Willoughby: Aspen tidbits and trivia from combing the archives
Often when I am researching the old Aspen Times for my column, I discover interesting items I was not looking for. They catch my eye and my interest, but they do not provide enough for a whole column. I decided to collect them and combine them into a column along with a photo that I enjoy but unrelated to any larger topic.
The 1962 headline reported, “Sheep on highway, slippery pavement cause accidents.” The highway was 82 and the location near Shale Bluffs. A driver, at night, was heading to Aspen with low headlight beams. You might think this involved snow, but it was in July. The driver suddenly found himself in a herd of sheep and with the road slippery, he plowed into and killed a dozen sheep. The investigation discovered that dogs had herded them onto the highway. It did not report on what made the road slippery.
In 1903, if there was a fire there was no 911, but there was a way to notify the fire department. Aspen had 10 alarm boxes at street intersections like Third and Francis and Galena and Cooper. You pushed a button “in quick succession” followed by tapping in the box number.
My father passed along a fun mining character story. He was working in the Little Annie tunnel as a teen tramming loads of waste rock. He and his partner Johnny Taylor noticed an ore car used by Oscar McKinnon, who was working on a different contract with John Atkinson to explore an area of the mine, that was derailed at the entrance to the tunnel. Johnny, who followed his father’s weightlifting footsteps, said, “I’ll put it on the tracks for you Oscar, if you wish.”
McKinnon replied, “If anyone in this basin can lift the front end of this car, it’s myself.” McKinnon was a tough but older character who had gone to the Yukon with Atkinson. Oscar grasped the end of the car and his neck was bulging as he lifted. Father noticed he was lifting the car, but also the tracks. The wheels somehow had gotten under the rails. A mine car full of ore would weigh over a ton — it was not ore, just waste rock — but it would still have been a phenomenal lift even without lifting the tracks, too.
In 1889 a man was tried for the crime of selling whiskey to an 8-year-old girl. Aspen and the state made selling liquor to minors a crime for some time, but this was the first time someone was arrested for it. The girl and her sister were sent to the Lone Star Saloon by their father to get whiskey. He instructed them to tell the bartender he would be in later to pay for it. This was not an unusual request, but a month before the marshal made the rounds informing saloons that even with a written note, they were not to sell to minors. The bartender was acquitted because he was not the proprietor.
The Elks Club sponsored a fun event in the summer of 1950. They held it at Difficult Creek Campground and 100 people showed up. When you arrived you drew a part of a picture out of a box and then looked for the person who had the other half, pairing you up for the afternoon. The first activity was a wheelbarrow race with gentlemen being the barrow and the ladies pushers; it was only 50 feet to the finish line.
An egg toss was next followed by a version of musical chairs. They created a circle of stakes in the ground and instead of removing a chair, they pulled a stake. The music was provided by Bernie Popish on his accordion. At dinner time they gathered around a “huge” fire to eat a half chicken, potato salad, a green salad and watermelon. Following dinner, they all headed back to the Elks Lodge in town to see Tom Sardy’s home movies of the F.IS. races from the previous winter, and enjoy square dancing.
The adage that times never change seems true with this example. Today Amazon is the threat to retail businesses. In 1912, mail-order houses were the threat. The Aspen Democrat-Times speculated that mail-order companies were going to merge, resulting in a business even larger than the corporate giant of the time, U.S. Steel. The paper said it would “dictate prices businesses pay for material and labor.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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