In Memory of Mickey Shemin

Chris King/Special to The Aspen Times
Chris King/Special to The Aspen Times

Michael P. “Mickey” Shemin came to Aspen from New Jersey in 1969—when he was very young, and small-time operators could actually thrive here. He stayed into the late eighties. Mickey was indeed an operator. Like so many of us back then, he arrived eager to fend for himself. The first real Jewish commandment, he said, was “Thou shalt make a living.”

At first, Mickey made his living in local advertising. He was incurably inventive. In his room above Galena Street, at the long-gone Independence Lodge, he invented the Pict-O-Graph Company. For Aspen he concocted the famous multi-paneled sandwich board. The frame he built could hold some dozen or more signs at a time. The combination covered him front-and-back, and rose about nine feet as he walked among the throngs downtown on many an afternoon—a mobile gazette for The Walnut House, Tom Mix Clothing, The Steak Pit, and many others — too tall, too colorful for anyone to miss.

Yet he might catch your ear beforehand. Though burdened by signs he would blow jaunty tunes on his jumbo harmonica, deftly alternating bass and treble notes. This he would punctuate with blasts from an antique brass bladder-horn, and further embellish with the whistle of a plastic slide-flute. To hear the one-man concert rising from a block away, you could think the circus had come to town.

In 1974 the Pict-O-Graph Company published the very first “Aspen Picture Map,” and Mickey became notorious for suchlike advertising art in Colorado mountain towns and well beyond. They loved his map in Vail. His patrons in Estes Park would smile and ask me, “How is Mickey lately?” He was wined and dined in Breckenridge. He could chat away comfortably with bakers and jewelers in Ouray and Manitou Springs. Telluride too got a taste of his schmoozing. He made himself at home in Indian drum shops at Taos Pueblo. The maps were clearly his best idea.

Mickey was full of ideas, but might better have curbed his enthusiasms. He lived literally knee-deep in the past. He was fascinated with antique prints and coins. He read musty old books. He loved his vintage Chrysler woody; I doubt he ever drove any car made after 1955. Sadly, certain ventures in Aspen and Cripple Creek, while saturated in nostalgia, demanded more of him than they ever repaid. Mickey closed his antique store on Hopkins Avenue and left Aspen to pursue his living elsewhere.

After launching a few efforts back east, and living adventurously indeed, Mickey recently succumbed to cancer. This final trial he faced with typical aplomb. He died at 69, as they say, “with his boots on.” He leaves no children of his own. His sister Audrey preceded him in death. He is survived by brother Len, brother-in-law Charles, nephew Rob, and niece Mindy.

Mickey Shemin never cared to conform, much less impress people. But though often exasperating, he was gentle and easy to like. There was not a hateful bone in his body. He was restless, he was daring, but always warm at heart. He noticed stuff most people miss. He knew a lot of dopey jokes and obscure history. He befriended the marginalized, and found truth in odd places. While sharp enough to observe, “There’s a racket for every bracket,” he was no cynic. He looked for the best in others. He laughed at life, and consistently faced disappointment with good humor. Through thick and thin his hopes were always high. That reflex was a thing to admire. His spirit, dauntless and free, remains his most precious legacy.

May God rest the soul of my friend Mickey Shemin.