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25 Things You Should Know About Denver

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Situated at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is known for sweeping views and for its wide array of outdoor activities. But before all that pristine living, it was a rough-and-rowdy mining town where gangsters called the shots and land claims were won and lost at the poker table. Here, we examine the Mile High City’s turbulent past, its rapid growth, and why so many residents are feeling that Rocky Mountain high. 

1. It’s named after former Kansas Territory governor James Denver, in an effort by early settler William Larimer to curry favor with the powerful politician. Too bad the governor had already retired by the time Larimer bestowed the name.

2. As a result of a snatch-and-grab claims process by miners flooding the area during the Pike’s Peak gold rush, the city was initially a hodgepodge of different towns and camps. During a meeting in 1859, all parties agreed to unify under the name Denver in return for a shared barrel of whiskey, courtesy of Larimer. Now that’s civic politics.

Denver in 1859 // Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


3. 
After builders of the Transcontinental Railroad announced they would bypass Denver and run tracks through Cheyenne, Wyoming instead, Denver residents raised $300,000 and built their own connection to the line.

4. A gangster named Soapy Smith used to run the town. Originally from Georgia, Smith (whose real name was Jefferson Randolph Smith) was a con man who specialized in rigged poker games, fake lotteries, and a special “soap prize” swindle that involved duping customers into buying $5 bars of soap, thinking one of the packages contained a $100 bill. He owned several saloons and gambling halls in Denver, including the famously violent Tivoli Club at the corner of Market and 17th Street, and gained enough power to sway local elections. He eventually moved on to Skagway, Alaska, where a posse killed him in a shootout on the Juneau Wharf.

5. A sharp decline in silver prices caused a deep economic depression that began in 1893 and lasted for several years. A famous story from the time goes that a bartender shot and killed a patron who couldn’t pay five cents for his beer.

6. In 1902, Denver’s Union Station instituted a “no kissing” rule to keep PDA-happy couples from slowing down train service.

7. The city's capitol building might just be the most valuable of any in the nation. Its dome is made out of 24-karat gold, and much of the interior contains the only known quantity of Colorado Rose Onyx, also known as Beulah Red Marble.

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8. 
And speaking of the capitol building, the 13th step leading up to it sits exactly 5,280 feet above sea level—one mile high.

9. Denver residents turned down the 1976 Winter Olympics after winning the bid in 1970, fearing the Games would be too expensive and environmentally damaging. Voters rejected a $5 million public funding initiative in 1972 by a 60-40 margin, leaving the International Olympic Committee scrambling to find a new venue (Innsbruck, Austria, which had hosted in 1964, eventually stepped in). Denver remains the only city to ever reject an Olympics bid after being selected.

10. In addition to more than 200 parks within city limits, Denver also operates 14,000 acres of parkland in the Rocky Mountain foothills. This includes Summit Lake, the highest city park in the country, and the Winter Park Ski Resort more than 60 miles away.

11. Louis Ballast, owner of Denver's Humpty-Dumpty Drive-In, may not have been the first person to slap cheese on top of a hamburger, but in 1934 he became the first to trademark the name "cheeseburger." Smart man. Apparently he tried peanut butter and Hershey bars before finally giving dairy a try.

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12.
Despite its altitude and proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Denver is actually located on the High Plains. It’s a relatively flat city, with just over 300 feet separating its highest from its lowest point.

13. It’s the least populous city in the nation to have four major professional sports teams: the Broncos, the Nuggets, the Avalanche, and the Rockies. Fans of Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids would also like to point out they’re pretty legit, too.  

14. The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, built in 1892, has hosted presidents, world leaders and celebrities. It was also the site of a 1911 double murder that captivated the nation and involved rival lovers of a wealthy local politician’s wife.

David Shankbone // Flickr // CC BY 2.0


15.
Every year since 1984, Denver has hosted the Great American Beer Festival. Festival goers can sample more than 3000 different brews—not that they should, because they'll also get drunk faster at the higher altitude.

16. At 26.8 miles, Colfax Avenue is one of the longest continuous streets in the nation. Its high crime rate and collection of dive bars and strip clubs have also made it one of the most notoriousPlayboy called it “the longest, wickedest street in America.".  

17. There’s an imposing statue of a blue mustang out by the airport—locals know it as “Blucifer”—that’s said to be cursed. The artist, Luis Jimenez, died after a piece of the 9000-pound sculpture broke off and hit him in the leg, severing an artery.

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18.
Nearly three years after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, Denver residents are proud to report that the sky has not fallen. There are more than 100 retail stores bringing in millions of dollars in sales. The Denver Post even has its own special section, “The Cannabist,” featuring the latest in pot news, reviews and recipes.

19. It’s one of the sunniest cities in the country, averaging 300 days of sunshine each year.

20. The Denver Mint opened in 1863 as an assay office where miners could bring their gold to be melted and cast into bars. In 1906, the U.S. government expanded the facility, and today it mints upwards of 50 million coins a day.

21. In 1988, city voters agreed to a 1 percent sales tax that would go towards arts and cultural institutions like the zoo, the botanical gardens and the Denver Art Museum. Nearly thirty years later, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities Tax has made Denver one of the most generously funded arts cities in the nation.

22. Elvis once flew there just for a sandwich. But not just any sandwich—the “Fool’s Gold Loaf,” a sourdough roll stuffed with a pound of peanut butter, a pound of blueberry jam and a pound of bacon. It was a house specialty at the Colorado Mine Company, where The King first had it after a performance. He liked it so much that when he got a craving one day, he took his private jet from Memphis to Denver and had a bulk order delivered to the plane.

23. Red Rocks, the famous concert venue built by nature, has been hosting shows for more than a century. The first, in 1906, featured a 25-piece brass band assembled by former Cosmopolitan publisher John Brisben Walker. Back then, Walker called the sandstone ampitheater “The Garden of the Titans.”

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24.
Denverites are some of the healthiest people in the country, with 61% listed as being in “excellent or very good” physical health. Researchers point to the city’s year-round sports and activities culture, though it could also have something to do with that mile-high air.

25. It’s one of the fastest growing cities in the country, with a population that’s more than doubled since 1960. It’s also the top city for job prospects and business growth, according to Forbes

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IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
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Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

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8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
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Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

Shoveling soil
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Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

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