Boulder County History: Sifting through archival letters produce a pitch from Stephen King

As a researcher, discovering a letter in the archives is like striking gold. And because April is National Letter Writing Month, it‘s a good time to reflect on some interesting personal correspondence in Boulder‘s history.

At the Carnegie Library for Local History, I happened upon a 1935 letter from Jean Sherwood, Chautauqua‘s first art instructor and founder of the Blue Bird Cottage for working women, written to Daily Camera‘s editor A. A. Paddock, thanking him for his support at the “25th year of the ‘Bluebirds‘ migration from Chicago to the Rockies.”

“In that time more than 5,000 happy people have gained health and courage in this beautiful spot,” wrote Sherwood in a shaky hand. At the time, Sherwood was in her late-80s and died at the Cottage just a few years later.

Letters from Chautauqua art instructor and philanthropist Jean Sherwood are preserved at Boulder‘s Carnegie Library. ()

Another folder holds dozens of hand- and type-written letters from 1951 honoring Boulder‘s popular fire chief Emil Johnson. In his 45-year career, Johnson led Boulder‘s fire department from horse-drawn wagons to modern trucks. Letters of tribute were sent from officials, including Gov. Dan Thornton, Sen. Edwin Johnson, University of Colorado president Robert Stearns and many others. Seemingly every club in town had praise for Chief Johnson.

F. W. “Franny” Reich of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce wrote, “You know without my putting it in writing that I think you‘re a pretty swell fellow.”

Reading through these letters was like time travel to a bygone era.

One gem in the Daily Camera collection is an apology letter from John Fante in 1941, just as he was gaining fame as a writer. Fante spent his childhood in Boulder. He wrote about Italian-American family life with humor and painful honesty. His stories were published in magazines like Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. He later he became a notable Los Angeles novelist and screenwriter.

On his personal stationary Fante typed, “I got your letter of March 28 asking for a piece for the Booster Edition, but so much has been happening to me that, frankly, I had to let it slip by. I am very sorry I did this. I had intended writing you something very good. Please forgive me.”

In a 1974 letter to the features editor of the Daily Camera, a young Stephen King, pitched his skills his for reviewing movies.

“I‘m a professional writer (novelist contracting a present with Doubleday and Company with a book called CARRIE out in hardcover now and a second novel, JERUSALEM‘S LOT, slated for publication next summer.)… I would like the chance to shake down what‘s playing at the Boulder or the Fox or the Basemar Twin Cinemas once or twice a week… And by the way, I work for cheap,” King typed. The original letter “disappeared” from the Camera files and was replaced with a photocopy decades ago.

Carol Taylor Boulder County History

Ward resident Hazel Schmoll saved boxes of correspondence about her life. But who would guess that a short handwritten note in this family collection would describe the pivotal event of one of America‘s most celebrated artists?

Georgia O‘Keeffe wrote to Hazel‘s mother Amelia Schmoll in 1917, “I just wanted to tell you again that we certainly had a most delightful time in your little cottage. Our trip home took us near Old Santa Fe New Mexico and we stopped there. I had never seen anything like it. The adobe houses were so quaint and funny. I couldn‘t decide whether I like Santa Fe or Ward best.”

We know the rest of the story.

Even hate mail is illuminating as it can provide insight into social mores of the times. Such are the letters written by angry residents to Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex after she issued same-sex marriage licenses in 1975. Lucky for future historians, Rorex held onto these hurtful letters, as they are significant in recording an early milestone in the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights.