Ute Cemetery neglected no longer | AspenTimes.com

Ute Cemetery neglected no longer

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

“Gone But Not Forgotten” reads the inscription at the base of a grave marker that was returned to Aspen’s Ute Cemetery on Thursday.

Until recently, the inscription was a lie. The stone marked a grave that, much like the cemetery itself, had long been forgotten. Deteriorating gravestones, some toppled by vandals or decades of neglect, were disappearing beneath unchecked vegetation.

But Aspen’s oldest cemetery, founded in 1880, is no longer forgotten. The final touches of a yearlong restoration project will be finished by May 26, when Aspen will host the first Memorial Day observances to take place at the Ute Cemetery in many, many years.

Last year, volunteers helped clear trees from gravesites, in one case revealing a grave marker nailed to a tree that hadn’t been discovered during numerous prior inspections of the cemetery.

Stones have been righted, cleaned and repaired, and a new pathway winds around once inaccessible corners of the cemetery, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.

In all, some 210 burials in the cemetery have been documented through historical research, though only 78 graves are marked with headstones. About half of the stones were taken to Norman’s Memorials in Greeley, where broken pieces were carefully epoxied back together and the fissures sealed with a resinous filler.

Yesterday, the last handful of repaired gravestones were returned to their rightful places, marking the resting place of some of Aspen’s earliest settlers.

Although the stones were broken, most are in remarkable condition, according to Ron Cobb, vice president of Norman’s Memorials.

“Marble is not a very durable material, especially in Colorado’s climate. The interesting thing for me is how well preserved they are,” he said. “There are some we had to pick up and take that still had some of the polished finish on them. That’s unheard of.”

Headstones marking two rows of Civil War veterans’ graves, toppled or tilted before the work began, now stand in formation atop reclaimed sandstone bases that had disappeared into the ground.

Coping stones – small rocks laid around the perimeter of the graves – have been unearthed,

Today, two new markers will be placed at the cemetery entrance off Ute Avenue. One memorializes the veterans buried in the cemetery; the other lists the names of everyone else that historical records indicate is buried there.

“There are probably 40 or 45 people who we know are buried here, but we don’t know where,” said Ron Sladek, a Fort Collins-based consultant who researched the cemetery and helped oversee the restoration.

He can’t account for all of the graves. The identities of some of the people buried there will likely always be a mystery, Sladek said.

Also still to come is a new picket fence along the edge of the cemetery fronting Ute Avenue – a replica of one visible in a 1940s photograph, according to Amy Guthrie, Aspen’s historic preservation officer.

Memorial Day will bring a rededication of the cemetery, along with a ceremony led by local veterans and members of the Aspen Elks. Sladek will be on hand to offer historical insights gleaned from his research.

Flags and flowers will be provided, and visitors will be invited to place them on the graves, according to Guthrie.

The event is scheduled from 3 to 4 p.m.

It will not be the first time Aspenites have gathered at the Ute Cemetery to observe Memorial Day.

Before its long decline into obscurity, the Ute Cemetery was central to Aspen’s Memorial Day activities, or Decoration Day, as it was called in those days.

The May 31, 1885, Aspen Times reported a procession of people some 1,000 strong who marched to the cemetery for the observances, conducted by the Grand Army of the Republic, Winfield Scott Post No. 49.

A year later, the Times reported a crowd of about 3,000 on hand for the Decoration Day salute to fallen veterans. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic cleaned the cemetery before the ceremony, prompting a call by The Aspen Times to future generations of Aspenites, who “should see to it that hereafter the place is kept halfway respectable.”

They finally have.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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