They may be two of the biggest history buffs in Durango behind retired Fort Lewis College history professor Duane Smith.
Judith Reynolds is a local writer and political cartoonist who studied and taught history at the University of Michigan before becoming an art and music critic for various publications back East. Upon moving to Durango, she’s spent time freelancing for this very paper and started the Life-Long Learning Lecture Series at FLC among other projects. Former Arts & Entertainment editor for The Durango Herald and KSUT Radio programmer Ted Holteen has spent countless hours viewing educational television or with his nose in a book absorbing the good, the bad and the ugly the world has offered – from global violence and international calamities to celebrity mishaps and deaths.
Together, Reynolds and Holteen have outlined and produced a radio series titled “Durango 1918: The Pandemic, The War and The Peace,” radio programs using news clippings from The Durango Democrat, The Durango Evening Herald, The Silverton Standard, The Gunnison News Champion and The Weekly Courier out of Denver that detail life in Durango 102 years ago. America had within the past year entered The Great War, and much like today, was dealing with a global pandemic: The Spanish influenza killed many, including 10% of Silverton’s population.
This series is a first-person narrative of a time where the events of that day are awfully close to the events of today.
“It’s a series of six radio shows that tell the story of Durango and Silverton during the epidemic of 1918 of which we were also involved in World War I, so there were two calamities that every citizen had to juggle and struggle with,” Reynolds said.
As part of the Southwest Humanities Roundtable, Reynolds helps organize the monthlong “History Live,” which is various lectures and presentations detailing America’s growth, random but fascinating topics on anything from steam locomotives to Durango-born astronauts. Other members of the roundtable have a love of radio’s personable immediacy, and a perfect addition to the monthlong series was to tell the tale of life in Durango during its earlier pandemic.
Roundtable participants thought Holteen would be a perfect person to make the audio portion happen for a series that will not only replay hard news but showcase some local features.
“Ted is going to be reading excerpts from the newspapers, the headlines, and obituaries and the personal columns, and he’ll also be reading advertisements,” Reynolds said. “At this time, as winter was coming on and everyone was hoping for an armistice, the oil heater advertisers were promoting the comfort of sleeping through the night without having to get up and stoke the fire. The newest French hats were available, so it’s very homey. It will have wonderful details of ordinary life.”
“It’s very cool,” Holteen said. “It’s almost like reliving the past; it’s simply a historical reading of the text of the time and contrasting it to the here and now.”
America is experiencing tough times now, America was experiencing tough times then. Historical accounts are documented and discussed with the hopes that maybe we can learn something from our past than can positively shape our future.
“It’s important because it’s Durango’s history, and we’ve already experienced a pandemic in which all kinds of public health measures were enforced and mandated,” Reynolds said.
Ultimately, this came about because Reynolds has a desire to remain busy, as she’s someone who loves a good assignment.
“I’m an elder-citizen with a lot of energy and a burning interest in the history of the Southwest,” she said. “The ‘Durango 1918’ project has been my main summer project, a great way to spend time during a pandemic.”
The series can be heard via KSUT’S website, at KSUT.org.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.