CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-SIX
“Can you make the stairs?” Jacob asked.
“I’ve got two new knees and two new hips,” Wretched said. “I can do anything.”
“After you,” Jacob said.
They started down the stairs into the dark. Midway, Jacob turned on the light switch to the ballroom stairs.
“I never been down that stairway before,” Wretched said.
“Oh?” Jacob asked.
“That’s how the whites came in,” Wretched said. “We negroes had to go through the back.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to go in any door in this house,” Jacob said.
“I thought it belonged to Delphie,” Wretched said with a twinkle in his eye.
Grinning, Jacob opened the door to the ballroom.
Wretched took two steps inside and stopped walking. His hand went to his heart.
Jacob turned to look to see if the man was sick, and saw tears stream down his face. Jacob turned away from Wretched and went to turn on the lights. When Jacob returned, Wretched was walking with confidence toward the stage.
“I never thought I’d ever see this place again,” Wretched said. “I dream about it. In fact, I doubt my son thinks it actually exists.”
“Did you spend time here?” Jacob asked.
“Son,” Wretched said. “I cleaned floors and took out the trash here when I was ten; played bass in the band here when I was fifteen; met my wife here when I was twenty; she ran off with a guy she met here when I was 22, and then. . .”
Wretched’s hands opened as if letting something go.
“Prohibition ended,” Wretched said. “The economy was better. We were playing bigger and better places. I had kids to raise. By the time I had a chance to get back here, this place had vanished. Bumpy looked for it.”
Wretched shook his head.
“I left my stuff here,” Wretched said. “You know, how you do when you go somewhere so often. A suit, in case I had to change here; even an old bass I’d bought at a pawn shop. I always thought that I’d be back here. The next thing I knew, no one had heard of the ballroom. Everyone involved was dead or were chased out of town by the racists after that Grand Dragon was convicted.”
“Grand Dragon?” Jacob asked.
“Klan. Man named Dr. Locke,” Wretched said. “Ben Stapleton was mayor, too. Now-a-days you’d call them ‘white supremacists.’ But in my day, they were the law. Deadly to anyone they didn’t like. Met a lot of racists in my life, but none of them as mean and loathsome as that Stapleton. He had all that power too. He hated Jews and blacks and anyone he could get away with. And. . .”
Wretched shook his head.
“I could talk all day,” Wretched said. “I came here to look. This was a golden place where people of all colors could come to dance. Most of the bands were Negroes but so were lots of the dancers. People had fun — laughing and dancing. Outside, racism was the law of the day; but in here, it was nearest to race-free I ever experienced. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...
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