Mulcahy: Sandwich-board lady an Aspen icon |

Mulcahy: Sandwich-board lady an Aspen icon

Lee Mulcahy
Guest Commentary
Lee Mulcahy
Aubree Dallas |

Over four decades ago, when Aspen was on the verge of re-inventing itself again, downtown consisted of small, one-of-a-kind shops — shops owned by people who were part of the fabric of the community and supplied the needs of the diverse and eccentric citizenry, as well as visitors. 

Back in 1978, tourists might have first encountered a friendly lady in a cowboy hat carrying signs draped to her front and back. Inspired by another era, it was Pat Milligan, “the sandwich-board lady” — a last vestige of Aspen’s mythical old guard: Milligan enjoys the life of a walking advertisement (The Aspen Times, Dec. 19, 2002).

Pat arrived in town in 1978 and is still here, still walking the streets and still enjoying the mountains and community she has adored for so long. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Santa Barbara and, for over a decade, in England, Spain, and Switzerland.

Artist Michael Cleverly wrote years ago that she is “an island in the stream, and progress has swirled around her and continued on, changing the town for good or ill, with little regard for what came before.”  

Pat stated: “At one point, I realized I was addicted to the mountains, so I just stopped trying to fight it.’”

Her career started almost accidentally. “The Little Kitchen was a macrobiotic restaurant where Su Casa is currently located,” she said. “I loved to eat there.” Since things were tight that first winter, Pat had to learn how to eat on no budget. “I talked them into letting me carry a sandwich board around for $300 a month, plus food.” God spoke to her, and she realized that the road to inner peace was through self-employment. The subsequent year, her clients jumped exponentially to six, and she was in business.

Now 82, she explained that she raised her rates only three times in her first three decades. Business changed in all that time. During one hectic period, she had 20 clients and would work ’til 9 p.m. The evolution of downtown Aspen has her working just a few hours a day now. Over the years, she saved lots of her signs that she’s carried. She had two artistic shows at the Pitkin County Bank and Trust across from Little Annie’s.

As the town changed, Pat’s first banning was covered on the front page at Aspen Daily News: Sandwich board lady survives mini skirmish with Skico (Aspen Daily News, Sept. 27, 2012; updated Dec. 18, 2017).

When Skico told her that she was banned again from Gondola Plaza, Aspen’s town square, by the Little Nell, she wrote local media (The Aspen Times, “Kicked to the curb,” March 14, 2022).

In addition, Pat spent her hard earned money and FedEx’d Skico’s CEO, hoping to avert the banishment like the prior skirmish. Sadly, she did not receive an answer, and her banning has not been covered by local media.  

Billionaire Paula Crown in a press release stated this week:  “As an accomplished artist and entrepreneur, Crown oversees The Aspen Skiing Company and runs Aspen’s The Little Nell Hotel as a co-owner and shareholder to both these Crown family businesses. In all her endeavors, Crown incorporates art and design. … With an established successful atelier, Paula is committed to tying her artistic practice to concrete social change. Crown continually asks viewers to pause and question their own responsibilities when considering what businesses and practices to promote.”   

Artist Michael Cleverly warns us “While Aspen continues to dazzle the world and be a magnet for the rich and famous who appreciate the new and unique, as well as the timeless beauty of the mountains, there are many things worth remembering and saving.” 

Pat Milligan is one.

Lee Mulcahy is a Basalt resident.