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Chapter Three
Childhood, 1891-1904

I was born in Denver, Colorado, April 29, 1891.

I had a sister, Catherine Louise, almost two years older than I. She married Lawerence Handley an electric engineer in Denver, they had two girls Jane and Winifred, Jane as Mrs. Olsen now lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and Winifred as Mrs. Cutling lives in San Francisco. Jane has a daughter Barbara, we call her Bobby, who is a Catholic nun teaching small children in a convent in Portland, Oregon. Contrary to common belief, which is as often wrong, Bobby became a nun completely by her own choice, is a beautiful, cheerful, happy young woman in her life's work and keeps in close touch with her family.

I also had another sister, two years younger than I. Her name was Nevious, grandma Carts family name. She passed away when five years of age with scarlet fever.

My sister Louise, passed away in 1957 in New York City.

My first or earliest memories go back to when we lived at 32nd and Curtis streets in Denver in the middle 1890's. That was then a very nice part of Denver, but through the years has become one of the poor sections of the city.

My sister, Nevious, was blind and Uncle Doctor Ketchersid while traveling in Switzerland sent her a short hair St. Bernard dog, whom we named Gretchen. Gretchen was a very important part of my very young boyhood days. She was an enormous dog. I have never seen as large a dog of any breed, larger than any regular ordinary long hair St. Bernards. At first she was of course Nevious' dog and as such she acted just like a modern seeing-eye dog of today, she seemed to fully realize that Nevious was blind and watched over her accordingly. My mother soon learned that she could even send Nevious, along with Gretchen, to the stores that were several blocks from home. Nevious would reach up and hold onto Gretchen's collar and they would walk along and across streets, as safely as if an adult were along. They had to cross a street that had cars running on it. Gretchen was smart enough to wait at the curbing on this street until any visible street car went out of view, she never seemed to know whether the car was coming or going but she made certain no car was in sight before taking Nevious out in the street. All this with no training, because seeing-eye dogs were not heard of before World War I. This was typical of the way Gretchen instinctively looked after little Nevious.

Nevious was a beautiful little girl with beautiful blue eyes, one would never have known she was blind by just looking at her. Around home she walked, played and acted the same as if she could see. One reads fantastic stories of what blind people can do, having some of their other senses more keen than the rest of us. I always believe such stories, because I recall playing and living with Nevious and never realizing she couldn't see. To help her, mother insisted that everything, large and small, always be kept in its proper place every minute of the day and night; all to make life easier for Nevious and protect her against accidents. Nevious could always walk any place in our home or yard knowing where everything was and helped herself to almost anything at anytime. This actually worked no hardship on any of us. We just took it for granted that you always put everything in its exact proper place immediately upon being through with it. I lost this habit in later years, but apparently carried the idea on into adult life to such an extent that I have made some people uncomfortable at home and at work as things were left out of place.

Nevious readily recognized people by their voices, even though she had heard them only once or twice. She easily recognized those she new well by their walk. We used to make somewhat of a game with her to have her recognize colors by sense of touch. She was not infallible in distinguishing colors, but more often than not she could tell whether something was red, blue, white, or black. She could not differentiate between red, pink, gray or black, etc.

Although I was still just a little boy at the time, it left a great void in my life when Nevious passed away, because she, Gretchen and I had been an inseparable trio up to that time. Sister Louise always seemed to be older that I, more so than just the two years difference.

Upon Nevious' death, the dog Gretchen became my dog and she looked after me as she had Nevious. I well recall three happenings typical of our life together. My father was a large, tall man 6 feet 4 inches. He seldom spanked or whipped me, but did so thoroughly when the occasion called for it. Gretchen, as I said, was an enormous dog weighing over 150 pounds. We kept her in our large back yard, fenced in with a special solid wood fence some 6 feet high. One day, I was due for a whipping from my dad and I ran out into the back yard with him after me. Immediately, Gretchen came to my rescue, jumped up on her hind legs against my father knocking him flat, otherwise not hurting him; by the time it was all over my punishment was forgotten. Of course being a smart kid, I took advantage of this in the following months and missed a few punishments by staying out in the yard with Gretchen. The point of this story is that as the result of Gretchen saving me from a whipping, I saved her from several whippings later on. We had a short piece of rubber garden hose with which we whipped Gretchen. She being my dog was generally whipped by me. After the above happening I would take Gretchen into the coal shed for her punishments, beat the walls of the shed with the hose and scold Gretchen. Smart Gretchen either from habit, fear or sensing the game would cry dog fashion, all adding up to my folks thinking I had whipped Gretchen.

