Can this Wonder be saved?

Roadside Attractions 086Back when Trish Langley was a youngster, her family used to drive out from Kansas to visit grandma in Denver, Colorado. They’d always pass the Wonder Tower of Genoa just off Interstate 70 with its looming structure and huge sign – SEE SIX STATES!

But Trish’s dad was always deaf to pleas to pull off to see the vintage tourist trap. Last September, Trish learned the old place was for sale and knew she Had to Have It.

“When I get obsessed with a thing, it becomes a problem,” Trish says. “And I feel this is a part of our history that shouldn’t be lost.”

Trish runs her own business, which manages maintenance of Kansas rest stops. Her husband is a short-haul trucker. You can say they’ve got experience with what highway travelers look for. Her bid for the Tower was gladly accepted by Gordon Real Estate Group out of Limon.

The firm’s broker/owner Tim Andersen explains: “I grew up in northeast Colorado so I’ve always known about the Tower. When the family asked us to be their agent, my first thought was ‘WOW!’ and then, ‘How do we sell it?’ ”

With a lot of patience, as it happened. Previous owner Jerry Chubbuck died in 2013. After an attempt to auction enough of the Tower’s contents to keep the place, his family knew it would have to go to someone else. The hope was that it would remain as the unique piece of history that it is.

Built in 1926 by enterprising railroad engineer Charles W. Gregory and his silent partner, Myrtle le Bow, it was originally named The World’s Wonder View Tower. It was known in the tourism biz as a “one-stop” – offering a Greyhound bus station, cafe, gas, restrooms, lodging, dance hall and museum of oddities to locals and travelers on U.S. Highway 24 in one package.

Most of the commercial operations were conducted in a long, rambling building to which was attached the Tower – 60 feet high, tapering to a small flat roof with an unobstructed view in all directions. In 1954 it was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey as still the highest point between New York City and Denver. And, yes, on a clear day with a good telescope you could see landmarks in six states, according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

By the time I first visited around 2009, what by then was called the Genoa Tower andJerry on old dance hall stage064 Museum was a sad shadow of its former glory. The building of Interstate 70 shunted impatient traffic past the attraction. Many of the children of local farmers and ranchers who used to hang out at the place now raised their families elsewhere.

Former cattle rancher Chubbuck (at right as he stood on the old dance hall stage), bought the place in 1960. He still lived on the premises in a separate apartment with his wife, Esther, their three kids grown and moved on.

2-Faced Calf062He kept up the place as best he could, adding to the vintage oddities collection of earlier days with a mixture of garage-sale junk and valuable artifacts from a myriad of interests — archaeology to ranching history. Admission was, and always had been, one buck.

An account of my visit is given in “Weird Colorado.” It still stands out as one of the highlights of my research, and I will always remember the sweet, mischievous Jerry Chubbuck with fondness.

So, what does the future hold for what Trish is now calling The World Wonder Tower at Genoa, Colorado?

“I want to restore it,” says Trish. “I want a free museum of the Tower’s history, an RV park, maybe a pumpkin patch. But first we have to get some things done just to prevent it from falling apart.”

Like some new roofing, rewiring and a new septic tank. Which is why she has a couple of donation links to raise the money by January 2016 on the Facebook page for the Tower. She’s also got the Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation at her back, and a whole lot of locals wishing her the best.

One of them is Alan Chubbuck, Jerry’s son, who still lives in Genoa.

“It was the greatest place to grow up,” said Alan. “I met so many people and had such great times with my friends there.”

Hard to let it go, yes, but “We’re all relieved to have someone so interested buy it to make it something like it was. We had some strange offers – one guy wanted to turn it into a restaurant and do something with fireworks there, too, I forget just what. And then there was this guy who wanted to turn it into a haunted house attraction.”

Let’s hope that was the worst of what threatens the Tower. Time, deterioration, lack of money, vandals and lack of initiative are its other enemies.

If you can make even a small contribution as soon as you can, folks, know that you’ll be helping to save a rare and very wonderful piece of Americana

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The (Sort Of) Amazing Story of Maurice Doreal & The Brotherhood of the White Temple Revealed At Last!

This gallery contains 11 photos.

