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Public Eye



This past week, two Colorado Springs originals met their maker. On Thursday, square-dancin' auctioneer Wes Pettigrew succumbed to congestive heart failure at age 83. He loved to square dance so much that he and his wife built a dance floor in their basement. He was also a hero. During World War II Pettigrew flew more than 300 hours in combat in a B-24 nicknamed "Little Joe," for which he was awarded the Silver Star and seven Air Medals.

The well-known former proprietor of downtown's Pettigrew Auction will be buried, according to the daily newspaper, in his favorite dancing outfit -- a gray Western suit with a bola tie, silver belt buckle and shiny black boots -- and four couples will dance to "El Paso" during his funeral.

On Saturday, local mail-catalog king Walter Drake died in sleep of natural causes at age 80. For more than a half-century, Drake, a Stanford graduate who settled in the Springs in 1947, operated his Walter Drake & Son's mail-catalog business, selling all kinds of fascinating, sometimes silly, always useful gadgets.

Everyone who has ever perused a Walter Drake catalog has marveled at the selections. Blackhead removers, anti-embolism stockings, bunion regulators, toe-straighteners, cushioned toilet seats, floral-patterned incontinence underwear, car pet-seats, night driving glasses, map measurers, Prayer of Jabez key rings, avocado slicers, battery-operated pepper grinders, buttoners, jar openers, individualized stationary, notepads and labels.

Most of us didn't even know that the genius behind it all lived right here in Colorado Springs. And like Pettigrew, Drake was quite a personality. Shot twice in the back in a 1968 downtown mugging, he used a wheelchair for the last 34 years of his life. Still, Drake raised peacocks, swans, quail and cattle, and grew bonsai plants and orchids -- and built his company into one of this city's most successful business stories.

Drake's and Pettigrew's passings coincide with the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post's decision to start charging for obituaries.

It has long been the tradition of daily newspapers to offer free death notices to those of us who are less prominent, whose life stories are often reduced to a paragraph or two in the newspaper. Until recently, obituaries were considered news and worthy of free editorial space. Indeed, many readers who pick up the paper head straight for that section, looking for familiar names and faces.

While the decision is disappointing, it is understandable. After all, the Post and Rocky are merely imitating a growing trend across America, from New York to Los Angeles, Miami to Seattle, where daily newspapers have begun incorporating paid death notices as a way of increasing revenues.

Here in Colorado Springs, the city's daily has charged for obituaries since the first of the year.

Last weekend, in separate editorials that appeared in the Saturday and Sunday papers, Post editor Glenn Guzzo and Rocky publisher/editor John Temple published columns in which they explained the rationale.

Both pointed out the difficulties of keeping up with the volume of deaths. The backlogs, they noted, have resulted in people's obituaries not appearing in a timely fashion. By paying for them, they said, people will also have greater control about what is written about their loved one, and when it appears in the paper. And both underscored their newspapers' commitment to publishing longer stories about ordinary Coloradans whose lives were interesting.

But what neither Guzzo nor Temple mentioned is the money -- namely, how much the paid obits will cost. According to the newspapers' obituary desk, the death notices will cost $11 per line, roughly averaging about four to six words a line, and extra for a photo.

So what does that mean, in layman's terms? Well, there is no minimum or maximum requirement for the length of an obituary, and they've been running from five to 55 lines, and more. If you want to include meaningful details about someone's life, the cost could easily jump into the hundreds, even thousands.

Let's put it another way. This column is exactly 724 words long. At an average of five words per line, that would make it, if it appeared in the Rocky or Post, 145 lines. So, if this were an obit, it would cost $1,595. Plus, at an estimated 10 lines worth of space, $110 more for the photo.

In other words, enough to make me want to live a long, long time.


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