I played the tuba in a few Aspen bands in the seventies, including HEIDI AND THE BARVARIAN BUSHMEN, ALBERT FLOSSMAN'S BAVARIAN BAND, and the DIRTY OLD MEN JAZZ BAND. Those were great years, teaching skiing and playing polkas and dixieland and dance tunes.
But my time with Aspen's famous Dirty Old Men is a story I share often with my musician friends here in Wisconsin: Aspen Ski School supervisor, Bob Knight, invited me in December of '68 to bring my tuba to the next rehearsal of the DOM at Cliff Brelsford's house. Upon arrival, I met Cliff, Dr Baxter, Dr Whitcomb, Bill McEachern, and an old fellow whose name I don't recall - the owner of Aspen Construction.
Each such Wednesday evening rehearsal began in Cliff's living roof with about forty five minutes of whiskey and talk. That's about how long it took to solve the world's problems and loosen up our musical instincts. Then down to the basement to gather around the piano and play some jazz. Great guys, I mean I really enjoyed these fellows, but the music - well, it was a little rough. As Ulfar would say, rrrather RRRRustic.(roll the r's)
I took the bandleader, Bill McEachern (director of the Aspen High School band), aside after a couple of Wednesday nights and hinted at my concern for the quality of the music. "You see", he said, "I'm rather a pro on the piano, so I play the tenor sax - to fit in with this band. And Bob Knight is a professional trombonist, so he attempts the piano with this band. Now you, Jerry, is there some other instrument you might play?" "I've always wanted to play the trombone...." I said, "I think you get the message," said Bill.
One year in the early seventies, I learned a tough lesson while we were playing for the Annual Hospital Benefit. I think it was at the Aspen Inn. Besides gaining trombone experience, I was using my DOM time to sharpen my vocal presentation in front of people. After delivering a (pretty good, I thought) rendition of Pennies From Heaven, I was somewhat hurt by some very lukewarm applause, but attributed it to the chatty atmosphere in the room - they were too busy having a good time.
A few songs later, Dr Whitcomb had the microphone for his favorite: Talk Of The Town. - The last line of which is "Everybody knows you've left me, its the Talk Of The Town." Now, from the moment he starts croaking it out, the audience is on their feet, clapping and screaming, it was like Frank Sinatra and his "bobbysoxers". Now this was less than ten minutes after I had just poured my heart out with Pennies From Heaven, and my ego was slipping lower by the minute. This ate away at me the rest of the night, till as we were packing up to go, I mentioned my discomfort to Jay Baxter. The good Doctor saved my ego and my ulcer with these kind words: "Look, Jerry, You didn't have a chance. You see, that other singer delivered about half the people in the audience, and delivered the babies of the other half!"
I could go on, but........
RED ONION TALES
My family moved to Aspen in 1956, when I was nine, and the Red Onion soon became the hub of many of our family activities. My mother, Rose Crumpacker, worked as the "one woman chamber of commerce" in a tiny cinderblock building next door to the Isis Theater, and every Friday night we had a week's end ritual of dining at the Onion. I can well remember the delicious salads, dressed with Werner Kuster's oil and vinegar dressing, that accompanied our steak and baked potato dinners. Werner would greet us and seat us in the dining room, far from the commotion of the bar.
My older siblings, three of whom were in college, preferred "Beer Gulch", and usually went there directly apres ski. Often, during summer or college breaks, they would never make it home for dinner, worrying my mother.
Everyone loved the nightclub, which featured smoky-voiced singers and jazz combos, on weekends - even I was allowed to enter and sit at one of the small tables, drinking cokes and feeling quite sophisticated.
My great grand uncle, Thomas Latta, had built the Onion in the 1880's, and a tile with his name still presumably graces the entry to the bar. The building also sports the Latta name on the very top. My sister Marguerite Maddalone's middle name is Latta...the Latta family was from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and my grandmother, Rose Latta Turner, was born there and lived there until she moved to Indiana to marry my grandfather. The Latta family was very, very proper - my mother remembered having to present her calling card to a butler with a silver tray, when she traveled to Pennsylvania, at age twelve, to visit her grandmother. Thomas Latta was the uncle, and the black sheep of the family. He came out west, searching for his fortune, and ended up building and running the Red Onion as a dance hall, bar, and brothel.
When I was eleven or twelve, we had a little gang of kids who liked to get into a bit of trouble during our lunch hour from school. Several of our parents had charge accounts at the Delice Bakery, so after grabbing a sandwich or pastry, we would adjourn to eat our lunches on either the fire escape of the Wheeler Opera House, or the fire escape of the rooming house for the Red Onion employees, across the alley from the Onion, in the building that became the Paragon. It was on the latter fire escape that we all witnessed sex for the first time....as we furtively peered in a curtained window of one of the rooms...I think it was the hostess of the Onion, as we all recognized her.
Several years later, there was a terrible knife fight between two Swiss or Austrian Red Onion chefs, beginning in the kitchen and ending in the alley, at night, when we were having a Friday night dinner. The police were called, and both chefs were taken to the hospital. Not too long after that, Werner Kuster sold the Onion. His wife, Rosemarie, moved to Santa Fe and owned the Palace Restauraunt there for many years.