The name given to him by his parents was Claude D. Dodgin (the “D” always present when he used it). The name he chose for himself later in life was Maurice Doreal. If you haven’t heard of either name, try … Continue reading

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What a Denver Newspaper Editor Did to Make Deer Trail, Colorado Think It Was the Site of the World’s 1st Rodeo

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Seriously, first in the world? “Rodeo” is a word with undoubted Spanish roots so what are the odds that no Moorish riders of old Spain — let alone no bunch of Spanish conquistadors, colonial settlers or Mexican vaqueros of the … Continue reading

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RIP, Grandma Goth

Grandma Goth 003There are times when the only proper response to news is “Damn.”

Suelynn Gustafson, aka “Grandma Goth”, died Tuesday, March 26, 2013, age 71. I found out this morning from The Denver Post, the only proper response being “Damn.”

Suelynn was the only then-living character in the chapter titled Local Heroes & Villains of “Weird Colorado.” keeping company with the likes of Coloradan legends Alferd Packer, Doreal, Frank Hamilton Rice, Rattlesnake Kate, and Tom Tobin.

Back in the 1980s, a divorced single mom, she turned her back on a career of setting up pubs for a restaurant chain, dumped the career-gal look that would have done Mary Tyler Moore proud, and set up the remarkable Denver landmark known as Flossie McGrew’s.

Eventually, Flossie’s was moved next door to the family business Suelynn had inherited, Grandpa Snazzy’s Hardware. It’s the retail persona of Suelynn’s passion for the dark and strange, harbored since she was a child with a pet skunk.

Where Grandpa’s has a creaky and conventional antique hardware stock, Flossie’s is a combination of thrift store, Halloween get-up source, and supplier of antique oddities such as old prosthetic limbs.

Some time ago, Suelynn found she loved the look mauve shampoo gave to her whitening mane and began dying it her signature color ever since. Gold caps replaced a lot of her pearly whites, her wardrobe progressed to darkly bizarre. She was goth before it was cool, and without the brooding pose.

We kept in touch off and on since the book came out. “Loooove the book, ” was her verdict, delivered in her slightly gravelly voice that always seemed on the edge of a laugh.

We were supposed to get together for lunch sometime. I called last in January and found she was in the midst of some kind of legal wrangle, not up to going out.

“Gotta call you in the spring,” she said.

Suelynn’s son, TJ, says his mother had a heart attack and died in her Denver home. Plans for cremation and a memorial service are pending.

Suelynn was surely one of the most comfortable-in-her-own-skin people I’ve ever met. Far from morose despite her fascination with the morbid.

Can’t think of a better way to break my blogging block than with a tribute to this wonderfully weird and classy individual.

The Denver Post obituary can be found here.  It erroneously states Suelynn to have been a “co-owner.”: http://www.denverpost.com/obituaries/ci_22903767/flossy-mcgrews-co-owner-gustafson-remembered-grandma-goth

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Hotdog-Shaped Diner in Bailey for Sale

If a road trip south of Denver on U.S. Highway 285 has always meant a stop at the Coney Island Boardwalk in Bailey, better have a back-up plan – the vintage diner shaped like a giant hot dog is closed and may be headed for yet another location by the time you read this.

The 1966-designed landmark owned by Ron Aigner closed as of mid-January and is for sale for $499,000. The new owner will have to move it elsewhere because the acre of land it’s sitting on will be sold separately.

photo by Mike Potter, permission of The Flume

A run-in last year with the Colorado Department of Transportation over a property line-related dispute resulted in the arrival of Park County sheriff’s deputies who claimed Aigner resisted arrest. Aigner says the deputies jumped on him and broke his back.

The case against Aigner for misdemeanor harassment was vacated in December, but the businessman said he was left with a $15,000 legal bill, a ruined rep, and constant pain. Slow winter business didn’t help. Hence the decision to cut his losses, sell the building and land separately, and retire elsewhere.

The best news story I’ve found about it ran January 27, 2011, at the excellent regional news source The Flume (The Park County Republican & Fairplay Flume): www.theflume.com.

My thanks to Editor Tom Locke and Staff Writer Mike Potter for allowing me to borrow a photo of the Coney island Boardwalk diner for this blog – you can see it was taken at a more hopeful time, just before the place opened in Bailey.

