William H. Hutton died doing what he loved most in his later years: nailing a painting to the outside of his glimmering art-covered home.
The 78-year-old poet fell from a ladder at the two-story house at 124 E. Espanola St. last week when his heart failed, triggering an outpouring of sorrow from his acquaintances and neighbors.
"His idea of dying was that he just wanted to walk off into the ocean and head toward the horizon," said Roberta Coulter, a friend of Hutton's for 15 years. "That's what he's done."
The silver-haired gentleman's house is like a kaleidoscope in reverse, with a mishmash of replica paintings, busts, lawn sprinklers and photographs attached to the outside.
Hutton dubbed it the "Theatre of Mankind," and it sparked everything from bewilderment to adulation from his neighbors. He told the Independent last October that it was a massive work of art, meant to stir people's imaginations.
"It opens up the cosmological eye to creativity," he said.
But his house also hit the radar of city inspectors. Acting on an anonymous telephone complaint, they asked Hutton to clear off his porch, citing concerns for his safety.
Hutton fought back, with pro-bono help from his neighbor, Jerry Greenker, a local lawyer. The city ultimately backed off, allowing much of the stuff to stay.
"He was a very young spirit, even at 78," Greenker said.
Search for a will
On June 21, Colorado Springs Fire Department Station 2, a few blocks from Hutton's north end home, responded to a 911 call from neighbors who found Hutton lying motionless on his lawn. His death was brought on by a heart aneurism.
Only days earlier, the station's firefighters, who often chatted with Hutton, had attached a picture of their crew to his house.
"He just kind of grew on us," said Eric Ware, a station paramedic. "The whole station was close to him."
It is unclear exactly what will happen to the house. Hutton's nephew, Stuart Scott, a statistician who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, will arrive with his wife, Claudia, to handle his uncle's affairs sometime this week.
Scott has invited Coulter to help him search for papers documenting Hutton's financial affairs, as well as a will.
Born to Christian missionaries in India, Hutton moved to Colorado Springs via Kansas in the early 1980s and lived with his mother until she died more than a decade ago.
After her death, he became more flamboyant, wearing a trademark black suit, gloves and a golden vest, noted one of his next-door neighbors, Myrene Hoge.
"He became more apparent," Hoge added, with a chuckle. "We didn't like what he did to the house, but we didn't complain."
Hutton and the Holy Grail
Hutton spent hours each day explaining to passersby the meanings of the items on his house, peppering in bits of ancient history and famous quotes.
He called a sports trophy "The Holy Grail."
He said a picture of a peacock, fashioned of plastic jewels on black velvet, reminded him of the explosive chaos of the universe's ethereal beginnings -- where, he claimed, he'd been.
Once, at the Independent's office downtown, Hutton laid down flat on a glass table, noting that he was levitating.
In 1950, one of Hutton's short stories, "Real Life," was included in a compilation of prose and poetry among the works of icons like Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. Hutton appeared at the time to be on the path to a literary career, but said his progress was slowed by the mental breakdown he suffered in 1960, following his return from a medical unit in the Korean War.
"He never got over it," Coulter said.
Despite regular rejections from publishers, Hutton still wrote, becoming the president of the Colorado Springs Poetry Society. At the time of his death, Coulter said, he was churning out a lengthy biography using a typewriter.
He sent Coulter many letters over the years, including one in 1989 that gushed over a necktie she'd given him.
"First impression: Flowers," he wrote. "Larger than morning glories. More like dahlias. Of course all in an abstract arrangement, arranged in such a way that background becomes foreground, foreground background -- interchangeably."
Scott last visited his uncle about five years ago, before Hutton began splashing the house with art. However, Hutton sent his nephew photographs, and Scott also recalled exchanging gifts with him during the holidays.
"Probably better than anything was the thank-you letter that would come from Bill," Scott said, adding that his uncle's letters always entertained his children when read aloud.
For a brief time, it appeared that a little-known official, the public administrator, was going to dispose of the financial affairs -- and body -- of William Hutton.
Without a will and next of kin, and thus absent of money for burial, the public administrator's office was set to cremate Hutton.
Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews all forbid cremation. And several other faiths, such as Roman Catholicism and Mormonism, discourage it.
But Public Administrator Catherine Seal, an appointee of the state who steps in when there is no next of kin or will, said burials are out of the question unless friends or a religious congregation want to absorb the costs.
"There are no funds," she said.
So far this year, Seal has authorized about 17 cremations -- average, she said, for a six-month period.
Several funeral homes perform the cremations as a public service. There are no services prior to the cremation and no headstone placed afterward.
After searching for about two days after Hutton's June 21 death, officials eventually located Hutton's nephew, Stuart Scott of Virginia.
Now Scott will decide what to do with his uncle's remains.
-- Michael de Yoanna
A memorial service for William Hutton will be held on the front lawn of his 124 E. Espanola St. home Friday at 6:30 p.m.