Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's a small world

Couldn't help but share this incredible story written from one of our esteemed guests!

The Rest of the Story

In today’s universe of almost instant communications facilitated by the Internet, we often find surprising links between people, places and things. That happened to me this week in Colorado, and the heartwarming story unexpectedly connects a current, front-page news item with bit of the history of an old family-operated inn near Estes Park, Colorado, with a more modern family-operated hotel company in the Pacific, and with a Colorado state trooper injured this week while trying to stop a bizarre serial carjacking.

Stories like this were the specialty of veteran ABC radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, who, for many decades, connected apparently widely separated people, places and events with a final bit of information. When adding that last, culminating fact, Harvey would proudly announce, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Islander Hotel, Honolulu, HawaiiToday’s story started last year when I visited Estes Park, Colorado, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and had lunch at the historic Baldpate Inn. There I learned that Ethel and Gordon Mace along with Gordon’s brothers, Charles and Stuart Mace, homesteaded this beautiful piece of property in 1911. They built a cabin and grew rhubarb to comply with the provisions of the Homestead Act. To supplement their income, they added tourist cabins and, by 1917, added the Baldpate Inn with several bedrooms and a dining room. They used natural, local resources such as hand-hewn timber for beams for the structure and local stones from the riverbed to line their fireplace. They boasted about the inn’s hot running water, electric lights and indoor plumbing, which were unusual amenities in that area in those days.
The name Baldpate came from the mystery novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers, which, also in 1917, became a silent-film mystery thriller. The author created seven visitors who traveled to a closed-in-winter hotel, each possessing a key that they believed was the only key to the property.

In keeping with the novel’s storyline, the Mace Family began giving all visitors their own key, which they could keep as a souvenir. However, the shortage and cost of metal during World War I soon forced them to stop that practice. Disappointed guests turned the tradition around and began bringing their own keys, and a competition began to see who could bring the most exotic or unusual key. The Maces encouraged this by dedicating a room to display the keys. A few years went by and they had to add another room. Now, with over 20,000 keys, “including examples from the Pentagon, Westminster Abby, Mozart’s Wine Cellar, and even Frankenstein’s castle, to name a few, the Baldpate is working with American History Savers to preserve and catalogue” the collection.

While having lunch, my wife Linda and I had a chance to speak with current owner, Lois Hoke Smith, a dynamic person who is dedicated to keeping the Baldpate Inn as the best country inn in Colorado.
We asked her if the Baldpate key collection might contain any keys from one of the hotels operated by Outrigger Enterprises, its predecessors or even Roy and Estelle Kelley in their young, entrepreneurial years. She personally took us to the key rooms. Keys were everywhere – on the walls, on the columns, on the beams, on the ceilings! We looked and looked and then, VOILA!!! We found a well-preserved key and bright key tag for

The Islander Hotel, of course, is where Outrigger Enterprises began when Roy and Estelle welcomed the first guest to their just-completed building in 1947. Serving pineapple juice on the patio and folding towels in Housekeeping were Richard, Jean and Patricia Kelley, who had not quite turned 14, 12 and 10 years old.

Finding that key at Baldpate was very emotional for me, particularly because one of my early duties was to cut replacement keys when they were lost or not returned by guests.
Now flash forward at “warp speed” to this past Wednesday, March 13. Allan Rodriguez, age 4, sat alone in a Ford Edge SUV at a Bradley service station in Longmont, Colorado, about 30 miles from the Baldpate Inn while his mother went inside to pick up a cup of coffee. In a flash, a stranger hijacked the vehicle with Allan inside. Police and a news helicopter were almost immediately on the hijacker’s tail and a wild, 60-mile chase ensued during which the hijacker took over two more vehicles and ran over and seriously injured a Colorado State Trooper by the last name of Hee

At that point, I received an email from my daughter, Linda Jane Kelley, telling me that Trooper Hee’s full name was Bellamann Hee, Junior, her classmate at Punahou School in Honolulu. His father, Bellamann Hee, Senior, was born in Shanghai, China. In Hawai‘i, Bellamann Senior founded Bellamann Services, Inc., a company that sold signs and other promotional products. Mr. Hee, Senior, passed away on May 17, 2013.