Another day I was out in our front yard playing with Gretchen when along came the young man delivering the daily newspaper riding a bicycle, as he threw the paper into the yard it hit me, actually in no way hurting me, but the dog was not going to have anyone hitting me with anything. She took out after the fellow, pulling him off his bike and tearing his pants. My father had to buy him a new pair of pants.

In back of us, across the alley, lived the Wilfley family in which there was a young fellow about 18 years old who might have been termed ornery, he constantly teased us smaller neighborhood boys. He had a small dog that was the snappy type and most of we small boys were really afraid of it. One day, out in the alley, this Wilfley man along with his dog caught me alone he thought, and sicced his dog onto me. I knew Gretchen was just around the corner of the high fence, yelled for her she came dashing like a charging lion. She grabbed the small dog in her enormous jaws, killing it with one crunch, then jumped for the fellow's throat. He put his arm up to defend himself and Gretchen bit though his wrist. As a result of all this the Wilfeys' reported Gretchen to the police and some friend of my dad's at city hall tipped him off that the orders had been given to shoot Gretchen as a dangerous animal. To save Gretchen, my father rushed home and took Gretchen out into the country to our milk man and the police never found her. After things quieted down we gave Gretchen to some close friends who kept her until she died of old age, during the intervening years I used to often visit Gretchen.

As a result of being so close to Gretchen and realizing what a dog means to a boy, we always had a dog as my boys were growing up, all of them will remember the last one, their beloved Fritz who was about as human as was Gretchen. Queer how much things grow to affect later lives and generations.

In later years I went to high school and college and played football with one of the younger Wilfley boys and we were very close friends, in spite of the above disagreeable happening; showing how small the world is as well as that there would have been no sense in carrying grudges on through the years.

Another memory of those times was that when I was about six years old, my dad took us to California. Such a trip was a real event in anyone's life in those days. Few people were lucky enough to travel so far then. We went by the Santa Fe, on their then crack train the California Limited. I distinctly recall two outstanding events of this trip. Remember it was before the days of the automobile and that Los Angeles had a population of only some 100,000 people. The first thrill was my first view of the Pacific ocean. We stayed in some comparatively small hotel in Los Angeles. One day we took the street car to Santa Monica. It went into Santa Monica along what is now Santa Monica Boulevard. As we first saw the ocean from the front of the street car, Louise and I whooped and hollered to the point that the folks wished they had left us home. You who live in California cannot realize the changes that have taken place there since that first trip of mine. Santa Monica was the only beach around there that anybody ever heard of and it was very simple and natural, really much more impressive than it is nowadays with all it's buildings, man made parks, etc. Too bad that man has so many times really spoiled beautiful places of nature in his ignorant thinking he can improve on nature.

Another day we joined a party of probably twenty tourists and took an all day trip to Baldwin Ranch over by Pasadena. We went in a large open coach with six spirited horses. We stopped in Pasadena for lunch at the then new and famous Green Hotel. It was then one of the most noted hotels in southern California and the only one of its size or consequence in Pasadena. Then, we had an early dinner at Baldwin Ranch. It was then still the true Baldwin Ranch, raising thoroughbred horses. Later it was known as Baldwin Park and at this writing has become largely a residential area; all this in one man's life time.

While living on Curtis street I started to school, first at the old Gilpin school, then at the brand new Maria Mitchell school.

In early 1898 my father bought a lovely newly built thirteen room home on the corner of 12th and Race streets. It was 'away out' then within one block of the end of the street car line, in what was then the new, classy section of rapidly growing Denver. Our friends were somewhat critical of my dad for moving his family so far out. As I write this, this part of Denver, though still very nice, is now considered 'close in' to town.

Just back of us at this new Race street home, you might say as the extension of our back yard, there was an old cemetery. Later in life as I studied Colorado history, I found that this cemetery was the very first cemetery for the original settlement of the camp then called Auroria that later became Denver. Auroria in 1858 consisted only of a few log cabins down on the Platte river where Cherry creek ends. As deaths occurred in this little settlement, mostly from gun shots, they took the bodies away out east, some three miles or so, up on a hill and started this first cemetery.

