He was born in Pennsylvania in 1855, but after contracting tuberculosis there, in 1878 he moved to Denver. Following a short stint as a clerk in the Daniels and Fisher store he entered city government, first as Denver City Clerk in 1884, then as postmaster, then in 1891 as President of the Denver Fire and Police Board where by assigning patronage jobs he built a strong political base, as well as collecting graft from the Red Light district on Market Street, and after hours saloons. In 1901 he became head of the Board of Public Works, the city’s largest agency.
At that time Denver was part of Arapahoe County, but there was a strong movement for “Home Rule”. In 1902 Denver and some surrounding municipalities were merged into The City and County of Denver, and in 1904 Robert Speer became the first Mayor in a disputed election. He immediately set out to change Denver from a dusty western town into what he envisioned as “the City Beautiful”.
He more than doubled the city’s park space to 1200 acres, and ordered that there be no “Keep off the Grass’ signs in any city park, a policy which is still followed today. He had 150 miles of Denver streets paved. He expanded the City Zoo, replacing many cages with moated enclosures. In 1908 he had the Auditorium Theatre built (now the Ellie Caulkins Theatre) just in time to host the 1908 Democratic National Convention. Every year he donated young maple and elm trees to any citizen who promised to care for them, and many of these trees now shade the older residential sections of the city. Cherry Creek had become an eyesore, the original cherry trees had long been cut down and it was used as an open sewer. He ordered the Creek to be cleaned up, retaining walls to be built and trees and shrubs to be planted. In 1910 his supporters changed the name of the street that he had built along the creek from Cherry Creek Drive to Speer Boulevard. He began plans for the civic center, and began clearing the area west of the Capitol building.
By 1912 many people were tired of “Boss” Speer’s authoritarian rule, including the newspapers which charged that his administration was rife with ”cronyism, corruption and crime”. The reformers suggested a commission form of city government. Speer said that would never work, but seeing the mood of the citizens he decided not to run for re-election, but ran for the Senate instead, a race which he lost.
Speer’s prediction turned out to be true, the commission did nothing to beautify the city, although they did shut down the Red Light district in 1913. The mood of the city changed, and when Speer ran again for mayor in 1916 he won in a landslide. He immediately picked up where he had left off, including planning for Civic Center Park, and a large City and County Building.
Unfortunately he never saw these plans come to fruition. In 1918 he came down with a cold which developed into pneumonia, and he died on May 14th. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral, held at the Auditorium Theater, and he is buried in Block 24 at Fairmount Cemetery. His vision of Civic Center Park was completed by succeeding mayors, and his wife Kate donated the bell and the clock on the City and County Building in his memory.
By Tom Morton
In 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
the 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:
Photo of PVT 1 CL Muranaga courtesy of 442nd Regimental Combat Team Historical Society; for more information about the 442nd visit:
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
Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892) has been called Colorado’s “Mother of Charities.” Born in Kentucky, she married Abraham Jacobs and came with him to Colorado in 1862. Abraham and Frances’ brother opened a clothing store in Central City. When fire destroyed their shop, they moved to Denver and opened a new store. Frances and Abraham had three children, one of whom died in childhood.
Always deeply concerned with the well-being of poor and sick people, Frances became President of the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Her calling in life soon became caring for the growing number of Jewish immigrants coming to the Denver area with tuberculosis. (Then called consumption, “TB” was the nation’s major fatal disease at the time; many “lungers” came to the high and dry air of Colorado as a cure for the disease.) Frances regularly visited the squalid shacks of consumptives, many of whom were poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. She brought them medicines and bandaged their wounds, even though they carried many diseases and lived in high-crime areas. She quickly realized that others besides Jewish immigrants needed her services, so in 1874 she helped found the non-denominational Ladies’ Relief Society with herself as vice-president. She was called upon to address many groups and discovered that she was an excellent public speaker. Frances became the spokesperson for many of Denver’s charities. In 1887, through her efforts and those of four religious leaders from other faiths, several of Denver’s charity groups were consolidated under the Charity Organization Society (COS). The interfaith COS soon became the fundraising organization for 23 charities, and Frances was its secretary. By 1922 the COS evolved into the Community Chest, and many credit it with eventually becoming the United Way.
