Roger Marolt: Acting like the Aspen Idea wasn’t a slap in the face
First up is a mea culpa. My ancestors came to this beautiful part of the world and ended up with land once owned by Ute Indians. I don’t know what kind of deal was struck, so I won’t venture a guess. What is known is that, after they got hold of the land, they dug the dirt up and cut the trees down and hauled a little bit of silver ore out before eventually giving up and planting potatoes. They also decimated the wildlife population because, as we know, you can’t eat potatoes without some meat.
In fairness, my great grandfather owned a saloon, so he didn’t do much destroying of land himself. That said, however, he did serve up the tonics that gave rise to many brilliant ideas and dreams that led to much of Aspen’s early-day digging, cutting and shooting. Yes, the Marolts eventually found salvation in skiing, but we arrived here as some of the original greed heads.
I did not state this brief history as eloquently or accurately as Willoughby, Vagneur or Cooney would have, but my purpose is only to give a taste of self-incriminating reflection so that you won’t judge me as being judgmental in where I take you now.
I attended an event last week in which a talented actress from Oregon performed a monologue as the late Elizabeth Paepcke. In character, she talked about how her family ended up in Aspen and how they sponsored the Goethe Bicentennial celebration here in an educationally braggadocios way.
One interesting thing I learned was that the locally revered Aspen Idea actually had very little to do with Aspen other than that it was discussed here by a bunch of people who were visiting from other parts of the world. The intent was to isolate these visitors in a place with few distractions. They would learn about developing the mind, body and spirit here and then take their lofty ideals back to where they came from to implement there.
I think the popular notion today is that somehow this place, Aspen, imbued a rich abundance of healthy mind, body and spirit in the local population naturally and those who came for the high-minded summit wanted to mimic it. This was not the case, according to the character of Pussy Paepcke, as her friends called her.
According to her script, it didn’t sound like a whole lot of Aspenites were invited or cared to attend the Goethe Bicentennial events. According to the actress, the Paepckes hoped that they could show the backwoods Aspenites new and better ways to spend their free time. This is my paraphrase.
That comment gave me a glimpse of what the Native Americans must have felt like shortly after seeing the first white face on their land. The notion that my Aspen ancestors needed to be taught how to properly spend their free time struck me like a salad fork into a slice of pecan pie. Was the suggestion that they were ignorant, weak and spiritually deficient until the Chicagoans arrived?
I do not know if that sentiment was the interpretation of the actress or something the Paepckes actually expressed. What I do know is that the actress was awfully convincing; so much so that in the question and answer session after her act, members of the audience seemed to believe they were actually speaking with the ghost of Mrs. Paepcke.
“How do you feel about what has happened to Aspen?” someone asked.
“I’m heartbroken,” the faux Paepcke sighed.
Enough, I thought! The Paepcke imposter had gone too far. This lament was coming from the character who showed Aspen the sliding glass doors to commercial success. They used Aspen to stage a conference! They came and offered to paint locals’ houses for free, if they could choose the colors. Mr. Paepcke founded the original Aspen Skiing Corporation. They initiated the first remodel of the Hotel Jerome. For crying out loud, how does this phony Paepcke believe the pre-Goethe Bicentennial Aspenites felt about her coming to town and changing everything? Heartbroken indeed!
I don’t recall being so put off by an act. That is how good this woman was!
The applause snapped me out of my transfixation with this enigmatic performance. Reflection guided me toward a new realization. Every wave of change in our town comes with one part good intention, another of avarice, and an equal measure of vanity. Every instigator of change is judged with the reverence of those who come afterward against the scrutiny of those who were here before. As our town grows, the former outnumber the latter and local history judges mostly kindly.
Roger Marolt has been around long enough to remember when Boogie came to town and was compared to Darth Vader. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.