Robot 6

Why does Idaho Springs, Colorado have a Steve Canyon statue?

Idaho Springs' Steve Canyon monument

Photo by ~djohn9

When I saw this Steve Canyon statue over at the Hermes Press blog (they’ve published a collection of the seven Steve Canyon issues from Dell’s Four Color comics), I wondered what the hell a Steve Canyon monument was doing in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Canyon’s creator Milton Caniff never lived there, nor does the town figure prominently in the comic strip character’s adventures.

The Historic Idaho Springs website doesn’t offer many details, saying only that the statue was erected as part of a “publicity stunt” by the area’s Jaycees in the ’50s. Oddly, the full story is told in the historical archives of a completely different city: Dayton, Ohio. Columnist (and friend of Caniff) Roz Young wrote for the Dayton Daily News for more than 25 years and penned a 1997 article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Caniff’s famous character. What’s cool about the story is its reminder of just how important comics used to be to the general population in the US.

The article reveals that Idaho Springs was founded as a gold-rush town and for years held a festival to commemorate its roots until the celebration was abandoned during the Depression. After WWII, the town’s Junior Chamber of Commerce wanted to start a new festival, but instead of focusing on the town’s history, they decided to capitalize on the relationship between their natural geography and the last name of Caniff’s popular, new fictional character. In 1947, only a few months after Steve Canyon made his first appearance in newspapers, Idaho Springs renamed nearby Squirrel Gulch as Steve Canyon and Caniff himself attended the ceremony. The dedication and its accompanying festival was such a success that three years later the Indiana Limestone Company donated the statue as a memorial to all servicemen. The US Air Force Reserve shipped it for free and Caniff again attended the dedication.

But without any real ties to the community, the Steve Canyon memorial became less important as time went on. By 1997, when Young wrote her anniversary article, the statue didn’t even appear in the town’s “Things to Do and See” brochure and only Idaho Springs’ oldest residents even knew who Canyon was. Young’s article is worth reading, particularly as a cautionary tale about the fleeting nature of popular art and comics; especially newspaper comics. Fourteen years later, as the newspaper and comics industries are both undergoing extreme transitions, Caniffs observation that “anything you or I do in the newspapers will not last” is as gut-punchingly relevant as ever.



Nice article. Makes me want to buy that plane ticket for Idaho Springs…

How do you sum up the story of Steve Canyon?

The series ran far too long to sum up easily, but briefly, Canyon was a WWII Veteran who has adventures (the strip, like it’s predecessor Terry and the Pirates) are full of high adventure. Eventually he goes back to work for the Air Force as a trouble-shooter. A little googling will get you much more, or you can start here: Personally, I prefer Terry and the Pirates, but both series are great fun.

This reminds me of a personal observation of what was once important is discarded by the future generations.

If you’ve ever seen the titles of Miami Vice, you’ll see a building with a palm tree in its center. That is part of the row of condos on Brickell Avenue. On the ocean side of Brickell, about a tenth of a mile north east from that building and next to the same architect’s first building called “The Babylon” stood a large old style, probably turn of the century, wood-frame house. It was unoccupied as far as I could tell, but as I was taking pictures of The Babylon, I noticed a ship’s mast out in front of this house. On it was written USS MAINE. Here was a piece of the ship that’s destruction in Havana Harbour was the impetus for a war with Spain. A very important piece of history, possibly the only surviving piece of a ship that at the time was the pride of the Navy, that was taken away, scrapped, when the house was demolished for another luxury hi-rise all because it was forgotten and its importance no longer had resonance for today.

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives