People often ask how I find the treasures of information about people for my biographies, along with nuggets of details about Colorado’s colorful history. I have a system, which boils down to “making the rounds” to various hot spots and collections pertaining to my subject. Whenever possible, I begin at the cemetery. By visiting a family plot, I get a sense of dates and family members during the final days of a character’s life. Then I work backwards, visiting libraries, archives, repositories, museums, houses, statues, and monuments.
Until recently, I often visited archives and repositories to look up files and read microfilm. Now, we have the luxury of studying many of these documents online. Although most of us know better than to believe what we read in the newspaper, articles contemporary to the person’s life give us many details about the times in which they lived. The trick is to follow up these leads and road maps to primary evidence and public records to substantiate what we find. In Colorado, the manuscript collections at Denver Public Library and History Colorado’s library allow access to special documents and collections. The Colorado Archives office in the Department of Revenue’s basement is an especially rich assemblage of information.
I am constantly on the lookout for graphic images and photos of the places where my character worked, lived, and played. I have a secret weapon … post cards! My growing collection of vintage post cards contain scenes as they appeared during the lives of my pioneer subjects. Several of these images often appear whenever I give PowerPoint presentations about Colorado history, and also are included in my biographies. They flesh out the scenery as it appeared during Colorado’s early days.
My current work-in-progress is Spencer Penrose: Builder and Benefactor, due for publication from Filter Press later this summer. Penrose built many important buildings and landmarks in the Pikes Peak Region, such as the Broadmoor Hotel, the Pikes Peak Highway, Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Manitou Incline, and many other attractions. The El Pomar Foundation, established by Penrose and his wife, Julie, is responsible for millions of dollars in grants donated to non-profit organizations in Colorado. The Penroses were colorful characters who worked hard to improve their growing community, and to make it a better place for its citizens.
Joyce B. Lohse