|The Beat Tour of Denver
Jack Kerouac =Sal Paradise Neal Cassady = Dean Moriarty
“Who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loved in Denver and finally went away to find out about time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes.” Allen Ginsberg, Howl.
``I'm going to Colorado in June. My family & I are ready to move out there if we can find an abode. I am extremely weary of New York--there is no mystery left in it for me.''
[Jack Kerouac to Allan Harrington, April 23, 1949. Letters, p. 188]
``I have spent my entire one thousand dollars in this huge madness...I am doing a lot of writing however...'' [Jack Kerouac to John Clellon Holmes, June 24, 1949. Letters, p. 196]
``...I suddenly took off from New York. This was only a swift decision on an old idea I had, to establish some kind of ``homestead'' for myself and family -- an idea I had been harboring for years...I suddenly packed one night and went, and prayed on the bus that I might have luck in Denver finding a house and all such matters...The whole idea has really collapsed.''
[Jack Kerouac to Elbert Lenrow, June 28, 1949. Letters, p. 201]
``No more letters to 6100 W. Center. See you in N.Y. in 2 weeks.''
[Jack Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg, July 26, 1949. Letters, p. 210]
``...just an hour ago I was standing in my yard looking at the great heat lightning over the plains, and to the west over the mountains...I had a desire to go in both directions at the same time.''
[Jack Kerouac to Neal Cassady, July 28, 1949. Letters, p. 211]
Kerouac’s Home 6100 W. Center, Lakewood (formerly Westwood).
June-July 1949. Modest suburban home in Denver’s western suburbs, Kerouac used his thousand dollar advance from The Town and the City on this house with the idea of moving his mother, sister, and brother-in-law here. They never moved. Robert Giroux, his editor at Harcourt Brace, visited him at this home to go over The Town and the City. Kerouac left Denver for San Francisco at the end of July. The ubiquitous photograph of Cassady and Kerouac side by side was taken shortly after this Denver period. (Photo used for First Third and the City Lights poster.)
East High School, Colfax and York.
Cassady attended school here in the early 1940’s. He met Justin Brierly, who taught English here. Kerouac attended a civic luncheon at the school with Brierly on June 10, 1949.
The Oasis 1729 E. Colfax (at High Street)
This was a hang-out for teenagers in 1945. The gas station remains. Cassady and “Cherry Mary” Fairland frequently came here. Fairland lived near 16th and High.
980 The Colburn Hotel 9th and Grant
An important Beat site near downtown in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood. In the summer of 1947 Carolyn Cassady lived here (third floor) when she met Neal Cassady. The quasi-famous love triangle went into overdrive when Ginsberg came out for the summer (Cassady was driving Carolyn, Allen and Luanne Henderson crazy at the same time, in shifts, though, on one occasion Neal, Allen and Luanne end up in the same bed at the Colburn. Ginsberg took a room in the same place until he ran out of money; then moved in with Neal and Carolyn. Ginsberg wrote "Denver Doldrums" here and on August 23, 1947, his last day in Denver, watched two bricklayers working and wrote notes that later became "The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour," a poem that Ginsberg has categorized as one of his first mature poems.
Denargo Market, 2901 Broadway. Former produce market where Cassady worked and where Kerouac worked for a day in the summer of 1949 before being asked not to come back.
Neal & Carolyn Cassady
Denargo Market (2901 Broadway)
Go up Market to Broadway, diagonal street, then look for 2901. This is the former produce market where Cassady worked; and where Kerouac worked for a day in the summer of 1949 before being asked not to come back
My Brother’s Bar, 2376 15th Street, 15th and Platte. Cassady grew up in this area. The nearby confluence park Cassady called the beach. As the oldest bar in Denver this was a place Cassady and passing beats frequently drank. Back by the pay phone, hung on the wall, is a letter from Cassady to Justin Brierly. Cassady wrote it from juvenile jail (juvy hall), asking Brierly to come to this bar to pay off his tab.
Elitch Gardens, 38th Ave and Tennyson. Also known as Old Elitches was a century-old garden spot with old rides and Edenic landscaping. Family picnics were the norm; same for the beats: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady, and other Denver friends.
