The Banjo Billy bus tour
The aphorism “Keep Boulder Weird” was displayed proudly throughout Boulder, nowhere more evident than on Banjo Billy’s Bus Tour. Fourth year tour guide Chris Johnson proclaimed the tour is filled with interesting but mainly useless pieces of trivia about Boulder.
The school bus turned tour bus complete with disco balls, saddles, Christmas lights, plastic gorillas and a “death couch” gives riders a one of kind history lesson. The tour begins in front of the Hotel Boulderado on 13th Street.
Immediately riders learn of three suicides in the same hotel room at the Boulderado and of their ghosts who still haunt the hotel. Apparently Boulder has a lot of spirit activity. The tour tells ghost stories involving many Boulder buildings. These include the Hotel Boulderado, the Arnett-Fullen House (haunted by Boulder’s first playboy Willamette Arnett), Mount Saint Gerturde Academy (haunted by angry nuns), the Boulder history museum (haunted by a disgruntled boy scout kicked out of the organization at age 46) and the University of Colorado’s Macky auditorium (haunted by slain Zoology major Elaura Jaquette) just to name a few.
Lee Scarindci of Florida said the ghost stories were her favorite part of the tour, but wondered if all the stories were true. Ghost or no ghost, the 1966 murder of Elaura Jaquette in room 304 of Macky Auditorium is scary stuff. A janitor killed Jaquette in a rehearsal room of the CU’s music school crushing her skull and smearing blood across the walls. Students ever since claim screams can be heard emanating from Macky.
The tour also includes much CU history. The father of William Arnett, Anthony Arnett, owned the 40-acre cattle ranch where CU is situated today. He donated the land to the school and Old Main was built as CU’s first building. A closer look at Old Main’s stairs reveals a taller than average step so Arnett’s cattle couldn’t wander into the classrooms.
The actor Robert Redford, a janitor at the popular Boulder restaurant The Sink in the 1950s, was actually thrown out of school for drinking too much before moving to New York to pursue acting. Believe it or not, Boulder was a dry town for nearly sixty years. The Catacombs Bar under the Hotel Boulderado was the first legal drinking establishment in Boulder after the law was repealed. Amazingly Boulder went from a dry community to a short stint as the number one party school in the nation, according to the 2003 Princeton Review, in just a few short decades.
Boulder’s wild side is explored as Banjo Billy tours The Hill. Tom Dissinger and his wife Terri were visiting Boulder from Pennsylvania and absolutely recommended the tour. Their favorite part was learning about The Hill’s notorious past.
For example, in 1997 a few CU students drunkenly decided to light their couch on fire. Their neighbors decided to join them lighting their own couch on fire and their neighbors and their neighbors leading to a 3 day riot in Boulder where 35 cars were destroyed including three police vehicles.
The next ten Boulder riots all began with the lighting of upholstered furniture leading to a law completely unique to boulder – the ban of upholstered furniture on front porches. This $200 sofa fine seems to work since riots have been on the decline.
Not all the CU trivia was quite so random. Riders learn of CU’s number three national ranking for colleges and universities in producing astronauts. Scott Carpenter was the second American to orbit the earth and his spaceship, the Aurora 7, was supposedly named after his childhood address of Aurora and 7th street in Boulder.
Shedding even more light on Boulder, Johnson boasted the fact Forbes Magazine has designated Boulder to be the smartest city in the nation two years running.
Banjo Billy’s Bus tour is an exciting ride through the past. Next time you see the Hill Billy Shack rolling down Broadway don’t hesitate to say hello and the Bus riders will give an enthusiastic yee-hah!
“People like to communicate with the bus, with use of their hands, fingers or with where the moon don’t shine,” Johnson said.
For more Boulder History visit the Boulder History Museum on 12th and Euclid. Just be wary of the Boy Scout ghost. CU’s history museum is also a great resource located on the third floor of Old Main.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jimy Valenti at James.Valenti@Colorado.edu.