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Uncovering the History of Will Rogers

By Samantha Knoll

El Pomar Foundation owns and operates three historic properties — Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, Penrose Heritage Museum and Penrose House. These properties, established by Julie and Spencer Penrose, now act as gathering places that highlight the history of this family and Colorado Springs. Spencer and Julie commissioned the construction of the Shrine of the Sun in 1934 to be their final resting place. After famous humorist Will Rogers died in a tragic plane accident in 1935, Spencer and Julie dedicated the Shrine of the Sun in his name to keep his memory alive. Spencer was interred at the Shrine in 1939 while Julie was buried there in 1956.

Visitors to the Shrine often inquire about Will Rogers, so Foundation curatorial staff decided to investigate further. We wanted to create a brand-new exhibit that would not only delve into the lives of Spencer and Julie, but also into that of Will Rogers. Visitors would be able to compare the lives of the three individuals and their place in United States history.

Will Rogers Memorial Museum provides visitors with an immersive experience to better understand Rogers’ life. He was a famous humorist who dominated every form of public media in the 1920s and 1930s and was one of the most beloved Americans of his time. Visitors can watch some of Rogers’ films in a theater, listen to his radio broadcasts, read some of his articles, see the personal possessions he had in his possession when he tragically perished in a plane crash and much more. Jennifer gave us a private guided tour and let us do research within their collections. Jennifer also shared their photographic collection so some of the historical images could be used in the exhibition at the Shrine.

Since we were able to forge a professional relationship with Jennifer and visit Will Rogers Memorial Museum, we gained a greater understanding of this historical figure. The incredibly informative trip to Will Rogers Memorial Museum enabled our curatorial staff to better design the final exhibit.

Left – El Pomar Foundation’s curatorial staff, Sarah Woods (right) and Samantha Knoll (left),
with Jennifer Holt (middle) at Will Rogers Memorial Museum, 2019.

Visit the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun to learn more about Spencer and Julie Penrose and Will Rogers! Call ahead for current operating hours and plan your visit, (719) 578-5367

Above -Spencer, Julie, Rogers’ family and friends and local politicians all participated in the dedication ceremony of the Shrine and the unveiling of the Will Rogers bust, 1937.Courtesy of Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the Rogers Estate

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