Wheeler Opera House
Aspen began as a mining town which developed into a major city, in part through the efforts of Jerome B. Wheeler. Wheeler built the Wheeler Opera House, which still stands today and is one of Aspen's grandest public buildings. Bentley's is located in the Wheeler Opera House (see nightlife) and it is used as a music venue for the Aspen music festival. Also, foreign and independent films are presented here as well as theatre.
Another of Aspen's finest historical buildings. The hotel, one of Aspen's best, is still in operation. If you can't or won't pay the steep prices to stay the night, at least check out the hotel and its architecture.
"Learn About Aspen's History"
The Aspen area was originally discovered by the Ute Indians and called "Shining Mountains". The first gold miners arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley in the summer of 1879 and by that fall a small group of entrepreneurs and speculators had staked claims and set up camp at the foot of Aspen Mountain. Prospectors settled in Aspen hoping to strike it rich in silver.
First christened Ute City, the town of 300 residents was renamed to Aspen in 1880. By 1891 Aspen had surpassed Leadville as the nation's largest single silver producing mining district. By 1893, Aspen was a booming silver town with 12,000 people, six newspapers, two railroads, four schools, three banks, electric lights, a modern hospital, two theaters, an opera house, and a very small brothel district. In 1893 however the Sherman Silver Act was repealed which demonetized silver and marked Aspen's decline as a mining town. Ironically, one of the largest nuggets of native silver ever found was mined in 1894 in Aspen from the Smuggler mine, weighing in at 2,350 pounds.
Around 1936, another ore was discovered - SNOW! Three investors sought to establish a ski area above Aspen. Unfortunately World War II halted progress on the ski area, but after the war, Friedl Pfeifer, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, who trained at Camp Hale near Leadville, returned to Aspen and began making plans for Aspen's first chair lift. In 1945, Chicago industrialist, Walter Paepcke and his wife Elizabeth came to Aspen and joined forces with Pfeifer in the development of the Aspen ski area. In 1946 the Aspen Skiing Corporation was founded and in 1950 Aspen hosted the FIS World Championships, which confirmed Aspen's status as an international resort. The rest is history!
(Taken from the City of Aspen Pitkin Website; http://www.aspenpitkin.com/misc/visitors/visitors.cfm)
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Aspen Music Festival
Late June through August, a classical music festival featuring 200 plus music performances. The Wheeler Opera House hosts some of the events, but there is also an outdoor music tent where many of the performances are free.
Hunter S. Thompson and the Freak Party
Hunter S. Thompson began what is still one the most memorable and strategically effective anti-campaigns in the history of the U.S: the Freak Power ticket. It was the fall of 1969 and the Aspen Mayoral election was coming up. Thompson was so disgusted by the candidates that he and a group of local friends ran their own candidate for mayor: a 29-year-old hippie bike-racer named Joe Edwards. Their campaign began three weeks before the election and nearly caused the upheaval of the small Western town.
This wasn't a whim or joke. Thompson noticed that there was a very low voter turnout in previous elections and determined that for the most part, it was the 18 to 25 year olds who were missing. So the theory he perpetuated was that if any candidate could garner the young vote, they would have the power to not necessarily win, but at least change the outcome of the election.
But the Freak Party got more than it bargained for. With only three weeks to organize, Joe Edwards lost the mayoral race by one vote. In reality, Edwards won the actual vote by six -- but lost the absentee ballot by seven. As Thompson wrote, "we scared the living s**t out of the Aspen Power Structure."
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