In the early stages of writing a biography, ideas sometimes percolate on the back burner and germinate slowly through the seasons. Ideas grow as the creative cells divide. Sometimes I find myself in a locale that calls to me while I decide my next move. Usually, the place I seek is a cemetery. When I see the final destination of a person’s journey, I can visualize and speculate about the life which brought them there. Sometimes, I find inspiration, a hint of what brought them to this spot, or a familiar and surprising landmark when paths intersect.
This past week, I drove an hour south of Denver to my former home, Colorado Springs, for a book launch. Pikes Peak Library District published another fine compilation, Doctors, Disease and Dying in the Pikes Peak Region, which included my chapter about Dr. Justina Ford. Before the event, I visited the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, high above Colorado Springs and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. On a crisp, clear fall day, the view was expansive, dizzying and breathtaking. I had the place to myself.
I was thrilled and watchful as I climbed the narrow staircase of cool stone outside the majestic tower made entirely of rock and mortar, except for the metal of the inside staircase, rails, and doors. In the entrance, I spied a familiar face. Was that General William Palmer on that painted mural, welcoming travelers on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad? I was back home now, on familiar turf, encountering an old friend from Colorado history. Was the clanking sound I heard above an uneasy spirit, or another pilgrim in this fortress? No, it was just a flagpole rope, caught by the wind, batting the metal flagpole. Perhaps the sound was demanding my attention, urging me forward.
This grand and glorious place, created by Builder of the West, Spencer Penrose, was built as a shrine to his entertainer and philosopher pal, Will Rogers, after his death in a 1935 airplane crash. The shrine also contains a chapel where the Penrose’s cremains were buried later. This enchanting haven could definitely qualify as the starting point for a new story and writing adventure.