Willoughby: Easter eggcentricities in Aspen
Legends & Legacies
Aspen’s residents had likely heard stories about the annual White House Easter egg roll. Yet during the mining era they failed to pick up on that growing American tradition. Dolly Madison had introduced the event years before, in 1814. And pioneers who founded Aspen in 1879 may have read that the event moved to the White House lawn that year, compliments of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Despite temptations to join the fun, Aspen’s event planners encountered a recurring Eastertime obstacle: snow.
Egg decorating, an indoor activity, thrived during the 1880s. Dyed eggs weren’t new, and decorated eggs predated the first Easter as a ritual for celebrating spring. But Wells Richardson and Co. of Burlington, Vermont, streamlined the practice when they patented, manufactured and promulgated Easter Diamond Dyes. Stores displayed printed cards from the company that cast ordinary chicken eggs in stylish, spring-like hues.
Reese and Mitchell, a pharmacy on Cooper Avenue, carried seasonal supplies. As Easter approached, they brought out the dye kits. Each packet included four colors that would tint —in a stretch — four dozen eggs, enough for a party.
Church choirs performed every Sunday. But after a winter of bundling up in a somber spectrum, singers flocked to sales of pastel Easter clothing. Not every item had to be new. Fresh shoes and hatpins could brighten an older cousin’s hand-me-down outfit. Ladies wore gloves, and new ones etched a memorable first impression.
Boutiques that line the downtown blocks of contemporary Aspen offer almost every accessory. Yet the streets of 1890 offered one additional and rare enticement, a millinery store. You could not celebrate Easter properly without a spruced-up hat or bonnet. Hat fashions seldom recycled, and 1890 favored straw hats in black, gray and white with touches of emerald green, olive and lavender.
The millinery shop fit inside another store — Staats, Hunt & Co. — on Hyman Avenue across the street from the Wheeler. The name alone conveys panache, Madame Schohn’s Millinery. The shop brought Schohn from Brooklyn and her reputation grew as “not only an artist of the highest order, but … an agreeable and affable lady, painstaking to the last degree in serving all her lady patrons.” Schohn sold opera hats and children’s hats for Decoration Day. She anticipated each season as an excuse to buy a new hat.
In 1891, Schohn persuaded hair stylist Mrs. Torrence from Chicago to join her. Together they instructed ladies on the latest “approved” fashion choices and inveigled their customers to step out with the latest hairstyle for Easter.
So ladies, do you yearn for the days of Schohn and Torrence? Tip your colorist and stylist for a flattering bob, slip on a colorful frock, don a wide-brimmed hat and totter to church wearing “sick” new stilettos, children in tow. After the service, unroll AstroTurf over a snowy slope. Then cheer your offspring as they wield long-handled spoons and guide their eggs over the finish line. Madame Schohn would feel delighted to see you carry on the “finer” American traditions.
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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