25-50-100 Years Ago | AspenTimes.com
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25-50-100 Years Ago

Courtesy Aspen Historical SocietyThis unnamed man in black-face, posing for what seems to have been a studio shot, exemplifies the kind of get-up that was common in minstrel shows of the early 1900s, many of which were performed at the Wheeler Opera House and other Aspen venues. Locals took part in some of the shows, while others featured traveling troupes. One show in particular in 1909 gave starring roles to a variety of locals.
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Many things were different in the Aspen of 100 years ago than they are today, such as the fact that a traditional minstrel show, featuring white men dressed up in blackface makeup in a parody of African American culture, was a big hit in town.

The Wheeler Opera House was packed last evening to view the Elks’ Minstrels, and no one left the house at the close of the performance but were fully satisfied with the production. The curtain rose on the fine stage setting [with] Charles Dailey, interlocutor, with that galaxy of “burnt cork artists” … [A long list of song-and-dance routines included] George Morgan, Will Sheehan, Al Hogart, Roy Richmond, Pete Frison and Tony Rowland in as neat a turn in the way of buck and wing dancing as one could wish to see. Did the audience have their way, they would still be dancing.

Also quite different was the fact that the local paper did not hesitate to publish an item describing a competency hearing before a local judge, something that would not normally happen today.

Miles Sweeney was brought before the county court yesterday afternoon an a trial as to his sanity. A jury consisting of Jonce Cookman, P.H. O’Kane, Paddy Harrington, Frank Flynn, Bill Shields and Walter Richie decided that Mr. Sweeney was insane. He will be taken to Pueblo this evening and placed in the Work Sanitarium.

Spring was the time for municipal elections a century ago in Aspen, just as it is today, and The Aspen Democrat unabashedly boosted the candidacies of Democrats over the prospects of Republicans, and printed a list of the hopefuls’ names: For mayor, Charles Wagner; for alderman, first ward, Tom Janieson, Al Veal; for alderman, second ward, Jas. McSkimming, J.B. Stitzer; for city clerk, Mary Farrell; for city treasurer, Earl McPhee.

Hurrah for the Democrats! They are the boys that make the world go ’round and they make things move “right here in this old town.” How do you like the ticket as she appears at the top of this column? All right, isn’t it? And of course it is the ticket you will support because you want a better and cleaner town.

The Democrat’s editor, Charles “Cap” Dailey [note item on minstrel show] continued to feud with the proprietor of The Aspen Times, B. Clark Wheeler, referred to by Dailey as “the greatest self-praiser on the face of the earth. Wheeler printed an accusation that The Aspen Fair Association had improperly used public money to build a “bungalow” for one H.G. Koch on the city’s fair grounds.

If the “self-praiser” can show that the erection of the Koch bungalow at the fair grounds cost the association one cent, we will eat the building and make B. Clark a present of $100. At our second fair, in 1907, Mr. Koch erected this little bungalow on the fair grounds to entertain visiting members of the press and other prominent visitors. [Koch] furnished the lumber, the nails, the work and everything … the “self-praiser” is at the present time cursing everything but his own mining interests. Why? Is he sincere, or is he out for B. Clark?

Aside from the political skirmishes of the day, the front page was always available for the occasional personal note.

A telegram was received yesterday by Dr. R.B. East from Dr. Guthrie, dated Broomfield, Mo., stating he arrived home safely and found his mother still alive but the outlook unfavorable. The many friends of Dr. Guthrie hope that his aged mother may speedily recover …

The paper noted that work continued in the Smuggler Mountain mining complex.

The winze [a vertical shaft between mine levels] on the ninth level of the Smuggler has reached the 100-foot mark. Today work will begin on the tenth level. It is understood that the ore body is holding out and that the values increase as depth is attained. It is hoped that sinking will continue or, better still, that some plan by be agreed upon whereby the Free Silver shaft may be unwatered and drifting done from the bottom of that shaft, which is the deepest in the district.

(Microfilm of The Aspen Times 1904-1909 is missing from the Colorado Historical Society’s archives. These excerpts are from The Aspen Democrat.)

As the controversy continued regarding plans to consolidate Aspen’s schools with those in downvalley communities, the Aspen Citizen Council for Better Education explained its opposition to the whole idea, including concerns that Aspen would no longer control its educational fate.

A bond issue of $381,000 was passed for … a new school building … indicating that voters are fully confident that this district should remain as a progressive school entity. Glenwood voted down a bond issue for a new school, strongly indicating a lack of support for its own local schools. Aspen bonds will not be sold if reorganization into effect [which will] necessitate prolonged study and preparation [in advance of a new bond election]. Aspen needs a new school now … MUST WE LOSE CONTROL?

Even as the debate raged on about the reorganization plan, a state study indicated that Aspen’s schools were doing a better job than most in terms of sending students on to higher education levels.

According to figures recently released … 28 students living in Pitkin County were graduated from school last year. Of those, 17, or 60.7 percent, continued their education … This places Pitkin County sixth in ranking among counties in the state … the state average is 44.7 percent.

Aspen Chamber of Commerce officials agreed to sponsor the 1960 Olympic Alpine Ski Training Camp, which was to include provision of lodging and meals for the athletes.

Having a good training program would not only be beneficial to our Olympic team but also result in much publicity and prestige for Aspen … Although the Chamber of Commerce voted to support the camp in every way feasible, it will be under the sponsorship of the Aspen Ski Club.

Pitkin County officials announced that traffic over the Castle Creek Bridge into Aspen had reached alarming levels ” although the levels a half a century ago paled in comparison to the 25,000 or so cars that now cross the bridge every day.

An average of over 1,723 vehicles each day have crossed the Castle Creek bridge west of Aspen, it was revealed this week … the county officials, who placed a counter on the west end of the bridge on March 5, learned that a total of 22,395 vehicles had activated it in less than 13 days.

Aspenite Tom Wolters and his wife, Defna, camped out for 13 hours in front of the leasing and sales office of the new Phase IV ” now known as Centennial ” housing project in Aspen, which had just received final approval and had been put up for sale.

They weathered snow and bitter cold. In sleeping bags they drank hot chocolate, ate peanuts and passed the dark hours with casual conversation … the Wolters were the first of more than 80 people who filed applications for deed-restricted condominiums and townhomes on Monday [March 19].

The late Hans Gramiger had been trying for 11 years to win permission from Pitkin County to build a restaurant on the ridge atop Shadow Mountain, the spur that juts out to the west of the Aspen Mountain ski slopes. A state appeals court had just awarded Gramiger a permit for grading and excavating the site, but the county was appealing the ruling.

Pitkin County’s attempt to block Hans Gramiger’s proposed restaurant … may well wind up in the state’s highest court … The permit granted by the appeals court [says the county] would give Gramiger the right to dig, but would not give him the right to a building permit. His request for a building permit would undoubtedly touch off yet another round of litigation …

” compiled by John Colson


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