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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Oliver “The Ghost” Marcelle

Oliver Marcelle
(1897-1949)

Riverside Cemetery is the final resting place of Ollie “The Ghost” Marcelle, one of the greatest African-American baseball players. He is credited with
integrating professional baseball in Denver 13 years before Jackie Robinson officially integrated major league baseball in 1947.

Ollie was just a decent hitter, but he was an outstanding third baseman. He snared hit baseballs that the average infielder would have missed.
His nickname “The Ghost” came from his lightning-fast reflexes at third base. He was only 18 when he joined the Negro Leagues with the Brooklyn Royal Giants. He
later played for another black team in New York City, plus teams in Atlantic City, Detroit and Baltimore.

Unfortunately his violent temper erupted one time in 1929 when he and a teammate got into a
fight over a card game. In this fight his opponent bit off Ollie’s nose, causing him to wear a patch over his missing nose for the rest of his life.
After playing some more ball while enduring derogatory comments by opposing crowds, he left professional baseball and ended up here in Denver as a house
painter and handyman (playing occasional semi- pro ball).

In 1934 Ollie persuaded the promoter of the then-popular Denver Post baseball tournament to invite the Kansas City Monarchs to come here and play against a
traveling team called the House of David. The latter team was all white, while the Monarchs were one of the finest-ever African-American baseball teams.
Thousands of people came to watch these two teams play.

When Ollie Marcelle died here of a heart attack in 1949, he was alone and indigent. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the middle of Riverside’s Block 29. His
grave remained unmarked until 1991, when Fairmount and Riverside Cemeteries along with local sports historian Jay Sanford unveiled the current flat marker to “The
Ghost”. The marker bears the words of his Negro League friend Buck O’Neil:
“Baseball’s best third baseman brought black professional baseball to
Colorado.”

By Garry O’Hara

The NISEI Memorial at Fairmount

Niesi-Monument-2-300x200In Block 35, along the east of Fairmount is the beautiful Nisei Memorial. During World War II many people from the west coast of Japanese ancestry were interned in detention camps, including Camp Amache, in southeastern Colorado. Many of those who were born in the U.S. of Japanese immigrants (Nisei) volunteered for U.S. Army service. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team comprised of these Nisei was the most decorated unit in the Army for its size and duration of action in World War II. This memorial was erected in 1963. It lists the names of soldiers of Japanese ancestry who were killed in combat as well as the names of those who were later killed in Korea or Viet Nam.

One of those memorialized is Private First Class Kiyoshi Muranaga, who was posthumously awarded

Kiyoshi_K_Muranaga-218x300the Medal of Honor. His citation reads, in part: “… Muranaga distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 26 June, 1944, near Suverto, Italy.” His mortar squad was pinned down by a German 88mm gun, and all except he withdrew; he manned the mortar himself and fired at the enemy. When the Germans saw where the fire was coming from they fired back, killing him instantly, but then they abandoned their position. … Private Muranaga’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service….” (Read the full citation here).  Kiyoshi Muranaga is buried in California.Near this memorial, in the northeast corner of Block 34, are the graves of many Nisei veterans who survived the war and settled in Colorado, including three soldiers of the 442 Regimental Combat Team:

  • KENNETH SHIBATA: Awarded the Bronze Star medal posthumously “for heroic achievement in action on 16 July 1944 in Italy”
  • JOSEPH ISAO MORISHIGE: Killed during action at Castelpoggio, Italy, April 14, 1945
  • SHIGARO MORISHIGE: Later became a two-time commander of American Legion Nisei Post No. 185 and a member of the Disabled American Veterans.

Photo of PVT 1 CL Muranaga courtesy of 442nd Regimental Combat Team Historical Society; for more information about the 442nd visit:

442nd Regimental Combat Team Historical Society

Never to Sail Again

Life journeys some time take us to places we never expected to go. It was fully expected that Maine born Timothy Reirdan Stinson would spend his life at sea, sailing from port to port and always at a distance from his family. It is no surprise to find “Mariner” next to his name in the 1850 Federal census. Nor is it a surprise two years later, despite his youthful 31 years, to find him in the position as Captain of the newly built packet ship William and Mary.

