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Willoughby: Goose gossip

Tim Willoughby/Legends & Legacies
Midnight Mine camp showing the cookhouse in the 1920s. | Willoughby collection
willoughby-atd-071022

My father spent many days and nights in Queens Gulch at the Midnight Mine camp. He enjoyed its location, especially the abundance of wildlife. He passed on this memory.

It was late in October 1933. There had been a couple of light snowstorms that fall but the snow had melted. Father was outside, while most of the employees were either in the tunnel or working inside in the mill. Sensitive to even small changes in weather at that altitude, 9,500 feet, he could sense a major change in the air. The camp did not have a barometer, but he concluded, from experience, it was a change to lower air pressure.

Around 4 in the afternoon there was a loud noise overhead. A sizable flock of wild geese were flying fast and honking like they were excited about something. They were flying in formation heading east. Queens Gulch is narrow, so the view of them was short as they flew out of sight quickly. Father concluded a storm might be coming as most storms came from the southwest and the geese were flying away from its path.



Others who were outside and witnessed the geese chimed in agreeing that a storm was coming, and the storm grew larger to the point where they speculated on the camp being buried in snow.

The goose gossip went on and on until the evening meal. Good grub silenced the discussion for a while as they couldn’t swallow and talk goose at the same time. After dinner, Father phoned town to check barometer readings and was told it was reaching very low local levels. Father bunked with a Swedish miner named Carl in one of the camp’s cabins. Carl recalled that in the “old country” when geese honked like that, Swedes would stoke their fires with 10 times the usual firewood.




Father did not sleep well that night thinking about the goose omen. He remembered the winter of 1932 when the camp gulch was attacked by snowslides so bad that it closed the camp road for two weeks. Poles and telephone lines were also destroyed, a costly expense to repair in those Depression days. He fell asleep dreaming of deep deep snow.

He awoke the next morning to a colder day than the previous day, but the sky was clear. There had, however, been a snowstorm, but only 3 inches lay on the ground. There was no goose convention at the breakfast table.

Not only was there little snow that night, but little for the whole winter. There was so little the teamsters that hauled food and materials to the camp and ore out had difficulty with their sleds. In late March there was about 2 feet of snow measured in the camp. A normal winter would show about 6 feet or more. There was even less in town. Kobey’s clothing store was stuck at the end of the year with an overstock of overshoes.

We have NOAA and the National Weather Service to inform us today, but wouldn’t it be more fun to pay attention to goose omens?

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.

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