Civic Center Plaza, Capital Hill, Broadway and Colfax. (insert info. From website)
On one end is the state capitol building, which both Cassady and Kerouac mention in letters (Kerouac watched bats fly around the dome at night; Cassady and Luanne had a major blow-out on the capitol lawn). On the other is the City & County Building (Ginsberg in "The Green Automobile": ``Denver! Denver! we'll return/roaring across the City & County Building lawn..."), and the current Water Department building, which was the main Carnegie-given public library when Cassady was a kid; but Cassady also would have been in the library at its current site across the park at 14th and Broadway.
21st and Larimer. “I hitch-hike to Denver and …drink huge beers in Larimer Street saloons.” (Kerouac to John C. Holmes, June 24, 1949). For forty years Larimer used to stretch as one long skid-row for most of its 25-block length, but currently only a few true skid-row blocks remain, between 20th and 22nd.
Ebert Elementary (Park Avenue & Glenarm: 410 West Park Avenue)
Cassady’s boyhood was transformed by an obsession with Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Basically it was Cassady’s childhood library (Andrew Burnett, www.charm.net/~brookyln/denver).
Cassady Sr.'s barber shop/family residence (left part of photo).
1928/1929. Neal was two years old.
23rd Street between Welton and Glenarm
``There, on 23rd Street between Welton and Glenarm next to the alleyway, was a brown brick building of miniature dimensions. It housed an incredibly cluttered shoe-repair shop, the accumulation of a half-century's leather-litter. The old repairman who squatted daily before the ceiling-high barrier of sweepings that choked this shop, was Neal's (Sr.) new landlord. His two-chair barber shop that shared the building with the shoe stall was acquired on a one-year's lease. Neal, Maude, Jimmy, Betty and little Neal moved into the crowded quarters in the rear of the shop...Still, with seven children, conditions in the shop's two small rooms were intolerable. There were not beds enough; clothes lay everywhere; they could not squeeze together into the kitchen and so ate in two groups.'' [First Third, p. 4]
Rossonian, and at 27th & Welton)-- all spots where Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and many others played in the twenties, thirties and forties. When you think of the linkages between jazz and the Beats, and Cassady's influence on Kerouac, Denver starts to have an even stronger role in the development of the Beat Generation. Cassady caught some of the last of the great jazz in the early forties, and when he first dated Carolyn in 1947 she mentions going to the Rossonian.
!6th Street to Union Station
"The bus came by and I got on, that's when it all began
There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to Nevereverland"
('The Other One', Grateful Dead)
Letter Found in My Brother's Bar
This fragment of a letter was found on the wall at My Brother's Bar and transcribed it here with permission of the bar's owner. As the explanation that follows the letter says: Justin Brierly was an older friend and supporter of the young Neal Cassady who tried to help him cast aside his criminal tendencies by introducing him to a "better crowd" in Denver. This led to Neal's visit to Columbia University where he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg for the first time. Justin Brierly appears in "On The Road" as the (slightly ridiculous) Denver B. Doll.
COLORADO STATE REFORMATORY
TO: Justin W. Brierly, 2257 Gilpin St., Denver 5, Colo.
FROM: Neal L. Cassady
INMATE No.: 10205
At the corner of 15th & Platte streets there's a cafe called Paul's Place, where my brother Jack used to be bartender before he joined the army, because of this I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?
I see Phillip Wylie has written another book, "Night Unto Night" supposedly as good as "Generation of Vipers". Peter Arno also has a new collection of cartoons out, "Man in a shower" its called.
