The Capitol Heights neighborhood of Denver where Simpson spent his youth includes several of the houses where he lived; the home of his childhood playmate and future wife Anne Roe; the church where he pumped the organ and which he eventually disavowed; the elementary school where he excelled as a student and suffered for it; the firehouse where the fire horse died; and the corner where he sold lemonade. Capitol Heights is two miles east of the downtown Civic Center and now designated as an "historic district," in honor of its late 19th century cottages, bungalows, and foursquares (1). The Denver city directory lists the yearly residences for the Simpson family from 1906 to 1918. During those years, the Simpsons lived in seven different homes, which they apparently rented, in the Capitol Heights area: 1178 Vine, 1905(?); 1048 Milwaukee, 1906-09; 2714 12th Ave., 1910; 1069 Milwaukee, 1911-12; 1149 Fillmore, 1913; 1218 Columbine, 1914; and 1071 York, 1915-18.
STOP 1--1048 Milwaukee St. The 1908 telephone book indicates that the Simpson's were living here then, but the first home they had in the neighborhood was on Vine St. (nine blocks to the west), later torn down for the Botanical Park. A favorite past time of young Simpson was to balance along the top of the fence that ran the length of the property. Two of his household chores were to shovel coal into the basement and empty the furnace ashes into the backyard ash pit. Simpson lived about four years here before moving diagonally across the street to 1069 Milwaukee St. (with an intervening year on 12th Ave.).
STOP 2--1069 Milwaukee St. Here Simpson was allowed to claim the whole attic for himself where he built a model of Machu Picchu, which was discovered in 191l, that he copied from pictures in the National Geographic. He also constructed a makeshift telescope from the lenses of a discarded stereopticon that he put on the peak of the roof to look at the stars and moon.Here, too, he taught himself the international ("Morse") code and would signal with a few other amateurs in the neighborhood. Planning to go to sea, he earned a 2nd class radio operator's license as a teen and soon had an offer to ship out to South America but declined, deciding he would be better off finishing school first.
It was about this time that Simpson cajoled his parents into guaranteeing half the cost of the new 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which he saw advertised in the local newspaper, if he in turn could come up with his half share. Before long, to his parent's surprise and financial dismay, he had accumulated enough money through a series of odd jobs in the neighborhood--mowing lawns, selling pop, and putting coal into cellars. According to his oldest sister Margaret, when the streets were torn up to put in electric lighting her brother picked up all sorts of rocks and put them in a make-shift museum in the attic. He charged a penny admission, and when he later had fossils he charged two cents (2).He also had a small menagerie that included lizards, horned toads, turtles, and ants--the latter raised in Mason jars and occasionally let loose to observe their behavior when liberated.
STOP 3--Northwest Corner of Milwaukee & 11th St. Site of the home-made stand where Simpson and his friend Bob Roe sold cold lemonade, pop, and buttermilk. Proceeds went to support Simpson's half-share of the purchase of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
STOP 4--1110 Milwaukee St. Home of his playmate Bob Roe and the latter's sister Anne (1904-1991), whom Simpson would marry in 1938 in New York City. Anne has said that she cannot remember a time when she didn't know Simpson, because Bob Roe brought him home when she was about four years old and sick in bed, and they both read to her. They were all, "great chums." They had a group called "The Eight," chiefly organized by Anne that met regularly in high school and early college years, usually Sunday afternoons at the Roes or Simpsons, and they would sing with Anne at the piano. At one point Simpson asked Anne to marry him (he was 18, she 16). After first saying yes, she called the next day and said no. Later, they corresponded on and off when Simpson was at the University of Colorado. Correspondence dwindled, however, when he was at Yale and she at Denver University, at least in part because Anne had a brief teen-age flirtation with religious fundamentalism of which Simpson strongly disapproved. Anne has said that her intellectual interest in those days was stimulated by Simpson's conversation about such ideas as the fourth dimension and non-Euclidean geometry. Simpson saw Anne whenever he came back to Denver, and he and her brother Bob always remained good friends (3).
