Saturday, April 6, 2013

Visit the Historic Governor's Mansion

Regrettably a number of old historical buildings have disappeared from Cheyenne’s landscape over the years. The old Carnegie Library comes to mind. It once stood on the block south of the Supreme Court Building. How wonderful it would have been if we had been able to save Castle Dare and the old Cheyenne post office.

Yet there is among us a genuine gem. The Historic Governor’s Mansion. Tourists love it but it’s really there for us. What a wise and thoughtful decision to preserve and renovate the building that housed governors and their families from 1904 until 1976. If those walls could talk you can only imagine the stories they could tell, the songs they could sing.

Last Tuesday night, the historic site was the venue for the release of my book, “Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins-The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.” Al Simpson was there to remember the times he and his family shared in the grand old mansion while his father Milward was governor. 

Nineteen “First Families” called the dignified Colonial Revival structure home between the time Fennimore Chatterton moved in and Ed Herschler moved out. Presidents and Supreme Court justices among many other dignitaries have been feted in the gracious home. Harry Truman spoke to a crowd of thousands from the front porch while Lester Hunt was governor. Governor Hunt and his wife Nathelle planted a Victory Garden on the grounds during World War II.

But it was also “home” for the governors and their families. Children brought their friends home to play, there were marriages, deaths, and the routine of life we all live in the quiet of our own homes. As you walk through the rooms today you can imagine not only state dinners and parties but also the private lives of the men and women who walked those halls over the decades. Imagine, for example, the days in which the joy that filled the mansion following the inauguration of William Ross devolved to the tragedy of his untimely death at age 50. One can imagine widow Nellie grieving for her husband as she moved out of the mansion, deciding whether to run for her husband’s old job the following year when she became the first woman ever elected governor of a state.

Some of the sounds from those past years came to life for the 250 people who attended Tuesday night’s book release. Don Bogensberger, better known as Bogy, played the piano. But it wasn’t just any piano. Bogy isn’t just any old piano player. It is the same piano Bogy played for Governor Lester Hunt when he was a six-year old invited into the mansion to play some tunes.

Each room has been restored displaying a particular era in the life of the mansion. Walking through those rooms a visitor can get the feel of times past from the early 1900s through the late 1960s. For example, the fallout shelter in the basement is a harsh reminder of the Cold War era when we all feared nuclear war was a real possibility. Today the old mansion comes to life with a variety of programs and activities.

It was fourteen years into statehood before the legislature decided it was time to build a home for Wyoming governors. Buying the lot a few blocks from the Capitol Building, construction of the mansion and landscaping cost the taxpayers a total of $33,253.29. The value of having preserved such a gem is priceless. It was originally designed to provide the governor with a nice place to live not inconsistent with the larger, more elegant mansions being built in nearby neighborhoods for the cattle barons of the day. Comfortable and gracious though it was, the governor’s residence was set in a more modest part of town here the governor and his or her family could be a part of Cheyenne social life while entertaining and hosting dignitaries.

It wasn’t intended to be a show place but that is exactly what it is today.

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