With a cargo of hay and herring, her maiden voyage from Bath, ME to Charleston, SC must have felt like a cruise to the tropics. The January, 1853, eastbound sail with a load of upland cotton destined for Liverpool, England, was more challenging, as any winter voyage would expect to be. But Stinson’s real test as Captain came on his return voyage. With the William and Mary fully loaded, her steerage with 208 emigrants and her cargo hold with tons of railroad iron and crockery, she sailed low and slow, experiencing one storm after another en route to New Orleans. Some 20 passengers died on the crossing. With food and water supplies dangerously low during their seventh week at sea, everyone was elated on May 3rd when they began seeing evidence they were nearing land. Later that night while passing through the Northwest Providence Channel in the Bahamas, the Captain prematurely changed course, running the ship onto a pile of submerged rock, and puncturing her wooden hull. Immediate the ship began taking on water, alarming both passengers and crew. All through the night, passengers manned the ship’s two pumps and kept the ship afloat. But early the next morning, the Captain did the unthinkable. With a lifeboat stocked with water and food supplies, the Captain, his 2 officers, and several of the crew rowed away from their ship and its deckfull of horrified passengers. Unable to manuever the ship, the passengers did all they could do—they prayed and they pumped. Finally, after two days and just at the point of giving up, a small schooner appeared on the horizon. Although it was manned by Bahamian wreckers, those who make their living salvaging sinking ships, they first moved all the women and children to the western shore of Grand Bahama Island. Next they returned for the men and likewise delivered them to the beach. Eventually the travelers were moved on to Nassau, then to New Orleans, and finally up the Mississippi to become part of the American fabric.

The Captain’s life also changed. The press of 1853 showed no mercy toward Stinson and he quickly disappeared into the western landscape. The 1860 Federal census shows him living in central Illinois; in 1872 he is found in Denver, many miles from the sea, and self-employed as a house painter. The following year, it would appear that he found peace in what had to be a troubling 20 years; he began attending one of the churches in downtown Denver, made public profession of his faith in Christ, and became a member of the church family. Over the next two decades he spent his days painting many of the homes in Denver, and each night went home to his wife. He never returned to the sea. On March 24, 1894, he died of heart failure and was laid to rest in Block 5, Lot 50 in Riverside Cemetery. A large white marble stone, the upper portion somewhat resembling the mast of a ship, now marks his grave and that of his wife and son.

Written by Kenneth A. Schaaf, a retired staff member of the Library of Congress, who lives with his wife near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
Photo by Mark DeNooy, Denver

Dr. Joseph H. P. Westbrook, Early Denver Civil Rights Activist

Dr. Joseph Henry Peter Westbrook was a prominent Denver physician and African American civil rights leader.  Born in 1878 in Mississippi, he graduated from Fisk College and Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

In 1907 he came to Denver and started his medical practice.

A doctor and pharmacy owner in Denver for 35 years, he became Assistant City Physician and was on the staff of Denver General Hospital for 17 years.  Deeply involved in several fraternal organizations, he was Grand Chancellor of a lodge of the Knights of Pythias, on officer in a local Elks Lodge, and a Masonic Grand Master who was instrumental in building a new Masonic Hall in the Five Points area.  An active entrepreneur, Dr. Westbrook helped incorporate the Denver Independent newspaper and served on the Denver Chamber of Commerce.  He was an officer of the city’s Interracial Commission and was on the Board of Directors of a branch of the YMCA.  He was a Sunday school superintendent and important member of the NAACP.  He lived in a modest house in Five Points with his wife Adela.

From the 1860s most African Americans voted Republican because that was the “Party of Lincoln,” the party that had freed the slaves.  But by the early 1900s many black people were becoming disillusioned with the Republicans and were seeking reconciliation with the Democratic Party.

Westbrook was one of these dissatisfied voters, and he went so far as to form the “National Negro Anti-Taft League” when William Howard Taft became the Republican presidential candidate in 1908.  Prior to that year’s Democratic National Convention, which was held in Denver, he led a delegation to the Resolutions Committee of the Democratic Party seeking to have a civil rights plank placed on the Democratic national platform.  This request was denied, however, and Taft won the election.

After this black enthusiasm for the Democratic Party decreased again for a number of years, and in 1924 Westbrook was selected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Calvin Coolidge as its presidential candidate.

He was one of the original stakeholders in an African American agricultural colony that was formed near Greeley in 1910.  In fact it was Dr. Westbrook who came up with the name of the colony; it was named Dearfield, for he said that the farm fields there would “be very dear to us.”

Dr. Joseph H.P. Westbrook is perhaps best known to history for being a light-skinned African American who “passed as a white man” to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan.  At great risk to his life, he used his Klan membership to learn of the hate group’s upcoming activities and warn the black community.

In August 1939 he addressed the opening of a conference at the Shorter African Community Church.  When he finished he took his seat and suddenly died of a heart attack.  He was 61 years old.  The headline in the Denver Statesman was, “Dr. J.H.P. Westbrook, Scholar, Civic Builder, Race Factor, and Fraternalist Suddenly Passes.”  He is buried at Fairmount Cemetery not far from the Gate Lodge in Block B.

By Garry O’Hara