Willoughby: Charles Dailey and the demise of the Aspen Democrat Times
Legends & Legacies
A couple of generations ago, when I taught an Aspen history class for Colorado Mountain College, I rounded up primary documents to use as resources. One treasure trove had gathered dust in my uncle John Herron’s garage: several years’ issues of the Aspen Democrat Times.
I returned to these same yellowed, musty pages when I taught American History at Aspen Country Day School. My students marveled at the advertisements and prices of common items, just pennies on the dollar compared with what we pay today.
The Democrat Times, owned and operated by Charles Dailey, chronicled Aspen’s happenings from 1900 to 1934. During a few of those years, the newspaper competed with The Aspen Times. Other years, it offered the sole printed version of the truth. Some years it came out daily, other years weekly.
Back then, Aspen’s newspapers openly proclaimed their political bias. Newspapers commonly survived dual ownership. One person owned the business with advertising income, and the other owned the editorial stance. The Aspen Times reflected views of its owner B. Clark Wheeler, a Republican, who advanced his political career in the Colorado State Legislature. Wheeler’s only departure from the party occurred in the 1890s when national Republicans did not support free coinage of silver.
Many readers viewed Wheeler as a spokesman for the town’s business interests rather than those of its workers. So Dailey’s decision to found and operate a Democratic-leaning paper made sense in Aspen, a union town.
Like most editors, Daily involved himself in all elements of the community. He held office in the Knights of Pythias, was elected exalted ruler of the Elks, and served as secretary of the Pitkin County Democratic Central Committee. Aspen residents elected him as city clerk and paid him to attend the council meetings that he reported for his paper.
When Charles Jr. reached working age, Dailey put him to work. The new masthead: “By Charles Dailey and Son.” To distinguish the men, locals called Dailey senior “Cap,” in reference to the captain rank he had earned in the military,
When Dailey started the Aspen Democrat in 1909, Wheeler sold The Aspen Times and pursued mining interests in Mexico and Nevada. When Wheeler returned, he bought back the paper in part because he had decided to launch a new campaign for the state legislature. Dailey said Wheeler came back to Aspen only because he needed to make money again. He claimed that Wheeler, if elected, would leave for Denver and never be seen in Aspen again. Actually, Wheeler had lost his fortune in Aspen and regained it in Mexico.
Complications ensued. Wheeler had sold a portion of his printing business, where the Times had been printed, to Dailey. Dailey used the same union printing office for his newspaper. Wheeler, who owned the majority of shares, took Daily to court over a payment dispute. They settled, and soon Wheeler sold the Times to Dailey. Hence the Aspen Democrat Times.
Under Wheeler as well as Dailey, the newspapers’ political stance manifested most strongly during elections. No one wondered which newspaper would endorse which candidates. Editorials derided opposing candidates with the most derogatory language.
Due to lack of money, Aspen had not held an election for many years. While Mayor Charles Wagner and the council reigned as an institution, Dailey pushed for an election. When voters replaced Wagner with Fred Willoughby, my grandfather, Dailey disapproved. Willoughby had played a major role in the local and state Republican party. Nonetheless, Dailey supported Willoughby on most issues.
The bankrupt city government struggled to survive, absent regularly scheduled elections. Whenever Dailey disagreed with city policy, he would remind the mayor and council of their intention to schedule a new election.
Dailey and son sold the newspaper that he often called “The Little Humdinger” in 1934 to Hugh Thompson, not a local. Although the Democrat dropped out of the name, The Aspen Times persisted.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at email@example.com.
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A technical glitch Monday that led to long waits for COVID-19 booster shots at a clinic at Buttermilk should be fixed in the near future, and any Pitkin County resident who wants a booster will get one.