellan and flocked to the city’s sparkling amusement parks, Elitch’s and Lakeside. A local songwriter of questionable syntax hawked his popular hit “Seeing Denver,” which seemed to have sinister sexual overtones hidden in the ungainly lyrics:

Seeing Denver is my delight Either by day or else by night Out with your girlie Your dear little pearlie Teasing the trolley as on you flight.

There’s much more to the exhibit, including samples of the raucous press coverage of the convention itself. You think some spontaneous demonstrations are in store at Invesco? Whatever happens, it probably can’t compare to 1908. The nominee, William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential loser-to-be, was greeted with applause and cheers that lasted an hour and twenty-seven minutes.

And nobody even bothered to pelt him with snowballs. -- Alan Prendergast

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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