Aspen Princess: The spirit of Aspen is not hard to find

Alison Berkley Margo
Aspen Princess

Every year, I get to be reminded of why I fell in love with Aspen.

That’s why the work I do for the Aspen Hall of Fame with my buddy Chris MacDonald at Fuse Media is one of my favorite projects. He puts together a video for at least one of the inductees and I do all of the interviews. It always surprises me how much meeting these people and hearing their stories moves me.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why we love it here. Especially this time of year, when town is busy with tourists bumbling around, the traffic is horrendous and going to City Market is like some kind of demented video game where the goal is to retain your sanity while navigating a full shopping cart through narrow aisles filled with giant, waddling ducks.

But when you talk to people who have been here a long time — before the roads were paved, before there were traffic lights, monster homes and luxury SUVs, the people who raised their children here and are now seeing their grandchildren grow up here — it’s a great way to gain some much-needed perspective.

It’s also really important to document their stories.

At a time when technology makes the moment so fleeting, when our minds are cluttered with social media newsfeeds, it’s more important than ever that we carefully, properly and respectfully preserve and protect our past.

One of the things I have always loved about Aspen is its gritty history. I can totally imagine what it was like when the Hotel Jerome was filled with miners and prostitutes instead of silver foxes and their surgically enhanced wives (which is kind of the same thing, in a way). I know the glitz and the glam took hold here a long time ago, and there is part of me that loves that, too. But what really fascinates me is what Aspen must have been like in the ’60s, when it was still just a small town deep in the mountains.

This year we worked on the video for John and Cynthia Callahan, a couple way ahead of their time in terms of possessing a fearless thirst for travel, adventure and athleticism.

Cynthia, who died in 2005, was an artist who had traveled on her own as a young woman to Mexico and Hawaii, a long way from the dairy farm where she grew up in Beloit, Wisconsin — especially at a time when most women probably didn’t travel too far past the kitchen. She met John, an Irish boxer from Brooklyn, on a ski trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1959, and married him soon after. They first lived in Los Angeles and had two sons, then moved the family to Aspen in 1965 where she later gave birth to two daughters. I’m really sorry I never got a chance to meet Cynthia — she sounds like my kind of girl.

But here’s the part that really got me, especially as a new mom.

First I should tell you that John’s younger son, Pat Callahan, had just returned from a little trip, oh, riding his bike across South America. I guess it’s not a big deal for a guy who once rode his bike from Alaska to Aspen. The Callahan’s older son John is the nut who was brave (or crazy) enough to partner with the Marolt boys on some of their high-altitude skiing expeditions around the world, including Everest. Before that, he was an Olympic Nordic skier and now he’s a coach. The Callahans’ oldest daughter, Annie-Marie, was there, too. She clearly got the brains of the family because instead of gallivanting around on these crazy adventures like her brothers, she’s a lawyer. (Their youngest daughter, Nancy, lives in Maryland and was not in town for the interviews.)

So here’s the part of the story I love, or at least part of it: When the boys were young, Cynthia would drop them off at the Hunter Creek trailhead — for the weekend. They would go off on their own into the wilderness and go camping. They laugh about it now, saying they were so worried about not having enough food that they would catch like, 50 fish.

Their dad took them on a bike trip to Baja when they were young teens. I’m not talking about flying down to Cabo and cruising around on bikes. I’m talking about riding their bikes down the entire Baja peninsula, like from Tijuana to the tip of Cabo. The boys think they might have even been one of the first to do it, because it was the first summer after they paved the road. We’re talking about a serious distance in a crazy remote area. As the mother of a boy, I wondered, how could Cynthia let them go on a trip like that? In today’s world of helicopter parenting, it’s unfathomable.

As a mother of a boy, I think she was brave.

John Sr. was a serious cyclist well into his later life and also loved riding motorcycles long distances. He only recently stopped, maybe a few years ago. Our interview with him was very emotional, bringing up all those memories from his past, especially of his late wife, his love. He got choked up when he talked about her, his blue eyes bright and glittering with tears.

It’s hard to fathom parents giving their kids that kind of freedom, and it is a different world today than it was then. But look at how these Callahan kids turned out: They’re accomplished athletes, parents, coaches, professionals and leaders in their communities.

And now they have children of their own who will grow up in Aspen and be exposed to the same thing that fueled their own spirt and the spirit of their parents. That’s what I love so much, and it’s what attracted me here. That is the spirit of Aspen.

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