Aspen commemoration goes off with bang
November 12, 2009
ASPEN – With the push of a button and a warning shout of “fire in the hole!” two of Aspen’s pyrotechnicians set off the antique cannon atop Smuggler Mine, letting everyone in town know there was something special about Wednesday.
The time-honored tradition of firing off the four-barreled steel cannon was employed in honor of Veterans Day with the chief igniter, Jay Parker, at the helm.
Aimed directly at the Veterans Memorial next to the county courthouse, the cannon, employing nearly a pound of black powder, spewed 3-foot flames, rocked back and forth and then let out a deafening blast.
It’s usually a tradition saved for an early morning blastoff on the Fourth of July, but for the past few years, Parker has lit the cannon to honor the vets, as well as kick off the Trashmasters golf tournament in Snowmass Village and, once in a while, when the Aspen High football team scores a touchdown.
“I thought it would be motivational, and it is,” Parker said.
Built by Aspen native Stefan Albouy and a guy named “Slim” from Morrison, the cannon was forged in Denver to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Albouy began the practice to maintain the long-standing miners’ tradition of blowing up powder kegs to celebrate July 4.
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“The undersheriff used to say that me and Stefan were the only guys who needed an alibi on Fourth of July morning,” Parker said.
At 11:11 a.m. Wednesday, Parker got the go-ahead via cell phone from a “displaced carrier pilot” at the Veterans Day observance. The echo of the cannon rang through town right after Dick Sundeen finished the Trumpet Interlude during the service.
Parker and his partner, Shane, who wore a baseball cap that read “Extreme pyrotechnics,” then raced down to Main Street to observe the last part of the service.
“We’ll walk up and say ‘Sorry we’re late,'” Parker said with a smile.
Wednesday’s conditions were ripe for the cannon blast; sunny skies allow for a stronger echo effect while cloudy skies typically muffle it.
Over the years, Parker and his partners have gotten a certain amount of grief from people who don’t appreciate the Aspen tradition, but it’s generally accepted by Pitkin County. Police dispatch is always notified that the cannon will be shot off so they’re prepared for calls.
Parker recalled a few years back an uptight man with a little dog who was at the base of Smuggler Mountain when the cannon went off. He fired off a few choice words at Parker, who ignored them.
“You can’t be bothered with people like that,” he said.