It’s never easy to understand the collective mind of public bureaucracies, which often seem maddeningly obtuse.
Case in point: last weekend was the 150th anniversary of Julia Archibald Holmes’ ascent of Pikes Peak. Holmes, an adventurous 20-year-old, was the first European woman to climb the mountain. It took her and her companions five days to find their way to the then-pristine summit.
Holmes achieved enduring fame by describing herself as the first “white” woman to climb Pikes Peak, although Native American women probably preceded Holmes by many centuries.
So what did the city suggest that Springs residents ought to do to commemorate this historic event?
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Invite women of all ages to join some of our notable female climbers/mountaineers in a leisurely stroll up Barr Trail to the summit. It would have been appropriate, fun, and great publicity for the city — but it didn’t happen.
Instead, here’s an excerpt from the city’s news release.
Aug. 5, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Summit of Pikes Peak
Enjoy a beautiful drive up the Pikes Peak Highway (Toll charges apply).
Historical interpreters dress [sic] in clothing of the times will bring the Lawrence Party Camp to life.
Clearly, the city believes that Holmes was made of sterner stuff than today’s women, who presumably can attempt nothing more strenuous than a drive up the Pikes Peak Highway — where, lest we forget, toll charges apply.
The phrase “first white woman” is jarring to modern sensibilities. It recalls an era of embedded, pervasive and unchallenged racism, and of attitudes that persisted well into the second half of the last century.
Growing up in the Springs during the 1940s, our next door neighbor on Tejon Street was a kindly, distinguished gentleman, wonderfully named Manitou Ege. The son of cabinetmaker Fred Ege, whose creations grace the Pioneers’ Museum, Ege was reputed to have been the first white child born in the Pikes Peak region.
Ege’s birth and Holmes’ ascent were important decades ago not as historical curiosities, but because of the then-collective belief that history began when Europeans arrived.
Commendably, our country has discarded racism and racist beliefs — except, apparently, as a weapon in national political campaigns.
Consider last week’s accusation by the John McCain campaign that Barack Obama had “played the race card,” which resulted in national headlines.
Obama had done so, the McCain folks alleged, in a speech during which he said: “Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, ‘He’s not patriotic enough, he’s got a funny name,’ you know, ‘He doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.’”
Seems like a reasonable enough statement, doesn’t it? Obama does have a funny name, and he’s already taken some hard hits from one of the most ruthless campaigners in American history.
Remember when Hillary Clinton, asked whether Obama was a Muslim, disingenuously replied “not as far as I know”? And he doesn’t look like all the other presidents — that’s a simple statement of fact.
McCain’s new brain trust, most of whom learned their craft from Karl Rove, know how to play a tough game. By bringing race up, they hope to bring along affirmative action, the most effective wedge issue available.
Despite the past successes, many voters have soured on affirmative action. Those opposing such programs see them not as devices for leveling the playing field and giving everyone equal opportunity, but as inherently biased systems of racial preference.
McCain’s advisers hope to skew the Obama narrative. They’ll try to portray him as an out-of-touch elitist who, thanks to affirmative action, has skated through life at the expense of hard-working Americans — and supports the continuation of an intrinsically unfair system. That might play well in Colorado, where a measure repealing many affirmative-action programs will be on November’s ballot — and, pollsters say, will likely pass by a comfortable majority.
So let’s forget about an elevated, issues-oriented presidential campaign. Let’s get down-in-the-dirt nasty! McCain, keep throwing those punches: “So, Sen. Obama, when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton visit the White House, how many Jaeger shots will the American people have to pay for?”
And right back from Obama: “Sen. McCain says that he’s not too old for the presidency. That’s fine, but with all due respect, Sen. Geezer — I mean McCain — will you pledge to pay for your own funeral when — I mean if — you die in office, or will you stick the American taxpayer for hundreds of millions to pay for some grandiose state funeral!!??”
Now that’s hardball — and while you’ve got McCain on the defensive, ask him whether he’ll be buried in his $520 Ferragamo loafers or whether his grieving widow will drop them off at the thrift shop.
They look about my size …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.