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Aspen History

Aspen may have had its ups and downs, but one thing is for sure—Aspen history is anything but boring. Originally known as Ute City, Aspen began with a silver strike in the late 1870s. By the early 1890s, the city sported major banks, a hospital, theaters and an opera house. Things changed with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, making Aspen's ore nearly worthless. Mines closed, and the town began a slow collapse. By the time of the Great Depression, Aspen lingered only breaths away from ghosthood. The population had plummeted. Streets remained unpaved. There was no doctor, no fire department, no sewer system and no decent drinking water. Old buildings remained standing because no one had the money or need to tear them down. During World War II, soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division trained across the hills near Leadville. After the battle ended, a few returned to launch a ski area. The new Aspen Skiing Company's first chairlift opened in the winter of 1946. By 1950 they were hosting FIS (International Ski Federation) Alpine World Championships. To lure summer visitors, the city in 1949 launched the Aspen Music Festival and School. The combination of winter sports and summer culture made Aspen a mecca for many, including Hollywood celebrities. The town has had some interesting residents over the years. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who was never shy about his drug use, ran for sheriff in 1970—and nearly won. He left this world with a bang when he killed himself with a gunshot to his head in 2005. In 1976, singer Claudine Longet, former wife of Andy Williams, shot and killed her boy friend, ski racer Vladimir "Spider" Sabich. She was convicted of misdemeanor criminal negligence. Serial killer Ted Bundy was arrested here in 1977, but escaped from jail by jumping out a window. He was recaptured six days later and reincarcerated down valley in Glenwood Springs. He again escaped. More recently, Kenneth Lay, convicted Enron CEO, suffered a fatal heart attack at one of his Aspen homes in 2006. His dying before completing the appeal process prevented the government from collecting on a multi-million dollar forfeiture claim. Conspiracy theorists suggest the timing was entirely too convenient to be real. In 2009, actor Charlie Sheen was arrested in Aspen for domestic violence.