Colorado State Publications Blog

Jack Langrishe: An 1860s Celebrity

Jack Langrishe.

If you attended the theater in the 1860s and 1870s, you probably knew the name Jack Langrishe.  Born in Ireland in 1825, John S. “Jack” Langrishe moved to New York at age 20 and began appearing on stage as a comedic actor and magician.  His theatrical troupe, Langrishe and Company, originally toured New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even into Canada; in the 1850s they began moving westward, performing in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Kansas City.  Among the players in his troupe was his wife, Jeannette Allen Langrishe.

The Langrishes found a new audience when the mining boom hit the frontier.  The troupe arrived in the infant city of Denver in September 1860, and also performed in Central City, Georgetown, Fairplay, other mining towns.  In Denver Langrishe took over Apollo Hall, Denver’s first theater, located at 14th and Larimer (now demolished), renaming it the People’s Theater.  Like many early mining town theaters, the venue was located upstairs from a saloon.  Denver historian Jerome Smiley wrote in his 1901 History of Denver that plays were often interrupted by “the clinking of glasses, rattling of billiard balls, and boozy attempts at vocal melodies from the uproarious regions below.”  Feeling that the hubbub disturbed his performances, Langrishe soon opened a new, saloon-free venue known as the Denver Theater, bringing a new respectability to the performing arts in the young city.

After a decade in Colorado, Langrishe and his company “remained loved and respected by Denverites because of his personal magnetism and professional ability,” as well as the way he gave back to the community by holding monthly benefit performances to raise money for the poor. His charitability was returned when, in 1871, while touring in Chicago, his troupe lost all of their equipment in the great Chicago Fire.  Langrishe’s many Denver fans raised money to help the troupe get back on its feet.

Langrishe’s troupe eventually made its way to Helena, Montana, in 1870 and then to Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876 (Langrishe is portrayed in the tv series Deadwood, although some liberties have been taken with his character).  Langrishe returned to Colorado in 1879, moving to Leadville to take advantage of the silver boom there.  He performed at the famous Tabor Opera House in Leadville and then at the elaborate new Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver in 1881.  Retiring from the stage in 1885, Langrishe and his wife moved to Idaho, where he served as a state senator, published a small newspaper, and occasionally wrote plays.

You can read about Jack Langrishe in the Fall 1969 issue of Colorado Magazine.  The issue features not only a biography of Langrishe (“Jack Langrishe and the Theater of the Mining Frontier,” by Alice Cochran), but also an article by Virginia McConnell entitled “A Gauge of Popular Taste in Early Colorado.” It continues the Langrishe story by examining the fads and popular entertainments of the 1860s.  McConnell writes that “Contrary to the belief held by many historians that Shakespeare (and even opera) was common fare in frontier theaters, the theatrical productions in early Denver and Colorado’s mining camps indicate a strong preference for melodrama, low comedy, and farce.”  This preference can be seen in such titles as The Drunkard; His Last Legs; Why Won’t She Marry?; Hole in the Wall; Dead Shot; Pikes Peak Gold Fiend; and Uncle Pat’s Cabin.  The two Colorado Magazine articles offer an interesting account of mid-nineteenth century popular culture.  For more detail, see the book Orpheus in the Wilderness:  A History of Music In Denver, 1860-1925 by Henry Miles, published by the Colorado Historical Society and available for checkout from our library.     


Colorado State Publications Blog

History of Colorado's Performing Arts

Our state has a rich history of performing arts, from the large venues of the Denver area to the hundreds of small theaters and opera houses that settlers hoped would make their small mining towns “respectable.”  You can read about Colorado’s performing arts in several publications from the Colorado Historical Society and the University Press of Colorado, available from our library:

Colorado Heritage, the magazine of the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado), has published numerous articles on the history of Colorado’s performing arts.  Some highlights include:

  • “A Forgotten Theatrical Past:  The Federal Theatre Project in Denver,” Nov/Dec 2010
  • “Miss Helen, Don Seawell, and the Denver Performing Arts Complex,” Summer 2007
  • “Where Music Dwells:  Denver’s Earliest Concert Spaces,” Summer 2002
  • “Denver’s Orchestral Overtures,” Spring 2002
  • “Grand Opera in Denver,” Spring 1999
  • “Astronauts to Zephyr:  Colorado’s Music of the 1960s,” Winter 1997
  • “History of Denver’s Symphony Orchestras,” Autumn 1992

In Colorado Magazine, the Historical Society’s predecessor to Colorado Heritage, you can read about Colorado music and theatre (Summer 1977); Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (Fall 1975); theatre in Colorado’s territorial days (Fall 1969, July 1961, and October 1960); music in early Denver (May 1944 and July 1944); Denver’s Tabor Grand Opera House (March 1941); Leadville’s Tabor Opera House (May 1936); and theatre in Central City (July 1934 and March 1929).

