No cannon-fire wakeup call this Fourth of July | AspenTimes.com
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No cannon-fire wakeup call this Fourth of July

John Colson

An Aspen tradition has apparently come to an end with the decision by a group of longtime, self-styled “rebels” to discontinue their annual cannon blast at 6 a.m. on the Fourth of July.

One member of the group, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, confirmed on Tuesday that the four-barrel, black powder cannon at the Smuggler Mine will be silent on Sunday, in response to a barrage of complaints and threats of legal action in years past.

Somewhat bitter over the decision, the informant remarked, “Let’s just say Aspen isn’t Aspen anymore.”

He said the complaints have been mounting in recent years over the cannon blast, which has traditionally awakened the entire town at 6 a.m. on the morning of the Fourth of July.

The tradition began in 1976, in celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, and has continued ever since, with occasional breaks.

“We started it to bring back a tradition to Aspen,” said the man, who is one of a group that has been dubbed everything from the Spirit of Aspen to The Lost Boys by local wags.

He said back in Aspen’s mining days, various mine supervisors would blow off a 10-pound keg of powder at dawn to celebrate Independence Day.

“You can imagine what that sounded like,” he said. “This valley just rolled.”

The late Stefan Albouy, an Aspen native who wanted to renew Aspen’s historic connection to the mining industry, decided to revive the tradition of the powder blast. Accordng to the informant, “It was just one of those rebel deals. For quite a few years there, it was just commonplace. Everybody knew that on the morning of the Fourth, everybody was going to get rocked out of bed. Nowadays, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to be rocked out of bed.”

Later in the day, he continued, some of the perpetrators would go into the Wienerstube restaurant and be greeted by cheers from the “joiners’ table” filled with longtime locals.

Last year, he admitted getting “a little overzealous” and firing off numerous blasts. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department sent some officers to the mine after receiving numerous complaints.

“They literally came up here and said, `If we get any more, we’re going to have to arrest you,’ ” he recalled. “Last year, we pissed off so many people, it was unbelievable.”

He said Albouy had at one point, prior to his death five years ago, wanted to call off the annual cannon blast anyway, because he was growing tired of the abuse he was getting from complainants. Other members of the crew, unaware of the hassles Albouy went through in the form of complaints and threats, talked him into continuing the tradition.

“Now, I know where he was coming from,” said the informant, explaining that last year, the sheriff’s department fielded everything from complaints about the noise to threats of civil legal action.

Part of the reason he is calling a halt, he said, is because the complaints are becoming a problem for his friends in law enforcement.

“I don’t need to create that kind of hassle in their life,” he said. “They’re my friends … I don’t want to do that to friends.” He also said he wants to prevent dragging his family into the battle, predicting that sooner or later he would begin getting calls at home.

He said he is thinking about making the cannon blast a “sanctioned” part of the holiday festivities, which would include getting permits from Aspen and Pitkin County, but doubted it would happen this year.

At the sheriff’s department, one staffer said she has already received calls from people worried about the blast, adding, “some people even complain about the fireworks. They don’t like the noise, they don’t like to be disturbed. Some people just complain about everything.”

The source who confirmed that the cannon is falling silent lamented the transformation of Aspen from a town that enjoyed such shenanigans by “the local riffraff,” characterizing the blast as “something that was raucous and full of fun.”

Critical of the change in attitudes that have had a dampening effect on such local events as Winterskl and now the traditional cannon blast, he said, “They’ve got it tamed down so much, nobody wants to go anymore.”


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