The Red Onion always stayed a little tied to it's wild west roots. My brother Tom, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan law school, brother-in-law Danny Maddalone, an Aspen ski patrol, and cousin Bob Brown, captain of the U. of Michigan football team, were involved, one spring break, in an awful brawl that began in the nightclub. The brawl moved out onto Cooper Street, and they were all dragged by a car down to Pinnochio's.
"Beer Gulch", with its horseshoe-shaped table and bench at the front window, was home to the Aspen ski patrol and packing crew for many years. The wonderful blue caricatures of celebrities and famous visitors graced the booths and hallways. Many, many tales and stories were told in beer gulch, usually skiing stories, and I was an enthusiastic participant while in my twenties, after work at Gretl's or the Sundeck. Peter Luhn was a habitue, as were Shady Lane, Scott MacDougal, Richard Tapley, Hanuman, Steve Wishart, David Wright, and Defoe Dushane.
In the mid-seventies, when new owners bought the Onion and turned the bar into a more upscale "fern bar", replacing the gulch and booths and caricatures, there was a big revolution. The habitues all couldn't take it, and staged a protest by throwing all the new potted ferns out onto Cooper Street, and hundreds of dollars of ferns were ruined There may or may have not been arrests, but a statement of priorities was certainly made.
I grew up in Grand Junction and often skied at Aspen. In the 1940s we stayed at the Jerome Hotel for fifty cents a night and had meals there of similar price. Bathrooms were down the hall. We skied out the front door to the rope tow on AJax. Those were the days !!!
Bob Oden 1922–May 18, 2008
Dr. Bob Oden (that is pronounced O–Dane for non-Scandinavians) is one of the kindest, most beloved physicians in Aspen — a description he shares gladly with his close friend, Harold Whitcomb, aka Dr. Whit. The stories of his generosity and caring would fill many books as he has extended the principles of the Hippocratic oath to every facet of his life.
My husband tells me he "got to go to college" because of Dr. Bob. While Aspen stories abound about the good doctor, not many know this one. Bob was serving as chief flight surgeon in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was appalled to discover that his wounded colleagues were not getting proper care and seemed to have been forgotten. He lobbied acquaintance General Curtis LeMay (who was unaware of the veterans’ plight) to assure that proper benefits were allocated by the government. As a result, the G.I. Bill was successfully carried through the U.S. Congress, and many veterans were deservedly rewarded.
Dr. Bob served for many years as a U.S. Ski Team doctor and has been inducted into the national, Colorado, and Aspen ski halls of fame. He holds other honors— too many to list. However, his personal sense of accomplishment comes not with recognition but with the pleasure of watching his handiwork give success to people’s lives.
Bridger Gile 1999–present
Hi, my name is Bridger Gile. After being featured in two Warren Miller Films, winning a NASTAR national title and skiing 80 days a year, I am finally attending kindergarten. At first I was worried that school was going to squeeze my ski time, but like any true Aspen local, I think I’ve figured out a way to get in plenty of vertical— half-time kindergarten and the new Deep Temerity lift at Highlands!
I can’t wait for winter, although summer hasn’t been so bad. I’ve been playing soccer, golf, competing on the swim team, riding my bike, and working on my cliff-hucking (jumping the punchbowl at the Grottos). I even got to go to France to see Lance Armstrong win the Tour. That was exciting!
Wax up those skis and I’ll see you on the hill soon.
(written by Bridger– 2005 - with a little help!)
Amous Bourquin 1857–1943
Letter from Aspen, Colo., April 17, 1881
I have been here a couple weeks so I will try to let you know what little I can of Aspen. I will begin at Denver. I left there in the morning about half sick. Reached Leadville 7:30 pm. I had intended to stop in Leadville one day to look around the City but a couple of hours the next morning satisfied me as it was a cloudy day and very muddy and cold. I then took the stage for Independence 35 miles but the snow got so soft before night that we had to stop at the foot of the range 10 miles from Independence. We started again at three o’clock in the morning in order to cross the range while the snow was frozen. We reached Independence for breakfast, and it was a hard old breakfast for a fellow that had a hard days walk to do here the less. I left my baggage for the jack train fitted on my gum boots and prepared for a snowey tussel for Aspen. Reached here about five o’clock and found the boys all well.
A. D. Bourquin
(letter is edited– full letter on file at Aspen Historical Society.)
Bill Herron 1897–circa 1970s
Bill Herron was an Aspen-born, lifelong silver miner who staunchly believed that the mining glory days in his beloved hometown would return.
As a newcomer in the early 1950s, I first saw Bill and a few old-timers clustered around the brass spittoon wisely provided by the postmaster, Alton Beck, in the post office (now Amen Wardy’s site). They were peering through the steamy window, watching skiers on Aspen Mountain. They used the P.O. as a warm place to meet and talk. "Look at them crazy snowsliders. You ask me, they got rocks in their heads, messing around like that!"
That was Bill Herron addressing his cronies. It was mystifying to them that these strangers were paying money to play in the snow, on the same steep mountainside that all the miners had to climb to get to work during the "good old days."
