With 163 years under its belt, Denver has got to have some really interesting origin stories, from the birthplace of the cheeseburger to the tradition of Christmas hanging lights. We’ve kept our ears open for some of the most intriguing stories of all in one convenient place so without further ado, here are 10 really cool and weird facts about Denver that you’ve probably never heard of before.
1. The Coors Field mascot has a prehistoric origin story
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science holds on to one of the most intriguing finds in Denver’s history. During the construction of Coors Field, a dinosaur fossil was uncovered, unearthing the knowledge that triceratops used to hang out in the very spot that the Coors Field is now built on. The dinosaur bones (some ribs and other parts) are now kept at the museum’s climate-controlled paleontology collection space and Coors Field got themselves a mascot out of it, Dinger, a purple triceratops everyone knows today.
It was December 26th, 1968, when the psychedelic, funk, rock band, Led Zeppelin, headed to Denver to play their first show in North America. Their early US set list included iconic songs like ‘Dazed and Confused’ as well as other songs like ‘How Many More Times’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby.’ On the 50th anniversary, the City and County of Denver’s Mayor Office proclaimed December 26th Led Zeppelin Day and a plaque was placed in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. The band played their show at the Auditorium Arena.
3. The Denver Zoo was built because of one, single bear
You may be surprised to find out that the Denver Zoo never set out to become the zoo today that would be celebrating its 125th year. It actually started because “There was a bear that needed a home,” according to Brian Aucone, Senior VIP of Animal Sciences in a video for the project, “I Am Denver,” created by the City of Denver. The story goes, the mayor was gifted a black bear named Billy Bryan who was built a cage in City Park where visitors could come view him. He had one keeper and because records were lax back in 1896 because the space wasn’t a designated “zoo,” there’s not much information about Billy Bryan. His arrival, though, was the beginning of what the zoo would become, with water foul, deer, and bison being added. What’s also interesting about Denver Zoo, is that they were the first in North America to build actual habitats as opposed to just cages, which all zoos implement today.
4. The Capitol Building is built with one of the rarest stones in the world
We’ve all heard that there’s actual gold in the dome of the Capitol Building, right? Did you also know that one of the rarest stones in the world was used in its creation as well, and you can actually touch it? Rose Onyx, a blush-colored stone with intricate swirls built into the marble, was used in the columned-pillars of the building, and, in fact, depleted the entire worlds supply of the material. Don’t worry, there’s actually a small reserve of rose onyx kept in supply just in case it breaks, which it only has twice.
5. Colorado used to be known as the world’s sanitarium
In the 1800s, tuberculosis was the nation’s leading cause of death and “lungers,” those who carried the “White Death,” had no access to a vaccine or cure. Instead, they were advised to head to cities with clearer air, sunnier skies, and higher altitudes–all of which Colorado had. Because of the influx of “lungers,” entire treatment facilities were built in places like Denver and Boulder where patients could come to rest, relax, and, eventually and often, pass away. Eventually in the 1940s when a treatment came out for tuberculosis, the influx of TB tourism had put Colorado on the map, reforming its previous reputation as a place for Wild West outlaws and miners.
6. Sloane’s Lake used to have an amusement park named ‘Manhattan Beach’
The first amusement park created west of the Mississippi River was Manhattan Beach, built on the shores of Sloane’s Lake. It opened to the public for the first time on June 17th, 1881 with a roller coaster, dance hall, ferris wheel, boating attractions, and an elephant they named Roger. While Manhattan Beach was popular, nearby competition from Elitch Gardens and White City, plus the fact that there were some mishaps, caused the place to shut down. Roger being spooked by the sound of a hot air balloon and stomping on a six-year-old marked the first closure, a fire would mark its second closure, and after being rebuilt as Luna Park after 1908, it was finally closed for good in 1914.
There’s a scandalous story about a man building a motel and cutting peep holes in each room so that he could spy on couples from his attic. He was interested in all aspects of their lives and even went as far as to write down distinct details about the people–their traits, things they said, etc. One night in 1918, the man witnessed a murder, and never reported it for fear of being caught. On his death bed, he told the entire story, writing logs and all, to a reporter who wrote about it for the New Yorker. The whole story can be read here but its a long one so grab a drink and prepare to be fascinated.
8. The first Thai restaurant in the states opened in the 60s
Fans of Thai food might be excited to hear that the first ever Thai restaurant in the United States actually opened in Denver during the 60s. The restaurant is called Chada Thai, and it still exists today. The restaurant’s late founder was named Lily Chittivej, who opened it after visiting her husband in Denver.
9. The tradition of hanging Christmas lights outdoors started in Denver
Hanging lights outdoors actually originated in Denver, Colorado in 1914 after D.D. Sturgeon, an electrician, came up with a dazzling way to cheer up his four-year-old son. Because his son was too sick to join the festivities around the tree, his dad actually dipped lights in red and green paint and hung them around a tree outside his son’s window, which quickly caught on around the neighborhood. So much so that John Malpiede decorated the outside of the Civic Center in red and green lights in 1919, maybe as an homage to D.D. Sturegeon’s.
10. The Cheeseburger was invented in Denver
Apparently, cheeseburgers were trademarked in an old place called the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Inn located at Speer Boulevard and Alcott Street. Before settling on cheese, Louis Ballast experimented with Hershey’s chocolate and peanut butter, which never took off. Louis Ballast took the first steps towards trademarking the cheeseburger but ultimately never finished the process.