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Buffalo Bill Museum, Gift Shop, Cafe, built at the grave site in 1920

William Cody died in 1917 and was buried on Lookout Mountain. The City of Denver was developing their Mountain Parks at the time, and they added the grave site to their parks system.

Three years later, in 1920, Cody’s “foster son,” Johnny Baker, proposed founding a museum, cafe, and gift shop near the grave, and the City accepted the proposal. Baker put up some of the money and Denver the rest. Together they built a large log building that included living quarters, exhibit space, and room for the gift shop/cafe. Baker had appeared in Cody’s Wild West shows for many years, and used his connections to help build the collection. After Mr. Baker’s death in 1931, his wife, Olive Baker, took over the operation and ran it until her death in 1956.

The ownership of the museum was peculiar. The building was at least partially financed by the Bakers, and their personal collection was used as the nucleus of the museum. Their investment seemed to give them a lifetime lease on the building. The Transcript referred to one of their successors as the museum’s “owner.” However, the museum’s website pointedly states that after the Bakers’ deaths, “under an earlier agreement, the collection became the property of the City.”

Most museums dedicated to an individual lose popularity over time, as the memories of that person fade. That never happened with the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. Cody’s Wild West shows had done much to define the history and the mythos of the American West. People all over America, as well as Europe, saw that show and were captivated by the pageantry and romance of the stories that Cody presented.

As the twentieth century progressed, the budding movie industry discovered the popularity of western stories. Cody’s show programs, posters, and story lines served as great source material.

1970s Museum, 1920 Museum, and William Cody’s grave, shown on a Google satellite image

By the 1970s, the 1920 log building was clearly inadequate for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that the museum hosted every year. The City of Denver allocated funds to build a new, modern building with a large deck overlooking the spectacular view of the plains. They considered demolishing the older building, but in the end, decided to use it for the gift shop and cafe. The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave remains one of the most popular visitor destinations in the state.

Thanks to the Golden History Museum for providing the online cache of historic Transcripts, and to the Golden Transcript for documenting our history since 1866!