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In 1806, Lieut. Zebulon Montgomery Pike, leading an expedition through Louisiana Territory, saw in the distance a mountain like “a small blue cloud” rising abruptly from the plains. Pike led three cheers for what he thought were the “Mexican Mountains,” and set out a few days later toward the snow-covered summit. Poorly provisioned and clothed, his party was forced to turn back by a roaring blizzard. Pike predicted that the summit would never be reached by man. But 14 years later it was scaled (by someone else); in 1835 it was recorded on a map as Pikes Peak.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor of Colorado Springs, which lies on the plain below Pikes Peak, uncorked a magnificent scheme to build a tomb for Zeb Pike on the mountaintop he never reached. Colorado papers, scent ing another tourist attraction, played the story big; the Colorado delegation in Congress whooped it up. Said a Chamber of Commerce official: “If we can just get old Zeb and add him to the rest of the stuff we got here, it’ll mean millions, boy, millions.”

Pike, who had risen to brigadier general and was killed in the War of 1812, was buried some 1,700 miles away, in a military cemetery in the quiet Lake Ontario fishing village of Sackets Harbor, N.Y. But the Chamber of Commerce was hopeful: Pike’s direct descendants had already approved the transfer of his body.

The East is not altogether effete, however: the Colorado Springs boosters had reckoned without the citizens of Sackets Harbor. Growled Mayor Carl M. Jackson: “General Pike’s been buried here for more than a century, and we mean to keep him here.”

A Watertown, N.Y. historian entered the controversy with a disquieting story of what had happened to Zeb Pike’s body. Legend had it that when Pike was killed in the capture of York (now Toronto) by his forces, his body was shipped back to Sackets Harbor in a hogshead of whiskey.* In 1909, the cemetery in which he was buried was moved to another section of the town. Of 130 corpses, only four—not including Zeb Pike’s—were positively identified. The historian recalled that among the bodies moved was one apparently submerged in alcohol in a metal casket. The casket’s glass top was broken in disinterment, said he, and the body, exposed to the air, quickly disintegrated.

* A common method of pickling corpses, as late as the 19th Century. The body of Admiral Nelson, who was killed aboard the Victory off Cape Trafalgar, was undressed except for a shirt and jammed into a large, upright cask of brandy. One black and stormy night, the marine guarding the cask noted in terror that its lid was slowly rising. He hurriedly summoned the ship’s surgeon, who spoke knowingly of a disengagement of air. Some of the brandy was drawn off from the cask’s lower bunghole and it was refilled from the top. The legend that sailors tapped the cask and drank off the brandy is apparently apocryphal.

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