San Juan Horseshoe






























By MaryJoy Martin

(From an article written in 1992)

Kevin HaleySome say it's an institution. Some say its publisher should be institutionalized… or pulverized… or canonized.

General Kashmir Horseshoe, also known as Kevin J. Haley, is the publisher of a unique newspaper called the San Juan Horseshoe, the most sought-after paper in the western hemisphere.

"I use it to line the hamster's cage," says New England subscriber Edward Millette. "But if I could read, it would be the only paper I'd use to line the hamster's cage."

"Hamsters like to read, too," says Haley. "And horses. My copy editor is a horse."

Copy Editor of the Horseshoe

Haley and the San Juan Horseshoe seem normal enough on the surface, yet listening to Haley for thirty-five seconds or perusing the Horseshoe for a few minutes makes one realize the world never does make sense.

Unlike supermarket tabloids, the Horseshoe has the grace and air of a legitimate newspaper; there are no stories of two-headed grandmothers giving birth to presidential candidates, nor do the advertisements grope toward the baser side of humanity. The cover often features artwork by well-known or dead artists and illustrators. The news stories are current, presented in Wall Street Journal fashion, with one small difference: there's a clown in the business suit.

The Horseshoe is news parody, political satire, whimsy, badinage; everything from goofball slapstick to twisted black humor with the appearance of real news. It's the stuff reporters dream about committing; the stuff editors fear may slip past them on a bad day and turn up on the front page. When taken in by the Mark Twainian news in the Horseshoe, one can only laugh at oneself.

"The Horseshoe is one big long joke," says Terry Starr of Starr Real Estate, Ltd. in the ski resort of Telluride, Colorado. "A joke that's been running forever. I find that phenomenal. A lot of real newspapers don't last this long and, here, Kevin makes up all the news and people keep reading this thing. To me, that's incredible."

Haley began inventing the news in June 1977 at Ridgway, Colorado. Having worked for major newspapers across the country, he was tired of the rat-eat-dog scene. With Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde as his heroes, a parody newspaper was only natural.

"That first issue was a terrible job," Haley admits. "The perfect example of somebody who went to four years of journalism school. I didn't even know how to lay it out."

From a larval single sheet to a full-blown monthly tabloid, the San Juan Horseshoe's circulation went beyond 9,000 before Haley figured out what he was doing. The paper now has subscribers across the US and Canada.

Although Haley claims producing the Horseshoe is "more play than work," he is "dead serious about writing humor. It's a trade. You aren't born with it. You have to learn it like any other trade. And if you do it long enough, you might get it right."

In Haley's case, writing humor seems more genetic than learned. Born in 1949 in Dayton, Ohio to parents who were professional writers, he is the product of an Irish-American culture where humor is more necessary for redemption than faith. "The town produced Erma Bombeck, Phil Donahue and me," he says, as if they belonged to the same family, and quickly points out that his grandmother babysat Donahue. Donahue's face grins from Haley's photo album.

"In the Irish Catholic culture I grew up in, being a professional writer was a high level to ascend to. So I graduated from sixth grade, joined the merchant marine and learned how to write in Thailand."

Actually he graduated from college at Bowling Green, Ohio and never really learned how to write at all, he says. The success of the Horseshoe is due to his devilishly cunning art of selling advertising space. Well, perhaps his twisted wit and delightful storytelling have some bearing.

"I find the supermarket tabloids incredibly creative," Haley says. "They're absurd! But they use the same basic formula every time around: it's diet, somebody's breasts, somebody's affairs, UFO's, Elvis's ghost. What's sad is people believe that stuff. People don't believe what's in the Horseshoe — one or two do maybe, but they're already so far lost it doesn't matter."

BanjofrogWho could believe headlines such as, "Division of Wildlife Operative Loses 18 Elk in Poker Game," or "Dog Hair Prevents Publication," or "Vatican Launches Nuclear Warhead"?

"It's a lot of fun picking on politicians," says Haley. "So many of them have no more business running this country than my dog has. And she's really pretty bright."

Although Haley solicits articles from a few known and "semi-known" authors, most of the Horseshoe is written by Haley under assumed names, such as Suzie Compost, Mel Tool, and Fred Zeppelin. He has created a separate and distinct character for each name, complete with odd mannerisms and accents when they sneak into an interview.

"I like having alternate personalities," he says. "They allow me to write in different styles — you can get away with a lot more that way."

Regular columns in the Horseshoe include "Rock Soup," an outrageous satire of want ad pages, "Ann Slanders," a spoof on advice columnists, "The Pea Green Answer Man," which occasionally makes good sense, and "Letters to the Predator."

MouseInspiration for this poppycock seeps out of the pores of every day living... and creeps out of the pockets of the advertisers who merrily pay Haley month after month for space in a newspaper that makes as much sense as putting Pampers on a parakeet.

