Aspen native Harold Ross |

Aspen native Harold Ross

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly
Willoughby CollectionLetterhead from Harold Ross correspondence with Aspenite John Herron, 1937.

It seems likely that someone who grew up in New York might make a name for themselves after moving to Aspen, but less likely that a child from mining-era Aspen would become the quintessential New Yorker. Yet that is exactly what happened: Harold Ross, born in Aspen in 1892, gave voice to the Big Apple as he founded and micro-managed the New Yorker until his death in 1951.

Biographies of Ross say his father, George Ross, was a miner. A few Aspen newspapers suggest that he had mineral claims of his own. He may have owned gold claims in Crestone, as well. A George Ross was president of the board of Citizens Hospital, a community facility supported by miners’ unions. Encyclopedias say Harold’s mother, Ida Martin, was a teacher, but there is no mention in Aspen’s newspapers of her being a teacher. A Mrs. Ross was secretary of the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Presbyterian Church.

Aspen can claim Ross as a native, but the Ross family moved to Silverton and then on to Salt Lake City when Ross was seven. He attended school in Salt Lake, but dropped out in high school. He went to work at age 13 as a stringer for local newspapers, gaining enough experience to write for some larger papers at a very young age. Ross broke in as an editor during World War I in France, editing Stars And Stripes. After the war he worked for several publications in New York. Wanting to start his own publication, he secured financial backing from Raoul Fleishmann, owner of the yeast company. Ross founded the New Yorker in 1925.

Ross may not have resided long in Aspen, but his attachment continued throughout his life. My uncle, John Herron, was just two years older than Ross. They had been children in Aspen at the same time and corresponded with each other. In 1937, Ross responded to Herron’s request on behalf of the Lions Club that he give Aspen’s skiing some publicity.

Ross wrote: “Please accept my apologies for not acknowledging sooner your letter of Aug. 31st. The fact is I put it aside to talk over with one of our writers and it has been aside ever since. I will give him a talk about Aspen and western Colorado nevertheless. … I went West last winter and returned via Sun Valley, Idaho, where the Union Pacific has put up a big hotel with tramways for skiers and everything and there was some talk then about a hotel being built at Aspen. I have heard nothing about it since but if this is true I suggest you write me the facts or have someone do so and we could give you some notice. I think the trouble with Aspen and environs is that it lies in a country supplied by a bankrupt or impoverished railroad. The Union Pacific has spent a million dollars in a spot which in my mind is not as good as Aspen but it would have profited them not at all to have made such an outlay on another railroad line. If the D and RGW ever gets on its feet, western Colorado ought to profit. Please give my regards to anyone in Aspen who remembers me.”

Soon after Ross’s letter, one of the New Yorker’s prominent writers, humorist Robert Benchley, wrote Aspen’s first skiing brochure, How To Aspen.

Just before his death from complications of a life of heavy smoking, Ross sent his last letter to John Herron. Ross had made a fishing trip to Colorado and visited his hometown while there: “Please give my regards to all out there, especially Slim Anderson. Taking us in the mine that day was a royal thing, and I (and the rest of us) are all grateful. I’ll see you again sooner or later. As ever, Harold Ross”

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