Scouting centennial: Recalling talented, dedicated local leader recalled
By Don Ellis
In Midland School, the old Midland School across from Bott Park, the restrooms were in the basement. Entering the basement was to enter a different world from the rest of the building. The boiler room was also in the basement. Overhead in the hallway were steam pipes sheathed in thick, fabric-wrapped insulation. Everything was painted pale yellow. There was one room big enough to be a classroom. I don't remember any class ever meeting there. But our Cub Scout pack did meet there once for a special program. The speaker was Harold Clark, who displayed his collection of African artifacts. There was an assortment of iron implements. Mr. Clark told us that Africa had never had a bronze age, but that Africans had learned to smelt iron and gone directly form the stone age to the iron age. There were beautiful fabrics as delicate as fine linen with black and beige patterns woven from grass. This was the first time I met Harold Clark. Through the 1950s, he told many stories and taught many things to me and to other Scouts.
In my Cub Scout years I had taken a short “learn to swim” class and thought that I lacked the ability to actually ever learn how to swim. However, in the Boy Scout swim classes that Harold Clark taught I learned to swim well enough to be on the high school swim team and work as a lifeguard. These classes were held on Friday nights in the Broadmoor indoor pool (which is no longer there). Each of us paid 25 cents to use the pool. Harold Clark taught the classes for free. Besides the usual strokes, Mr. Clark showed us how to swim backward. This was something natives of the Belgian Congo did to confuse their enemies. Mr. Clark had been born in the Congo in 1894 to missionary parents and spent his early years there.
Besides learning how the Congo natives swim, the young Harold Clark had learned magic tricks in the Congo. For his missionary father in the 1890s, magic tricks might have been survival tactics. Mr. Clark told how his father would buy an egg from a native, secretly pierce the ends and suck out the contents, and then shatter the empty shell between his palms. Such tricks helped him gain respect from the tribesmen, possibly mixed with a bit of fear. One of Harold Clark's favorite tricks was to allow people to examine a narrow-necked ceramic vase and a short piece of rope. After everyone was satisfied that both the vase and the rope were entirely ordinary, Mr. Clark would insert the rope into the neck of the vase and turn it over without the rope falling out. Then he would take hold of the rope which supported the dangling vase. The trick to this was a small rubber ball which he slipped unseen into the vase. With many such sleight of hand tricks, Harold Clark put on a good magic show.
After we had gotten to know Mr. Clark in the swim classes, he began to come to our Troop 40 meetings to teach other things. He taught knot-tying as a series of movements. He went beyond handbook knots to knots like the monkey's fist. He taught subtleties and history, what distinguishes a Texas bowline, why the Red Cross insisted on a square knot for tying bandages (because it is easy to untie). He taught first aid with depth and perspective from his own experience as a former medical student. And, most of all, he taught Scouting. He lived Scouting. A pipe he sometimes smoked was carved in the shape of a bighorn sheep - the emblem of the Pikes Peak Council's Order of the Arrow lodge. His proudest moment may have been when he was awarded the Silver Beaver for his dedication to a generation of Scouts, and especially Scouts on the Westside.
In addition to his collection of African artifacts, Harold Clark had two other prized collections: his stamp collection and his American Indian collection. He considered his stamp collection to be his retirement investment and added to it the “first day cover” for every new stamp which was issued. (Note: A first day cover is an envelope with the stamp cancelled on its first day of issue at the place, or places, where the stamp was first issued.)
His American Indian collection, like his African collection, was not just a collection of artifacts but also the basis for a store of knowledge that he shared. From him I learned that arrowheads made to be used on arrows were flaked symmetrically so the the missiles would fly true, while ceremonial points were often asymmetrical. Once I found an artifact about which I was curious. Mr. Clark told me that it was a scraper for scraping hides and showed me just how it was made to fit perfectly into the hand. One winter's night, he took several of us Scouts on an unforgettable trip to La Junta to visit the Koshare Indian Museum, watch the Koshare dancers and meet Buck Burshears (the man who had founded the dancers and served as the troop's scoutmaster for more than 50 years).
For all the richness of life and knowledge which Harold Clark shared, he was a man of very modest means. He worked as a custodian and lived in a tiny rented cottage on South 18th Street. Looking toward a time when he might no longer be able to care for himself, he moved to a nursing home in Longmont where he would be closer to his son. The last time I saw him, I drove him from Longmont to Colorado Springs to share Thanksgiving dinner with our family in 1971. The following January he died from a case of the flu.
This year being the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, it seems appropriate to remember a man who gave so much to a generation of Westside Scouts half a century ago.
A Westside man of letters, Don Ellis was an Eagle Scout in his youth.
Westside Pioneer article