Walsenburg festivals have a long history, part 2

By Edi Sheldon

WALSENBURG-  During the period when I grew up here, the summer festival acquired a new name, The Spanish Peaks Fiesta.  This was after the mines had begun to shut down due to the ever diminishing demand for coal.  The Fiesta was held at what is now Fiesta Park and what was then the Huerfano County Fair Grounds.  It was basically a rodeo, enhanced with semi-pro and local rodeo cowboy activities.    

    Regular rodeo livestock was supplied by a company who did that as a means of income since rodeos had significantly increased their popularity throughout the country.  Because I helped my Dad with running our cattle ranch, I became pretty good at horse handling and entered the barrel racing contest for several years as well as the cutting horse competition.  I remember taking a couple of second prizes and a third prize for cutting cattle.  It was lots of fun.  I even vied for Rodeo Queen one year, but didn’t win.  

    After I married and no longer lived here, the celebration morphed into an event called Will Overhead Days.  The Chamber named this event after a mis-printed headline brought national notoriety to the local paper, then called the World Independent.   Early in the 1950s, a sleepy, inexperienced typesetter had to wait till late in the evening to learn the identity of the winner of the Indy 500 and then type-set the head line and particulars of the race to meet press deadline in the wee hours of the morning.  This typesetter picked up a wire instruction from the local wire service stating: “will overhead winner of Indy 500.”  There was no such person in the race.  “Will overhead,” was a space holder indicating the winner’s name would be coming as soon as available.      The young and inexperienced night typesetter, who was anxious to finish his night’s work, picked up the instruction sheet and proceeded to insert the information in 72 point type across the major headline to grace the front page for the next afternoon’s paper and sent his paper “to bed.” Then he trundled off to his own bed in the wee hours of the morning.  

    As the sun rose and the day staff came in to start the next day’s production, the wire service revealed the true identity of the Indy 500 winner just as the printed newspapers hit the local office for afternoon distribution. Pictures of this faux pas  appeared in the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and by wire service as far east as the Chicago Sun Times.  Needless to say, fame at any price is still fame for Walsenburg.  It earned notoriety and thus the summer festival acquired that name for a while in the 1970s.