We moved out there in early 1898 the city had taken over this rather large cemetery and was starting to make it into Congress Park, which in later years became beautiful Cheesman Park. They were still digging up the old graves and we kids used to get quite a kick out of going out there after dark and picking a few bones and scaring the less venturesome boys and girls. This removal went on for several years, delayed at times by petty politics; I mention this delayed action for a real reason that will be disclosed later in this story.

After first moving out to Race street I attended Wyman grade school and very soon for some mischievousness got in wrong with the school principal, a Mr. Osenbaugh who was of the old school and was famous for thrashing the kids. He had told me one day he was going to give me a good licking the next day and of course I was scared to death, because I had already seen some of the little boys who had really been hurt by his beatings. I went home and told my dad. My dad said he would whip his kids when they needed it, but no one else ever could, so he went to school with me the next day and made it very clear to Mr. Osenbaugh that if he whipped me, he, my father, would give him a thrashing he'd never forget; remember my dad was a very large man and could easily have done it. As a result I did not get that licking. Shortly afterwards, as the result of his brutality this principal was fired which justified my father's stand. I should mention here that my father was not a pugnacious man nor did he ever look for trouble, in fact this was the only time I ever heard of where he ever came near getting into fisticuffs with anyone, even in those comparatively rough times.

My father's interference in my behalf, this time at school, left a life long impression on me. I knew I did not deserve such drastic punishment and so appreciated my dad's protection that in later years I tried to make a point to stand up, when I honestly thought they needed me, for my boys as they went through school.

I actually remember very little about my father. Many of my recollections of him were primed by his close friends and my mother after he passed away. He was quite a sportsman, i.e., a hunter and fisherman and certainly was a mixer belonging to all branches of Masons, was a thirty second degree Mason, Shriner and Knight Templar, as well as being a member of other fraternal organizations. Above all, however, he was a good family man and provider. He became one of the most noted assayer-chemists in the world and worked himself up to be managing partner of the largest and best known assay offices in the world, E. E. Burlingame and Company; located on Lawerence street between 17th and 18th. They did assaying for mines and mining companies all over the world; as a little boy I used to go to his office and pick out the foreign postage stamps from the waste paper baskets and thus started a stamp collection, which I carried on into my high school days, lost interest and sold for much less that it was worth of course. All through my life I have had many occasions of being proud of being Henry Zisch's son.

As a young man he was lead poisoned by the lead fumes at the Golden smelter and this eventually aggravated his health, turning into Bright's disease and died in 1899. The last several years of his life he and mother traveled a great deal to many health resorts and consulting specialists, but to no avail. While they were away they had his sister, Aunt Laura, come to our home to look after Louise and me. On one trip to the then famous resort, Hot Springs, Arkansas he became much worse and my mother rushed him to Hope, Kansas to be under his brother-in-law, Dr. Ketchersid; Aunt Kate's husband, who had a hospital there. One day Aunt Laura received word that there was no hope, so she packed Louise and me off to Hope and my dad passed away a few days after we arrived. They brought him back to Denver and buried him in Riverside cemetery. My mother was still a beautiful young woman and he left her in comfortable circumstances financially, so naturally for many years she had several admirers desiring to marry her. However, her old Catholic basic training seemed to prevail, plus the fact that she apparently loved dad more than normally, and she never was interested in another man to the point of marriage. I recall telling her one time, about twenty years after my father's death, that I wished she had married again, if for no other reason than for companionship. Tears came to her eyes and she said, "Henry, don't you realize that I married your father for all time, I am and always will be his wife, even in heaven." I have often thought how much better the world would be if many others would also take their marriages seriously.

After my father's death, her friends prevailed upon my mother to join Eastern Star, to get her out into the world and give her more to occupy her mind because some feared she was cracking from her grief. She took her lodge work seriously, joining several other organizations such as White Shrine, Ladies of the Amaranth, etc., mostly Masonic sponsored. She held several state offices in these, in 1927 she was Grand Worthy Matron of Eastern Star for the state of Colorado. At times, I resented her devoting her life to these outside affairs and not having much time to interest herself in my growing family; as years go by, however, I realize it probably was all for the best and I am glad she has had such a full life and is now surrounded by many friends of her own generation and interests.

Besides her lodge interests she went into charity work, for five years she was a volunteer worker for the Social Service Bureau, then for twenty-five years was a full time paid worker.

