Kevin Hamilton: Mount of the Holy Cross

The Mount of the Holy Cross has been my entry point into exploring the construction of race and racism through place and space.

I chose this site, and Colorado as a larger political entity, because of its central role in my own moral education about civic space, land, and Belief. This line of work for me is a first attempt at trying to describe and see my own "whiteness" - whiteness as a racist ethic - when as a white male I'm of course largely allowed to pass as unmarked..

The mining ruins that litter the Colorado mountainscape emerge like the wildlife,unseen at first but revealing of a presence upon the land. To my eyes a scan across a mountainside there usually registers an untouched or even unreachable space, a place not even hospitable to the flora and trees I'm used to from the older mountains in the American east. To then glimpse the mining ruins, camouflaged through age, calls to mind (white) humanity as an alien presence on that scape. From afar, the remnants of human presence appear obviously alien in a way that bears the colonizing promise of a satellite in space or a modernist slab, and the colonizing threat of a first encounter.

Up close, the same ruins call much different things to mind. One is reminded of the hardship of living in those spaces, the threat to working bodies. Consecutive failed attempts at reworking the earth are revealed through a palimpsest of materials and signage from successive eras of mining engineering.

But for me it's all too easy to separate myself from those spaces. Even walking among them, I can extract myself from "those" histories. With the Mount of the Holy Cross, I'm less easily extricated. Is it really a cross in the mountains?...I activate it by looking at it. A matter of subjective perception, but of subjectivity constructed and informed by centuries of violence.

In the 1920's, the Cross became a site of religious pilgrimage while still remote enough to require great sacrifice by travelers. Entrepreneurs eager to see their mining prospects improved by roads and rails grabbed on to the religious fervor, and pushed for state- sponsored construction toward improved access for the faithful. They got what they wanted, the Mount became a National Monument, with all the funding and attention attached. New mining towns appeared around the Mount, and as Colorado filled with new white workers from the East (the Utes long relocated to New Mexico or Western Colorado), the State began to brew with tensions around its own distinct identity in relation to Eastern politicians and barons. The Klan took hard hold at that time, and many a poor mining worker in the mountains joined the efforts of white monied Denverites to unite around the purity of race. Colorado saw a Governor elected on a Klan platform, and Denver a mayor. For a while in the thirtes, during the
Mount's greatest popularity, the Klan controlled the State, including most of the Supreme Court and police force.

The mines began to decline as the State's great economic promise just as WWII gripped America. Around the Mount, the Army set up a large military base that cut off access for the religious faithful for decades. Colorado's "skiing soldiers" later returned from Europe after the War to start all of today's largest ski resorts, and Colorado found itself a new industry. Moving into the Cold War, the base finally looked to close, its last act serving as a training ground for Tibetan soldiers later dropped into Communist China and never heard
from again. By that time, all the surrounding mines had long closed. The Mount is again accessible, but at its base one finds Gilman, a former Viacom-owned mining town closed to all and sitting atop a Superfund site.