Public Art: Denver Town Hall Bell
Date Unveiled: c 1880s
Description: Not to be mistaken for the Denver Liberty Bell, this bell once graced the Town Hall
Location: The Denver Town Hall Bell is located across from Larimer Square at 14th and Larimer streets, Denver, Colorado, USA
Background: Denver in the 1890s was still very much the wild west. Political and police corruption and dodgy gambling houses were rife. Enter Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Soapy was a con man, who got his name from his scam, the “soap lottery”. He sold the bars of soap to gamblers, claiming that some contained large amounts of money. Those who won were not lucky winners but Soapy’s co-conspirators.
In 1889 he was accused of influencing the town mayor election. The winner, Wolf Londoner, was forced to resign over the farce.
Soapy did a runner but it wasn’t too long before he returned to Denver. This time he had a different tactic, he would pull strings within the walls of the City Hall. This was fine and dandy for a while until the then Governor Davis Waite decided to shake things up by replacing the city’s police commissioners. This didn’t go down well with Soapy, who was building his criminal empire by bribing city officials. A standoff between city officials and the governor ensued. In response, the governor deployed the state militia. In March 1894, city officials, members of the police and fire boards, Soapy and his men barricaded themselves into City Hall. The governor ordered two cannons to be aimed at the building and threatened to blow it to smithereens. Soapy and several of his men climbed up the central tower and waved around dynamite in retaliation. In the end, the stand-off was fought in the Colorado Supreme Court where the Governor came out the winner.
The Town Hall was demolished in 1936. and the bell was all that survived.
What became of Soapy Smith, you may well ask? Following the Denver Town Hall War, Soapy continued his con-man ways. In 1889 his legend grew after he assaulted the editor of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. The newspaper declared war on Soapy and his gang. On July 8th, 1898 following a card game con, Soapy was killed in a shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway.
Following his death stories of Soapy’s “Robin Hood” ways spread. Legend had it Soapy stole gold from miners to give to poor people, orphans and even dogs.
On the 8th of July every year, celebratory wakes are held around the USA in honor of Soapy.