Lum: Miss Berg’s house
There have been a couple of letters complaining about the restoration of Louise Berg’s house on the corner of East Hopkins Avenue and Spring Street — especially the paint job.
It is true that the restored version doesn’t look a bit like Miss Berg’s house and neither did Adam’s version that preceded it, which I liked a lot. One of the most striking aspects of the first two versions was the huge yard on the corner lot which has now, alas, been reduced (Aspenized) to a postage stamp with a big square commercial thing occupying the rest of the yard. I imagine the house will be sold as a real estate office.
I lived across the street from Miss Berg where Alpine Bank’s side parking lot sits today. I rented an unassuming old Victorian at 614 E. Hopkins Ave., painted, as were most houses, in what looked like old whitewash. It had a nice, fenced yard, a shed in back with the ubiquitous rhubarb patch. Rhubarb and wild roses were in almost every yard in Aspen.
The streets were unpaved, traffic was light to non-existent, we burned trash in a 55-gallon steel drum out back and could get two snowy TV channels out of Grand Junction.
Walking to the post office, which was where the Wienerstube used to be, which is where the Aspen Art Museum is going up (are we improving?), we’d often see Miss Berg — who must have been in her late 80s — puttering in her garden or going shopping at Tom’s Market or Beck & Bishop, our local grocery stores.
Everyone in town knew Miss Berg from her frequent interviews with George Madsen on KSNO, our only radio station (and brand new at that), then located in the old Aspen Times building which became the ad office until the newspaper moved to its dreadful new quarters.
George Madsen, who was co-editor of The Aspen Times Weekly with Bil Dunaway, did an hour-long daily interview program every morning, and Miss Berg was his most frequent guest.
She was born here during the mining days, had a prodigious memory, was very articulate and had many, many stories to tell. Madsen was a master at pulling these tales out of her, giving the whole town — everyone listened to the program — a genuine “I was there” sense of the history of Aspen.
These reel-to-reel tapes are somewhere in the archives of the Historical Society — some day, one hopes, to be transcribed into a book or, at the least, put on CDs.
I remember a major battle between Madsen and Dunaway when the word “Ms.” came into the lexicon, eliminating the married or non-married status of women. It was a pretty radical idea at the time — part of the women’s liberation movement, with Ms. Magazine as its spokeswoman.
Dunaway was all for it, but Madsen was horrified. “I can’t call her MIZ BERG,” he shouted. Miss Berg died soon after the altercation, and the subject was rendered moot. Ms. became standard usage in the Times.
I’m sure I have written about this because it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it’s my strongest memory of Miss Berg. I was in the post office with my daughter Hillery, then 3, when Miss Berg hobbled in with her cane, stopped to say hello and patted Hillery on the head, saying what an adorable child she was. Hillery reared back, looked straight up into her eyes and said, in a shattering voice, “You look just like an old witch!”
I, of course, wished the earth could swallow me. Miss Berg, sweetest lady in town. Old witch. Kill me now, Lord.
We did what we do — pretend it never happened.
She died in the house, she’s gone and the house is gone and now it’s a cute anonymous cottage minus the yard.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks the Gap building looks as if it had been plucked from Washington, D.C. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at email@example.com