When I first went to high school I was embarrassed about calling my mother, 'Momma,' that she had always insisted upon, most boys of course called their mothers, 'Mother' or 'Mom.' I then nicknamed her, 'Duchess' and the name has stuck all through these years. My children and grandchildren call her 'Grandma Duchess.' When granddaughter Judy was tiny this was too long for her to pronounce so she called her 'Dutch' for a long time, which pleased my mother very much. So, I may in this narrative frequently use the name 'Duchess,' in which case you will know I am referring to my mother. She, at ninety, is living alone in Denver in a large house at 1634 Steale; none of us approve of her living alone, but she insists. She still has a full life, lots of company, goes out a great deal and lives a full interesting life to this day. I wonder how many of us will equal her at ninety years of age?

A great deal of my young boyhood was built around the mining camps of Black Hawk and Central City. My parent's closest life long friends were Will and Rachel Maughan, closer than most brothers and sisters, I called them Uncle Will and Aunt Rachie. They had no children, but always acted as if Louise and I were theirs, so we spent the larger part of our summers with them in those beautiful mountains and still lively mining camps.

Remember that my grandpa Mullen was engineer on the narrow gauge Colorado and Southern Railroad. He pulled the daily passenger trains up from Denver to Black Hawk. Then, would help the freight engines during the middle of the day switching and hauling the narrow gauge ore cars up and down the many spurs to the mines and ore mills in the gulches feeding into Black Hawk, most of these spurs were from one to three miles long. While I was still a small boy he would let me ride in the engine cab with him and his fireman. I was the envy of all the boys around. Of course this was actually against the rules of the road. I always took delight in sitting on the fireman's side and ringing the bell. The fireman was a fairly young man while grandpa, though then not really an old man, was much older.

One day when 'we' were switching up the canyon at the old Treasure mine and mill, about two miles above the Black Hawk depot, and had several ore cars behind us, the engine, something went wrong with the air brakes. Away we went down the rather steep grade on into town, I being on the fireman's side of the cab. Grandpa immediately tied his whistle down so it would warn everybody in town of the runaway train, hollered at his fireman to jump, then jumped himself before the train gathered too much speed. In all the confusion grandpa thought the fireman jumped with me, and he, the fireman, thought grandpa would take me with him. This left me alone in the engine cab with several cars of ore behind us racing down those tracks into and through town gaining speed every minute. The people at the depot heard the whistle, knew there was a runaway train, so threw open a derailing switch just below the depot yards. We hit the open switch, plowed into the side of the hill and did considerable damage to the engine. By a miracle I was not seriously hurt, other than a few minor steam burns and bruises. Oddly, I was not scared, did not have enough sense at ten to realize what was happening. There was quite a furor about my having been in the cab against the rules, I imagine the only thing that kept grandpa from being fired was that all the crew, as well as the agent at the depot, knew that I frequently rode the engine, so they could hardly fire everybody. Rest assured, I was never in the cab again, which was my only real injury from this dangerous episode.

My pal in those Black Hawk days was a boy named Ray Wilkins whose father was a miner. Ray owned a donkey and a two wheeled cart. The donkey's name was Jinnie. All donkeys seemed to be named Jinnie or Jack. Ray and I would wander all over those mountains with Jinnie and the cart, days at a time. In later years, I took much pleasure in my boys getting a donkey cart over around Idaho Springs, especially son Bill who talks of it to this day. It is a wonder that Ray and I did not kill ourselves in the many venturesome, reckless things we would do. We thought nothing of exploring the many abandoned mining tunnels and even shafts. We used to as little boys try our hands at mining. Our folks thought we did this only with a pick and shovel, but they did not know the half of it. We went so far as to beg, barrow, buy and steal dynamite sticks along with fuse and blasting caps.

You read many false stories of the danger of dynamite. It is not really as critically dangerous as the stories say. Actually it usually requires the combination of a spark or fire plus a blow or concussion to explode it. Ray and I used to cut, carefully, sticks of it into short pieces, light them like a torch, then thrown them against the rocks and thereby have the best firecrackers any boy ever dreamed of. Blasting caps were the really dangerous things. One day we were fooling around with some caps and I got my face too close, splitting my upper lip and had to have several stitches in it.

Our prize venture was one Fourth of July. We had acquired a whole case, fifty pounds, of 40 percent dynamite sticks. Best that I do not tell you how we gained ownership this time. There was a large balanced rock up Chase Gulch about two miles out of town, probably weighed fifteen or twenty tons. It was more or less one of the sights around there. So, Ray and I could think of no better use for our dynamite, nor of a better way to celebrate Fourth of July. Early in the morning that end of town heard a big blast, soon located it and found this enormous rock away down the hill between the road and the creek. There was a lot of talk and investigation, but no one apparently suspected two such small boys as Ray and me. Ray and I were a pair of pretty worried boys for some weeks afterwards. I certainly never told this to a soul for many years and I doubt if Ray did.

