Back in December, the Racist Salon Owner had told me I was nothing more than a snoop — oh, I might call myself a historian, but really, it was just a polite term for a professional snoop. Since then I have continued to snoop, poking around in the archives for tidbits of gossip to liven up forty dreary survey reports, helped considerably by this wonderful website: Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. It is very easy to wander off the subject, with goofy headlines like this: “John Nightingale Dropped Dead Saturday,” or “Buried After 36 Years After Marriage,” and a personal favorite, “Elks Kill 228 Rabbits for Santa Claus.” It was definitely a more plain-speaking era.
Six of the houses we are writing architectural surveys for were owned by Roy A. Portner (1885-1976), one of the city’s most illustrious citizens, a man referred to back in 1908 by the town newspaper as a “capitalist.” Yes, it really was a more plain-speaking era … Mr. Portner did this, Mr. Portner did that: he began building houses at age 19, began building reservoirs at age 21, bought his first farm also at age 21. He organized an irrigation company and built dams and ditches and diversions; he was a founder and director of an investment firm as well as a building and loan association, and apparently played with a lot of money, including the city’s, when he was the finance commissioner. He was a Rotarian, and never missed a meeting in 35 years; he was also a Methodist, a Mason, and a member of El Jebel Shrine, some of those memberships going as far back as 1902.
And then I find this “In Society’s Realm” item from May 1, 1907: “The KKK club was entertained at the home of Roy Portner Tuesday evening.” Clearly not something ever mentioned in his entry in the Historical Encyclopedia of Colorado, or in his Denver Post obituary. So … what does it mean? Does it in fact mean anything? The man is dead, I will never know, but I wonder — did Mr. Portner think it was a social club? He was, after all, fairly young at the time, even though already a “capitalist.” Why did he join? What did he get out of it? Why did he leave — I assume he left, or did he leave because the KKK left town? Did he ever think about it again when he was older, say, through the 1950s and 1960s and later?
I look at his picture, a typical studio portrait of an elderly white male in a suit, like so many other pictures of successful elderly white men, and think: History small and large is littered with dead white men. And there is Mr. Portner, who perhaps never thought that years after his death, some nosy person would find that one sentence, 13 words about an unremembered past.