Wake

Buzz Baker stands next to a Buffalo Bill mannequin during a wake in Golden, Colo., last month.

DENVER – There was Buffalo Bill Cody, live and in person. And there was Buffalo Bill Cody, dead and in person.

At the moment neither was drinking a Corpse Reviver or an Embalming Fluid alcoholic beverage.

Given that William F. Cody died 100 years ago, it would take a pretty strong sip of anything to revive him. Most assuredly, the Buffalo Bill mannequin lying in a coffin at Lola Coastal Mexican Restaurant seemed in need of a booster shot.

The Buffalo Bill in costume, aka Buzz Baker, 72, standing next to the prone Bill, might do some taste testing yet. This occasion, Jan. 12, was a wake and tribute Buffalo Bill Dinner because the real Buffalo Bill died Jan. 10, 1917, in Denver.

During Happy Hour, the Buffalo Bill mannequin was marooned in a borrowed casket. Normally, he resides at the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site in nearby Golden, his perch a railing overlooking the gift shop, perhaps keeping an eye out for shoplifters.

In thousands of photographic images of Buffalo Bill, taken while busy founding Cody and taking his Wild West on tour, he looked perky. Tucked into a corner of the bar, he once again was a photo op.

Baker, who volunteers at the Golden museum, wore his Buffalo Bill buckskins wardrobe.

“I always dress like this,” he said.

As Steve Friesen, director of the Golden museum and organizer of this bash, drove around Denver with Buffalo Bill in the passenger seat of his car. This was the third time Friesen has taken the mannequin on a road trip, though not to beat tolls in a car pool commuter lane.

The site of this wake honoring the iconic figure of the American West was chosen for two reasons. The first was its address at 1575 Boulder Street. A century ago the lot was the site of Olinger’s Mortuary, where Buffalo Bill’s body likely remained from January to June awaiting burial.

The actual room where Cody lay in repose is now the restaurant’s liquor storage center and not open to the public.

Also, Mexican cuisine fit the bill. Relying on a Dec. 19, 1886, issue of the New York Sun as a source, Friesen suggested among his other achievements Buffalo Bill possibly introduced Mexican food east of the Mississippi when the Wild West played New York.

That day’s newspaper included a headline reading “At a Mexican Restaurant” and reviewed food brought to Madison Square Garden.

While extolling the excitement of cavorting cowboys, Indians and animals, the article seemed as enthusiastic about the food: “...it is the palate and the membranes of the stomach that are inflamed and excited by the hot chile peppers and the other condiments that burn like caustic.”

Buffalo Bill presided at the head of the table as friends ate his Mexican breakfast and The Sun concluded, “It was plain to see that the mysteries of the Mexican cuisine were as much a surprise to him as his guests.”

Apparently, the menu was spicier than Taco John’s.

Restaurant host Jamey Fader and chef Kevin Grossi took the mystery out of the meat for the 50 modern-day diners by listing all ingredients for the five-course meal. Bison was used in several dishes, but all were prepared with twists, including fancy sauces. The New York Sun correspondent would have burned its throat again.

Time out was taken to toast Buffalo Bill, whatever fluid each glass contained.

Included in this overall fete was a Buffalo Bill trivia contest. The 15th and last question was tricky. Once again it raised the ambiguous matter of where the famous western figure is buried, on Cedar Mountain in Cody, or in Golden, where the grave is advertised.

The quiz question read: “Where is Buffalo Bill really buried?”

No points were awarded if you answered Cody. Only two people in the crowd shouted out the Wyoming locale, one to annoy Friesen and the other because he used to live in Cody. Naturally, this was a Denver-centric crowd.

On this Buffalo Bill recognition evening a story highlighting an event in Cody’s life was told between each dinner course.

Dennis Gallagher, a longtime Colorado political figure, seized upon the story of Buffalo Bill’s death-bed conversion to Catholicism.

“I don’t think there is a movement to make him a saint,” Gallagher said, “but he was pretty good.”

The inert Buffalo Bill mannequin posed for pictures with anyone. He wore a buckskin jacket, blue jeans and a hat rested on his body. Casket-reclining Buffalo Bill looked less like Buffalo Bill than did Baker.

It did not appear even a mixed dose of Corpse Reviver and Embalming Fluid on the rocks could uplift him.

Organizers considered including a “Wake The Dead” drink on the offerings list, but did not.

Now that may have given mannequin Bill a second wind.

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