By Roger Baker
The death of local legend Lew Cady last weekend – besides being a great loss for Gilpin County and Colorado – marks the end of an era in a certain sense.
Though he was never a full-time Gilpin resident – his career as a successful ad man kept him down the hill much more than I suspect he would have liked – no one was ever a more ardent or artful supporter of all things Central City.
Lew had a few “official” positions – most notably as a frequent supernumerary in a number of opera productions – but his regular role was that of local gadfly and gadabout, and long-time editor of the area’s sporadically published alternative newspaper, the Little Kingdom Come.
The LKC cemented his status locally and nationally – former residents who remembered the town’s glory days kept up with old friends through annual subscriptions – and displayed Lew’s acerbic wit and trenchant observations of the local scene.
That scene – as Lew first encountered and later lovingly documented it – centered around the town’s colorful characters and (shall we say) dining establishments – the Red Bandana, Madame Gail’s, the Mermaid Café.
Lew never ceased to be amazed and amused by the antics of the eccentric denizens of those businesses (and many more), and his recounting of the goings-on made for revelatory reading for those who thought Central City a sedate survivor of a gentler Victorian age.
That’s not to say that Lew didn’t love the town’s Victorian relics, its gingerbread houses and iron storefronts, and he was dedicated to their preservation. But he knew there were real people with real lives inhabiting them, and his bemused affection for them never flagged.
Affection is maybe the key word for describing Lew. Despite his curmudgeonly demeanor, Lew loved this place as much as anyone ever could, native or not.
Lew loved other things, of course: Leslie (obviously), and his family. Beer. Baseball. But he clearly had a special place in his heart for Central City.
That’s why the changes wrought by the coming of gambling (Lew would never stand for the use of the subtler “gaming”) hit Lew so hard. A town he loved was forever transformed, a way of life he cherished changed – and to his way of thinking, not at all for the better.
Certainly some survivors of that more boisterous, less corporate, time remain – the Gold Coin looks essentially unchanged, the Elk’s lodge still shelters locals in its encampment above Main Street.
I spoke this week to the annual conference of the Colorado Assessor’s Association, being held at the (relatively) new and utterly unanticipated – no one ever expected something like this when gaming was approved by the voters of Colorado in 1990 – Ameristar Casino and Hotel.
I talked about the history of Black Hawk, about how so many people have conveniently forgotten what was there before gaming (the dirt Main Street with the trailer park, the crumbling City Hall). It’s important that we remember things truly, rather than in some sanitized, prettified version.
Lew remembered. He never sanitized, never prettified. But we are forever indebted to him for a portrait of a city as it changed over 40-some years, a city where some things have been lost, others gained…and where there is still very much to love, to respect, to honor.
The opera folks are performing in Denver this week; does that portend another change? I certainly believe their intention is to return every year, but…
I didn’t see Lew at the operas up here this year. I missed him.
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