Keeping alive the legacy of Mary Hayes |

Keeping alive the legacy of Mary Hayes

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Last Sunday, Sept. 27, was a magnificent day — splendid weather, the best of company and besides all that, it was my birthday. My brother was exactly five years younger than me, having been born on the same day of September, and our father was born on the 29th of the same month. Also born on the 27th day of September was Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, ubiquitous Aspen Times writer and photographer for more than 50 years. It was a shared birthday that always made me smile.

Ah, sweet Mary, indubitably the most significant historian to grace this unique place, at least since 1879. She photographed what she saw — many times the people she knew, including her children — but also the many forms of Aspen that caught her eye as the town metamorphosed from quiet, innocent beauty into the fast-paced show palace of decadent infectivity that it tries so hard to be today.

Whether lining people up for a shot in her familiar and well-known column, “Around Aspen,” or telling the story of many of Aspen’s inimitable and cherished characters with photojournalistic flair, Mary’s pace was without variation, imperceptibly determined, unfazed by extraneous shenanigans and without fault, always true to her vision. Her huge, round glasses had trademark qualities and gave her a panache that said, “Welcome to my world, but don’t bother me with nonsense.” If a cynical and jaded curmudgeon such as me can have one, then Mary was my hero.

She gave freely of her talent, unafraid to tackle any subject and always presented her artistic photographs and stories with an unstudied humanity that can’t be learned; a genius that must come from the soul.

With Mary’s death, her final gift to the community was unveiled — a collection of some 65,000 photographs taken of Aspen and its people, many of those photos never before seen by the general public. As a past president and lifetime trustee of the Aspen Historical Society, Mary bequeathed her entire anthology to the society, secure in the knowledge that it is the proper and most respected local repository of such historically important items. Ironically, the society also is keeper of all The Aspen Times editions going back to 1881.

As part of its capital campaign to remodel the Carriage House and its archival facility, the Aspen Historical Society wishes to commemorate Mary by naming its collections and archival storage area after her. Just as Mary posted her photos in the paper week after week, so now her photos will be available to the entire community and for anyone who wishes to see them online or at the Aspen Historical Society Carriage House.

Unlike most capital campaigns, the naming opportunity for the Mary Eshbaugh Hayes Archival Vault is available to the entire community rather than just one large benefactor. An anonymous donor will match your gift dollar for dollar, so your giving capability is double your vision. Any gifts of more than $1,000 designated toward the MEH archives will be listed on a plaque inside the facility as “Friends of Mary Eshbaugh Hayes.”

Margaret Wilson Reckling, noted writer, photographer and long-time Aspen Historical Society board member, has kicked off the MEH memorial campaign by specifying that a majority of her six-figure gift to the capital campaign will ensure that the foyer leading to the MEH archival vault also will bear Mary’s name.

Additionally, the children of Mary Eshbaugh Hayes also have joined the cause with a very generous leadership contribution.

Look at it any way you want, but perhaps now is the time to support Mary, who for 60 years supported the Aspen community in ways that very few of us could ever duplicate. Mary’s contributions have always been to the good of this village — it seems only fitting and proper that those of us who have benefited from Mary’s talent should give back to Mary, if nothing else, as members of the community she loved so much.

Tony Vagneur is a past president of the Aspen Historical Society board and writes here on Saturdays. He welcomes your comments at


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