Nocturne in Blue

When I came back to Denver for this break, I decided to drive it. I tell people it was because I enjoy road trips and it’s more cost effective if my siblings tag along.

But I only tell them that because they wouldn’t accept the real reason I don’t like to fly.

The reason is this:

Outside the airport is a statue of a horse. A nightmarish blue horse. It rises from the prairie like an azure specter, a 50-foot equine nightmare for anyone fool enough to enter or leave the city via airplane.

They call it Satan’s Steed, Blucifur, Beelzeblue or simply, The Blue Devil Horse. And it is very real.

Nobody really knows why it exists. The city requires that every public improvement project over $1 million put 1% of its budget towards artwork. It isn’t always spot on. One installation, “National Velvet,” is particularly unfortunate:

(It glows in the dark.)

Still, the ordinance has painted murals under bridges, put common-use pianos on the sidewalk and transformed the ordinary public library into a public library with an enormous brass mule on the lawn. On the whole, the art thing works out pretty well.

But nothing could have prepared us for that horse.

“Mustang” was commissioned in 1993 to the late Luis Jiménez, and when it finally went up fifteen years later, nobody understood why an airport that modeled its building to look like mountain peaks, where the chipper voice of the mayor welcomes you to Denver…The mile high city! as you ride the terminal shuttle, would make its final greeting a hysterical expression of pure, demonic fury.

But somewhere deep down we all know what really happened in those fifteen years…

But we will never know for sure. Jiménez died working on the sculpture, leaving it for his sons to finish. The official report says he was crushed when the torso of the horse fell on him in his studio. But, again, we know the truth…

And so passed Luis Jiménez and with him whatever dark secrets lie behind that terrible blue enamel.

Don’t be silly, you say, this was no work of unseen spectral powers. Nobody really intended it to be so startling. Likely it was just an impressionist experiment that maybe went a little overboard for an airport greeter. I want to believe that.

But at night the eyes glow red!

Which means that each and every sunset, someone turns them on. Someone intends for those unseeing orbs to go aflame. Someone wants to make the horse a lighthouse of madness and chaos that shines out over the black prairie.

Someone, or something.

But the daylight is no better. True, in the daytime the eyes are a just a dull yellowish, unsettling but harmless…save for one moment when you drive past, look into them at just the right angle. The red bulbs catch the reflection of the sun and flash red as you pass.

So one of the first things Senator Barack Obama saw when he came to Denver for the 2008 Democratic National Convention was this:

Needless to say, the Facebookosphere has been crying out against the thing from the first. But it’s sticking around at least until next year; a city policy requires a five-year period to let people get used to new public artwork. Common arguments supporting the statue include…


They have a point (though you can attack both arguments with a copy of Goodnight Moon), but you can still put substance in your art without hurling us into the State of Nature when we’re just trying to catch the 7:25 a.m. to Atlanta.

But I don’t get into the debate. First, because the horse has killed once and it could kill again. But also because I kinda like the thing. Ultimately inappropriate? Sure. A bit embarrassing? Of course. But it makes Denver more special, more human. After all, you wouldn’t see that sort of bungle from New York or Chicago, with their Medici-level arts endowments and world-class curators. But ol’ Blue is the kind of civic quirk that gives this town its character. We may never know what evil purposes lie within Devil Horse, but at least it brings Denver together.

But that doesn’t mean I have to fly back to Alabama…

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