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.”
– Jony Larrowe