Frances organized the Denver Free Kindergarten Association and opened Denver’s first free kindergarten for the children of indigent parents.
In 1892 she worked with the Jewish Hospital Association to start a free hospital for tuberculosis patients in Denver. It was named the Frances Jacobs Hospital for Consumptives. However, she died of pneumonia less than a month before the hospital was to be dedicated; she was only 49 years old. The institution eventually became National Jewish Hospital, and it is still at its original location at Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. A sculpture of Ms. Jacobs still graces the entrance to hospital, which did not charge fees for most services until many years later.
In 1900 sixteen Colorado pioneers were chosen to have stained glass windows of their likenesses displayed in the state capitol rotunda; Frances was one of these, and she was the only woman to be chosen. A city park at Quebec Street and Tennessee Avenue was named for her, and in 1994 she was installed in The National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She was buried in the Emmanuel Cemetery, the Jewish burial area just west of the main part of Fairmount Cemetery.
According to the National Jewish Hospital website, “No one ever did more to create Colorado’s humanitarian healthcare tradition than Frances Wisebart Jacobs.”
By Garry O’Hara
Omar Blair was born in Texas in 1918, and attended high school in Albuquerque where, as one of six black students, he was not allowed to sit with the other students at graduation. But in 1979 he was named the most distinguished graduate of the same school! Growing up he wanted to become a pilot, however at that time the United States Army Air Corps was not accepting Black candidates for pilot training. In 1940 he enrolled at UCLA, and during his second year there the USAAC relaxed its colored restriction, and after passing the required tests he was sent to Tuskegee, a small college town in Alabama to become one of the first Black pilots. Whereas white cadets progressed through their training at different bases, the black pilots did all their training (Basic, Primary, and Advanced) at Tuskegee at different fields around the town, and they became known as “the Tuskegee Airmen”. In 2012 a movie,“Red Tails”, was made about their exploits, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard, and Bryan Cranston.
Blair proceeded with this 332nd Fighter Group to Italy, where they entered combat, originally flying P-40 airplanes, but later the most advanced US fighter, the P-51 Mustang. Their record for escorting bombers to the war zone was exemplary, and though not 100% true, they claimed that no bomber they were escorting was ever shot down. As well Blair became known as “the Great Train Robber”. When their base was running short of fuel he organized a convoy to hijack a train bound for another base and take the fuel tanks it was transporting to his base!
Following the war he spent some time in Albuquerque, but moved to Denver in 1951 where until 1969 he worked at The Rocky Mountain Arsenal, while remaining in the Air Force Reserve from which he retired in 1985 as a Major. In 1970 he moved to Lowry Air Force Base as the Equal Opportunity Officer, and while there in 1973 he ran for and was elected to the Denver Board of Education, where he served until his retirement in 1985. In 1975 he became vice president of the Board, and two years later he became its first Black president, serving until 1981. It was during this period that Denver was required by a US Supreme Court decision of 1973 to integrate its schools and begin busing of students to achieve this, although several of the buses were bombed during this time.
Blair had also served as Commissioner of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority during the time that they initiated the Sixteenth Street Mall. In 1984 he received an Honorary Doctorate from Metro State College as a “Doctor of Public Service” for his many years of service to education. In 2003 the Blair-Caldwell African American Library at 2401 Welton Street was dedicated to him and Elvin Caldwell, the first Black member of the Denver City Council, and a manager of the Denver Department of Safety. In 2004 the Edison Charter School in Green Valley Ranch was renamed the Omar D. Blair Charter School, also honoring Blair’s work in education.
Omar Blair died in 2004, and is buried near the center of Block 121 of Fairmount Cemetery.
By Tom Morton
Those who happen to drive through the canyon that harbors the North Fork of the South Platte River, pass a place where the old Dome Rock railroad station used to sit. For many years, a large simple polished blue granite monument sat near this site. The name inscribed on the monument was “Westall.”
If you’ve ever seen this obelisk you’ll notice additional words etched on its upper edge: “Charity, Hope, and Protection.” The initials “A.O.U.W.” are also present, as well as the phrase “Tell my wife I died thinking of her.”
