I met him in November and it was love at first sight. I was in my early 30s and he had just turned 96. As I saw him walking towards me at the elderly care facility where my grandmother lived, Florenz immediately captured my heart. I used to take my five young daughters to visit regularly. We would all sit in the “gathering lobby,” and the blessedly aged were always so excited to see the girls, even if it was only for a little while.
On that special day, a distinguished gentleman, still in excellent physical condition and about 6’4″ (I’ve always been a sucker for the tall ones), asked if he could join me. I was in love before he took his seat, and thus began a relationship that would bring great joy to both of our lives over the next few months.
Over time, I found that that the proud and stately Florenz had been secretary to General Palmer (the founder of Colorado Springs) when he was just 18 years old. He was close friends with Marjory, one of General Palmer’s daughters. He had been a driver for Spencer and Julie Penrose, also wealthy founders of our City. Florenz's wife had died several years earlier. One of the many businesses that he and his wife had owned was a company that chauffeured people around Colorado Springs and up Pikes Peak – usually the rich and famous, in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
People often asked him about General Palmer, and he was usually polite in his replies. But there was no genuineness in his responses, so one day I asked him about it. He told me it was a puzzle to him why people were so enamored with the General when there were so many likable people who had helped establish the City.
In 1906, General Palmer was riding in Garden of the Gods where his beloved 67-room Tudor Glen Eyrie Castle was located. He was thrown from his horse and paralyzed. Florenz lived at Glen Eyrie with the Palmer family, and one of his jobs was to transport the General from his bed to his wheel chair, to push him wherever he wanted to go, and to lift him in and out of his chair when he wanted to sit in a normal chair.
There was a gleam in the eye of my friend as he told me about performing that duty one day. Florenz caught his hand in one of the mechanisms on the wheel chair, and there was a moment of jostling as he arranged Palmer for his daily stroll. Palmer yelled and swore at him and told him that he was going to fire him. As he stood there silently being verbally battered by his employer, the blood pouring from the injury to his hand became noticeable. Palmer told him to go take care of it, and termination was never mentioned again.
Marjory Palmer was there for a good portion of the time that Florenz was there, and she threw a wonderful dance for him in the Grand Ballroom in October for his 21st birthday. After Palmer died, it was Florenz who was kept on for several years to oversee the Castle and the minimal staff that was left. He would ride his bike to the City and back to the Castle, and often encountered Indians just peacefully sitting along the way.
The Navigators purchased Glen Eyrie Castle in the 1950s and it is open for public tours. I contacted someone on staff there, told them I wanted to bring Florenz, and would they like to talk to him when we arrived? In the 1980s, technology was a cassette recorder, so the person for The Navigators who met us recorded our conversation and tour with a cassette tape.
What an experience! As we approached the door with the plaque that read “General William J. Palmer Bedroom,” Florenz turned and reported that the room had NEVER been the General’s bedroom. Upon seeing a plaque on a door across the hall, he said – that room was REALLY a supply closet, and the place where most of the staff went to have quick afternoon “indiscretions.”
When asked about Queen Palmer (General Palmer's wife), Florenz was thoughtful as he explained that times were different then. That Queen was long dead, and it was common knowledge that the General was in love with Queen’s half-sister Charlotte. When she and her husband, W. L. Sclater, came from England for a visit, Palmer made his brother-in-law the overseer of Glen Eyrie, and he also became a professor at Colorado College. Palmer built them a beautiful home near the castle, known as The Orchard House, formerly The White House Ranch. At the time it was completed in 1907, it cost more than $20,000 to build.
As we entered the Grand Ballroom at the castle, Florenz was transported to another place, another time. He told wonderful stories of the balls and the Indians and his 21st birthday, and of his deep (platonic) affection for Marjory Palmer. The man from The Navigators got a light in his eye and offered to host a celebration for his upcoming 97th birthday in the Grand Ballroom that October. With a private smile and a wistful look, Florenz explained that he wouldn’t be here in October, but thanked him very much for the offer.
Asking him later where he would be in October, he touched my face and gently replied, “I just won’t be here.” Florenz died in August that year. I mourned his passing as that of a life-long friend. There is not a time that I hear of General Palmer or Glen Eyrie or Orchard House that I don’t think of my dear friend, and wonder how he knew.
Somewhere in Time was written by Mimi Foster
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