The end of an era
For decades, Jim Blanning infected many Aspen residents with an annoying sense of guilt, while others simply found him a nuisance. He was apparently born to be a stubborn man, a re-creation of Aspen’s hard-rock mining tradition of the late 19th century. But some who know his story fear that he was, as claimed on the day he died, “basically a good man.”
I knew him only as a nodding acquaintance, and by rumor and as a fixture at the Red Onion and Jerome bars. He was often seen in the company of a creaky aging miner, a leftover from Aspen’s silver boom days. A few of these exotic souls still lived in Aspen on Social Security when I moved there in 1972. By the mid-1980s even their ghosts had disappeared.
Only Jim Blanning remained determined to carry out impractical dreams of re-opening long dormant but once government-sanctioned mining claims. Dozens of these land parcels still checkered the rugged slopes of Aspen valley. Ed Smart, perhaps the second last Aspen mining promoter and a former partner of John “Duke” Wayne, had wisely given up hopes of persuading Aspen to embrace mining, and gracefully left the scene.
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Contrary to all practical reason, Jim Blanning spent decades attempting to reclaim the preferential treatment that silver prospectors had enjoyed before World War II. The “New Aspen” financial powers were totally against him and possibly unfairly so.
Blanning grew up in Aspen before the success of organized skiing and deeply resented the subsequent sale of his town, piece by piece, to the sometimes ridiculous rich. Many Aspen residents who knew him felt sorrow or sympathy for his relentless and hopeless crusade that eventually drove him to extremes.
Jim Blanning’s suicide this week may eloquently proclaim the final death of a once authentic and unique frontier town, and mark the passing of those who fiercely believed in its history.
Charles S. Marsh
Santa Fe, N.M.
(Former 23-year Aspen resident)
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