If any of this arouses your curiosity, read on. For this monument is devoted to a simple, brave man — William G. Westall of Denver. Or “Willy,” as most people called him.
Willy was an engineer with the South Park and Pacific Railroad. By all accounts, he was popular with his passengers, most of whom were locals and regular travelers on his line.
On August 28, 1898, Willy was driving his locomotive back toward Denver after what was, by all reports, a lovely day in the mountains.
About 450 passengers had boarded the train and sat in the coaches, relaxing after a healthy day’s jaunt in the beauty of late summer. A storm had struck north of them. No one knew that torrential downpours had washed great piles of sand, gravel, and debris from a local stream and spread them across the tracks of the SP&P.
One can only imagine what Willy thought when he noticed the obstacle blocking his way. He was too close to stop, but he did what he could to slow his train so it’s impact would be lessened, giving his passengers a fighting chance at survival.
The locomotive rammed the obstruction and derailed, flipping over. Willy’s fireman, “Buddy” John Nichols, leaped aside just in time and avoided injury. Willy, however, was pinned beneath his engine. His injuries were mortal, but he had succeeded. His passengers, though terrified, were alive. Another train soon arrived to freight them back to their homes in Denver.
Still alive, Willy was taken to nearby Buffalo Creek where he expired later that night. His last words were to Buddy Nichols. “Tell my wife I died thinking of her,” he said.
Just over a year later, on September 4, 1899, members of Willy’s union — the A.O.U.W., or Ancient Order of United Workmen — commemorated the impressive granite obelisk that still stands along the North Fork of the South Platte River to honor the heroism and sacrifice of their fallen colleague.
The unveiling ceremony for Willy’s monument was considered something of a local holiday in which whole towns participated. Nearly all of the officers of the A.O.U.W. grand lodge were said to attend. A train carrying survivors of Willy’s ill-fated run arrived so that all could pay their respects to the man who had saved their lives. A men’s quartet sang inspirational hymns while locomotive engineers from Willy’s division of the SP&P paid tribute to their fallen comrade.
News about Willy’s heroism spread across the state and around the country. In short order, this humble man, William G. Westall, was a genuine American folk hero, a living symbol of duty, commitment, selflessness, and sacrifice.
Years later, people were still telling the tale of brave Willy Westall to school-age children.
Though Willy’s monument has held up surprisingly well over the years, local residents became concerned that repeated flooding in the region washing the ground out from under it. Members of the National Junior Honor Society of West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer eventually made it their project to move the monument to a more stable location. This was accomplished on December 9, 2013.
In its new home, the monument to Willy G. Westall is more visible to passersby and stabilized on a new and durable pediment.
Today, you can see Willy’s monument by taking Highway 285 to Conifer and using the Foxton Road exit. When you reach the W. Platte River Road, turn left and continue several miles along the road, which eventually turns into gravel and what was once the railroad tracks. William G. Westall is buried at Riverside. N1/2 section of lot 58 in block 22.
The monument can be found on the right side next to the river.
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
Under a ledger stone in the center of Block 2 at Fairmount lies Major General Orlando Ward, reputed to be the most highly decorated veteran in the cemetery. His military career spanned over 40 years and included duty in 3 separate wars or campaigns.
Orlando Ward was born in Macon, Missouri on November 4, 1891, but moved to Denver at an early age. In 1914 he graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, and was commissioned in the cavalry. In 1915 he accompanied General John Pershing on his campaign into Mexico to try to capture the bandit Pancho Villa, who had been raiding towns along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Seeing the end of horses in warfare he switched to the artillery, and during the First World War at the second battle of The Marne in France he took charge of a battalion of Field Artillery, and was instrumental in helping to stem a German attack. For his action he was awarded the Silver Star.
Between the wars he had various postings, including a stint as an instructor at the US Field artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he developed many innovations in gunnery, including a technique to concentrate battalion fire very quickly, which made the US artillery much more effective during WWII. Immediately before the war he served as secretary to the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshal.
