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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Louise Sneed Hill and Denver’s “Sacred Thirty-Six”

Louise Sneed was a Southern Belle, born in North Carolina about the time the Civil War broke out. After the death of her parents she moved to Memphis where she lived with an older sister.

She was unable to find a suitable (i.e. rich) potential husband in the Post Civil war south, and in 1893, unmarried, and approaching being labeled an old maid, she came to Denver to visit some cousins who lived here. They threw a gala party for their guest, and at the party Louise was introduced to Denver’s most eligible bachelor, Crawford Hill. He was due to inherit a small fortune from his father, former Senator Nathaniel Hill, who had founded a gold smelter in Black Hawk. Louise set her sights on Crawford, and in 1895 they were married in what was proclaimed the wedding of the year in Memphis. The new Mr. and Mrs. Hill moved into an apartment on the present site of the City and County building, where they had two sons. As well Louise set out to conquer Denver society, of which her mother-in-law was already a fixture, even though Louise had stated when she arrived here that Denver was a “social wasteland”.

In 1905 the Hills built a large mansion on Capitol Hill at Tenth and Sherman Street, which still exists although it now houses law offices. In it they had a large drawing room that was 72 feet long, and which Louise found would comfortably accommodate nine tables for card games with four people at each table. Every month or two she would invite 36 ladies whom she considered the Crème de la Crème of Denver’s high society to play whist, or later bridge. These ladies became known as Denver’s “Sacred Thirty-Six”, and it was to this group that Molly Brown aspired, but was never invited, causing her to label Louise Hill as “the snobbiest woman in Denver”.

Around 1914 Louise met a dashing, polo playing socialite named Buckeley Wells. He was also the president of the Smuggler-Union gold mine, had other mining interests, and was a General in the Colorado National Guard. He and Louise hit it off and soon became involved in a torrid love affair. Apparently Crawford Hill not only knew about this, but he tolerated it, for the three of them sometimes dined together, and occasionally went on trips together. In the foyer of their mansion Louise hung a large picture of Crawford on one wall, and on another wall she had an even larger picture of Buckeley.

Wells’ wife Grace was not as tolerant, and in 1918 she divorced him. In 1922 Crawford Hill died and, since they were now both single, Louise thought Buckeley would marry her. Instead he eloped with a blond divorcee from Nevada, and an irate Louise was heard to say “I’ll break him!” Using her social and political contacts she got many of his financial backers to withdraw their support, and in 1931, on the verge of bankruptcy, Buckeley Wells committed suicide.

Louise never remarried, and continued to live in her home until the Second World War when it became increasingly difficult to get domestic help to look after the mansion. In 1942 she sold it and moved into a suite in the Brown Palace Hotel, where she became more or less a recluse. She died in 1955, and is buried next to Crawford in the Hill family plot in Block A at Fairmount Cemetery.

In Debra Faulkner’s book, “Ladies of the Brown” she mentions one final anecdote about Louise. One of Ms. Faulkner’s predecessors as hotel historian gave tours of the hotel, including one for Valentine’s Day entitled “Affairs of the Heart”. In it she included the story of Louise Hill and Bulkeley Wells, but whenever she mentioned them the hotel switchboard lit up with calls from Suite 904 which Louise had occupied. When an operator answered the calls all they heard was a lot of static. The eerie part was that at the time the floor where that particular suite was located was under renovation, and her Suite was unoccupied, had no lights, no furniture, no carpet, and no telephone! The tour guide felt that Louise’s spirit did not appreciate her peccadilloes being aired in public, so she stopped mentioning them, and the phone calls immediately stopped.

By Tom Morton

Frank Mulligan’s Fall from Grace

Frank Mulligan had been a Denver cop since 1904 when he was snared in a scandal that screamed across Denver’s newspapers for weeks in 1918.

It began with a quiet, middle-of-the-night ride in the country for Mrs. Irene Nolan and her priest, Father Garrett Burke. It was New Year’s Eve 1917 and Mr. Nolan, a prominent Denver businessman, was out of town but asked the priest, a friend of the family, to watch over his wife because she was “fond of the butterfly life.”

After midnight, Father Burke and Mrs. Nolan, who had shared a New Year’s celebration with champagne at her home at 1276 Corona Street, arrived at the Model Roadhouse, located on Brighton Boulevard where it crosses Sand Creek. Their explanation was that the father’s car was acting up and that they stopped at the roadhouse to make a phone call for a mechanic. When they entered the roadhouse, Father Burke remembered, patrons were “dancing and having a jollification.” Prohibition had gone into effect in Colorado in 1915, five years ahead of the federal ban, but savvy patrons could bring their liquor and order “set-ups” from the bar.

The couple was escorted to a private room off the barroom to await the arrival of the mechanic. At about 3:30 in the morning, two masked men burst into their room, fired several shot into the floor and relieved Mrs. Nolan of $4,000 in diamonds. She was so distraught, she said, that she drank a whiskey to calm her nerves, but a waiter who served them during the five or so hours they were at the roadhouse recalled delivering ten glasses of highball ingredients. “They were pretty well liquored up.”

Mulligan’s defense at his trial was that he was too drunk to have carried out the holdup. He testified that he confessed to Hamilton Armstrong, Denver’s chief of police, “I made an ass of myself, chief. I was at the roadhouse. I went out there with a man named Kerrigan and Tommy Bartless. They had a couple of bottles of whiskey and I got drunk. I can’t stand whiskey and I know it. This time I allowed it to get the best of me. Robbery was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I was too drunk to plan or carry out a robbery if I chose to do so.”

Other witnesses disagreed. Mulligan’s co-defendant, Philip Cohen, a 33-year-old fruit dealer from Denver and Greeley, claimed that it was the Denver detective who put him up to it.

The diamonds were mysteriously recovered, mailed in a package from Pueblo some weeks later. The thieves apparently thought they would be forgiven for their crime. They weren’t.  On April 5, 1920, Cohen and Mulligan each were given sentences of five to seven years for highway robbery and grand larceny. Newspapers said Mulligan, 44, “cried like a child” when the verdict was read. Both men entered the state penitentiary in Canon City on April 13. Mulligan was paroled on May 27, 1922, having served twenty-three months of his sentence and Governor Oliver Shoup pardoned him on January 8, 1923.

Mulligan, who pursued a career as a car salesman and electrician after his dismissal from the police department, died at the age of 66 in 1942 and was interred at Riverside Cemetery on September 8. He and his wife, Effie, who died in 1956, are buried side-by-side in Section 19 with simple granite markers.

By Dick Kreck, Retired Newpaperman