They have the Harvard Classics up here, the five foot shelf of books, I've read about 2 feet of it, very nice, I especially enjoy (over)
"These are rules to be read carefully and strictly applied. Inmates may receive letters written in English and signed in full. No letters will be received that does not meet the approval of the Warden. Inmates may receive packages twice a month only, limited to material and quantity as follows: 1 carton of cigarettes or tobacco at a time, store purchased candy not to exceed 1 lb., dentrifices, fruit in quantities of not more than 12 pieces. it is to be remembered that fruit spoils in transit and should be carefully selected and packed. No chewing gum, articles of clothing, food, or toiletries will be admitted. Money Orders may be sent to the Warden which will be credited to the Inmates account on which he may draw purchases. We are not responsible for money sent otherwise. Magazines of the proper character will be admitted. Newspapers may be sent direct from publisher only. Inmates may receive visits on Sundays only. Warden, Ed Lindsley"
COMMENTARY ON FACING PAGE:
"I first met Dean...when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery", begins Sal Paradise in ON THE ROAD. "First reports of him come to me through Chad King, who'd shown me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school." Chad King & Neal Cassady were Denver friends introduced by their mutual counselor Justin Brierly, a lawyer on the Denver schoolboard concerned with students of both persuasions -- the college-bound & the truant. He had been the "old professor" to Neal since their first encounter when Neal was 16, in 1941. The letters to King & Brierly were written while Cassady was serving a 10-month term at Colorado State Reformatory in Buena Vista (the "New Mexico reform school"), in 1944-45.
The letter reproduced here shows Neal at his most subtle, conning best. It initiated an exchange between Brierly & the warden, replying thanks, but no thanks. Cassady's next letter is a succinct, trenchant, between-the-lines censure of Brierly for not accomplishing this secret desire. "Thanks a lot for writing to the warden, however we have had a new warden (Thomas) since july, I'm rather disappointed to note that you, a man of the world, had failed to read in the newspaper that Ed Lindsley died in an auto accident three weeks ago, I know full well you must have purposely overlooked the article, because of the unimportance of the death of an ex-warden of a reformatory." He then takes a swipe at the "petty attitudes" of the guards, meanwhile handing out a plaudit to the institution as a whole, commenting that while it is "hard to be fair with everybody" most officials are quite just in their dealings w/the inmates, so that "consequently I find it rather easy to accept with philosophical calm the winds of dispute that swirl around this piece."
But Neal's fit didn't last long & later as a member of the basketball team he did get days away from the reformatory to play against teams of the neighboring towns. He never expressed any severe dislike with his sentencing, even writing once of his pride in how successfully he had "become adjusted to reformatory life." There was much in his letters about the winning & losing of points, a certain number of which wd entitle him to an early release. His duties were light. Soon after arriving he was transferred from the work gangs to the dairy farm where he stayed for four months until reduced to "shoveling sheep manure for my keep" as punishment for "hitting a cow" & losing points in the bargain. That lasted only long enough for Cassady to somehow be awarded the best scam possible, Office Boy. In a letter scrutinizing his friendship w/Brierly, Neal notes their differing attitudes: "already I have a tendency to be intolerant of society, at least its general opinions, which to you, because of your occupation, is quite important." He characterizes another person as "Brilliant woman Mrs. O'Sullivan, except, of course, for her nauseating Christianity, however, that's probably a necessity (in one form or another) for all otherwise intelligent females." He explains a lapse in letter-writing in true fashion: "I failed to write to you...because I had to write to a girl who (I presume) was naive enough to wire me asking if I wished her to come, what made her telegraph incriminating was that I was in a position to see her illegally and the warden suspected I had written her asking if she would come and - well - see me, consequently I wrote to her that week requesting an explanation." Another lapse was due to a letter from his father, requiring an immediate answer. Other family matters were his youngest sister Shirley's graduation from the 8th grade & subsequent release from the orphanage where she had been since she was eight years old. Neal writes of the possibility of his obtaining custody or perhaps having her adopted by friends, "working on several angles. Things are moving. I'll be 19 Feb. 8th."
Until one day, "Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time..." continues Paradise. Of their meeting he writes, "My first impression of Dean was of a young Gene Autry -- trim, thin-hipped, blue-eyed, with a real Oklahoma accent - a sideburned hero of the snowy West."
(Thanks to Jim, the owner of My Brother's Bar, 2376 15th Street, Denver, Colorado (15th & Platte) for the use of this letter.)
Neal's Denver Contributed by Andrew Burnett
Synthesis/compilation by Philippe Ernewein: www.rememberit.org