The golden age of buildings-designed-to-look-like-something-else in the United States lasted approximately between the 1930s, when long-distance travel became more practical for the masses, and the mid-1950s when the boom in interstate highways bypassed a lot of those same roadside attractions.

So the Coney Island Boardwalk diner was a late-comer to the scene when it was originally built in 1966 on Colfax Avenue in Denver. The architect was Lloyd Williams. First owner Marcus Shannon hoped to open a chain of diners with this patented design of a 35-foot-long bun and 42-foot-long wiener, complete with relish and mustard, but the concept panned out by 1969.

The building was moved and reopened in 1970 in Aspen Park under new ownership, but up for sale again by 1999. Local efforts saved the old diner from destruction and got it landmark status. Aigner bought it, restored it, then moved it again when the land was sold. It reopened 17 miles away in Bailey on July 4, 2007.

The diner is listed for sale on Bonanza.com: http://www.bonanza.com/booths/3853/items/25033990 (Again, my thanks to Mike Potter for the link, as for some reason the usual site keyword search did not turn that up on my own.)

I was able to reach Ron Aigner recently and we had a lively chat about he calls, “My avatar, the giant hotdog!”

“So far, the best offer I’ve had for the diner would keep it in Bailey,” he says. “But it’s still early. I wouldn’t mind if it went to the original Coney Island in New York. I’m not staying here, regardless.”

Ron has plenty to say about why he bought the diner, which has to do with the cause he’s involved in — to bring about a new investigation of the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy. For more about that: http://columbinefamilyrequest.org/

I wish Ron and his family a terrific new life, wherever they wind up.

But let’s hope the Coney Island Boardwalk diner stays here in Colorado where it’s been called “the best example of roadside architecture in the state.”

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Joe Arridy Pardoned

On Jan. 7, 2011, Gov. Bill Ritter signed a posthumous pardon for a man executed for the rape and murder of a teen-age girl in Pueblo. That may sound outrageous if you don’t know the truth – truth is, it was the conviction that was outrageous.

On Jan. 6, 1938, Joe Arridy, 23, had a bowl of ice cream as his last meal. He gave his toy train to another prisoner on Colorado’s Death Row. And then Joe went quietly to the gas chamber with no more understanding of what was to happen than a 6-year-old boy.

He was “the happiest man on Death Row,” according to Roy Best, warden of the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City.

Best was the kind of prison overseer who defended the occasional flogging of convicts. But he took Joe home for Christmas and brought him toys. The other prisoners were also kind. Joe, son of poor immigrant Syrians, a runaway from the state home for “mental defectives” in Grand Junction, had rarely been so well treated.

According to modern researchers who studied the case, leading law investigators of the time worked together on the evidence that railroaded a mentally retarded hobo to his death in order to burnish their own reputations.

Frank Aguilar, who was previously fired from his job by the dead girl’s father, confessed to the killing of Dorothy Drain, and the brutal beating of her sister, Barbara. He was pressured to implicate Joe, a complete stranger, who was arrested eleven days after the murder in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Wyoming officers who turned in Joe as Aguilar’s accomplice shared a $1,000 reward. Frank Aguilar was executed in 1937.

Roy Best and appeals lawyer Gail Ireland worked to get nine stays of execution in one year, but they couldn’t save Joe in the end.

Joe is buried on Woodpecker Hill, the section of Canon City’s Greenwood Pioneer Cemetery reserved for dead inmates of the town’s several prisons. In later years, people who came to believe in Joe’s innocence replaced his generic burial marker with a granite headstone.  It has a photo of Joe playing with his toy train.

It was here in 2008, while researching cemeteries for “Weird Colorado,” that I was told the story of Joe Arridy by one of the cemetery board’s members, Tom Monaco. Tom is a cemetery dowser, someone who can find graves the way that water dowsers can locate water.

Tom’s a busy man these days. The paranormal investigation group he belongs to, Canon Ghost Trackers (http://www.canon-ghost-trackers.com/), is experiencing increasing demand for its expertise. He’s not into it for personal thrills so much as feeling he’s been called to set things right, just as when he first learned how to dowse so that he could locate unmarked graves when a new Civil War memorial was to be installed at the cemetery.

