Capitol building tour guide
Richard Lamm was governor (1975-1987) when Carol Keller started giving tours of the Colorado capitol building 25 years ago.
She waits quietly for her next tour group to gather. She says good morning to Gov. John Hickenlooper as he enters the Executive Chambers near the capitol tour guides desk. It’s Friday, 10 a.m., according to the Mickey Mouse watch on her graceful wrist. Time to start.
At age 87, she’s entertained thousands of school children, senior citizens, visitors from Europe and Japan revealing history and trivia about her home state and its capitol building.
She will tell you about the five-foot thick walls of granite quarried near Gunnison, Colo., and the likeness of George Washington in the pink rose onyx, quarried near Beulah, Colo.
The capitol building’s floors are Yule Marble from Marble, Colo.
Born in Greeley, Colo., she spent her first career as a Registered Medical Technician at Denver General Hospital, now Denver Health.
At age 62, she took the capitol building tour and thought she might like to be a tour guide. Today she has many stories to tell about the state capitol building, designed to commemorate Colorado’s Gold Rush days, and the pioneers and miners who helped build the state.
Each of the governors is a little bit different. Gov. (Roy) Romer was nice. If he walked by he would always stop and talk to the groups and so would (Bill) Owens. One funny thing happened recently with Gov. (John) Hickenlooper. The security people told us (tour guides) that the governor was busy and doesn’t want to talk to the tour groups. I told the kids if the governor came out he was very busy and couldn’t talk but they could wave to him. So out comes Gov. Hickenlooper and walks up to the kids and asks where they are from and did they want to have their picture taken with the governor out on the steps. So we go out through the governor’s security entrance, which we never do, and they had their pictures taken.
When I came back in I looked at the security guard and said it was not my fault. So the rules change with any given situation.
I lived through a number of the capitol building evacuations when Gov. Dick Lamm was in office (1975 – 1987). We were having some bomb threats due to his position on extending the lives of the elderly. He was kind of in the doghouse with the public over the “duty to die” issue.
When we got to the Colorado Quilt and the Women’s Gold Tapestry on the tour you seemed to stand taller and be very proud of them. Did you help sew both of them?
The Colorado Quilting Council has a show in the capitol every two years. There were 240 quilts the last time and you could hardly see the building for the quilts. I have always made quilts and so I would help with the show and lead tours.
Edna Pelzmann was in charge of the capitol tour guides and had the idea to put together a Colorado Quilt. So she and I chaired it and recruited 25 capitol volunteers. We started in June 2007 and it took us about 250 hours. Each person chose one of the state symbols and could do that section however they wanted to. The border is 38 stars since we were the 38thstate admitted to the Union.
The Women’s Gold Tapestry depicts 18 women who made contributions to Colorado history. How did that get started?
The project was started by Eve Mackintosh from Idaho Springs. It started out as a church quilting project. Then, during the state’s centennial in 1976, Eve worked very hard to get the tapestry finished. I think she had more than 3,000 people put stitches on it. It traveled the state for two years. All hand stitched. She was quite a go-getter.
Who is your favorite woman in the tapestry?
Mrs. Crawford, the lady who didn’t want to come here. (Pointing at the tapestry) This is her standing in a wagon. Margaret Crawford came with her husband during the Gold Rush from Missouri. In the bottom of the wagon she insisted they bring a rose bush and a lilac bush from home. They ended up in a mining camp near Steamboat Springs. She began taking cuttings of the yellow roses to all the mining camps. That’s why the tapestry was named Women’s Gold because the miners nicknamed those yellow roses “the women’s gold.”
Any ghost stories?
Well my ghost story involves a gang of banditos down in southern Colorado called the Espinosa Gang. They were really bad. They had murdered some people so the governor put a bounty on their heads. The bounty hunter cut their heads off to send to the capitol but the governor had since left office. The state never paid the bounty for the heads. The heads were put downstairs in the tunnels. At that time the caretaker lived in the tunnels. He discovered the heads and decided there weren’t going to be any heads in his domain so he threw them in the furnace.
So the Espinosa Gang could be wandering through the state capitol?
Without their heads!
That same caretaker was very frugal and wanted to be paid in silver dollars. The story goes that he was stashing the silver dollars in the tunnels somewhere. Since then many have searched for the hiding place but found nothing. So we don’t have any big fortunes in the tunnels.
Then there is the story about the guy who stole gold from the capitol dome. The dome got it’s first coating of 24-karat gold in 1908 and the second one in 1950. By this time it was chipping very badly from weather damage. So this guy would put a bucket under the down spout and catch the flaking gold after a rain or hail storm. So when they redid the gold on the dome, they also changed the downspout so that wouldn’t happen again.
When the legislature is in session is there a different feeling to the place?
Yes it changes where people can go. We used to be able to bring groups into the observation area on the main floor of the House and Senate Chambers but we can’t do that anymore. We now go into the upper galleries and walk across on the tour. If visitors want to come back and watch what is going on they can.
There are many more people here conducting business and it’s all fun and games until budget time and then things get a little tense. You can feel it in the elevators and watching people. It’s gotten a little tighter than it was years ago when the state was doing well. The legislators are here for business and they know it. I’m non-political. I don’t like politics. We have to be neutral as tour guides. You can’t really know all the legislators. I haven’t changed but look at how many times they change every year.
Did you know some of the Perry Mason episodes were shot in the Supreme Court chambers. I like trivia.
On my 75th birthday we got to go clear up to the very top of the capitol dome to where the airplane lights are. There are some real rickety ladders that take you up into the dome and then get out on the roof. We went all the way up there. So I have literally been from the tunnels to the roof of the capitol building. There are more than 150 rooms.
In the two legislative chambers I love the stained glass windows and the large chandeliers. The chandeliers used to be all gas but now they are electric. They let them down on a pulley to polish them and pull them back up.
Do you have to memorize all these details to be a capitol tour guide?
When we train new guides we tell them to find what interests them and find those stories to tell. So each of us highlights what we find interesting. So I spend a little extra time at the two quilts. I’m sure the male guides talk about different things than I do and the college age guides have their interests. We all have to hit the big highlights but the rest is up to us.
__________________Here is a land where life is written in Water the West is where the Water was and is Father and Son of old Mother and Daughter
Following Rivers up immensities
Of Range and Desert thirsting the Sundown
Crossing a hill to climb a hill still Drier
Naming tonight a City by some River
A different Name from last night’s camping
Fire. Look to the Green within the Mountain cup
Look to the Prairie parched for Water lack
Look to the Sun that pulls the Oceans up
Look to the Cloud that gives the oceans back
Look to your Heart and may your Wisdom
To power of Lightning and to peace of Snow. — Colorado Poet Laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril
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