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Freaks, hoaxes, & ghosts: A trip to the Stock Show

The National Western Stock Show in Denver is a 100-year-old trade show for ranchers. With Rodeos, livestock judging, tractors, and such, it’s like a big state fair, but without the carnival or baked goods.

The press releases and tour guides can tell you all about it. But here are a few things they don’t highlight so much:

Freaks: The two-headed calf
In the Coliseum, skip the big rodeo/Wild West show/whatever, and go to the Paddock. You’ll find a row of kid-oriented displays. Our own Colorado State Vet School has a table of preserved animal parts, including the two-headed calf.

It’s a great way to show the budding veterinarian in your family that animal husbandry is more than watery-eyed puppies and Bryer horses.


As an added bonus, the brains are still in tact. You’ll have to go see it.

Hoaxes: The crowd goes wild?
As long as you’re at the Coliseum, stick around for one of those big shows. Sometimes, after a particularly exciting horse trick or famous singer you never heard of, the crowd explodes. Flashes go off all over and the screaming!

But look closer…nobody around you is screaming or taking pictures. And don’t all those people know flash pictures don’t work from way up in the stands?

Look even closer and you’ll see the camera flashes are a lighting effect.  And maybe the roaring crowd noise is piped in as well.

HiTech Wonder: The Televac 86000
The organ grinders and piano-playing chickens are gone now. But the Televac 86000 endures after 40 years on the fair circuit.

Feed it your signature and mysterious computer processes involving dozens of lights and dials divine things about you even you didn’t know.


It’s not a popular attraction, but  certainly the oldest along the sales halls. And that makes it worth noticing one more time before it disappears.

Ghosts: The Live Stock Exchange
This is what I really wanted to show you. Get past all the shows, hucksters, displays, cages, and work your way back under the railroad tracks to the historic stock yards. They’re outside to the west of the National Western Complex.  You’ll see the Live Stock Exchange Building:


Virtually unchanged since 1916, the Live Stock Exchange Building faces the railroad tracks, not a street.  All its business came by rail in the old days, just like the cattle for the Stock Show (that’s why they auction cattle by the “car load.”)

It’s a dream for historic building fans–no remuddles, no perky tour guide, no long lines, and an unlocked side door. Go right in.  And even with all those thousands of people at the stock show, you’ll be about the only one in there.


Side entry hall



I won’t show you everything. But make sure you look in the bathrooms. They’re not for public use, but that doesn’t mean you can’t open the door and peek in on the marble walls and tile floors. And make sure you get up to the second floor to see the old exchange board.

You could spend an hour in this building and the cool 60s building next door (go upstairs to the Hall of Champions). And then lose yourself for another hour in the old stock yards or in the nearly hidden bar behind the Stock Exchange.

They’re largely lost behind the hype of the modern event, but these stockyards, train tracks, and buildings are why the Stock Show is here.


Acres and acres of splintery livestock pens


3 comments to Freaks, hoaxes, & ghosts: A trip to the Stock Show

  • Susan

    We discovered the old Stock Exchange last time we went to the Stock Show and experienced it much as you did. I hear they want to move the stock show grounds to a new location, and I would hate to see it go. I suppose it is too small and cramped and inefficient, but it will be like replacing the Larimer County Fairgrounds in Loveland with “The Ranch.” Glitz and space, but no heart or soul.

  • What a nice bit of photojournalism! I love glimpses at the stock exchange … wish you had take a couple of shots of those bathrooms1

  • catfc

    Here’s a bathroom photo… http://twitpic.com/134l6