STOP 5--Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church. Simpson's mother was raised by her grandparents who were lay missionaries in Hawaii, after her own mother died when she was quite young. She was brought up in a strongly religious setting that carried over into her adult life, for Simpson claimed that as a child he "commonly attended three services on Sunday at the Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church as well as the midweek prayer meeting, and in addition had family prayers and psalm recitations"(4). Simpson's father had a Presbyterian background as well, for his own grandfather was a Welsh Presbyterian minister. Simpson was made a formal member of the church at the age of nine, but soon after deconverted when he decided in a fit of childish peevishness that he "did not want to forsake forever being naughty." One outcome of this decision was Simpson's being put with half-a-dozen other boys in a special Sunday school class that met in the church tower, out of sight and hearing of the more devout. The local physician was put in charge of this unruly group and rather than follow the prescribed biblical lessons told of his adventures in South America. Simpson also pumped the mechanism to maintain the air pressure in the organ when it was being played, while his father played the flute and one of his sisters sang in the choir (5).
STOP 6--Fire House. Simpson's usual route to and from home school passed the fire house and he often stopped by to talk to the firemen, all of whose names he knew as well as those of the horses that pulled the fire wagons. "One of the horses was killed in the street one day, and Stevens [the school principal] tried to keep us in school until the body was removed so we could not see our friend lying dead, but I sneaked out. [Also] the wife of one of the firemen was found dead one day in her room, and although I of course knew that everyone died when they were old, I somehow had not really felt that someone I knew and was no older than my very active parents could also die. I had nightmares for a while over that"(6). (The firehouse is now a privately owned residence.)
STOP 7--Stevens Elementary School. The school was named after Edward Stevens in 1921 who was principal during the years when Simpson attended. (At that time it was named the George W. Clayton School.) Simpson skipped several grades and after seventh grade, at age 11, he went directly to the East Denver Latin High School (long since torn down). One day Simpson was called in by the Principal Stevens and asked what he did during recess. Simpson said it was "marbles just now, but other times it might be trading cards or kites." Later, Simpson was approached by three brothers, two of whom held him while the third and youngest brother punched him. "I asked what the matter was, and they said, 'the principal called them in for misbehaving and said why can't you be regular boys like Simpson, why can't you be more like him' "(7).
Simpson claimed that "as large as it loomed in my life, my real mental growth was entirely outside the school and I still feel that I never learned anything before college that I would not have learned just as quickly and well without ever entering a school. As a child I was inclined to be solitary, or to prefer the constant companionship of one or two close friends to a larger circle of acquaintances, and in fact this is still true of me. I never cared for the orthodox sports...partly due to a sense of physical inferiority, for even when as strong as my playmates I was not as skillful at games & was always a little small for my age. But it was due much more to my character...My favorite outdoor occupations were such things as roller skating, bicycling, or hiking. Because of my dislike for gangs and team play and my interest in books and handiwork, I suffered a great deal from a sense of being different from other boys, and therefore inferior to them...but real as this unhappiness was, it was only a small part of my life, even then, and my childhood was very happy on the whole. My abiding interests were always books and the childish equivalent of science, & from these my chief happiness & most important development came"(8). (The school has since been turned into private apartments.)
1. See Ghosts of Denver:Capitol Hill, Phil Goodstein, 1996, New Social Publications, Denver, p. 323 ff.
2. Interview with Margaret Simpson Peck, 6 June 1987, Glendale, Calif.
3. Interview with Anne Roe Simpson, 17-18 December 1985, Tucson, Ariz.
4.Simpson's autobiography, Concession to the Improbable,1978, Yale Univ. Press, p. 20-21, 25-26.
6. Letter from G. G. Simpson to L. F. Laporte, 16 July 1980.
7. L.F. Laporte interview with G.G. Simpson, 2 February 1979, Tucson, Ariz.
8. Autobiographical Notes, Simpson Papers, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.