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Novelist Kate Manning has kept a photograph of 100 men wearing funny hats in her office for years. The panorama is a group shot from the 1915 National Retail Monument Dealers convention in Marble, and Manning’s great-grandfather was among the attendees. According to family lore, pickax-wielding J.F. Manning helped quarry marble for the Lincoln Memorial. That was all the author knew about her ancestor until, shortly before her father’s death, he encouraged her to unearth the whole story. The investigation would lead to Manning’s latest novel, Gilded Mountain, out on November 1—while also forcing the writer to reckon with her family’s past.
In the early 1900s, Marble, in Gunnison County, supplied some of the most pristine slabs in the country for a host of large projects, including the Equitable Building in New York City. Nearby, wealthy coal baron John C. Osgood, who married a rumored Swedish countess and supposedly entertained King Leopold of Belgium at his 42-room castle, founded the town of Redstone. But turn-of-the-20th-century Colorado wasn’t all Champagne and caviar. Difficult working conditions in the Marble mines led to labor disputes, and the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, a battle between authorities and striking coal miners in the southern part of the state, left at least 19 people dead. “I’ve been in a union,” Manning says, “and I understand the history of that movement.”
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Gilded Mountain follows Sylvie Pelletier as she leaves her family’s cabin near fictional Moonstone, Colorado, to work for the wealthy family who owns the town’s marble mine. She’s soon swept up in the simmering labor feud stoked by Irish union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (and her handsome young colleague). Tensions are on the verge of exploding into conflict just as a European aristocrat is expected to visit. “That’s the great thing about being a novelist, as opposed to a reporter,” Manning says. “You can change names and condense time and stretch time and say, Well, what if King Leopold really was there?”
One character who does not make an appearance is J.F. Manning. Turns out, Kate’s great-grandfather didn’t break rock: He was an executive with the marble company who worked to break strikes. “I think a lot of Americans [are] wrestling with that kind of past,” says Manning, whose previous novel, 2013’s My Notorious Life, is about a Victorian-era midwife who provides abortions. “The way I wrestled with it is to write about it in fiction.”
Explore more Colorado history with these reads, picked by Brian Trembath of the Denver Public Library.
by James A. Michener
This celebrated historian-author traces the lineage of Centennial, a fictional town in eastern Colorado (i.e., not the Denver suburb), beginning with its Mesozoic Era inhabitants all the way up to the Nixon presidency.
Pale Horse, Pale Rider
by Katherine Anne Porter
The title story in this collection of three short novels follows the tragic romance of two young Denverites during the 1918 influenza outbreak, when Porter was a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News.
Sabrina & Corina
by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Fajardo-Anstine’s collection of short stories—most of which revolve around Latinas in Denver, where the author was raised—was nominated for a National Book Award in 2019.
(Read More: Inside Denver Author Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Much Anticipated Debut Novel)