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Willoughby: Comparisons of 50 and 100 years ago

Tim Willoughby: Legends and Legacies
The Park Tram built in 1922 showing the bottom terminal, tall first tower, and the cut through the trees on its path to the top of the ridge on Aspen Mountain.
Willoughby Collection

Silver garnered 99 cents an ounce in 1922 ($14.35 in today’s dollars), a level helped by World War I. That price spirited major activity in Aspen. The Midnight Mine, a few thousand feet along with its tunnel, hit an unexpected ore body. Further up Castle Creek, the Hope Mine was expanding.

The Smuggler Mine, which had been closed for four years, reopened in the spring employing 29 men. Billy Graves and the Popish brothers, who had taken out a lease of the #1 tunnel, struck a 17-foot vein running 30 ounces of silver in a ton and producing a railroad car a day in ore. The D and R G began shipping three rail cars of ore a day from Aspen just from the Smuggler.

The most important mining news in 1922 was the completion of a new mine tram, connecting the Park Tunnel at the top of the ridge on the west side of Aspen Mountain to a location along the railroad line at the end of Mill Street. The cable arrived in January weighing five tons and was hauled to the tunnel portal using a dozen horses. It took 10 hours to cajole it up the mountain. The towers were completed in February and by March it was in operation.



The Park Tunnel went below Tourtolotte Park at a level low enough to explore new ore areas and at the same time drain workings above so they could be explored again. In February the tunnel discovered a four-foot-wide vein assaying 50 ounces silver/ton, almost double what most mines in Aspen were producing at that time.

Basketball was popular in 1922. Road trips were slightly different then since visiting teams arrived by train. On one road trip Aspen played Grand Junction, Fruita, and Palisade.




The Aspen Times was a daily paper then, but only four pages.

Movies at the Isis cost 15 cents or 30 cents ( $2.27, $4.34 in todays’ s dollars). Lon Cheney in “The Night Rose” and  Gloria Swanson in “Her Husband’s Trademark” are two examples of popular movies.

Aspen, like the rest of the nation, was adjusting to Prohibition. The government released statistics for the first year, those in favor cheered. Arrests for drunkenness were down 60%. One million gallons of liquor had been seized. There were 30,000 criminal prosecutions with 20,000 convictions.

Fifty years ago, 1972, Aspen was celebrating a tram about the same length as the Park tram, but it was a chairlift, the new #1A. Locals were complaining about the increase in ticket prices with the daily rate raised to $9 ( $52.63 in today’s dollars). The transition to the new #1 had a sad note because Clark Ilgen, who had been the ticket seller and lift operator for #1 since the beginning, died.

Aspen Highlands also invested in its infrastructure opening a new version of the Exhibition lift. It split the long lift into two lifts and increased the capacity to 150 skiers and hour.

The Smuggler Mine area, like in 1922, was in the news, but not for silver. The Smuggler Racquet Club was being built on the old site. The town celebrated another new structure, one for the Given Institute of Pathology that had not had its own building. The three-day opening ceremony featured six Nobel Prize laurites.

The Aspen Times was a weekly with 38 pages at the height of the season.

The Aspen Skiers had a successful 1972 basketball season. In January they were in third place having beat Craig 50-46 and Meeker 62-46. 

The ticket price at the Isis was $2 ($5.85 in today’s dollars). The blockbuster for the year, Marlon Brando in “The Godfather.”

The contentious topic of the year focused on Colorado hosting the 1976 Olympics. It had already been awarded the Olympics, but there was a ballot initiative to reject it. The Aspen Chamber of Commerce board sent an application to the Denver Olympic Committee for Aspen to host alpine events. Immediately, members of the chamber, but not on the board, objected. Petition gatherers encouraged locals to sign their petition against Colorado hosting the Olympics.

The Aspen Times took a strong stand against Aspen hosting ending with the following, echoing local sentiment, “Aspen may grow faster if it holds the Olympic races, it certainly will grow bigger. But it won’t get better nor will its image improve.”  The Olympic Committee replaced Colorado with Innsbruck as host for 1976.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.