Idaho Springs’ Steve Canyon statue

Cartoon carved in stone perplexes visitors



Joshua Hardin

The daring pilot Steve Canyon, a World War II veteran turned adventurer, never lived in Idaho Springs. In fact, he never lived anywhere – he was a cartoon character who starred in the Steve Canyon newspaper comic strip from 1947 to 1988. While Steve Canyon was fictional, the 9-foot statue of him in Idaho Springs is quite real. His limestone likeness was erected in 1950, and it has baffled visitors ever since.

The story begins in 1947, when the city was trying to revive its Gold Rush Days celebration. Organizers came up with a publicity stunt for the festival, proposing to change the name of a nearby valley from Squirrel Gulch to Steve Canyon. The Denver Post’s political editor, a fan of the strip, helped persuade the state legislature to make the name change official. Steve Canyon’s creator, Milton Caniff, appeared at Gold Rush Days to mark the occasion. Caniff and the townsfolk hit it off. He turned up for subsequent Gold Rush Days and was so popular that people considered renaming the event Steve Canyon Days. The story of the town’s Steve Canyon obsession made the national news.

When the president of the Indiana Limestone Co. read an article about Idaho Springs’ desire to erect a marker honoring Steve Canyon, he offered to donate a statue. Some residents balked at the idea of honoring a cartoon character, but their concerns were eased when the statue was dedicated to all military airmen. Caniff and Gov. Walter Johnson oversaw the statue’s unveiling in 1950, where Mayor Leroy Giles proclaimed, “This statue of Steve Canyon is going to put Idaho Springs on the map of the world, believe me.” 

The mayor’s prediction didn’t come true. The comic strip’s popularity soon faded, and the monument’s novelty wore off. The only time people give it much thought these days is during homecoming at Clear Creek High School when students put funny costumes on the statue. Even so, stony Steve Canyon has been accepted as a member of the community, said Greg Markle, general manager of KYGT, the local radio station whose studio sits just behind the statue.

“If someone tried to dismantle it, everyone would be in an uproar,” Markle said. “Even though people aren’t sure of its history, it’s become part of their psyche.”

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 print edition of Colorado Life Magazine.

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