Guest Columns


Phil Goodstein’s history of South Denver elicits memories of many political figures

Phil Goodstein. The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond. Denver: New Social
Publications, 2010. vi + 306 pp. ISBN 0-9742264-5-9. $19.95. maps, illustrations, index.

Reviewed by John Davoren

Goodstein’s book also looks at the interactions of South Denver neighborhoods and former Denver Mayor Bill McNichols and challenger Federico Peña, pictured on election night in 1983.

Between 1907 and 1909, Henry Buchtel was not only the chancellor of the University of Denver, but he also was governor of Colorado. This is typical of the wide-ranging impact of the University of Denver on virtually all aspects of Colorado. From its beginnings in 1864, created by Territorial Governor John Evans, DU has had intimate links with all aspects of the community. Numerous politicians have come and gone from the college. Indeed, a history of DU is almost a history of Denver and the political establishment.

This is most clear in a fascinating new book on South Denver, The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond by Phil Goodstein. The volume probes the historic section south of Interstate 25, looking at its people, places, and traditions. About a third of the book specifically deals with DU.

Goodstein, who received a master’s in history from the university in 1975 before earning a Ph.D. in Boulder and emerging as the city’s foremost tour guide and historian, is not always a loyal alumni. Now and then, he makes barbed comments about the school. Nor is he always respectful of Bill Daniels, a man, he observes, who was long a powerhouse in the state and national Republican Party. Even so, he is as impressed as anyone with the massive rebuilding of the campus in the 1990s under Chancellor Daniel Ritchie.

Dan Ritchie, former chancellor at the University of Denver, is duly noted in the book.

The DU dimension is but the beginning of the volume. It also probes adjacent schools, churches, and neighborhoods. Feminists will be fascinated to learn about Sarah Platt Decker. The founding president of the Denver Woman’s Club, she was in the vanguard of the successful fight for woman suffrage in Colorado in 1893. Soon thereafter, rumors were hot and heavy that she was going to become the state’s first woman governor, or Denver’s mayor, or the first woman elected to Congress. After she suddenly died in 1912, she was the first woman to lie in state at the state Capitol. The Sarah Platt Decker Library in Platt Park at South Logan Street and Florida Avenue commemorates her. (Her second husband, incidentally, was James Platt, a United States Congressman from Virginia during Reconstruction.)

The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond also deals with local politics. It reports the turmoil surrounding City Councilman Ed Burke in the 1980s and fights over the Colorado State Home for Dependent and Neglected Children. From there, it looks at the interactions between Bill McNichols and Federico Peña and South Denver neighborhood groups. Along the way, it tells about the people of South Denver, including how a major Dutch colony was part and parcel of South Emerson Street.

Former Denver City Councilman Ed Burke, shown here in 1975, is also a topic in the book.

If this is not enough, the book also includes local folklore. As the title indicates, it features tales of the supernatural such as a specter haunting the Mary Reed Building in the center of the DU campus and the way the ghost of a former college professor is seen racing close to the Chamberlin Observatory near Evans Avenue and South Milwaukee Street. The old city hall of the Town of South Denver, next to the Decker Library in Platt Park, is allegedly haunted by the pounding of the walls of prisoners from the days when it housed the South Denver jail.

In a word, The Ghosts of University Park brings together the people, places, and traditions of South Denver. The extremely well illustrated book has something for everyone. The third and concluding volume of Goodstein’s Haunted History of South Denver, it is a study that nobody interested in the community’s past or present can afford to ignore.

John Davoren is a retired Denver journalist who wrote for wire services, radio/TV news, and the National Farmers Union. A veteran of the Marine Corps during World War II, he is a former state representative from Adams County.