Straightening out Aspen history |

Straightening out Aspen history

Tony Vagneur

We are just coming down from Celebrate History Week in Aspen, during which there were a number of interesting activities around town, including a great evening of old films at the Wheeler. Most of the events were centered around the Wheeler/Stallard House, home to the Aspen Historical Society, and that’s how it should be.In the interest of historical accuracy, I’d like to bring to your attention that there’s an occasional blurb on Channel 16, the former Aspen Skiing Co. television station, that gives a quick glimpse of a portion of Aspen’s history. I haven’t seen all of these, I’m sure, but a couple of them are a bit inaccurate.The one I first noticed is about the old Koch Lumber Company, located on the corner of Garmisch and Cooper and now a city park. With all due respect to those who researched the snippet, Koch is not pronounced “cook” (as Channel 16 would have us believe), nor is it pronounced “cotch,” as it once was by a group of sixth or seventh graders (myself included) who proclaimed the deserted enterprise our fort back in the day.Our apparent mistake was to have fun over at the Koch Lumber Company’s abandoned buildings. This caught the eye of ever-vigilant neighbors who (apparently with little else to do), alerted the cops to us kids posing a danger to the neighborhood. They must have heard us laughing, or whatever (well, maybe we smoked cigarettes on occasion), and the local gendarmes began casting their investigative eyes our way with regularity, but always without luck. As fate would have it, someone in our “gang” dropped his wallet during one of their raids and we (or at least he), were (was) found out by name and things got a little ugly around the principal’s office for a while. Eventually, we all caved in to our transgressions and the matter was almost put to rest. As a fitting disciplinary action, we were gathered up a second time so that the remaining matriarch of the Koch family, Dorothy Koch Shaw, wife of Judge William Shaw, could give us a lecture about how her father had built up the lumber/mercantile business and how its physical remains were an intrinsic part of the Aspen history. I’m thinking that if Mrs. Shaw pronounced her maiden name as “co” (long o), then that’s probably how it should be pronounced today. If you go around the “dark side” to the Back of Bell, you’ll have to pass by Seibert’s, a short, forthright trail dropping off to your right. Said trail is named after Pete Seibert, a 10th Mountain Division veteran and one of the founders of Vail, who was also, at one time, a ski patrolman on Aspen Mountain. Now Pete and I, both being ski patrolmen, weren’t exactly friends as he was a generation older than I, and we served in different eras, but we spent enough time talking together for me to know that he pronounced his name “Sigh-bert,” not “See-bert.” This is another name that ought to be straightened out before it is permanently besmirched, but I don’t think Channel 16 is on top of this one, either. If you know where Paepcke Park is, then you’re familiar with the gazebo that sits in the middle of it. This gazebo used to be the fire tower up by the current fire house, over the Thrift Shop way, and it had a large bell in its tower. As kids, we rang the bell really good one time, but whoever had placed the noon whistle in the same location disabled the bell, making sure we couldn’t do it again.This tower was a good place to hang out, but we got chased out of there enough times by cranky adults that we finally gave it up. Sometime in the early sixties (not the thirties – c’mon guys), the then existing powers moved the fire tower down to City Park (now Paepcke Park) and it became a gazebo. Weird.Now, let’s see, that bell must be stashed over by the Thrift Shop. If we only had a little rope . . . Tony Vagneur, whose column appears here on Saturdays, thinks the bell must be in the key of C. E-mail him at

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