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Chapter Four
High School Days, 1905-1909

I then started in high school at old East Denver High, then located at 19th and Stout streets, where the present government building now stands. It was then that my life seemed to fill out and in a sense begin to become set into a pattern. From now oh I really missed having a father, although we were very comfortable financially, had a lovely home and a loving mother, I had no guiding hand in knowing what was ahead in life and what to prepare for. I am in no sense telling you this as an alibi for my later lack of set purposes but, rather, to impress upon you to profit by my mistakes. Always listen to your Dad and your elders who know so much more about the world than does youth. One has to attain some gray hair to realize how little youth really knows of life, and this applies to all generations, yours and mine. I am speaking of the purpose and aims of life; not of morals.

My mother, through my high school days, showered me with all material things and I always had plenty of money for clothes, entertainment, etc. Also, she always entertained my friends in our home more than most mothers. As a result of all of this, I was among the prominent lads at East Denver, a school then of about 2,000 pupils, and traveled with boys and girls actually over my head, so to say, financially and socially. This was all fine as I did have a wonderfully interesting and full life in high school and associated with the best of people, morally as well as otherwise, but again, I had no purpose, nor aim, nor did anyone seem to impress me of the need of a purpose of some kind in a lad when he reaches high school age. All this will explain some of my actions in the next several years.

In school I had passable grades in general, took active part in athletics, social organizations and had a generally good time. In those days they allowed Greek letter fraternities in large high schools; I belonged to the Sigma Delta Pi, which was the all powerful athletic group. We were a rather select group of about twenty boys, met in various homes and often in the home of the famous Judge Ben Lindsey. Judge 'Ben' as we called him had no children, lived close to two of our members, took a liking to us and insisted that we frequently meet in a large room in his basement. I suspect he did this with a definite purpose in mind. He was then Judge of the Juvenile Court and was constantly dealing with bad boys and those from broken and very poor homes. All of we fellows were from good and comfortable homes and really were a group of decent boys. He probably studied and watched us to understand better the kind of boys so different from those he had to work with. Later he became nationally famous as the father of the juvenile court system in all United States. He eventually moved to Los Angeles and became a prominent judge there. Doubtless he had more influence on all of us then we realized for we certainly could never have been accused of being sissies. We all were decent and never got into serious troubles then or later in our lives.

Several of these Sigma Delta Pi boys mode their marks in the world as men to mention a few, Herb Vandemoer owned the largest Ford automobile agency in Colorado, Dan Cunningham became probably the best known doctor in the state, Frank Taylor is now a prominent Denver business man and has been President of the Denver School Board for many years, Phil (Peke) Alexander is executive vice-president of the First National Bank in Denver, the largest financial institution between the Missouri river and the Pacific coast, and Frank Kemp is President of the Great Western Sugar Company as well as being chairman of the Association of Sugar Manufactures of the United States.

Dr. William H. Smiley was then principal of East Denver High. He was then recognized as one of the great educators of the Rocky Mountain Area, in fact he refused to accept the presidency of the University of Colorado and also the vice-presidency of Harvard University where he had been a professor of Greek and Latin before he came to Colorado for health reasons. The beautiful Smiley Junior High in Denver is named after him. Dr. Smiley ruled East Denver with an iron hand and commanded respect, almost awe, from all the students. He was as extremely strict disciplinarian. One of his hobbies was to teach promptness. He would not tolerate tardiness, to the point that he would openly say, "When you are tardy to school you show that you come from careless parents and homes."

Few students could ever get close to Dr. Smiley, but he deliberately made an exception to this. It was before the days of student councils, student associations, etc. Dr. Smiley had a small select group of boys whom he hand picked to be his student advisors, I believe it was a group of eight. The qualifications to be in this group were, had to be a senior, earned at least one athletic letter, to have held at least one elective office and above all you had to have been sent to his office for disciplinary action at least once for each of your first three years in school. This chosen group was known as 'Bill's Club' and had the great privilege of calling him Bill and being called into his office frequently to discuss all matters and policies affecting the student body. I had the great privilege of being chosen in my senior year. It was significant that he had no scholastic standards for this group, rather he wanted boys who were typical and could command a little respect from all the students, not necessarily the faculty.