I remember Bellamann Senior as a kind, gentle and loving man who provided our growing companies with engraved plastic signs that we used all around our hotels. We also bought other plastic products from Bellamann Services including, guess what, plastic room key tags!
Once again, we discovered what a “small world” we inhabit.
State Trooper Hee who was injured in this week’s triple hijacking in Colorado, grew up in Hawai‘i. It is highly likely that his father was the person who sold the room key tags to our Islander Hotel in Waikīkī many years ago. One of those key tags ended up in the Baldpate Inn, Estes Park, just over 30 miles from where the first carjacking occurred.

“And now you know the rest of the story!”
P.S.: Trooper Hee is currently hospitalized with serious injuries but is reported to be doing well and on what may prove to be a long road to recovery. And young Allan Rodriguez was returned safe and sound to his mother.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From Key to Key Card

Ever wonder why keys were created?
Well, once people had stuff, they wanted to protect it.
The first keys (and their locks) appeared over five thousand years ago in ancient Assyria and Egypt. They were large, cumbersome, and made of natural materials, particularly wood. These were not the best keys for protecting peoples’ goods, but they did help signal whether an actual or attempted theft had occurred. Made of iron and bronze, ancient Roman keys were smaller and sturdier than early wood ones, yet they were still not the perfect safeguard. Worn on a string or on a person’s finger, these keys symbolized wealth more than anything else. 
Ancient Assyrian Key & Lock
Keys’ function as status symbols continued throughout the Medieval period, while the amount of ornamentation on them increased. The bows (the part of the key you hold) became especially ornate to resemble the intricate rose and stained glass windows in cathedrals. It wasn't until the 1800s that inventors, especially Linus Yale Sr. and Jr., created the modern tumbler locks and the “flat keys” we use today.
Or rather, the keys we used to use.
All season long during my time in the Key Room, visitors have commented on our hotel key collections. They especially comment on the Epperson’s stunning set of international keys from their adventures as a married couple. These keys in particular were donated in October 2006 by their son, Peter Epperson, after both John and Stella passed away. Although these are worth discussing, visitors’ comments usually relate to the fact metal hotel keys are rapidly approaching extinction.
Epperson's Hotel Key Collection

Plastic key cards were invented in 1975 by Tor Sornes and were specifically designed for use in hotels. These keys operated through different combinations of thirty-two holes in the card. Later the holes were replaced with a magnetic strip. These quickly became the most popular form of key in the hotel industry around the world. With every new guest, key cards are reprogrammed to include information like the guest’s name and room number. Another advantage of key cards is they usually deactivate after checkout, eliminating the need to track down lost keys.
One of the most recent innovations in key cards is the RFID (radio frequency identification) card. As the name suggests, this type of key card uses a specific radio frequency instead of a magnetic strip to open locks. This type does not have to be swiped like the magnetic strip key cards, so it is held in front of the lock instead.
Donated Key Cards
To keep with our rustic roots, The Baldpate still uses ‘old-fashioned’ flat keys to unlock guest rooms, and our Key Room will always feature the metal keys previously used to by other hotels. Come by before the season’s over to see these keys that may soon be relegated to history!

Key Room Museum Curator 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Grandest of Them All

Today, the Key Room is highlighting a set of keys that cannot open a physical door, but can unlock the doors to inspiration and creativity. The keys in mention are a set of seven piano keys (keys 33-39 to be exact) from one of the first grand pianos in Denver, CO donated to the Key  Room by Ray Hamilton.

*Interesting fact: The piano has earned the moniker “The King of Instruments” primarily for its wide tonal range. The piano can reach the lowest note of the contrabassoon and the highest note of the piccolo. There is no other orchestral instrument that can match its complete tonal range.


 Though I could not find any information on who Ray Hamilton was, we here at the Inn are very appreciative of his donation and proud to have it displayed in the “Musical Keys” section of our Key Room.

Come See!