“I’m gonna put a copy of the official pardon under Plexiglass at Joe’s grave,” Tom told me during a recent phone call.

Many people have come to the defense of Joe in recent years. Their efforts led to Gov. Ritter’s pardon. A film about Joe’s story called “The Woodpecker Waltz” is in the works. You can find out more at the Friends of Joe Arridy web site: http://www.friendsofjoearridy.com/

Note: in 2008, when I wrote about Joe’s case in the Cemetery Safari chapter I erroneously listed his execution as by electrocution. Joe actually suffocated to death as the result of inhaling cyanide gas.

The same gas chamber is on exhibit now at the Museum of Colorado Prisons in Canon City, covered in the chapter Roadside Attractions and Oddities: http://www.prisonmuseum.org/

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Weird and Happening

Stillpoint book coverIf you’re familiar with the Beats, you may have thought how cool it would have been to have experienced some of the legendary coffeehouses back in the day where avant-garde readings, music and discussions took the place of TV and bland conformity.

Something of that flavor will be offered up in a series of events sponsored by Stillpoint, the commune mentioned in the “Weird Colorado” chapter Personalized Properties and Innovative Environments.

Years after the commune’s late master, Chinese classics translator, teacher and “Taoist rogue” Gia-fu Fung, passed on, Stillpoint today is fostering community through the humanities. Not only on the 166-acre sanctuary still dotted with quirky, hand-built cabins in the Wet Mountains, but elsewhere.

That means food for the head and heart, through readings, music, discussions, author talks and more.

Coming is a Summer Literary Series, with readings by various local authors on June 15, July 20 and August 17, all between 4-6 p.m. at one of Colorado’s most unique cafes — Healing Tea, a combination of tea house, Korean diner and Organ Healing Massage center. In Boulder, of course, at 3216 Arapahoe Ave., in a little strip mall where it meets 33rd.

You can find out more about at: http://stillpointcenter.blogspot.com/

The official biography of Gia-fu Fung also went on sale recently and has already won a couple of literary awards. More info at the web site run by author Carol Ann Wilson: http://www.carolannwilson.info/

Be there or be square…

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My First Book Signing

Gad, can it really be?Charmaine Getz Author Photo

I’ve spent a career in Serious Journalism to peak (?) today — Saturday, June 5, at 2 p.m.– signing what I hope will be oodles of copies of “Weird Colorado” at a Barnes & Noble in Denver, Colorado (960 S. Colorado Blvd.)

Sorry for the short notice to anyone who sees this — I’m also signing at B&N stores in Boulder (Saturday, 2 p.m. June 12) at 2999 Peal Street, and Loveland (Saturday, 2 p.m. June19) at 5835 Sky Pond Drive.

You’ll know me by the Southwestern senora get-up — c’mon by, I’ll have free candy!

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Back In the Saddle Agaaaaaain!

Yippee-ya-kiyaaaaay! It’s finally happening!

The book “Weird Colorado” will go on sale on May 4 at all Barnes & Noble stores, as well as other venues of literary tastiness.

I submitted the final manuscript waaaay back in December ’08, mind you. Slogged through a major rewrite and edit to help out during the publisher’s rush period, then plowed through a slew of corrections when the proofs came through for inspection in the fall.

All I can do is cross my fingers and pray it was all worth it for a spiffy book — fun to read, accurate in all the facts, and nothin’ in it anyone feels like suing me over. (My pockets are anything but deep, folks.)

In the meantime, I will be covering ongoing weirdness here in the Mile High State as well as additional weirdness you won’t find in the book — or many other places, for that matter.

Got any on-topic subject suggestions, feel free to let me know, either here or at the Weird U.S. web site’s Message Boards.

Stay weird, my friends.

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Jim McPhee found alive

The best possible news is that Jim showed up last night on a stranger’s doorstep in his hometown, disoriented but physically OK and asking for help. The police took him to a hospital. He seems to have been suffering from a short-term brain disorder and has no memory of the 16 days he was missing.

His family is, of course, relieved beyond measure and very appreciative of all the positive efforts, good vibes and prayers that have been made on his behalf.

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