I met Bill at his mother’s home on Main Street (now Herron Apartments). He lived with Cassie, his 85-year-old mother, but his real headquarters was the Red Onion. Since our family’s bed-and-breakfast inn was across the street, I’d visit with Cassie often and hear the latest gossip.
Bill and his pals took comfort in "Beer Gulch," sharing pitchers and moodily recalling how things used to be before the music people and snowsliders discovered Aspen. Beer was the drink of choice, unless someone stood them to something a bit stronger. It was beer, and Bill’s fondness for it, that was undoubtedly the reason the town marshal took Bill’s driver’s license away: "For his own good and that of the rest of town too."
His ancient Ford was retired among Cassie’s lilac bushes, between the rhubarb patch and the woodshed. "When are you going to get rid of that thing?" she’d ask. Bill would shrug, "Don’t know, maybe when I get my license back."
Almost every night, Bill would carry a hot meal home to his mother. He’d get the cook to wrap up the Onion’s special, and he’d walk clear across town with it, through stormy weather, if need be. It would always be a surprise meal for Cassie, because she never knew when he’d arrive or what he’d bring.
His Irish charm and inborn gallantry was a delight. There was always a slight bow, a tip of his hat and a flattering word when we met. He complimented our children and our "lucky husbands." He was a gentleman.
Bill moved to a boarding house in Glenwood Springs when Cassie died in 1962. We’d see him down at one of the riverside bars, where his portrait hung on the wall and he still held forth with a diminishing group of old-timers. He’d insist on buying us a beer, and we’d try to satisfy his curiosity about Aspen’s goings on.
When we asked about him a few months later, a grizzled old man mournfully shook his head.
"Old Bill has gone and died— left us for good."
Al S. Lamb 1855–1940 by Buzz Cooper and Larry Fredrick
In late 1886 or early 1887, Al Lamb, a pharmacist, decided to cast his lot with the new silver boom at Aspen. The Lamb Drug Store became the center of community affairs, and Lamb himself became a powerful influence in local government.
He won high regard for his integrity, enterprise and good citizenship. A good businessman, Lamb became well-known all over the state and his store was a genuine landmark. Many remember his old-fashioned soda fountain. To this day, there are old-timers who would have no remedies other than old "Doc" Lamb’s prescriptions.
Lamb was an active and early member of the Benevolent Order of Elks and the Lions Club, and a member of the State Board of Pharmacy. His active public spirit served not only Aspen, but the county and the state.
He loved the mountains, fishing and hunting, and he loved horses and dogs. It is said that his favorite spaniel died within 15 minutes after his beloved master. Lamb was so fond of his champion hunting dog Max that when Max died, Lamb had him stuffed. His granddaughter Peggy (Rowland) recalls that when she visited her grandfather, her errand was to dust off Max.
Bil Dunaway 1923
Bil Dunaway was a great newspaper publisher and has a huge heart, but what he was known best for around The Aspen Times was his fiscal conservatism. On any given day, he could be found up on the roof dabbing tar on a leak, shoveling the sidewalk, repairing a toilet with baling wire or whacking the furnace into compliance. Often when talking with me at my desk he would, unable to bear the waste, reach out and turn off my electric typewriter. One morning, shortly after I had pointed out that his vinyl office chair was in tatters, we found what appeared to be a crop circle on the carpet of the ad office. Bil had cut out a circle of newsprint, laid it on the floor, placed his chair in the center and spray-painted it, leaving a ring of black sunburst. God love him, he is the least pretentious person in Aspen.
Bil Dunaway was a great newspaper publisher and has a huge heart, but what he was known best for around The Aspen Times was his fiscal conservatism. On any given day, he could be found up on the roof dabbing tar on a leak, shoveling the sidewalk, repairing a toilet with baling wire or whacking the furnace into compliance. Often when talking with me at my desk he would, unable to bear the waste, reach out and turn off my electric typewriter.
One morning, shortly after I had pointed out that his vinyl office chair was in tatters, we found what appeared to be a crop circle on the carpet of the ad office. Bil had cut out a circle of newsprint, laid it on the floor, placed his chair in the center and spray-painted it, leaving a ring of black sunburst.
God love him, he is the least pretentious person in Aspen.
Betty Jane Harbour
From Port Arthur, Texas, Betty Jane Harbour came to Aspen around 1950 with her husband Jack. She built the houses that bracket the east end of Castle Creek bridge.
Betty had a smile that could melt boilerplate and a foghorn of a voice. In the ’60s, during a whiteout on Aspen Mountain, Betty left the Sundeck with her ski class of 14. By the time they reached Little Nell, there were 44 terrified skiers following the sound of her voice.
After Jack’s death, Betty traveled the world, hunting big game in Alaska and living in the Maharani palace in Katmandu. She trekked to Everest base camp three times— after losing a kneecap when her Norwegian Dun slipped and fell on her. Though she’d never finished high school, she enrolled at CU in Astrogeophysics just as her daughter Cyndie was finishing her master’s.
Betty died while she was building her fifth house, in the mountains of northern New Mexico. She’d been living in the first and only completed part of the house— and the most important to her — the observatory tower.