Aspen writer mines town’s past for ‘Pearly Everlasting’
Special to The Aspen Times
Breaking a leg in the middle of ski season is an Aspenite’s ultimate bummer.
However, when Martie Sterling ” an Aspen resident and writer for 40 years ” broke hers, she struck gold. Or rather, silver. The injury was an auspicious twist of fate that swung open the doors to Colorado’s pioneer past.
Sterling’s roommate in the hospital happened to be Prue Bogue, an Aspen old-timer who was on her deathbed and needed to talk.
“She was in pain, so she’d tell stories,” recalled Sterling. “Every night we’d lie in bed and talk until 3 or 4 in the morning.”
In February, Sterling published “Pearly Everlasting,” a historical-fiction novel about an 1885 Aspen silver camp. Thanks to Bogue’s memories and other first-hand accounts, as well as countless hours of exploration in the mines and the library, “Pearly Everlasting” dramatically chronicles details of historical Aspen.
“The historical society’s glass plates and old papers have my prints all over them,” wrote Sterling in a letter to The Aspen Times. “So do old silver camps and archives across the state.”
Sterling came to Aspen in 1959 after winning a sizable stake in a New York quiz contest. With her husband, she opened a ski lodge, and over the next decade she juggled making beds and rearing kids (five of her own and countless “drop-ins”) with editorial and humor-column work for Ski magazine.
In 1969, they sold the lodge, and her husband, Ken Sterling, got into the insurance business. Meanwhile, Martie Sterling published four books and was a docent at the historical society.
She also served on the board of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation.
When her last child was in school, Sterling began travel writing.
“I’ve skied from Aspen to Zermatt, sailed the coast of Greece and plumbed the Great Barrier Reef,” she wrote in Ski magazine. “[I’ve] been stitched in a mountain hospital where everyone spoke Athabascan, and had a Jamaican hotel room crumble under me during Hurricane Gilbert.”
It was after writing the book “Oh be Joyful” in 1976 for Colorado’s Bicentennial that Sterling got the idea for “Pearly Everlasting.” The short tribute was also about 1880s Aspen, but she wanted to write something more in depth. “Writing ‘Oh be Joyful’ really got me hooked,” said Sterling.
And so over the next 18 years, amid travel writing stints, Sterling went jeeping with friends to Colorado’s old silver camps in Telluride, Fairplay, Leadville and Tincup, among others. She strapped on helmets and headlamps with ex-miners and went into the mines.
“Stefan Albouey [a miner and tour guide] once told me that going underground for miners is like exploring new seas for a sailor,” said Sterling.
She also worked closely with the Ute Mountain Tribal Council, though getting information from them was a struggle.
“They were terrified that I would write bad things about Utes,” she explained. “They still don’t trust the outside world. I had to beat down the gate.”
Sterling was persistent, though, and eventually accrued a hefty cache of historical ore. And as “Pearly Everlasting” is being pitched to Hollywood agents, she has settled down into her next project: piecing together her memoirs as a gift for her children. With more than 80 years under her belt, the task is a daunting one.
“My life was too checkered,” she said.
Catherine Foulkrod’s e-mail is cfoulkrod@aspentimes .com
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