50 years of going Around Aspen
I think I will always be known as the woman who “wrote Around Aspen,” rather than for the years I was a reporter-photographer and editor at The Aspen Times.As of 2007, I will have written the Around Aspen column for 50 years.Most newspapers carry a column with tidbits about friends and neighbors – The Aspen Times is no exception.In the early silver-mining days of the 1880s, the “Personals,” as they were called, took up the inside two pages of the newspaper. It’s where you found news of visitors from the East, who had a baby, what was playing at the Wheeler Opera House, whose team of horses ran away with a buggy full of picnickers, whose dog had to have its leg amputated, and so on.When I first joined The Aspen Times in 1952, there were two columns: “Society” and “Around Aspen.” Society items included eating and drinking, while Around Aspen featured interesting things people were doing and their travels.Mrs. Ringle, wife of then-editor-publisher Verlin Ringle, made lists of the different groups to call each week. There were the old-timers, who had deep roots in the community; the ranchers, who put on square dances and turkey shoots; the ski bums, who had lots of parties; the hierarchy of the Aspen Ski Corp.; the musicians and writers, who were always putting on performances; the artists, led by Herbert Bayer, who were designing The World Atlas for the Container Corporation of Chicago, owned by Walter Paepcke.
And everyone loved reading about who had a baby.But great care must be taken when writing this kind of column, as you are dealing with people’s personal lives and reputations. Once, a local woman thought it would be a good joke to plant an item about a couple rendezvousing at Waterman’s Cabins. She thought since I was new in town I wouldn’t catch it. But I had written the personals for my hometown paper back in New York, and I was savvy to such tricks.As reporter-photographer, I wrote much of the front-page hard news, too. I also wrote features about local lodges and business people, and gathered items for the personals.The second week I was in Aspen, however, I met silversmith Jim Hayes and we married in the spring of 1953. Later that year I resigned from the paper, and we started our family of five children. I took several years off from writing as the kids would always act up if I was talking on the telephone – and the telephone was how you talked to people and gathered news.When Bil Dunaway bought The Aspen Times in 1956, he asked me to resume writing Around Aspen – the column always brought good community relations for the paper.
It was then I decided to combine Society and Around Aspen into just one column. I called dozens of people each week and soon learned who “had a nose for news.” At first most items were about who motored to Grand Junction, who had a wild ski-bum party, what dignitaries were coming for talks at the Aspen Institute or performing at the Aspen Music Festival, what cousins were coming to spend the summer on whose ranch.There were a few years when I couldn’t do the column year-round. Either I had a new baby or I went back East to my parents on Conesus Lake in New York, taking the children with me for months-long visits. I would get a friend to write the column while I was gone, but it never worked out. Some would just report on their friends. Some would only call the hospital and report on who was ailing. One time, someone planted a bad item; the reporter didn’t catch it and the victim threatened a lawsuit.As the years went by, Around Aspen became a part of me. When I didn’t have time to write articles, I was always able to write the column. Sometimes it was the only thing that reminded me that I was a writer.I called many of the same people every week. They would gather tidbits for me: Many told me stories about different families; they told me who was related to whom; they told me who were deadly enemies; they told me who had a baby out of wedlock. People told me about their heartbreaks and their joys, and there was much I couldn’t print. I learned the history of Aspen people, and I learned who not to call before noon because a few of the ladies always drank too much the night before. (But they were a great source of news, so I always called them.)For many years, Around Aspen appeared on the editorial page. I always considered it a newspaper within a newspaper. As the years went by, it got longer and longer as more people moved to town.
In I968 I finally convinced Dunaway to let me use photos in the column. He had always argued it was too expensive, but when the Aspen Illustrated News used so many photos and looked so lively, he told me to go ahead.Each week through the early I980s I included photos of things I noticed around town – a door, a window, a statue, flowers on car antennas, carvings on the Elks Building. I loved wandering around town looking for pictures.In 1972 I went back to work full time at The Aspen Times as a reporter-photographer and wrote Around Aspen in the evenings at home. I was named editor in 1977. I began ending Around Aspen with “Undercurrent,” about something that had struck me during that week, in 1976. I remember the first Undercurrent was when some boys accidentally shot and killed a woman attending a concert in the Music Tent. My son had been accidentally shot the year before, and luckily he survived. I wrote that children shouldn’t have access to guns.Aspen really began to change in the 1980s. Skiers, artists, writers and musicians had somehow held on during the penniless years and had turned the sleepy little town into a unique and magical place. Suddenly everyone wanted to live here. Real estate prices shot up.Rich people moved to town and built beautiful homes in Starwood and on Red Mountain. Most of the women had chaired benefits for the arts and charities in their original cities, and they brought their skills to Aspen. The nonprofits that had struggled financially for years suddenly found they had angels who held glittery parties to raise money for them. I was invited, as these new people wanted to be mentioned in the column. Around Aspen has always been an introduction into Aspen society. Town and Country magazine, Vanity Fair and The Denver Post began to notice Aspen. They would send photographers to cover the increasingly fabulous events.About 1982, in a staff meeting, the other reporters said, “Since you go to these parties, you should take your camera and take pictures for the column. You can’t let the national press scoop you.” Some people didn’t like that I included the new people and their parties in the column; it wasn’t as down-home and folksy as it used to be. But I argued that these new people were the ones who paid for all the things we loved: music, ballet, theater, recreation, activities for children. They paid for the things we had been struggling to maintain, so they deserved to be in the column.So many people attend these parties now that I write less copy and include more photos. There are fewer items about old-timers because so many have moved away. (But I always put in two weeks’ worth of photos from the annual Old Timers party.) I cover some private parties and many benefits; I figure I cover more than 40 different groups in Aspen each year.Longtime Aspenites often tell me, “I don’t know half the people in the column anymore, but I always read it first to find out what’s going on.”As Aspen grew and changed during the 1990s, so did Around Aspen. At a party one night, a friend said to me, “The billionaires are pushing out the millionaires.” I made this my Undercurrent that week, and I have seen it used over and over again by local and national media.Most everyone is delighted to be pictured in the column. But when two men told me, “No photos,” my red flag went up. Sure enough, they both were involved in investment scams that swindled millions of dollars from several Aspenites.Both of my books, “Aspen Potpourri” and “The Story of Aspen,” grew out of Around Aspen. I had found Aspenites to be so colorful and interesting that I put their photos and recipes in “Potpourri,” which was a cookbook; I also included many of the photos of things I had noticed around town. The first edition was published in 1968 and the fifth in 2002. I never took anyone out – I just kept adding people over the years.When I went back to work at the paper in 1972, photographer Chris Cassatt and I did a feature or a personality piece every week. Having written Around Aspen for so many years and getting to know all the locals, I had long lists of people I wanted to interview. I wanted to tell their stories.Because Harold Ross, the legendary publisher of The New Yorker, was born and lived in Aspen until he was 9, we envisioned The Aspen Times being Aspen’s New Yorker. When I retired in I992, Chris, printer Jeff Neumann and I collected these features and personality profiles into “The Story of Aspen.”Writing Around Aspen continues to be fun and interesting. Aspen has become so big and so diverse that there are always new people at the parties. And I still consider Around Aspen to be a newspaper within a newspaper.
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