"Advertising is the key thing, of course," Haley grins, "when you want to feed kids and animals and live in a house."

Haley personally solicits advertisers because selling is "like a hobby" to him. Put simply, he loves it.

"I'm fortunate in that I don't really have to work at it," he says. "Most of my advertisers are a slam. They're really funny. I like playing around with ad ideas for them."

Unlike the advertisers in those supermarket tabloids, promising lush heads of hair or instant virility, the Horseshoe's advertisers are legitimate businesses, from glitzy ski resorts to hardware stores. Many give Haley free rein. Some, like Pat Williams, owner of the Norwood Market, have been surprised by their own ads.

Terry Starr of Telluride says he looks "forward to Kevin coming up here to talk about the ads. Sometimes there's a pack of serious clients in the office and Kevin comes in and changes the atmosphere. I've been advertising with him for years."

"A humorous ad is remembered long after the ordinary or mundane ads are forgotten," says Starr. "I've had response from the East and West coasts on these ads and East and West coast realtors have told me they've imitated them in their area newspapers. Advertising in the Horseshoe is simply sound business."

Jack Scoggin, 66, owner of the Ridgway, Colorado True Value Hardware agrees. Yet he confesses to a different reason for advertising in the Horseshoe. "I advertize in it 'cause I like only crazy people," says the wiry old cowboy. "I've been advertising in it since 1973."

The Horseshoe began in 1977, he is reminded.

"I paid extra till '77," he replies.

"You couldn't do a paper like this just anywhere," Haley says. "A place like New York is too serious and Nebraska is too generic. People in western Colorado don't mind if you laugh at them. They laugh at themselves."

Apparently people are laughing at themselves across the country since out of state fan mail and subscriptions keep pouring into the Horseshoe. One man wrote, "You give me hope for the future."

Horseshoe readers crawl in from every crevice of life. The young, the old, the professional, the homeless aren't embarrassed to be seen beneath a copy. Although Haley admits there are a few closet subscribers.

"Journalism majors at Western State College (Gunnison, Colorado) are afraid to tell their professors that they read it," he says.

These are the young women who hide behind haystacks at the Gunnison airport, chortling over Haley's copyright warning: "No reproduction without written approval of publisher or his children. If you're desperate enough to steal from us, maybe you should give up trying to be a writer and get into politics."

These are the young men who crouch in dim corners, snickering at the paper that slips small print phrases in its masthead, such as, "We are no longer in the religious persecution business," "All the news what's Pit to Frint," "Now with 20% more vowels," and "Refried News" from "Mañana, Colorado."

The Refried News from Mañana has some sort of Irish magic in it, some sort of solace, some sort of redemption, some sort of laxative for a world that doesn't eat enough fiber. Fans sport Horseshoe bumper stickers, T-shirts and Kevin Haley's face (slightly used for $1.73) as testimony to the joy the paper brings them.

Reading Hour 1992
Reading Hour at the True Grit in 1992
Yet the greatest testimony is the monthly "Reading Hour" at the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway, where the Horseshoe began. Everyone in Ridgway – from old timers to misplaced Hollywood actors – gathers at the cafe in anticipation of the Horseshoe's arrival.

The quaint cafe, famous for its giant burritos and named for the John Wayne movie filmed here, is standing-room only at Reading Hour. Everyone snatches up a fresh issue of the Horseshoe, attempting to decide which end is up.

"It's a bright light when it comes in," says Milt Jones, an impish rustic who gazes with great admiration at Haley.

With his battered cowboy hat pushed back on his head, Jack Scoggin echoes the sentiment, adding, "Kevin is a pretty good fella for a damn Yankee."

Others unabashedly leap a step further than Scoggin, claiming Kevin Haley has saved their lives when the world seemed doomed. Believing humor is the salvation of the human race, some readers, like Terry Starr in Telluride, are ready to canonize the publisher-journalist-environmental crusading–paperboy.

Haley seems embarrassed. He slips into the shadows while papers rustle and Tern Felde, owner of the True Grit [Editor's note 2005: the True Grit is now under different ownership], reads the Horseshoe aloud to her customers. Roars of laughter shake the walls. Snorts and guffaws bound to the ceiling and rattle the windows of actor Dennis Weaver's "recycled" house a few miles away. For a moment there are no wars or fears or tears in the world and the earth is green.

When Reading Hour is over and Ridgway is quieter but happier, patrons leave the True Grit one by one, smiling to themselves. Many appear to have in common a bumper sticker on their cars and pick-ups, but the stickers are difficult to decipher at first – they are all upside down.

"If I could read," they proclaim, "I'd read the San Juan Horseshoe."


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