Telluride Inside…and Out in Denver: Walking tour

Telluride Inside…and Out in Denver: Walking tour

Kevin Rucker

Denver is Telluride Inside… and Out's home away from home, so last weekend we decided to get an up close and personal look at the oldest part of the city.

LoDo is the handle Denverites assigned to the Lower Downtown Historic District, located just northwest of Downtown Denver near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. LoDo, the original settlement of the city, is now a mixed-used neighborhood known for its vibrant nightlife with 70+ bars and restaurants – and at least as many ghosts. More later.

College history instructor Kevin Rucker is a descendant of Puritan settlers. His grandma, a hardcore genealogist, hooked him into an exploration of the past. Dressed in uniform, a paisley vest and bowler hat, the man cuts as colorful a figure as the miscreants and madams he describes on his spirited walking tour. (We are talking the liquid and supernatural variety.)

In a Tom Waits voice, all gravel and molasses, Rucker, a conjurer, resurrects early Denver movers, shakers, scalawags and scoundrels, the likes of notorious con man Soapy Smith; marshal/gambler/gunfighter/dandy/ladies man Bat Masterson; Mayor Robert Speer, whose legacy includes the City Auditorium, the Civic Center, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Denver Mountain Parks; and Mattie Silks, the leading madam, prostitute and brothel keeper of the latter part of the 19th century, whose House of Mirrors is likely the most haunted commercial building in the Mile High City.

Yes haunted. A breathless Rucker repeats eyewitness accounts of a mother still wailing the blues over the loss of her daughter to an over-achieving hit man. (Dust devils to fly in front of the building where she hung herself even when there is no wind.) A female Chinese factory worker, once imprisoned in basement room of what is now, poetically, P.F. Chang's, bangs on the walls to escape. A black soldier dressed in a WWII paces the mezzanine at Union Station. A posse of ghosts – cowboys, Victorian femme fatales, and dead little girls – hangs with the guests at the old Oxford Hotel. At one cafe, a man in a derby, a woman in white and something black and fuzzy appears at the window at dusk.

Rucker pulls facts out of his bowler like rabbits. Did you know, for example, the Denver might not have been Denver. The city might have been called Jefferson, Idaho, Lafayette, Arapahoe, or Lulu. Back in the days of the Gold Rush, Denver boasted 17 opium dens and 1100 brides of the multitudes. Denver is where cheeseburgers, shredded wheat, the ice cream soda and the gas chamber were invented. One of the panels in the Cruise Room of the Oxford Hotel depicted Hitler, who was Times Magazine's Man of the Year in 1934. After WWII, the panel was defaced and never replaced for obvious reasons.

Rucker's tour begins at the Market Deli, 1445 Larimer. It includes Larimer Square, the Oxford (where the tour takes a time-out for refreshments in the Cruise Room), Union Station, Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver Ice House, Coors Field then Denver's former redight District, and winds up at Mattie Silks' House of Mirrors. One of the most delightful stops along the march was a tasting at Evoo Marketplace, located at 1338 15th Street, one of the oldest extant commercial buildings in the city, where owner Mick Major features a selection of gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Call 303-914-6100 X 3846 or

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.