Key Room Museum Curator


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Small and Mighty

        After the question which is the most famous key, visitors most often ask us what is the oldest key in our Key Room. The answer appears unassuming at first: a small ivory ankh.
        The ankh is the ancient Egyptian symbol and hieroglyphic sign for life. They are ubiquitous in ancient Egyptian art and decoration and are commonly displayed with gods and goddesses. Deities such as Isis, Osiris, Ptah, Satet, Ra, Hathor, and Anubis were depicted holding ankhs. I once saw a statue of Sekhmet—the Egyptian goddess of vengeance and retribution, as well as healing—at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The great stone figure, regal with a sun disk poised on her lion head, offered the viewer an ankh and thus offered life. The sign’s connection with immortals and the loop’s lack of beginning or end do not just entail life for the living but also eternal life for the deceased. Ankhs were used in funeral ceremonies, and the dead were called "ankhu." A sarcophagus was also called "neb-ankh," which means "possessor of life."
Statue of Sekhmet
        Originally, the ankh was thought by historians to signify sandals, the loop the part of the shoe intended to be placed around the ankle. It is also believed to have been used as a sign of initiation into sacred mysteries by placing it on a person’s forehead between the eyes; in this way it acted as a key locking the knowledge away from the uninitiated. Additionally, the ankh could be associated to the “Knot of Isis,” which was representative of mirror opposites like life and death, since the word ankh was also used for mirror. Another interpretation is that the loop suggests the path of the Nile delta, while the horizontal bar represents the unification of East and West. This may explain another reason why the ankh is connected with life: water is the ultimate sustainer of life. In the desert there is no life without it.
        Even though the ankh is Egyptian, we in Colorado understand water as a source of life and sustenance. With summer halfway over, we hope our ankh will continue to bring us rain and stave off wildfires. If you’d like to see this little piece of ancient history and decide which interpretation you like most for the “Key of Life,” come visit us at the Key Room!

Key Room Museum Curator

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Comedian, the Legend, Jack Benny

This past weekend here at the Baldpate Inn was special, due in part to the play Seven Keys to Baldpate, which premiered on Friday and Saturday. For those of you that have visited the Key Room here at the Inn, you are probably familiar to the Seven Keys to Baldpate radio play and the stage play of the same name which we show at our Keythedral Theatre. The voice most notable to visitors when they listen to the radio play is that of comedian Jack Benny.


Born Benjamin Kubelsky on Valentine’s Day, 1894 in Chicago, IL, Benny picked up the violin at the age of six, which would become a trademark later in his career. By 17, he was playing violin at local vaudeville theaters. It was during this time that Benny came into contact with the famous Marx Brothers, who not only were working in the same theater as Benny, but would form a lifetime friendship with him as well. After serving duty in the U.S. Navy from 1917 to 1921, where he was considered a comedian and musician by fellow soldiers, Benny would start a one-man act called "Ben K. Benny: Fiddle Funology". It was around this time that he changed his stage name to Jack Benny due to legal pressure from famed violinist, Ben Bernie. 

One night in 1922, Benny was invited over to a Passover Seder by friend Zeppo Marx, where he would meet the love of his life, Sadie Marks, but better known by her stage name, Mary Livingstone. Benny and Livingstone would go on to get married, along with becoming comedic partners, too. Ten years later, after a four-week comedy show stint at nightclubs, Benny was invited onto TV host and writer Ed Sullivan’s radio show. This would eventually lead Benny to get his own radio show, The Jack Benny Program, later that year. The weekly radio show, which ran for a total of 30 years (from 1932 to 1948 on NBC and from 1949 to 1955 on CBS) is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy. This radio show would be followed up with a TV show of the same name from 1950-1965.

(Group photograph of Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, and Mel Blanc)

Here at the Inn we  are honored to have keys to Jack Benny’s dressing room at Paramount Studios. We are glad to have the opportunity to have this key on display for visitors!
Come see!
Key Room Museum Curator