My mother, like most mothers, did not approve of me playing football, so I did not try out for the team until my junior year. I then played center for two years. I also went out for track and made my letters running the 440 and on the relay team. In my senior year I was elected student manager of athletics.

In 1905 the Duchess sold our home at 1175 Race Street and bought a house at 1327 Elizabeth Street where we lived about two years, then she bought a home 'away out' at 2080 Birch Street in the then Park Hill. This was really 'away out.' They were just then starting to grade the streets there.

Life for high school age boys and girls in those days was very different than it is now. For better or worse is a matter of opinion. I am certain that I consider myself fortunate in having lived then. Our social life was much more formal then, hence we gave more attention and care to nice dressing, grooming, courtesies, manners and the so-called niceties of life. When a boy took a girl to a dance he would always send her flowers and take her in a carriage, two couples always going together to share the expense, $3.00 for a carriage and driver. When you became a senior the boys would always go to the formal dances in full dress. The nicer class of young people seldom if ever, went to public dances, but went only to invitation affairs. Also the nice folks learned ballroom dancing, mainly the waltz, two-step and schottische at some private dancing school. I attended dancing school at Mrs. Hayden's Cotillion Hall, which was a bit exclusive and stressed formalities, etc., as well as good dancing. Almost all nice dances and balls then started with a grand march, which was the great opportunity for everyone to see who was there and to strut their beautiful clothes. You always had a dance ahead of time. All this may sound a little silly to you moderns, but I assure you it was nice and beautiful and I have really felt sorry for the following generations that so many of these lovely niceties of life have been abandoned by most young people.

During my high school days one of my closest pals, probably my closest friend, was Phil Alexander, whom we called Peke, as his initials were P. K.. His father was Hugh J. Alexander whom I then, and to this day, thought was the greatest man I ever knew, not only because he was a big banker, but because he was such a great and fine man in every respect. He was president of the First National Bank and for many years was looked upon as the dean of the bankers in the Rocky Mountain area. He always liked me and did everything possible to keep Peke and me together; I think it was because I was the athletic type kid and anything but society, country club boy as were most of the friends of the Alexander's. Mr. Alexander did not want his boy to grow up to be just a society man. If I had not been so independent and full of false pride, Mr. Alexander would have seen that I had many chances; he certainly tried. Even years after I was grown and married he always took an interest in me to which your Grandma will testify.

Through Mr. Alexander, I had the privilege as a lad to know Julius O. Gunter, the then Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, later to become governor. The Judge, as we called him, was one of Colorado's great, always had time to visit with Peke and me. He and Mr. Alexander as two of the leaders of the West of that day, were good examples that really great men are actually simple, ordinary, decent home loving people.

I also had the privilege of knowing another Colorado governor, John F. Shafroth who became governor while I was a high school senior. At that time I was going steady with a girl who lived in the same block, between Colfax and 16th on York Street, as did the Shafroths. One of the Shafroth boys had some incurable disease and was bedridden. Lucille and I used to spend many afternoons and evenings at the Shafroth home, visiting and also amusing this bedridden boy. One of the Shafroth boys went to Annapolis and became one of the famous admirals in World War II. Governor Shafroth was a fine, decent American, always put his family above everything. He was everything that America is supposed to stand for. However, he was too honorable to play politics all the way with powers that be and eventually they broke him, largely by having the Denver Post hold him up to suspicion and ridicule as 'Honest John.' This was a good example of the basic weakness of our democracy, as Mr. Alexander used to preach to me, "It is a rare thing to get a proven capable, honest man to go into politics and, if he does, they will do everything to break him if he persists in staying honest and decent."

