Upon first glance, the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun looks like something out of medieval Europe. A tall stone tower, it watches Colorado Springs from the northeast side of Cheyenne Mountain. While many city residents know what it is, a surprising number have never visited for a closer look. To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what the Shrine was until I told someone I’d be working there for the summer and they told me it happened to be the tomb of Spencer and Julie Penrose.
I responded eloquently, of course: “Wait— I’m working at a what?!”
As it turns out, the Shrine is more mausoleum than tomb, but both Julie and Spencer Penrose are buried there, along with two of their friends, Horace Devereaux and William Leonard. Despite the impression the name may give, Will Rogers is not buried at the Shrine—it was just named in tribute to him after his untimely death in 1935.
This is my first week as an intern at the Shrine, and every time I drive through the gates it feels ridiculously cool to realize I work there. There is an incredible amount of history surrounding the Shrine, whether regarding the structure itself, the artifacts inside, or all the different visitors and the stories that they bring with them. Curator George Guerrero is a fountain of knowledge himself, full of stories about life, history, and architecture—seriously, he even knows what the stairs are made of!
I haven’t worked at the Shrine for long, but I found something in my first few days that really put its history into perspective. While picking up some glass outside the stone retaining wall, I happened upon a very crusty penny. Looking closer, I saw it dated back to 1944, and I imagined someone losing it over the edge of the wall all those years ago. World War II was still being fought in 1944, my grandfather was only eight years old, and nobody could have conceived of Colorado Springs housing the United States Olympic Committee and Olympic Training Center or any of the other incredible changes that have taken place since. So much history has occurred between then and now, and the Shrine has been there for all of it.
Whether the visitors from England who scrawled “God save the Queen” in the visitor’s book, the echoing of “The Sound of Music” down the hillside, or the hawks soaring upwards into the mountain air—the Shrine has been there for so many experiences, visitors, and stories over the years, and will be witness to so many more. And for the summer, I am happy to be there to witness them, too.