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I have never enjoyed public speaking. I actually flunked college classes so I would not have to get up and speak in front of a group of people. I hated it. But 10 years ago, when I was working as a volunteer at the Old Colorado City History Center, I got started when the center's former director asked me to portray a madam buried in Old Colorado City's Fairview Cemetery during the west side's annual Cemetery Crawl.
They said, there's this character, a prostitute named Blanche Burton, we need to do, and the regular lady couldn't do it. So I just started reading on her. I actually contacted Cripple Creek museum director Jan Mackell who has done research and written several books on prostitutes.
Then I did research on my own, going through old newspapers. I remember sitting downstairs in Special Collections at the Penrose Library, combing over old issues of The Colorado City Iris and going blind reading on the microfilm machines.
At the time, you could go into the county office and look at people's estate, the probate records, from when they died. When Blanche passed, the probate records listed everything she owned. It wasn't a whole lot. The record actually listed her occupation before 1909 as a dressmaker. Whether that was just a cover for her real line of work, I don't know.
I found as much stuff on her as possible. When I performed as Blanche, I sort of regurgitated everything I had read. But it was more than that. I became her, and all the information I'd heard or read about her came out in character.
And every time I did it, it would be different. It depended on who was in the audience. If there were older men, you could be flirtatious. Sometimes friends I knew would come with their boyfriends and I'd mess with the guys by addressing them by name, even though they'd never met me. But it's crucial to know enough information that if people ask you questions, you're able to give a halfway decent answer.
When I used to get stumped or flustered, I'd say, "You have to excuse me, I've been dead almost 100 years and the brain doesn't work so well all the time." You can always pass it off on that.
Since that first performance, I've been Blanche Burton multiple times at Fairview Cemetery.
At Evergreen Cemetery, I've been Emma Chaney, who was Lon Chaney's mom. I did Betsy Bouton, a local woman who was murdered; she was actually the first person who they were able to identify her remains by her dental records. Her jawbone is still on display at the Pioneers Museum.
I've been Mary Bacon. And I've been Queen Palmer, wife of Colorado Springs founder General William Palmer.
Queen Palmer started the first school here. She started the First Episcopal Church. She started reading rooms, libraries, and held Christmas parties. She was thought very highly of.
I identify a lot with Queen. Even though she was thrown into a new frontier, she didn't just wait for something to happen, she made things happen.
She saw a need to take care of something and did it. I like to think I have a little bit of that, too.
I've been doing historical impersonations for 10 years now, about four to five times each year. It's an adrenaline rush once you get over the fear.
Once you start doing it and you start researching the women and find out how fascinating the history is, it becomes addicting.