Several books in our collection also highlight different aspects of Colorado’s performing arts.  Orpheus in the Wildneress:  A History of Music in Denver, 1860-1925, by Henry Miles (Colorado Historical Society, 2006) tells the story of opera, orchestra, and church and saloon concerts in Denver’s first half-century.  The Ballad of Baby Doe, published by University Press of Colorado, tells the story of the making of a Colorado-centered opera.  Volume III of the Colorado Historical Society’s classic 1927 History of Colorado includes a chapter on the arts in Colorado, exploring music and theater as well as poetry, literature, and the visual arts.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Creative Districts

In 2011 the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation to allow for the establishment of Creative Districts in Colorado.  According to the legislation, a Creative District is “a well-organized, designated mixed-use area of a community in which a high concentration of cultural facilities, creative businesses, or arts-related businesses serve as the anchor of attraction.”  They can be established in communities large or small, urban or rural, and businesses can be for profit or non-profit.  The Districts are certified by Colorado Creative Industries, formerly known as Colorado Council on the Arts.  The first Creative Districts were Downtown Salida and the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver.  Since then, five new Creative Districts have been certified, in Pueblo, Trinidad, Ridgway, Telluride, and the North Fork Valley, and more are expected to follow (see the press release here.)  The program highlights the many artistic and cultural attractions our state has to offer.  If your community is interested in certifying a Creative District, find out how here.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Music History

Since ancient times, a love of music has always been something we humans shared. Over the centuries and even decades, music and peoples’ tastes in music have evolved dramatically, but whether it’s ancient tribal tunes, classical symphonies, or rock-n-roll, music has always been and continues to be an important part of the cultural life of people across the world. Here in our library, you can find several interesting sources that will teach you about the history of music in Colorado and the United States, including:

  • Orpheus in the Wilderness: A History of Music in Denver, 1860-1925, by Henry Miles. Published by the Colorado Historical Society, this engaging book offers offers more than a history of early Denver’s music scene – it’s an incredible resource for discovering the facets of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century “pop culture.”
  • The American Music Research Center Journal is a periodical published by the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Music since 1991. In 2006, they issued a special publication titled ‘In the Good Old Summertime’: An Illustrated History of American Popular Sheet Music from the American Music Research Center; and the following year published Yankee Doodle Melodies: An Illustrated History of American Patriotic and Presidential Sheet Music from the American Music Research Center. These special publications as well as all the issues of the Journal contain interesting research on music in American history and culture.
  • Enduring Legacies: Ethnic Histories and Cultures of the Colorado Borderlands contains a chapter on “Music of Colorado and New Mexico’s Rio Grande.”
  • Colorado Heritage Magazine and its’ predecessor, Colorado History Magazine, offer many interesting articles on music history in Colorado. Some of the Heritage articles that explore Colorado music history include “Cowboy Songs: From the Open Range to the Radio,” 1981; “Katharine Lee Bates and ‘America the Beautiful,'” Summer 1989; “Singing Colorado’s Praises,” Spring 1992; “The Denver Symphony Orchestra,” Autumn 1992; “Astronauts to Zephyr: Colorado’s Music of the 1960s,” Winter 1997; “Opera in Denver,” Spring 1999; and “A Folk Music Mecca,” Winter 2006. Henry Miles, author of Orpheus in the Wilderness, also wrote a series of articles for Colorado Heritage that later became incorporated into the book.

Colorado State Publications Blog

New Guidebook on Arts Education

The Colorado Department of Education has just published a guidebook for arts education in Colorado. The new guidebook is in response to HB10-1273 from the Colorado Legislature. The guidebook addresses the need for arts education and the implementation of arts instruction in schools. Program evaluation, leadership and planning, student engagement, funding, and more are all addressed. This is a very helpful guide for all educators interested in bringing the arts back into schools.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Arts Education

A new bill introduced this session, HB10-1273, aims to strengthen the requirements for Arts education in Colorado schools. If passed, this bill would require that all Colorado public schools offer classes in visual and performing arts, and all high school students would be required to take some arts classes. If you’re interested in reading about the effects of the Arts on education, the State Publications Library has a number of publications that address this issue. These include: