It can be difficult for Coloradans — or any American — to know just how much of an impact William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his world-touring Wild West Show had on the world’s view of the American West.
“When I speak with people who are visiting from Europe, they will often express surprise at how much more they know about Buffalo Bill than Americans do,” said Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden. “Here, I think it’s the same thing in a sense as missing the trees for the forest because we have so many other aspects of our history around.”
Frisen said he is seeing more locals coming by, often with out-of-town visitors in tow as their excuse for learning of the near-mythological Wild West figure for the first time.
For those of us who have yet to dive deep into the story of Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, this year is our chance: 2017 is the 100th anniversary of his death and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave is partnering with other other venues throughout the metro area to revisit the icon and the event that so strongly ties him to Colorado.
The yearlong homage begins Tuesday — Cody’s date of death — with a candlelight vigil and procession from the museum to the grave at 7 p.m. at Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, 987 1/2 Lookout Mountain Road, Golden. Admission to the museum will be free all day, from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
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Cody died Jan. 10, 1917 in Denver, but his wishes to be buried on Lookout Mountain near Golden could not be fulfilled until the ground thawed, so his body sat embalmed in the basement of Olinger Mortuary in Denver throughout the spring of 1917.
Lola Restaurant at 1575 Boulder St. serves up great “coastal Mexican” cuisine — great table-side guacamole — and its basement is the former home of the mortuary where Cody’s body lay in waiting for six months. So, Lola is hosting an “Irish wake” and a five-course dinner, including a and “Corpse Reviver” cocktail Jan. 12. The wake (likely to resemble a happy hour) is from 4-7 p.m. and dinner is served from 7-9p.m. Cost is $50 per person. Call 720-570-8686 for reservations.
“The whole point is to acquaint people with the connection between Buffalo Bill and the Lola space,” Friesen said.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave will also open a new exhibit at the museum, titled “A Better Place Could Hardly Have Been Chosen,” about Cody’s death and burial site, which is not without controversy to this day.
“It will deal with some of the controversy of whether he wanted to be buried here,” Friesen said, as well as how Cody’s legacy has changed over the years and touch on claims that his body was stolen from Olinger Mortuary as it waited for the ground to thaw.
Friesen said his and the directors at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West have a fun rivalry over these stories, but in the end, he said the theories that Buffalo BIll is not buried in his marked grave have no more clout than a certain animal’s waste often found at places like the Western Stock Show.
“There is no question that he is buried here,” he said.
Other museums are featuring special exhibits commemorating the anniversary: “Buffalo Bill, Trains and the Wild West,” runs through Oct. 29 at the Colorado Railroad Museum and the McNichols Civic Center will display “Diversity in the West: Buffalo Bill Posters” from May 20-Aug. 27. The Hiwan Homestead Museum in Evergreen, Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden and Lakewood heritage Center also have special exhibits scheduled.
Find more information about exhibits and additional events as they celebrate Buffalo Bill’s birthday (Feb. 23), his burial (June 3), and annual happenings like Buffalo Bill Days in Golden and the Buffalo Bill Fall Roundup, at bit.ly/2i08rZ1.