Today the Rocky Mountain News published its final issue, 55 days short of its 150th birthday. Even though I knew it was coming, it was hard to think that Colorado will be without the paper older than the state itself.
After I’d read through the issue, the first physical copy of the Rocky I’ve read in ages, what I most lamented was the sense that the Rocky grew along with Colorado, and is more inextricably linked to the state’s heritage as any current institution could ever be. This solid thread to our pioneer past has been cut.
As I pondered these thoughts, I had a brilliant idea. I would go and visit the final resting place of the founder of the Rocky, William Newton Byers.
I was not the only person to have this idea. Maybe “brilliant” is the wrong word.
As I drove into the entrance to Fairmount Cemetery, the local NBC affiliate had a news van exiting the cemetery. Of course, they may’ve been there for some other purpose, but, I like to think they’d swung by to pay their respects.
When I got to the grave site, I found that it had been decorated with a black wreath, circling today’s final issue of the newspaper that Byers had started with the printing press he’d hauled across the plains. Well, he didn’t haul it. Oxen did. But he drove. Byers was 28 years old.
Byers was one of those people who really saw the potential of Denver. His paper was the first published, just days after arriving in town, and beating the nearest competitor by a mere two hours. That other paper didn’t last.
The Rocky’s first “home” was a very rickety hint of a building, closely matching its frontier environs, where all the buildings were held together with good thoughts and a handful of nails. In the fifth year of operation, there was even a flood which carried the “building” and the printing press floating down the Cherry Creek.
The paper survived despite these things. The biggest reason? Byers had an over-riding vision for the paper’s role. He used high quality paper, and made the content indispensable. He was widely respected, and people wanted to hear what he had to say. These ingredients never go out of style, and had the current owners of the paper been as foresighted as its founder, those qualities would’ve carried the Rocky for another 149 years, 10 months and and 5 days.
Byers sold the paper after 19 years, but, remained committed to promoting the city of Denver, which he dubbed “The Queen City of the Plains,” and to the state of Colorado. There’s a town, a street, and a middle school named in his honor.
I’m sad that the Rocky Mountain News has moved from a record of Colorado history to a part of it. Rest in Peace.