This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 19, 1997
`STEVE CANYON' TURNED 50 THIS YEAR
No monument here; Colorado has one
By Roz Young
Marked by few in this area, a 50-year anniversary has slipped by.
Half a century ago, in 1947, a comic strip called Steve Canyon, from the brain and brushes of artist Milton Caniff, began appearing in hundreds of the country's newspapers. The strip ran from 1947 until 1988, a year after Milton died.
Memory being what it is, perhaps we ought to remind Dayton readers that Milton, a Hillsboro native, was a Dayton resident for many years, graduating from Stivers High School and Ohio State University before he went on to fame and fortune in New York.
No monument to Caniff or either of his most famous strip characters, Terry from Terry and the Pirates and Steve, exist in Dayton, but in Idaho Springs, Colo., an eight-foot statue of Steve stands at the intersection of Miner Street and Colorado Boulevard. Thanks to Patty Mulligan, 241 W. Hadley Road, who sent us a copy of the Denver Post newspaper magazine Empire last winter, we have the story of why a comic strip character is honored with a statue in Colorado.
It used to be that Idaho Springs, a town of 2,000, annually celebrated Gold Rush Days in tribute to the town's gold-mining past. But during the Depression and World War II, the celebration was abandoned. After the war, the town Junior Chamber of Commerce members wished to start a new festival. At the time, Steve Canyon was a dashing former Air Force captain who owned a company called Horizons Unlimited and who flew daring missions in every part of the globe. The Jaycees came up with the idea to name one of the mountain canyons for the popular Steve.
Bert Hanna, political editor of the Post, had served in a Marine unit during the war, and he thought the promotion scheme was a great idea. He enlisted the support of a state senator, who introduced the proposal to the legislature, which unanimously passed the proposal. Squirrel Gulch was renamed Steve Canyon on June 25, 1947. Caniff attended the dedication.
For three years the festival flourished. In 1949, the city fathers gave Milton title to a gold mine in the mountain outside town. In 1950, the Indiana Limestone Co. donated the statue as a memorial to all servicemen, and the U.S. Air Force Reserve, shipped the statue free of charge. Milton attended the dedication on July 8, 1950.
At the dedication, Gov. Walter Johnson spoke of the men who `gave their last ounce of devotion in the last war, and who stand ready to give their devotion again.' The mayor of Idaho Springs stated, `This statue of Steve Canyon is going to put Idaho Springs on the map of the world, believe me.'
Early this year, freelance writer Marty Jones found that few residents of the town today have any idea of why the statue is there. The statue is not mentioned in the `Things to Do and See in Idaho Springs' brochure; the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Jan Bolen, said she had no idea it had been omitted. Marjorie Bell, curator of the Idaho Springs Historical Society, said that everything is done on a volunteer basis at the historical society and she hasn't gotten around to Steve Canyon yet. She said, `The people who don't know who he is are pretty much newcomers or people who don't get into town and find out what's going on. Most people who live here know who he is, but they don't know the real history of why he's here.'
The memory of Steve Canyon has vanished from the memory of all but older residents, and many tourists passing through the town never heard of him. Why any town would erect a statue to a comic strip character is a puzzlement to town residents and tourists alike.
Milton himself knew the fleeting popularity of his strips. One time he and I were talking about various serious matters, and he remarked, `I tell you, Roz, remember that anything you or I do in the newspapers will not last. My strips, your columns are gone with the garbage. Stick with the books; they stay on the shelves. And stay on the payroll. Why do I work 365 days a year drawing my strip? I do it for the money. We are here today and gone tomorrow.'