Horseshoes, Tall Tales and Cold Beer!
In honor of Leadville Ski Joring and the fact that there will be horses racing, galloping and posing for pictures all around downtown Leadville this weekend, I offer: The Horseshoe Story.
“There is an entrance to a building on Harrison Avenue that has an upside down horseshoe over its doorway. Where is it and why is it upside down?”
That was exactly how Lake County Assessor Howard Tritz presented the riddle to me many years ago. Challenge accepted! It was “game on” to solve the mystery.
What building is it? After all, Leadville has more than its share of doorways that have a horseshoe above the entry way. But upside-down?! That was bad luck! Who would do such a thing?
First, a bit of background on this western tradition. A horseshoe is displayed over a doorway, with points up, for good luck. The belief is that the shoe actually “holds” in the luck. People think that if the shoe is hung with the heels pointing down, bad luck may be drawn upwards, and all the good luck will fall out through the two prongs.
So what’s the reasoning behind this practical tool used to protect a horse’s sensitive hoof, determining one’s fate: lucky or not?
Well, horseshoes were made by blacksmiths, who were thought to have special powers, generally because they dealt with fire and iron, a metal strong enough to withstand the effects of fire. It was believed that a blacksmith could heal the sick and that couples married by a blacksmith would experience years of wedded bliss.
Another aspect of the horseshoe that added to its good luck reputation is the fact that it is commonly held in place by seven iron nails. A basic Biblical principle, the number seven is considered to be very important. A rainbow has seven colors; there are seven deadly sins (and virtues); there are seven days in a week; the moon changes from one phase to another every seven days; the list seems endless. Therefore the horseshoe’s seven assembly points enriched its magical properties.
And of course, in a town like Leadville, where one’s financial stability depended greatly on the minerals discovered in the ground, horseshoes are a common sight over doorways, placed in the hopes of increasing a miner’s odds of striking it rich. But why would anyone hang one upside down?
The answer would come – as these things often do – in a conversation over a cold beer. I was talking to Spook, a Leadville native and frequent visitor to the Silver Dollar Saloon, when he shared the following story.
“I was coming down into town this afternoon, walking down St. Louis Avenue,” he started off. So I’ll stop here as a point of reference: St. Louis Avenue is more like a “half” street that starts at Poplar Street (east of the Tabor Opera House) and runs west, ending at Harrison Avenue. It’s a very short Leadville street, not many people know of it.
Now, back to Spook’s story: “I was headed to the Silver Dollar to get a cold beer – I was parched! Walking down St. Louis Avenue, I saw a group of people gathered outside one of the old stage doors to the opera house, on the Kum-n-Go side. So I stopped to see what they were-looking at.”
This group of tourists was disturbed that there was a horseshoe hanging above one of the side doors, in the wrong direction – points down. They had stopped Spook to see if he knew why this lucky charm was affixed in the wrong manner.
To which my-friend-in-need-of-a-cold-beer and wanting to remedy the problem as quickly as possible, explained:
“Well, you see folks, that doorway was used by many famous entertainers who performed at the Tabor Opera House. And you know how superstitious those actors are. You never say ‘good luck’ to an actor. So you see, that horseshoe is pointed in the right direction. It says: Break a leg!”
Horseshoe – or not – we are lucky to be living In The ‘Ville!
Happy Ski Joring Weekend!