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A tailing tale of Emmy Wilson and the Glory Hole Tavern

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GloryHole_legs-paintingBy Maggie Magoffin

This tale of Emmy Wilson and the Glory Hole Tavern comes from an article written by David Forsyth and published in the 2005 Winter edition of Colorado Heritage magazine. For the complete article containing much more fascinating information about Emmy, her family, the Glory Hole, and the gambling raids of 1949, check out that issue.

Colorado mining millionaire Eben Smith once wrote to a miner who was down on his luck that a great many of the man’s problems would be solved if he gave up drinking. Had he known that his granddaughter would one day own one of the most famous watering holes in the town of Central City, he might have sat her on his knee and given her a similar piece of advice.

Cora, the youngest daughter of Eben Smith, married Charles Carnahan, and in 1902 she gave birth to Emily (Emmy) Elizabeth Carnahan. In 1921, Emmy married real estate and investment broker Charles Shipley Wilson and the couple had two daughters, Patty and Shipley. The family lived a fairly quiet life until war broke out in 1941. Emmy contributed to the war effort, teaching machine gunnery at Lowry. During World War II, Charles was a civilian instructor in photography a Lowry Field until his untimely death in January 1946. The Wilsons had lived in the Denver Country Club mansion built by Emmy’s mother at First and Race. Within a short time of Emmy’s husband’s death she did the unthinkable by Denver society standards: she packed up and moved to a house on Pine Street in Central City – which, eighty-five years after her grandfather first arrived there, was considered a ghost town

Before moving to Central City, Emmy was involved in Central City affairs, being very active with the Central City Opera Association since it first began, and she was a founding member of the Gilpin County Historical Society. In 1941, she opened a tintype shop across the street from the Teller House. Emmy took pictures with a large camera and had costumes for customers to wear. In her free time she spent hours exploring old Colorado mining towns in her 1941 green Cadillac convertible, liberating objects from old buildings. It was on one of these liberating trips in the fall of 1946 that she discovered a broken-down building in the ghost town of Baltimore just west of Rollinsville and near Tolland. Inside she found a solid walnut bar, back bar, glass door cabinet, and walk-in cooler. There was also a mirror with a bullet hole. The entire setup gave her the idea to open a bar in Central City.

Emmy contacted the owner of the building, Denver attorney Henry W. Toll, who told her he planned to move the bar into another building that he owned in Central City. Toll had known the Carnahans for years and remembered young Emmy from her “waist-high days” in her grandfather’s old mansion on Logan Street. When she asked him not to do anything with the bar until she returned from a trip to California, Toll agreed. When she returned to Denver, the two put her plan into action, moving the bars and cabinets into the former Ignatz Myer Saloon in Central City. During the move, Emmy discovered a shipping tag on the bar revealing that it was first shipped from Missouri to Mountain City, Colorado in 1859, and then to Baltimore in 1864.

On March 1, 1947, Emmy leased the Ignatz Myer Building from Toll for five years, giving him six percent of her tavern’s profits as rent. As part of the lease she assumed responsibility for any redecorating. She hired local artist Margaret Kerfoot to paint a nude woman on a flat from the Opera House, and the completed work was installed behind a two-way mirror. When the lights were on the nude was visible, but when off all that could be seen was the mirror. Emmy painted the building’s interior green with gold accents. The color scheme also highlighted the white upright piano she installed in a corner of the room. Beside the stage at the end of the bar was an opera house-style seating box that held Emmy’s private table.

With the redecorating of the bar nearing completion and opening day fast approaching, Emmy still had no name for her new establishment. She considered Emmy’s or the Widow Wilson’s Roost. Two bartenders suggested she call it The Glory Hole after the nearby mine. Delighted with the suggestion, Emmy held the official grand opening of The Glory Hole on the Fourth of July 1947.

Henry Toll, Jr, remembered Emmy as oftentimes tending bar wearing ski pants, or moccasins, olive-colored coveralls and a straw hat. In the winters, she got a great deal of business from college students who came up for the weekend to ski, drink beer, and sing. However, it was during the summers, that she had her best time. Many of the high-society people of Denver came to the Central City Opera, and after a performance they often found their way into the Golden Nugget or the neighboring Teller House. As the wealthy Denverites socialized in the Golden Nugget, Emmy, carrying a parasol, and dressed in one of her 1890’s dresses and large, feathered, hats, sauntered into the bar and paraded through the tables. Patrons would ask a bar employee who the lady was and then would invite Emmy to join them for a drink. She always accepted the invitations, and sitting at the table she would say, “I am the Widow Wilson and I have the Glory Hole down the street. Why don’t you all come down the street and a have a drink at the Glory Hole?” The ten or fifteen people at the table would get up and follow her down to her bar. Twenty minutes later, she would appear again at the Golden Nugget and repeat the entire scene once again.

In order to get food from the second floor kitchen in the Glory Hole to the first floor bar, Emmy made plans to install a dumbwaiter. Workers cut a hole in the second-floor hallway and temporarily covered it with a board. At her annual New Year’s Eve party, probably in 1949, Emmy went up to the second floor of the tavern to get something. As she passed the hole in the floor, an idea possessed her. She stopped, lifted the board, and while supporting herself with her arms, she lowered her kicking legs through the hole, much to the delight of the crowd below. With this spur-of-the-moment antic Emmy created a tradition that lasted for as long as she owned the Glory Hole. Patrons enjoyed the occasional spectacle of Emmy’s legs dangling over their heads. Soon she was also the proud owner of a set of false legs that hung from the ceiling whenever she was not in the mood to hang her own legs through the hole. The dumbwaiter was never installed.

Some patrons came up with the idea for another painting, and they hired Margaret Kerfoot to paint a woman’s rear end and legs on a piece of canvas that was glued to the ceiling. Emmy’s own rear was the model for the painting.  Thus, Emmy’s fanny was immortalized on the ceiling of the Glory Hole, and she claimed it was her answer to the Teller House’s “Face on the Barroom Floor.”

With her health failing, in 1958, Emmy sold The Glory Hole to close friend Bill Axton, and on August 14, 1963, at the age of 61 Emily Elizabeth Carnahan Wilson died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. Her ashes were eventually scattered in the mountains near Central City.

From Maggie: My “Misadventures of the Cholua Brothers Series” Book 1- “Dead Man Walking,” and Book 2 -“Pistols and Petticoats” can now be purchased from the Cholua Brother’s Coffee section in Mountain Menagerie on Main Street in Central City. Copies of “Dead Man Walking” are available at the Gilpin County History Museum. Copies of either book can be purchased on my website at Maggiempublications.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Lulu.com.

Please plan to stop by and see me at this year’s annual Tommy Knocker Bazaar, Saturday, December 5th and Sunday December 6th, at the historic Teller House in Central City.

If you have stories about your historical home, your own interesting experiences in Gilpin County or your family history, please send them to me at: Maggie@maggiempublications.com; mail them to me at Maggie Magoffin, P.O. Box 6571, Westminster, Colorado, 80021, or call me at 303-881-3321.


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