I met him in November and it was love at first sight. I was in my early 30s and he had just turned 96. As I saw him walking toward me at the elderly care facility where my grandmother lived, Florenz immediately captured my heart. I used to take my five young daughters to visit regularly. We would sit in the “gathering lobby,” and the blessedly aged were excited to see the girls, even if only for a little while.
On that special day, a distinguished gentleman, still in excellent physical and mental condition and about 6’4″, asked if he could join me (at 5’9″ I’ve always been a sucker for the tall ones). I was in love before he took his seat, and thus began a relationship that would bring great joy to both our lives for the next few months.
Over time, I found the proud and stately Florenz had been secretary to General Palmer (founder of Colorado Springs) when he was 18 years old, and was close friends with Marjory, one of General Palmer’s daughters. He had also been a driver for Spencer and Julie Penrose (he built the Broadmoor Hotel). His wife died several years earlier, but one of the many businesses Florenz and his wife had was chauffeuring the rich and famous around Colorado Springs and up Pikes Peak in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
People often asked him about General Palmer, and he was usually polite in his replies. But there was no genuineness in his responses, so I asked him about it one day. He told me it was a puzzle to him why people were so enamored with the General, when there were so many more likable people who had helped to establish the City.
One story I remember him telling was after Palmer had been thrown from his horse and paralyzed (in 1906), it was Florenz’s job to transport him from his bed to his wheelchair, to push him wherever he wanted to go, and to lift him in and out of his chair when he wanted to sit in a normal chair.
One day while carrying out that duty, Florenz caught his hand in a mechanism on the wheelchair. There was a moment of jostling as he arranged Palmer for his daily stroll. Palmer yelled at him, called him all sorts of names, and told him he would fire him. As he stood silently being verbally battered by his employer, the blood pouring from the injury to his hand became noticeable. Palmer told him to go take care of it, and termination was never mentioned again.
Marjory Palmer was at Glen Eyrie for a good portion of the time Florenz was there, and she threw a memorable dance for him in the Grand Ballroom for his 21st birthday in October. After Palmer died, it was Florenz who was employed for several years to oversee the minimal staff that remained at Glen Eyrie. He would ride his bike to the City and back to the castle, and often encountered Indians peacefully sitting along the way.
The Navigators purchased Glen Eyrie, and it was open for public viewing. I contacted someone on staff, explained who I wanted to bring for a tour, and would they like to talk to him when we arrived? In the 1980s, technology was a cassette recorder, so the person from The Navigators who met us recorded our conversation and tour with a cassette tape.
What an experience! As we approached the door with the plaque that read “General William J. Palmer Bedroom,” Florenz turned and reported that the room had NEVER been the General’s bedroom. Upon seeing a plaque on a door across the hall, he said – that room was REALLY a supply closet, and the place where most of the staff went to have quick afternoon “indiscretions.”
When asked about Queen Palmer, Florenz was thoughtful as he explained that times were different then. That Queen Palmer was long dead and it was common knowledge that the General was in love with Queen’s half-sister, Charlotte. When Charlotte and her husband, W. L. Sclater, came from England for a visit, Palmer made his brother-in-law the overseer of Glen Eyrie, and built them a beautiful home near the castle, known as The Orchard House, formerly The White House Ranch. At the time they completed it in 1907, it cost more than $20,000 to build.
As we entered the Grand Ballroom at the castle, Florenz was transported to another place, another time. He told wonderful stories of the balls and the Indians and his 21st birthday, and of his deep (platonic) affection for Marjory Palmer.
The man from The Navigators got a light in his eye and offered to host a celebration in the Grand Ballroom for his upcoming 97th birthday that October. With a private smile and a wistful look, he explained he wouldn’t be here in October, but thanked him very much for the offer.
Asking him later where he would be in October, he gently touched my face and replied, “I just won’t be here.” Florenz died in August that year. I mourned his passing as that of a life-long friend. There is not a time I hear of General Palmer or Glen Eyrie or Rock Ledge Ranch that I don’t think of my dear friend and wonder how he knew.