Aspen Princess: Honoring Mary’s legacy
I learned at a party Saturday night of Mary Eshbaugh Hayes’ death. There were many longtime Aspenites gathered there, and so the word was out among whatever semblance of a community she was so proud of is left. We are still a small town in some ways, I guess.
I can’t help but feel this is the end of an era. Mary’s passing marks a moment in Aspen’s history when something old gives way to something new and change is inevitable; it is happening at such an alarming rate that it can be seen and felt on a daily basis. Instead of glass houses, downtown Aspen will soon be filled with glass boxes, at least if Mark Hunt gets his way. (Has anyone else noticed the irony of this guy’s name, like, phonetically?)
I always found Mary’s presence reassuring. She represented, at least to me, the character that makes Aspen special, that keeps it rooted in something real when every private jet that lands and takes off from here threatens to take it away. Who can bash on Aspen for being too pretentious when we have an 80-something woman pedaling around town on an old Schwinn in oversized glasses with a camera around her neck and a notepad in her pocket, documenting parties for her social column in the newspaper she’s been a part of for more than 60 years? She was at every event from the highbrow fundraisers to the community picnics. Her press pass gave her carte blanche on anywhere and everywhere she wanted to go — she didn’t need big money for that.
I was always surprised, and extremely flattered, whenever she turned her camera on me. I always felt like it should be the other way around.
From the time I landed this gig, she was always a huge supporter of my writing. Whenever I saw her, she’d grab me by the sleeve and pull me aside and shower me with praise for a recent column she’d read. I always found that super-reassuring, especially during those times I was more concerned about becoming too boring than being run out of town.
Once, we were both chosen to be photographed for a teen photography workshop at Anderson Ranch. The assignment was to document an Aspen local. I came up with the bright idea to have the kids photograph me in my shoe collection. I wanted the kids to shoot my feet, but somehow, my bare legs got into every photo.
We were invited to a slideshow presentation of the kids’ completed projects at Anderson Ranch, and I remember feeling so honored to be included with women like Mary and my dear friend Catherine Lutz, who was managing editor of the Aspen Daily News at the time. They worked as real journalists while I sort of dabbled in capitalizing on my own narcissism (if you can call the pittance I get paid capital). Anyway, the images of Mary were truly amazing. The kids captured her in her element, at home surrounded by piles and piles of old photographs, her big glasses perched on the end of her nose. There were shots of her iconic bicycle and her backyard, one of the most famous in Aspen.
The photos of me, by comparison, were horrifying. I sat, mouth agape, the shock of the parents in the room palpable: Why had their children photographed this stiletto-wearing hooker? But still: Being thrown, however arbitrarily, into the same category as Mary made me feel like I had arrived.
I was her next-door neighbor for my first year in Aspen, when the old priest’s house turned meth lab turned quasi-frat house was the only place I could find that would allow my psychotic dog. In fact, I lived there with eight dogs, but only four of the canine variety (and no, that joke will never get old). The house has since been torn down and replaced with an ugly brick monstrosity that takes up almost every square foot of the lot. I remember thinking Mary probably would have preferred our late-night parties and derelict activities to that big, empty house that looms over her little Victorian in its place.
The last time I spoke with her was last year at the Aspen Women to Women luncheon. It is the only one of these events I have ever attended because, frankly, I have always preferred the company of men. She looked so tiny, sitting at the head of a big table that had been set for 30 attendees in the Hotel Jerome library, her voice so small you had to lean in to hear her. But she had no trouble holding our attention with the story of her life. She told us about the tenacity it required for a woman to break into the newspaper business in the ’50s and how she traveled around Europe by bicycle and then fled west, all things that women simply didn’t do back then.
Someone asked her what her favorite event was, and she said she loved the community picnic they used to have every summer at the old Aspen Art Museum. She had some very strong feelings about the new art museum, but I won’t quote her on that.
After the luncheon, Mary invited me to come over to her house.
“You should have one of my photographs for your A-frame,” she said. I’m not sure what thrilled me more: the idea of having one of Mary’s photographs or the fact that she knows I live in an A-frame.
“Just call me at home anytime,” she said.
I never did call or stop by, something I will always regret. All I can do now is try my best to honor Mary’s legacy, telling the story of Aspen in a way I know she would have liked. So that, at least, can remain the same.
The Princess doesn’t understand why people aren’t making a bigger deal out of this. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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