The first time I ever 'had a girl' was up there in Central City. I must have been possibly ten years old at the time. Amongst the crowd my mother and the Maughan's went around with was a widow Mrs. Sisson, postmistress for Central City. She had a daughter, Vera, about my age. In those days people took their children with them to parties, dances and the theater, so Vera and I would be included, became good friends and danced together a great deal; over a period of two or three years. In those days Central City Opera House had very good legitimate high class road shows, the same as the good ones that stopped in Denver or cross country towns. Nowadays, they have revised this opera house. It has become one of the nationally famous summer theaters and it is considered quite the social thing to go to the Central City Opera House. Frankly, I get quite a kick out of many of my friends bragging when they go up there now. I considered it a common thing over fifty years ago to attend that theater. Anyhow, I one day bought two tickets to the opera house and took Vera. It was the first date she ever had, and the first date for me, so another stepping stone in my life. Vera was a beautiful charming girl and a good friend of mine until they moved to California when she was about fifteen, and I lost track of her. I did find out later that she became quite a movie star in the then early days of Hollywood in fact she had her own small company for a while.

We must move on and back to my life as a young lad at our Race street home and after my father passed away.

We had the usual crowd or gang of neighborhood boys, the names of which are unimportant and of no interest to you. We were probably just the usual run of boys, certainly got into the usual mischief, but were not vicious or bad. It is odd what queer happenings are recalled in later life. This is one. My two closest friends then were the Courtney boys, Jim and Lute; we used to play one-o-cat baseball out in the park adjoining our back yard and would get into loud and rough arguments as do any three boys. One day the quarrel was the two of them against me. One of them called me the 'unforgivable' name S. O. B., that really started the fireworks and by a great deal of luck I licked the two of them, really gave them quite a beating. My mother heard us yelling and saw us fighting and came out about the time I was giving them their deserts, they being down on the ground. With no questions asked, my mother took me in the house and gave me a thorough hard whipping. I never did quite forgive the Duchess for this whipping, because I felt I had been defending her good name and ancestry.

A family by the name of Bentley moved next door to us shortly. They had two girls; Annie, who was my sister's age; and, Ethlyn, who was my age. Of course we all became very good friends. Boylike, I always took delight in teasing the girls, especially Ethlyn. Along about 1902-03, Ethlyn acquired a girl friend, a Florence Jaynes who lived out on Detroit street about six blocks away. I teased these two girls to the point that I was as unpopular as a fellow could be, but that did not bother me -- then!

Grandma and Grandpa lived in a large house over in north Denver in these days, with a large yard. They had a horse and buggy. The horse was named Mag. My mother's youngest sister, my Aunt Leola, was just one year older than I and was the truest tom-boy I ever knew. She and I were always great pals. It was Leola and I against the whole world, much to my sister Louise's grief, as we were always ganging up against her. Grandma would frequently put us three kids in the buggy and take us out in the country for one, two or three days; 'out in the country' meant out to the old farms of great-grandma Cart's or Aunt Minnie Lee's. Aunt Minnie had three children, Bob, Bill and Ruby. The six of us kids had much fun playing and living the wholesome fishing, swimming and playing with the various farm animals. It was much fun going to the various old fashioned farms and country social affairs, dances, box-socials, etc. Farmers of those days lived what you would consider a simple life, but they had more real fun amongst people, their neighbors, than anyone enjoys nowadays, because they made their own fun and had more close friends than is possible in this more modern fast moving day. Everything in their life was built around their families and life long friends.

In many ways I was a fortunate boy in having the unusual privilege of living three lives, city life in Denver, mining camp life in Black Hawk and country life out at the Cart and Lee Farms.

Along about 1902 a new school was built out on Columbine street the Clayton school. I then left the old Wyman school and attended Clayton, from which I graduated from eighth grade in 1904. The principal of Clayton was a wonderful man Eugene Stevens, whose brother was the great engineer who surveyed the building of the Panama Canal, I believe he was a colonel. Today, this Clayton school, is called the Stevens school in honor of its first principal.

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©1958 James H. Zisch, ©1974 James H. Zisch, III