As we dig into Part III of this series on Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, I’m going to feature some Coloradans who played an important role in making the city what it is today.
The story of John and Mary Elitch is a happy one for the most part. Together, they founded what began as a zoological garden that is now one of the country’s most successful amusement parks.
A native of Alabama, John Elitch Jr. operated restaurants in both San Francisco and Durango, Calif. with some success. He hoped to finance a vaudeville theater but failed more than once. In the early 1870s, he met 16-year-old Mary Lydia Hauck and was quickly smitten. Born in Philadelphia, Mary spent most of her childhood in California. Despite her parents’ misgivings, the couple eloped and spent their honeymoon in San Jose, Calif.
Eventually, the Elitches opened a restaurant in Denver in 1880 called the Elitch Palace that became popular with their theater friends, including showman P.T. Barnum. In hopes of supplying the restaurant with fresh produce, the Elitches purchased 16-acre Chillicot Farm on the outskirts of Denver in 1888.
The Elitches moved to the farm, planting vegetable gardens, and Mary added floral gardens. Barnum and Harry Tammen, new owner of the Sells-Floto Circus that wintered near the farm, gave Mary surplus baby animals to fill out her collection of strays. Before long, she was raising bears, lions cubs, monkeys, and an ostrich.
In 1889, John and Mary thought that like Woodland Gardens in San Francisco, their farm could be just as attractive to Denver families. By spring 1890, with gardens, a zoo, picnic areas, a playground and a theater, they were ready to open Elitch Gardens to the public. It became a local favorite, often attracting 8,000 to 10,000 patrons on a Sunday.
When the couple made $35,000 during the first season, John used part of the windfall to form another theatrical company. Unfortunately, while traveling with the troupe, John became ill. On March 10, 1891, he died of pneumonia with Mary at his side. He was only 40 years old. He was buried at Fairmount Cemetery.
Despite the loss of her true love, Mary decided to continue managing Elitch Gardens on her own.
Mary formed a summer stock company in 1897, choosing directors and actors that included James O’Neill, father of famous playwright Eugene O’Neill. Future Broadway and movie stars came, such as Edward G. Robinson, Frederic March and Cecil B. DeMille, who later dubbed Mary’s theater “the cradle of the American drama.”
Remarrying in 1899 to Thomas Long, Mary’s attention to Elitch Gardens began to wane. When Long died in 1906, she handed more of its management over to others. Businessman John Mulvihill purchased Elitch Gardens in 1916 under the proviso that it always keep the Elitch name in its title and that Mary would have a home on the grounds until her death. Both promises were kept. After she died in July 1936, she was buried beside John at Fairmount Cemetery.
The Elitch Theater closed in 1991 but the original building still exists, currently being restored to its former glory. The amusement park, which was moved downtown in 1995, is still attracting families from far and wide.
Another businessman who made a still-existing mark on Denver was William Garrett Fisher. His monument is one I’ve seen in various forms at other cemeteries in the past, so I was especially intrigued by it. I’m posting them both here so you can see what I mean. Below is the monument I photographed at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tenn.
Now look at the Fisher monument. They’re a lot alike but can you see the differences? Both angels have their right hand lifted up, but only one holds a trumpet to her lips. The Fisher monument’s angel also holds a palm frond in her left hand while the Mt. Olivet one does not. The kneeling figures are each holding different items.
According to Annette Scott’s “Pioneer Cemeteries: Sculpture Gardens of the Old West”, this monument could be found in circulars produced by Bliss Brothers, photographers based in Buffalo, N.Y. The monument for Joseph Horne, founder of Horne’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, Pa., is exactly the same as the Fisher monument.
Merchant William B. Daniels came to Denver in 1864, where he began the dry goods business that later became Daniels and Fisher. William Garrett Fisher became his business partner in 1872. The company was so successful that by the 1890s it had become the largest retailer in the state, with a prominent store at the corner of Sixteenth and Lawrence Streets.
Daniels died in 1890 and Fisher died in 1897. Daniels’ son, William, reorganized the store before he hired friend Charles MacAllister Willcox as general manager. William then left for Europe, where he chose to spend his time at a rented castle in France.
While Fisher didn’t live to see it, the business he helped make a success spawned the 330-foot Daniels and Fisher Tower in Denver (375 feet if you included the flagpole). Designed by Frederick G. Sterner, it was based on St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, which had collapsed in 1902. The Campanile was being rebuilt at the time, inspiring replicas around the world. The clock tower opened in 1911 as a way to draw shoppers to the adjacent Daniels and Fisher department store. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.
Although Daniels and Fisher eventually merged with another company and moved into a different building in the 1950s, the tower remained. Despite threats of demolition, the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission convinced the city council to declare the Daniels and Fisher Tower a landmark. Soon after that the tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By the 1990s the tower’s exterior was looking forlorn. Tenants Richard Hentzell and Michael Urbana spearheaded an extensive renovation effort with the help of several State Historical Fund grants totaling more than $500,000. Nearly every part of the building was restored, including the Seth Thomas clock and observation deck. The $5 million effort was completed in 2006.
Today, the tower houses mostly office condominiums as well as an events venue on the upper floors. Visitors can access the tower’s observation deck in April as part of Doors Open Denver or arrange private tours through Clocktower Events. We walked by it several times during our stay in Denver.
I’m including the next person more for their monument than their history, although the life of Frederick Dearborn Wight was quite illustrious. A native of Maine, Wight served as First Lieutenant with Co. A, 1st Maine Sharpshooters, which participated in the siege of Petersburg, Va. Wight was present at Appomattox Court House, Va. for the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. Later, he moved to Colorado and was successful in ranching and banking.
Wight’s monument is quite something to behold.
Thanks to a Rocky Mountain News article someone posted on Find a Grave, I found out quite a bit about it. Called “Remembrance”, the total weight of the monument is 125,000 lbs., including the statue, base and settings. “One stone set back of the statue alone weighs 11 tons and required 10 horses to haul it to the cemetery,” notes the article.” It also claims the Wight monument to be the largest private monument in Colorado at that time.
Wight’s estate was noted to have been a little over $2 million dollars in 1911 when he died. So the $12,000 cost of the light gray granite monument (with a bronze statue) was a tiny drop in the bucket.
Richard Swanson, who also designed the Pinhorn and Smails mausoleums at Fairmount, designed and executed the Wight monument, and was well known in Denver for his work. A native of Iowa, he studied at the Chicago Art Institute and worked there for some years before moving to Denver for health reasons.
The final stop for today is the humble grave of Fairmount Cemetery’s original designer, Reinhard Schuetze. Born in Germany, he trained at Potsdam’s Royal Gardens and the Eberswalde forestry academy.
Schuetze arrived in America in 1889 with a wide knowledge of garden design and engineering. He designed and implemented a plan for Fairmount Cemetery, which resulted in a well-ordered and extensively engineered landscape inspired by his knowledge of European formal and picturesque prototypes.
Schuetzd worked and lived at Fairmount until 1894, when the City of Denver hired him away to develop it parks system (including Washington and Cheesman). He was also commissioned in 1895 to design the Colorado State Capitol grounds and zoological garden.
I know I’ve disappointed you yet again by not getting to Fairmount’s Mausoleum. But it deserves an installment all its own to truly give it justice. Your patience will pay off next week.