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

        To celebrate our nation's independence, we are featuring our key to the U.S. Capitol. It was donated to the Maces' on January 10, 1936 by William R. Eaton, a Senator for Colorado in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Though this key may look unremarkable, it unlocks a grandiose building and past replete with trial and tribulation.
        The predominant symbol of the legislative branch, not to mention the U.S. government and America as a whole, the Capitol Building was first commissioned in 1791 to be built on land selected by President George Washington. The first designer was dismissed a year later and, as suggested by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, a competition was held instead. Unfortunately, none of the entries were deemed "wholly satisfactory." It wasn't until October 1792 that a plan was selected and approved by the commissioners and Washington.
        Although work on the three-sectioned building began in September 1793, some rooms were still incomplete due to budget constraints when Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the D.C. courts moved into the building in 1800. With the allocation of funds by Congress and the appointment of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, construction was renewed until the War of 1812 diverted money away from the project again.
        By 1818 a new architect, Charles Bulfinch, was supervising construction. The following year chambers for the Supreme Court, House, and Senate were all ready for use. By 1829 Bulfinch’s work was considered finished, and his employment with the government ended.
        Modifications and improvements continued until 1850 when, despite the Capitol’s vast size, it couldn’t fit all the senators and representatives from newly admitted states. Another competition was held, and, once again, none of the entries were exactly what Congress wanted, leaving President Millard Fillmore to select a plan and architect. He chose Thomas U. Walter.
        Under Walter’s direction extensions for the Capitol, Treasury, Post Office buildings, and Marine barracks in Pensacole and Brooklyn were completed, as well as designs for the Patent Office building and the restoration of the Library of Congress after a fire burned it in 1851. Construction paused during the Civil War. During this time the Capitol functioned as a military barracks, hospital, and bakery.
        After the war the Statue of Freedom and a new dome, including Brumidi’s The Apothesis of Washington, were added, extensions completed, and the building modernized. Work to fireproof the Capitol began in earnest after a gas explosion and fire in the north wing in November 1898.
        For the next several decades, basic cleaning and refurbishing occurred. In 1958 work began on the East Front extension, managed by J. George Stewart. This expanded the front of the building by almost thirty-three feet. It also included repairs to the dome, the construction of a subway terminal under the Senate steps, cleaning both wings, birdproofing, furnishing the new rooms, and improving lighting. All this finished in 1962.
        Major projects since then included restorations for the country’s 1976 Bicentennial anniversary, renovations of the West Front, strengthening the structure’s masonry with steel tie rods, replacement of sandstone blocks with limestone, and the conservation of various artistic structures throughout the building.
         The latest and greatest project at the Capitol was the Visitor Center. The center opened in 2008 and is almost as large as the Capitol itself! Yet this massive structure is actually located underground so as to not ruin the view of the Capitol itself.

         Every year millions of people visit the Capitol Building. While us here at The Baldpate may not receive millions of visitors each season, we likewise contain years of history and stories to be shared with the public and are a key part of the Estes Park community and Colorado history. Visit for more information about our Capitol. Hope to see you soon at The Baldpate to see this remarkable key for yourself! Have a happy Independence Day!

Key Room Museum Curator

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Curtain Rises

With the opening of Baldpate’s Keythedral Theater 2013 summer series , it seems fitting to feature our “Key to the Curtain”. This unique key was donated in 1929 by Melville Burke, the then head of the Elitch Gardens Players.

The laughing face on the key’s bow represents the comedy face of the Greek theatre masks, and the “E” that is the bit of the key signifies the Elitch Gardens Players.
Although for Coloradans today Elitch Gardens is synonymous with amusement park, when it first opened in Denver in 1890, it was primarily a botanic garden, zoological park, and cultural center. Two years later the Elitch family opened the Elitch Theatre. This summer stock theatre, the oldest in America, entertained audiences for one hundred years. It was renowned for the talent that performed on its stage, including Grace Kelly, Cecil B. DeMille, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, and Antoinette “Tony” Perry—the namesake of the “Tony Awards.” Some of these actors you can see in Charles Mace’s photography collection in The Baldpate’s dining room, as well as in the Inn’s guest registers.

Mace's photograph of Lana Turner

Mace's photograph of Mary Elitch
During the time Melville Burke was the troupe’s director in the 1920s, the Players often pranked new actors by asking them to find the “key to the curtain.” Since curtains have no keys, this request was a fool’s errand. That is, until Melville Burke requested the prop department make a key to be added to The Baldpate Inn Key Collection.
Near the end of the twentieth century, the Gardens’ popularity waivered. While the park’s new location in downtown Denver was purchased by Premier Parks, Inc. in 1994 and transformed into today’s Elitch Gardens, the Elitch Theatre was revived by the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation. This non-profit organization’s goal is to renovate the theatre and return it to its former renown. 
Here at The Baldpate Inn, our Keythedral Theater is in no danger of shutting down or being abandoned for an amusement park! This season our theatre will feature productions by Encore! Encore! and The Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies with the stage version of Seven Keys to Baldpate and Marriage is Murder, respectively:

Doors open for Seven Keys performs at 6 p.m. on June 28th and July 5th, as well as at 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. June 29th and July 6th.

Marriage is Murder, by Nick Hall, performs August 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th, and 18th. Doors open at 6 p.m., as well as at 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sundays.

Come by to enjoy the Inn’s connection to early Colorado theatre and, most especially, to enjoy our own summer stock performances at our Keythedral Theater.

Key Room Museum Curator