Undertaking a new life in Glenwood
Frontier Historical Society
“It is a rare gift to understand your life is wondrous, and that it won’t last forever.”
— Steve Galloway, the Cellist of Sarajevo
Epiphanies are the result of the energy of change — in a sense lightning and thunder preceding understanding and action. In 1899, Joseph Ira Burdge was literally struck by lightning while farming in Indiana. That single bolt created the realization that he needed a change of location and of occupation.
Born in Fulton County, Indiana, on Jan. 15, 1876, Burdge was the second child and second son of Anthony Wayne Burdge and Louis Jane Ware Burdge. After his high school education was completed he married Bertha Keesey, and he took up the family tradition of farming. It was possibly around the time of his second child’s birth in 1899 that the lightning bolt struck him while working in a Cass County, Indiana, field.
Burdge, his growing family, and their possessions arrived on a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad train in Glenwood Springs in about 1901. No stranger to hard physical work, Burdge was hired to level ground for the construction of the city’s first water tank near No Name. Within two years of his arrival, Burdge was hired by Jacob C. Schwarz of the J.C. Schwarz Mercantile Co., as a wallpaper installer and painter. J.C. Schwarz, at 822 Grand Ave., had traditionally sold home furnishings and provided home decorating services. Schwarz also had a funeral parlor and mortuary business in the back of the building, providing a diverse and steady income for the business.
In time, Burdge became a mortician for Schwarz and by 1913 had studied at the Eckles School of Embalming in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On Dec. 1, 1913, Burdge passed examination in anatomy, sanitary science and embalming given by the Colorado State Board of Embalming Examiners. The board had noted his “practical knowledge, experience and good moral character,” authorized him as registered embalmer, and allowed “him to have transported by Railroads and other common Carriers bodies prepared by him in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Board.”
Schwarz sold his funeral business to Burdge in 1919, and by 1920, Burdge opened the Burdge Funeral Home at 719 Grand Ave., the building which he would soon purchase. Advertisements for the Burdge Funeral Home noted that he had a motorized hearse and a woman attendant on premises. “His skillful and sympathetic services have soothed the moments of loss and sorrow for many families in his adopted city,” was noted in his biography in the 1948 edition of the book “Colorado and Its People.”
While Burdge was a businessman, he was also a civic-minded man. He was chief of the Glenwood Springs Fire Department from 1915-1920. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce, and the Glenwood Springs Lions Club. He served on the school board, and was Garfield County Coroner from 1936-1950. He enjoyed a good round of golf and was a hunter and an avid fisherman.
A heart attack felled Burdge on March 13, 1951. His sudden passing shocked a community who knew an active man who had walked to work the day before his death. The Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce requested all businesses be closed from 1:30-3 p.m. on the day of his funeral, March 16, 1951.
Often epiphanies are noticed but not acted upon, but Burdge took a leap of faith, not fully knowing Glenwood Springs, the community he wanted to call home, or the profession to which he would commit his working life. By heeding the signs of change, he made a difference to the living, to the deceased in his charge, to his family, to his profession, to his friends, and to Glenwood Springs as a whole. A lightning bolt, whether real or figurative, can and will change the course of history.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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