Thomas Hornsby Ferril
I’m not sure that Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s considered his highest honor his name on the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors in Civic Center Park. I suspect he considered the poems he wrote his legacy.
Ferril was born in February 25, 1896. He passed away in October 27, 1988. He could make rhymes at three years old. At 10 years old he had his first poem printed in the newspaper. Ferril attended East High School. His graduated from Colorado College.
After Colorado College Thomas Hornsby Ferril was a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps. He returned to Denver after the service to work for the Denver Times. He also worked as a movie publicist. Eventually he was writing a poem a week for the Rocky Mountain News at $5.00 a poem. From 1919 to 1921 he took a job as general assignment reporter for the Denver Times. That paid him $20.00 a week. Helen Ray became Thomas’s wife in 1921. During the 1920s Thomas was the Drama Critic for the Denver Times and the Rocky Mountain News. That paid him an extra $10.00 a week. He also was a police reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. At some time he wrote incidental plays for the Cactus Club of Denver. In 1926 he took a regular job at the Great Western Sugar Company. He was the companies public relations director. Thomas Hornsby Ferril preferred the term, press agent.
By the 1930s Colorado was the state with the largest number of sugar beet factories (sixteen) in the United States, and Great Western owned and operated thirteen of them. In 1930 the Colorado sugar beet production peaked at 3.5 million tons. That would have been four years after Ferril was hired. The years during the depression were tough. Money was tough and so was water, there were years of drought. The industry came back during the war years, so did the water. The nation needed resources. By the 1950s times again became hard for the sugar industry. By the 1960s more and more towns were losing their sugar factories. The Great Western Sugar Company declared bankruptcy in 1985. Thomas Hornsby Ferril was able to stay in the business until he eventually retired.
Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s father was Will, his middle initial was C. He purchased the Rocky Mountain Herald in 1912. His mother was Alice M. Ferril. Thomas’s father died in 1939. Thomas’s wife Helen took over the newspaper that was run by her father in-law, Will. Helen ran the newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Herald, from 1939 until 1972. It was from the newspaper’s difficult editing that came Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s famous poem ‘I Hate Thursday’ in 1946. He described the effort it took to have the editing done by Thursday, printing was done on Saturday. He also had his a company publication, Through the Leaves and Sugar Press. His work at the Sugar Company was only part of his life. His real love was the poems he wrote.
Ferril had a dilemma early on. He had to make the decision to work and provide the living for himself and his family. That meant he worked at the Great Western Sugar Company at a time he wanted to write poems. He would wake early, usually at 5:30 AM to spend time writing his poems before he went to work. He also helped his wife Helen with the Rocky Mountain Herald, the weakly newspaper she continued to write after Ferril’s father passed. Thomas’s life also included work around the house. At one time he changed some of the rooms to be able to include boarders. He was the handyman that did the remolding for the rooms and the stair way up to the second floor. Work around the house also included the front gardening where the rose garden was situated.
The house was also where Thomas Hornsby Ferril met with others in the literary world. Parties were held with both local and out of town celebrities. Thomas met with famous authors like Jack London and Thomas Wolfe. In town guests included Horace Tureman of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and Barnham Hoyt who designed Red Rocks. Late night house parties usually went on late into the night.
Out of town Thomas Hornsby Ferril meet with famous artists and poets. He met with Robert Frost, Dorothy Parker and Carl Sandberg. His poems were important to him but he continued to maintain his job at the Sugar Company. It was only later, when he retired after forty three years, that he could spent full days writing his poems.
His first important work was written in 1926. He would have been about 30 years old. ‘High Passage’ was honored by the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. In 1939 ‘Westering’ was written by Ahsahta Press. In 1944 he wrote ‘Trial By Time’. His busy life between the Sugar Company, the Rocky Mountain Herald and his poems meant he wrote ‘I Hate Thursday’ in 1946. Still working at the Sugar Company he wrote ‘New and Selected Poems’ in 1952. In 1958 he wrote the play ‘and Perhaps Happiness’. In 1966 he wrote ‘Words For Denver: and Other Poems’. That same year he also wrote the ‘Rocky Mountain Herald Reader’. He was still working at the Sugar company, he didn’t retire until around 1969. In 1983 he wrote ‘Anvil of Roses’ at Ahsahta Press.
The awards came during the years he was working. He had the Yale Competition in 1926. In 1937 he was awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize and the American Academy of Poets Prize. The Poetry Society of American Robert Frost Award came in 1960. He was also awarded the Ridgely Torrence Memorial Award. He was also awarded the Colorado Authors League, an honorary degree, the Colorado Centennial-Bicentennial Poet and the Colorado Poet Laureate.
On the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors is Ferril’s name. And that is what you see as you pass the wall. But he was much more than just a name in metal attached to the granite stone wall. Thomas Hornsby Ferril gave us poetry. It is what we read of him. Ferril explains what has become before us. What is Colorado, water, native Americans, prairies, settlers, and our beginnings? Ferril gave us the past, the deep workings, the efforts. Poetry is just not a few sentences for me. It is how we appreciate what came before us. It describes a persons difficult life in just a few words. It is how we feel the difficulty or the wonderfulness of those that came before us. Ferril was able to describe life, the best of life and the hardest part of life. That is what a poem is.
This poem is located near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River.
Thomas Hornsby Ferril left us his poems. He also left his house at 2123 Downing. After Ferril died in 1988 his daughter gave the house to Historic Denver. Historic Denver sold the house to the Center of the Book, an offshoot of the Library of Congress. The Center of the Book merged with the Colorado Humanities and no longer need the house. For five years the house was the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It was then sold as a private residence. Now the house is waiting for a new roof. The roses still fill the front lawn. The neighbor, William Franklin, still lives next door at 2117 Downing an probably knows more about Ferril’s time at the house than anyone.
Michael J. Henry lived at the house when the Lighthouse Writers Workshop lived there. Michael J. Henry wrote his own poetry. It was he who felt the mystery of the poetry Ferril wrote while in the house.
I found it difficult for me to read Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s poetry when I first started researching him. But then something happened. I read it and read it until is starts to make sense. You begin to understand what he was trying to write.
The lake at City Park is called Ferril Lake
Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s house at 2123 Downing, Denver
Ala.org/united/products_services/literarylandmarks/landmarks by year/1993/ferril
Westword.com/news/Thomas-Hornsby-ferril-house-is-part-of-denvers-history-and-could-be-history-5863805 Patricia Calhoun Sept 8, 2011 6:45 AM
Thomas Hornsby Ferril and the American West, edited by Robert C. Baron, Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel
(Thomas J. Noel also read the poem TWO RIVERS for a few members of the
Wasted Friday Afternoon Club)
Westword.com/arts/confluence-park-reopens-without-thomas-hornsby-two-rivers-9606045 Patricia Calhoun, October 18, 2017 7:59 AM
William Franklin, 2117 Downing Street
Allie, 2123 Downing Street