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People make up our rich history

Sometime ago, a columnist at this newspaper handed me a packet containing portions of a family history going back to the 1700s. It wasn’t because she was trying to impress me with the “blueness” of her heritage, but rather, there was a possibility that the ancestors involved may be common to both of us.

Her father, who put it all together, was an excellent writer and researcher, and the information contained therein is presented in a straightforward, professional manner. Once the pages are cracked open, one cannot help but become engrossed in the development of this family over the generations, and there is a curiosity to see how various family members made out, given their birth order and gender in the line of descent. I suppose what is most interesting is that it doesn’t really matter if these were my relatives ” it just makes good reading.

Such narratives are man’s credible time machines, giving us a glimpse into lives we sometimes think were so much different from ours, but in practice, weren’t. We can say, with 21st century arrogance, that such old-time existences were certainly mundane compared to ours, and in our ignorance, completely discount a certain richness and tranquility found back then, a depth of human experience that seems, with common regularity, to be marginalized by the frenetic pace of today’s world.



Aspen’s history is about 130 years old, but some of its pioneers are still palpable to my touch. There are warm memories of being 3 or 4 years old and visiting a nice old lady on Main Street, a woman who lived alone in a nifty, one-room log cabin, now part of the Christiania complex. Her nickname was Lollie and my enthusiastic wails of, “Let’s go visit Lollie,” still are fresh in my memory. Every time the Aspen Historical Society presents History 101 at the Wheeler Opera House, I think of Lollie, as she was the one and the same Ella Stallard, as played so ably by either Wendy Perkins or Jeanne Walla. I can only think of how much more content Lollie must have been in her last years, holed up in that snug log chateau, no longer worried about how impossible it was to heat the large Stallard House on West Bleeker.

Or there was my great-uncle Tom Stapleton, brother of the first white boy born in Aspen, who was a rancher and miner throughout his life, and a man who saw no need to travel any farther away from home than the top of Aspen Mountain or Snowmass Lake. Oh, he went to Denver a few times and once took a whirlwind trip to the West Coast, but his life was in these mountains and he knew the terrain as well as the next guy. He could tell you more about the underground tangle of mining tunnels around here than almost anyone, but you’d have to catch him on a stool at the Red Onion or the Ski N’ Spur to glean the information from his conversations with beer drinking buddies. There’d be a row of them, bib overalls all ” Harry Holmes, Auget Ericksen, Bill Herron, Hod Nicholson ” old boys with the deepest roots, who, like most of Aspen’s original pioneers, would rather not say much. Too many questions from people who didn’t fit in, was their take on it.




We all have a lineage somewhere, and whether we think it’s important, we should remember that someday it will have significance to someone. Those possible ancestors from long ago, who settled in Virginia and were leading professionals of the day, might be surprised to see that one of their descendants is a cowboy and a ski bum, but I don’t think that is nearly as interesting as it is to learn how their lives developed over the years, up to and including the schooling of then-future-president Andrew Johnson, as a tailor.


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