The Vault or Stacks 1 of the Western History/Genealogy department is filled with some of our most valued treasures. Each item in the vault has a story to go with it that illuminates an aspect of western history. One of my favorite pieces from the vault is a silver tiara in the shape of snakes. The eyes of the serpent are glittering green stone and the tongue is a menacing shade of red. I am drawn to the juxtaposition of the idea of a beauty queen wearing a crown that through my modern eye evokes thoughts of late night heavy metal music videos. I recently did some research to get to the bottom of the story behind this strange item from our collection.
The Festival of Mountain and Plain and the Parade of the Slaves of Silver Serpent was put on for a few years with an attempt at revival in 1912. According to 1895 newspapers the festival was designed as a celebration of harvest time in the west. Held in October, the festival drew exhibitors from all corners of the state and in later festivals included people from other states in the west. Multiple newspaper articles proposed that the Silver Serpent ball would "rival any Mardi Gras celebration in costume and revelry."
The Slaves of the Silver Serpent were a fraternal organization which, as far as I can tell, were formed with the sole purpose of putting together a parade and ball for the Denver elite during the commencement of the Festival of Mountain and Plain. Members included men who were prominent in the western U.S. including William N. Byers, R. W. Speer, and Adolph Zang. The chosen queens were often the daughters of prominent families in the west.
Aside from the Ball of the Slaves of the Silver Serpent, other festival events included an evening illuminated bike ride with prizes for most grotesquely decorated bike, a drilling contest, pony express riders, and attendance by several tribal nations in the west.
While doing research on the history of the festival and the tiara I discovered a 25 year old mistake in our documentation. For the entire history of our ownership of the crown of the Queen of the Slaves of the Silver Serpent the name of the queen has been incorrect. Through reading newspaper articles and past festival documentation, the name we had recorded as Sallie Gomberger should actually be Sallie Bomberger. We even have a photograph in our digital collection of her that has the correct name. As librarians and archivists we pride ourselves on accurate information sharing, so we are correcting our mistake so that Sallie's legacy can be easily and accurately discovered. In order to verify the new information I was able to find census records and city directories on Ancestry.com which can be accessed through the genealogy section of our website. I learned soon after receiving the crown, Sallie married surgeon Hugh Taylor and they lived in Denver until her death in 1937. Sallie's grave can be found at historic Fairmount cemetery today, and reference to her obituary can be found in our obitiuary index.
This is so awesome - earlier this year, my husband and 12 year old son were looking through the Western History Subject Index for an interesting name for their band that reflected Denver and the West and guess what they ended up naming themselves?Slaves of the Silver Serpent! I can't wait to share this article with them. Thanks, Morgan!
Great post! The Festival of Mountain and Plain needs a revival!
Love it! This has always been one of my favorite things in the vault, too, so I'm glad to know more about it!
Really great post! I didn't know about the tiara - what a great thing to share - thanks again!
The Festival of Mountain and Plain lives on as the Taste of Colorado. The Downtown Denver Partnership still uses both names.
It's hard to find experienced people in this particular topic, however, you
seem like you know what you're talking about!
Great post! They should bring the Silver Serpent back.
Wow! Really cool post, can't wait to drop in and see it- I didn't know we had it in Western History and Genealogy!
I just looked this phrase at the silver super time because my oldest daughter long story but I just kept saying I don't know where it came from and this is very interesting given parts of our conversation.
I have been investigating the place I recently bought and moved into. It might be the place John Albert built. He co-led the parade with Jim Baker. The stories! When I lived in Denver, I rented a space at 34th & Wazee many moons ago. One of the SOTSS posters have that on there. Crazy town!