Aspen Times Weekly: Objects of Aspen’s Affection |

Aspen Times Weekly: Objects of Aspen’s Affection

by Jeanne McGovern


WHAT: ‘Bests, Firsts & Worsts: Aspen in Objects’

WHERE: Wheeler/Stallard Museum, 620 W. Bleeker St.

WHEN: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

COST: $6/adults; $5/seniors; free for children 12 and under

An object can be just a thing. But it can also be so much more.

“There is the object,” says Aspen Historical Society curator Lisa Hancock, “and then there is the story behind the object … and this is what is often most important and interesting.”

Thus, the Aspen Historical Society is using objects — some 129 artifacts that translate into 96 different stories — to offer a glimpse into our town’s unique history. With this month’s opening of “Bests, Firsts & Worsts: Aspen in Objects” at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum, locals and visitors can see first-hand what makes Aspen, well, Aspen through a handful of vignettes ranging from “Politics & Activism” to “Culture” to “Being Local” and more.

The idea behind the current exhibit, which will remain on display for two years, came from the Smithsonian’s “History of America in 101 Objects.” And while the Aspen Historical Society does not own President Abraham Lincoln’s top hat nor Neil Armstrong’s space suit, it does have a treasure trove of local history at its disposal (approximately 30,000 photos, 7,000 objects and dozens of others items on loan from museums, individuals and others).

“The thing that makes this exhibit so much fun is that it’s about Aspen. Our history is not the same as other places. In a rural farming town, for example, their story is very similar to the next town over and the next town over from that. Aspen is unique and individual and is filled with different stories.”– Lisa Hancock, curator, Aspen Historical Society

“We didn’t want to do a simple list of these things, though,” explains Hancock. “So with a little brainstorming we came up with the ‘bests, firsts and worsts’ concept.

“It works well because what some people see as a best is someone else’s worst,” she says.

The “No Hippies Allowed” stories are an example of this, as is Prohibition — because “what resonates with one person may not with another.”

“Whether you think something is terrible or great, this will get the conversation going,” Hancock says.

An 80-page catalog, which acts as a field guide to the exhibit with additional photos and longer-form stories, helps to further the point by delving deeper into each event, issue and era.

“Like Neil Armstrong’s space suit, which tells a story far bigger than just the actual act of putting a man on the moon, we hope these pieces of Aspen history help interpret the highs and lows of the Aspen experience,” she says.

Among the pieces included in the exhibit — in addition to those featured in this story, with an introduction by Hancock and words from the exhibit catalog — are a chunk of the largest silver nugget ever mined in the U.S., Aspen’s first female mayor’s gavel, Steve Jobs’ personal mouse donated to the IDCA time capsule, and countless other pieces of Aspen’s storied past and present.

“Some exhibit guests will remember many of the stories and others will be experiencing our community for the first time, but everyone will gain a sense of why it is such a special place,” Hancock writes in her introduction to the exhibit.

And just as history — and “Bests, Firsts & Worsts” — is open to interpretation, the Historical Society’s exhibit is also destined to change. In fact, Hancock says she found gaps in what the organization was able to showcase as she and her staff narrowed in on Aspen’s history in the form of objects.

“Like the St. Patrick’s Day dinner … we had nothing; I called the church and neither did they. It’s now on the list,” she notes, adding that other missing artifacts include things like a Ruggerfest jersey and items from landmark events like Gay Ski Week.

“These are the stories that make Aspen unique, and we’re privileged to be able to share them.”



The donor of this sign saw it in the Dumpster during the remodel of Guido’s. It lived in his basement for years before he decided to donate the object to the Aspen Historical Society.

“One summer evening in 1970, I and a prep school classmate who had just graduated from medical school walked into Guido Meyer’s bar in downtown Aspen for a beer. Guido — also the local magistrate and proudly anti-change — had his back to us, polishing glassware, and in his Swiss accent said, ‘I vill be right wit you.’ When he turned around and saw our long hair, he started shouting, ‘Get out of here! You shit in the rivers. You pollute our mountains. I will not serve hippies!”

– Bob Braudis, former Pitkin County Sheriff

from “Politics & Activism: Aspen in Objects”



Hildur Hoaglund Anderson was a beloved school teacher in Aspen. Generations of local children adored her — she was kind of the grandmother of this town. She was also well-known for playing her accordion at many, many local events. She always used this one, which she bought in 1934. Bill Anderson played the fiddle and both of these objects were donated to the Aspen Historical Society by Bert and Ed Anderson, their sons. “I have lived all my life in Aspen right at home in the house at the bend in the river … I’ve never seen any place that I liked better. I must have Colorado in my heart.”

– Hildur Anderson, teacher and musician

from “Culture: Aspen in Objects”



These are very special objects since it is hard to imagine Mary Eshbaugh Hayes without a camera slung around her neck. She preferred film to digital and only made the transition when there was no longer film processing available in Aspen.

“Mary Eshbaugh Hayes was a fixture on the Aspen social and community scene. Everyone knew and loved Mary.”

— Aspen Historical Society

from “Being Local: Aspen in Objects”



“Run, my God, run, run like I was being chased by a grizzly bear. As a sophomore, that was the first kickoff I had ever run back for a touchdown, but it wasn’t the last, and it was the one I will never forget. … The grass in Wagner Park has been adapted to rugby games, trampled by food and wine tastings, stirred by dogs and their walkers, and ruffled by winter polo. But whatever goes on there, the memory still lives in my mind of those glorious football afternoons, the spectacular fall weather, and the ability to kick loose and run like hell.”

– Tony Vagneur, former Aspen Historical Society board president and Aspen Times columnist

from “Sports & Recreation: Aspen in Objects”