One of my close friends during these days was a George Kassler whose people had a lovely mountain home up at Grand Lake. I spent a few weeks up there for several summers. It was beautiful up there then, long before it was commercialized. There was then only about fifteen summer homes there and one little store, the post office; there were probably a dozen or so year around residents. Kasslers, as did the owners of the other homes there, had a canoe, a row boat and a motor launch as well as a small sail boat. Those were wonderful vacation days, fishing, swimming, mountain climbing and horse back riding. George was quite a swimmer, in fact he was the first person to swim the entire length of Grand Lake. That was quite a feat, because of the high altitude and very cold water. George and I were the most venturesome of the many boys that were at the various house parties there every summer. Each summer we would make a trip afoot over to Estes Park. We would leave Grand Lake at 2 in the morning, during the full moon and then follow a blazed trail up over Flat Top, some 12,000 feet high, then down to Bear Lake and on into the then small village of Estes Park, arriving there about 6:00 P.M.. By following a blazed trail, I mean there was no perceptible trial, but through the years the Indians and mountain men had 'blazed' a trial through the trees by chopping in the bark off the trees as they went along, then up above timberline they had built stone markers at intervals, small piles of rocks. That was a hard and dangerous trip. In fact you were supposed to report to the rangers whenever you attempted it and report your arrival on the other side. I remember one summer there was only six men, other than George and myself, who completed it, though may tried. There were then no roads of any kind between Estes Park and Grand Lake.

I recall one such trip, the last one George and I made, I believe in 1910. Ruth Bryan, the daughter of the famous William Jennings Bryan, was married that summer up at Grand Lake. As a climax to the wedding festivities that lasted two or three days, the wedding party consisting of probably 16 to 20 people were to go horseback from the Lake over to the Park, of course they had a professional guide. George and I had planned our annual trip for the same day. None of the Bryan party thought we two lads could make it afoot, whereas George and I doubted they could do it in one day with horses. As usual we started at 2:00 A.M. about two hours ahead of them. A storm gathered just as we got over the divide, on Flat Top, and it rained hard with some snow. George and I were just ahead of the worst of the storm and got into Estes about 8:00 P.M., plenty cold and wet, never having seen anything of the Bryan Party. The authorities, mainly rangers, became worried that evening, sent out a relief party after the Bryan group, found them holed up, wet, cold and somewhat lost at timberline where they had stopped and built a warming fire with what dry wood they could rustle.

The newspapers were full of the Bryan party's trip and experience, but nothing said about George and me, which kind of hurt our pride for a while.

In 1907 the Duchess took Louise and me to California, it was the year the Shriners had their national convention in Los Angeles. My father having been a Shriner, a member of the El Jebel Temple, qualified us to go as a Shriner's family on their charted train. The Shriner's had leased several entire floors of rooms for the convention week at several hotels. We stayed with the El Jebel Shriners in the then new and classy Alvarado Hotel out by West Lake Park. That was a wonderful experience. Then a party including us went by steamer up to Portland, Oregon. I recall almost everyone on the boat, and it was a large passenger boat, got sick one day and night, in fact several of the crew were sea sick. There was a bad storm hitting us sideways, which does not help ones stomach. Louise and I fortunately did not get a bit sick. That evening there were so few people able to report for dinner that the Captain invited Louise and me to eat at his table.