After the outbreak of the World War II he skipped a rank to be promoted to Major General, and became commander of the army’s First Armored Division, known as “Old Ironsides”. He led them as part of Operation Torch, the American invasion of North Africa. At the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the first time the US Army had encountered the Germans, the First Armored was sent reeling by sudden attacks from the Germans. Ward felt one reason was that his division had been split up into smaller units which weakened their ability to repulse strong concentrations of German troops. Headquarters believed this was the result of planning by the Corps commander, General Lloyd Fredendall, who was replaced with General George Patton. As the campaign along North Africa slowly progressed, Patton felt that Ward was not aggressive enough, eventually relieving him of his command, although Ward had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his action in Tunisia during an assault at Meknessy Heights in 1943, as well as another Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Ward returned to the States and became Commandant of the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood, Texas, and later Commander of the Artillery School at Fort Sill. In 1944 he took command of the US 20th Armored Division in central Europe, and it was his troops that seized the German city of Munich in April 1945. In his book, “An Army at Dawn”, author Rick Atkinson stated, “In the American Army few relieved commanders got a second chance to lead men in combat; Ward was an exception because he was exceptional”.
In 1946 following World War II General Ward was given command of the Sixth Infantry Division in South Korea. In 1949 before hostilities in Korea began, he returned to the US and became the Chief of the Office of Military History, Department of the Army, where he supervised the production of the official US Army Military history of World War II.
Orlando Ward retired from the army in 1953 and returned to Denver, where he died on February 4, 1972.
By Tom Morton
FHF FUN FACT QUIZ
Can you name a well-known historic Denver citizen that was buried at both Riverside and Fairmount???
ANSWER: JOHN WESLEY ILIFF
ABOUT JOHN WESLEY ILIFF:
By Tom Morton
Joseph A. Walker (1856 – 1907)
On November 3rd, a service was held in Block 8 of Fairmount Cemetery to dedicate a gravestone honoring Joseph A. Walker, one of the first Secret Service agents killed in the line of duty. Recently his family, especially Robert T. Walker, Joseph’s only surviving Grandson, tried to find his unmarked grave, and Tim Wilson of the Fairmount Cemetery Company was able to locate it for them. A suitable granite marker was erected, and many members of the family attended the dedication, which took place exactly 103 years after his death. In spite of his 89 years Robert T. Walker participated in the dedication, as well as two of Joseph’s great granddaughters, and some of his 19 great-great grandchildren. Also in attendance were members of the Secret Service from Colorado and the regional director of the Association of Former Agents of the Secret Service.
Joseph Albert Walker was born in Port Henry, New York in 1856, but moved to Syracuse at an early age where he received his education. After earning a law degree in New York City he joined the civil service where he was employed for 32 years. In 1888 he moved to the Secret Service which had been created in 1865 to suppress counterfeiting in the US. For a time he was on the detail guarding President Grover Cleveland. He later moved to Denver and became the first agent in charge of the Denver Field office, overseeing operations in several western states and territories.
In 1907 there was a very large land fraud investigation in southwestern Colorado concerning coal mining operations. Seventy citizens of Durango and La Plata County had been indicted by a grand jury. On November 3rd Joseph Walker and another agent, as well as a geologist and a miner left Hesperus, 12 miles west of Durango, to investigate a coal mining operation on land owned by a man named William Mason. While the other three descended into a mine air shaft on Mason’s land seeking evidence, Walker remained on the surface. He was confronted by Mason and a man named Joe Vanderwiede. They later claimed Joseph Walker had drawn his pistol, and Vanderwiede shot Walker in the back with both barrels of a shotgun. It was later shown that Walker’s gun had not been fired, and from Walker’s wounds he could not have been aiming at them. After an autopsy Walker’s body was brought to Denver where it was cremated at Riverside Cemetery and his ashes were interred at Fairmount.
Mason and Vanderwiede were tried for murder in Durango in one of the largest trials in Colorado history. Although the evidence against the two was overwhelming, they claimed self defense, and a jury of local farmers and miners acquitted them. They were re-arrested on a Federal Warrant, but a judge ruled this constituted double jeopardy and released them. Without Walker to testify all charges in the land fraud case had to be dropped.
As a result of Walker’s murder President Theodore Roosevelt had two laws passed. One provided Federal pensions to families of agents killed in the line of duty, and the other made it a Federal crime to kill an agent while in the discharge his duty. So Joseph Walker’s life, although short, over the past 100 years has still had an impact on the United States.
by Tom Morton