150 stories that shaped Colorado

Former Rocky editor shares history through eyes of newspaper

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Newspapers have long been known as the recorders of history.

And as the Rocky Mountain News approached its 150th anniversary, former editor Michael Madigan was busy at work piecing together a project that highlighted 150 of the most memorable and historic front pages throughout the history of the paper –dating back to its first edition, which was created in a second-floor office above a saloon alongside Cherry Creek.

His idea was to run one front page per day for the 150 days leading up to the Rocky’s anniversary date. Yet, only 103 ever ran – each tucked inside the back page with an accompanying story about why it was chosen – before the Rocky itself became history, closing Feb. 27, 2009, just under two months shy of its big birthday.

Months after the paper closed, however, Madigan released the rest through the publishing of “Heroes, Villains, Dames & Disasters: 150 Years of Front-Page Stories from the Rocky Mountain News.” As the introduction of the book states, the project “as it was conceived was to be an anniversary reprise. Now it is an obituary.”

From the assassinations of Lincoln, Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to the  completion of the Denver Pacific Railroad, the Broncos first Super Bowl and the Hayman Fire, the book captures the nation’s and state’s most monumental events.

There’s the death of Billy the Kid, Colorado becoming the second state to grant women the right to vote, the opening of Red Rocks and the start of World War II. There’s surprises, historical anecdotes and things one may not have known or otherwise forgot. It is history the way Colorado’s pioneer newspaper reported it.

Madigan will spend an evening, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 18, talking about the book with the Highlands Ranch Historical Society at Southridge Recreation Center, 4800 McArthur Ranch Road in Highlands Ranch. The public is welcome and non-members are asked to give a suggested donation of $1.

The former editor will discuss why some of the stories were chosen, talk about the stylistic differences in how varying events were reported and share some of the surprises, such as why Lincoln’s assassination was on Page 2 as opposed to Page 1, yet still made the book. He will likely also talk some about the closing of the paper.

“We always felt that there was a real local attachment to the newspaper, but that’s really been driven home in the years since the paper closed,” he said.

“Everybody knew that the newspaper industry was in hard times at that point, but I don’t think anybody had any inkling that Scripps had any thought in mind of closing the Rocky.”

Madigan, who also published “Historic Photos of Denver in the 50s, 60s, and 70s,” which tells the tale of urban renewal in the city in black and white photographs, has his first novel due out in August.

He will be signing copies of “150 Years” after the event and they will be for sale for $30. To RSVP for the event, please visit www.highlandsranchhistoricalsociety.org.

“I think the real star of the book and of the programs I give are the front pages,” Madigan said. “Being able to look back at these I find just fascinating.”

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