During high school days I became very well acquainted with Persis Tabor, she was a close friend of the girl I went with in those days. Persis's (Pat as we always called her) father was Maxey Tabor, the son of the famous Senator H. A. W. Tabor of Leadville fame and famous for his second wife, Baby Doe Tabor. Pat's father, Maxey, was the son of H. A. W. Tabor by his first wife, who had been poor along with Tabor, even had helped in the early Leadville days by doing miner's washing. Eventually Tabor and his associates, whom he was grubstaking, hit it rich by discovering the great Little Pittsburg Mine up on Fryer Hill, on the edge of Leadville in the late 1870's, later he hit it rich again by opening up the famous Matchless. Within a few years the somewhat crude, uneducated, gullible, poor Tabor became an enormously wealthy man, one of the then big millionaires of the country, he even bought his way into the U. S. Senate. Things went to his head and he had false ideas of grandeur, even to the point of divorcing and setting aside his wife who had been his help mate during his poorer days in Leadville. Of course she took their young son Maxey, because Tabor couldn't then be bothered with anything but his new flame the then gorgeous young Baby Doe of history and fiction, Baby Doe and Tabor had a baby girl whom they named Silver Dollar who became famous in her own right and had a book written of her life and one of the great movies was of her life, called Silver Dollar. In later years I knew both Baby Doe and Silver Dollar in Leadville of which I will tell you in due time. Any how, I happened to know 'both sides' of the Tabor family and both their stories, let me assure you it was a pitiful disgraceful affair throughout and has been smoothed over and glorified by writers. The first Mrs. Tabor was a fine worthy woman, much too good for Tabor; very little good can be said of his second wife Baby Doe, other than the fact that she remained loyal and true to Tabor through many years of hardships following Tabor's death after he had lost all his millions and dies a poor man, actually on charity. However, it might be said Baby Doe had no choice after Tabor's passing.

Anyhow, back to Maxey and Pat Tabor -- At the time Maxey was a middle aged man, large and very good looking. He was a manager and part owner of the Brown Palace Hotel, then, and to this day, the top hotel of the Rocky Mountain area. As manager they lived in a large suite of rooms on the second floor. Lucille and I spent many afternoons there and eventually I got into the habit of taking one of my pals, Emory Irwin, to see Pat. Pat was a swell girl, but the sweet heart of none. She had quite a case on Emory, so it ended up by Emory and I making a habit of dropping in afternoons a couple of times each week on our way home from school. Maxey liked company and always made we two lads stay for dinner. One time I mentioned Baby Doe and he. Maxey, went to considerable length to explain that Tabor's divorce from Maxey's mother was not legal and they refused to recognize it. He even said his half-sister, Silver Dollar, was an illegitimate child. Many, many decent people of that day completely agreed with Maxey. Finally, Pat went to finishing school in France and married some French count.

As was customary in those days all of us boys and girls went to church and Sunday school rather regularly, very often which church somewhat depended upon the church to which your girl belonged. Through those years I went to Trinity Methodist, St. John's and St. Mark's Episcopal and Plymouth Congregational, the last named was the one I attended mostly and eventually was married in. I should mention here that all through my younger days I frequently attended various services and affairs in Catholic churches, with the Catholic relatives from my mother's family.

I worked during my first high school summer for a couple of months, for Uncle Neil McPhee, my mother's sister Nannie's husband, on their dairy farm up in the mountains between Victor and Cripple Creek. Me second summer I worked a month or so at odd jobs at the old Argo smelter. The summer before my senior year I worked a couple of months on a construction gang, erecting those large steel towers for a new power line system in the Sacramento Valley, near Marysville, California. Uncle Seeley Mullen had charge of this construction, having recently graduate as an engineer from University of California. He had hired several students from the University, all being Sigma Nu fraternity brothers of his. Of course I ganged up with those college boys, as most of the workers were Mexicans. Finally, these lads pulled a small strike, quit and went back to Berkeley. I followed right along and stayed with them a few days at the Sigma Nu house; right there making up my mind I would be a Sigma Nu someday.

After graduating from high school I got a job at the large Globe Smelter as an electrician's helper, seventeen and one-half cents per hour, ten hours per day and had to ride my bike about six miles to work. This was actually my first real steady job doing one definite thing; on my previous jobs I had been more or less a flunky. Many years later our daughter married Herb Hansen whose father had come from Sweden and the first regular job he ever had over here was also at this same Globe Smelter. In this way our Hansen grandchildren can always point to the old Globe (the Denver Globe, not the Arizona one) and say, "Both my grandfathers first started work there."

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