Last week, I started my tour of Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery. This week, we’ll explore the lives of more of its occupants. Some were memorable role models but a few were unsavory characters, such as Dr. John Galen Locke.
The Locke mausoleum is within sight of the Iliff monument (which I talked about in my last post). Nothing on it indicates that inside are the remains of the man who almost single-handedly led the Klu Klux Klan’s brief hold on Denver’s government in the 1920s.
Arriving in Denver in 1893, Dr. John Galen Locke was an early backer of the Ku Klux Klan’s arrival in Colorado. Short and obese, Locke was an unlikely looking man of influence. But when he became Denver’s Klan Grand Dragon in 1921, he was just that.
According to Robert Goldberg’s book “Hooded Empire, the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado”, Locke’s influence over the 1924 elections of Governor Clarence Morley, Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, and the state legislature were key. By Nov. 5 of that year, the Klan controlled the state Republican party, all but four counties east of the Rocky Mountains, the City of Denver, the state government, and made gains in the judiciary.
So how did the Klan become a major force in Colorado when the state’s African-American population was incredibly small? In the post-World War I era, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant leanings were strong. Stapleton actually denounced the Klan when he ran for office while secretly being a member. But after the Klan swept through the Capitol, it became acceptable to openly identify one’s membership with the group.
Locke was not exactly a poster boy for the Klan. He had a Catholic wife at one point and employed two Catholic secretaries. He looked to Jews and Catholics for his legal advice. Some historians believe it was Locke’s thirst for power that drove his Klan allegiance rather than an ideological stance. But it made him no less dangerous.
Eventually, Locke’s missteps sealed his fate when he started butting heads with Mayor Stapleton and other heavy hitters. He served jail time for multiple counts of income tax fraud. By 1925, he was asked to step down as the Klan’s Grand Wizard and the organization’s grip on Colorado (thankfully) began to shatter.
Locke died unexpectedly in 1935 when he dropped dead of a heart attack while at Denver’s famous Brown Palace Hotel. Ironically, a Catholic and a Jew were among his pallbearers. According to Goldberg, the night after his interment, a band of ex-Klansmen secretly entered the cemetery and lit a cross before his crypt.
Not far from the Locke mausoleum is the Bethell-Foster family plot featuring a monument of a mother, seated, with a young boy leaning against her.
This monument, originally called “Soar”, was purchased by Captain William Decatur Bethell and his wife, Cynthia Saunders Pillow Bethell, to honor their two sons, Pinckney C. Bethell and J. Pillow Bethell. The young men died in the 1890s while still in their 20s. Their daughter, Bessie, married prominent doctor John McEwen Foster and lived to the age of 73.
A wealthy man, Captain Bethell moved his family from Memphis to Denver in 1890 to improve his health. He and Cynthia built an ornate home in the Capital Hill area and the couple quickly became part of Denver’s high society.
The Bethells purchased the marble monument from Carrara, Italy firm H.T. Dempster (or someone who imported it from them). In 1895, the cost was around $350. Originally called “Soar”, it also came in Westerly granite at the cost of $918. Sadly, Captain Bethell died 11 years later, joining his sons in the family plot.
One of Denver’s most prominent education pioneers is buried at Fairmount. Her work enabled made many who would have never afforded to go to school to do so. Unfortunately, her life ended violently and the tragedy remains shrouded in mystery.
Born in Cincinnati in 1868, Emily Griffith grew up poor, leaving school after eighth grade to help support her family. At 17, she worked as a teacher in Nebraska. To reduce living expenses, she lived with her students’ families and realized many of them could not read, write, or do simple math. She felt that an education was the only way to lift people out of poverty, allowing parents to provide a better life for their children.
In 1894, Griffith’s family moved to Denver where she continued to teach. She was made Deputy State Superintendent of Schools in 1904. Serving six years, she left twice to return to working with students before returning to her post. Griffith also started teaching night classes for adults. She believed everyone deserved an education regardless of age, race, gender, or background.
In 1916, Emily opened the Opportunity School. Dedicated to her students, she gave them food and money, and worked with police to help troubled children. She retired in 1933, after 100,000 students had attended her school. That same year, Emily’s name was added to the title of the school, which later split into the Emily Griffith High School as well as the Emily Griffith Technical College.
While both schools recently moved into a new state-of-the-art building, their mission remains the same today. It offers more than 45 programs and 500-plus classes in a variety of subjects, designed to prepare students for the workforce. Its English as a Second Language program is the oldest and largest in Colorado, with 3,000 students enrolled last year.
Unfortunately, Emily’s story does not end happily.
Having never married or had children, Emily moved to a rustic cabin in Pinecliffe with her invalid sister, Florence. The cabin’s builder was Fred Lundy, an old friend and former teacher at the school, who lived nearby. It was also quite isolated.
Emily and Florence were found dead on June 19, 1947. The two were shot in the back of the head, execution-style, with no signs of a struggle. In fact, the kitchen table was set for three diners with food prepared. Nothing appeared disturbed, and no money was missing.
A man who delivered groceries to the sisters earlier that day said he was greeted by the two sisters and Lundy. By the next morning, Lundy had disappeared. A witness claimed he’d seen Lundy getting on a Denver-bound freight train, and his car was found near Pinecliffe. When police broke the window to get inside, they found a suitcase filled with the $555 Lundy had withdrawn from his bank a week earlier, along with a note that read:
To the coroner: If and when I die, please ship my body to Roscoe, Illinois, to be buried in our family plot. No autopsy. Contact [cousin] Roy Cummings. No funeral here. Money in this briefcase can be used for immediate expenses. Thank you. P.S. Embalm in Boulder, Colorado.
In August of that year, a fisherman found Lundy’s remains in South Boulder Creek, wedged beneath a rock. By now, rumors had cropped up that Lundy had fallen in love with Emily, but she had spurned him. Others suggested Emily was sick and could no longer care for her sister, so Lundy had ended their lives as a mercy killing.
Regardless, the murders remains unsolved to this day. The sisters were cremated immediately so no autopsies were performed and what evidence remained was lost to storage changes and a fire. It’s a sad end to a life dedicated to helping others, one that is still impacting the world today.
As you can see, I haven’t gotten to the Fairmount Mausoleum yet. Just too many stories to share. Sorry! We’ll get there in Part III, I promise.