Fourth of July traditions have come and gone over the years, with a number of them disappearing as the town’s demographic and cultural framework change. Once obligatory events like the infamous tug-o-war games on main street, the exciting mining competitions of drilling and hand mucking, and community-wide evening dances have all vanished from the Fourth of July schedule, to be replaced by a new set of activities for the community to enjoy.
A few lifelong Telluride residents recently reflected on some of their favorite Fourth of July memories.
Billy “Senior” Mahoney
76 Years in Telluride
The Greased Pole Contest
“It was a different time,” said Senior Mahoney of Telluride’s Independence Day celebrations of old, which included Ute Indians dancing with snakes and planes buzzing low over Telluride’s main street. One of his favorite Fourth of July memories is from 1937, when he won – with the help of his brother – the infamous Greased Pole contest.
A metal pole was erected on an empty lot along main street and slathered with axle grease. Affixed to the top was a $5 bill, awaiting the fingers of anyone who could shimmy to the top.
“All the kids tried to climb the thing, but no one could get up high enough,” recalled Mahoney. He managed to make it halfway, the farthest of all the competitors, and was allowed an extra boost toward the top. Standing on his brother Bob’s shoulders, Mahoney was able to reach the prize.
“It was the most money I’d ever had in my life.”
70+ Years in Telluride
An Extravagant Parade
“It was a lot smaller then, but I think with more substance than now,” Jack Pera said of the annual Fourth of July parades of his youth. He recalled that people would go all out in preparing their floats for the parade, covering every inch in colorful crepe paper.
While the parade and games were a significant part of the holiday agenda, the celebration also served to reconnect friends and neighbors. “It was a time for all the old-timers to visit – that was as important to them as anything,” Pera said, adding, “I guess I’m an old-timer now.”
60+ Years in Telluride
A Scary Morning Wake-Up Call
In 1971, Cecil Goldsworthy was the fire chief of the Telluride Fire Department. Every year the fire department would start the Fourth of July festivities with a powder blast ignited from the top of Firecracker Hill. Although “No Trespassing” signs had been posted around the area, a couple out-of-towners came in late on the night of July 3 and parked their car near the blast site.
At 6 a.m. sharp, the firemen set off the charge as planned – sending a rock into the fender of the car unknowingly parked nearby, in which the owners were sleeping.
“They threatened to sue the fire department,” Goldsworthy remembered, although nothing ever came of the mishap.
Goldsworthy also played a role in setting off the fireworks for many years. “In those days, they were lit and loaded manually – it was pretty dangerous,” he said. Today, the fireworks show boasts a much more sophisticated electronic firing system.
Nearly 50 Years in Telluride
Community Dances and Her Parents as Grand Marshals
In years past, community dances were held to celebrate the Fourth of July. Most years, one was held on the evening of the July 3 and the other on the Fourth. Everyone in town would go, remembered Sherry Rose, and often wouldn’t leave until well after 2 a.m.
One of her fondest memories is from when her parents, Retta and Francis Vela, were named the Grand Marshals of the parade in 1991. Her father has since passed away, but her mother is still alive and living in Montrose. Retta Vela is over 100 years old.
Pam Aldasoro Bennett
Nearly 40 Years in Telluride
The Nickel Grab
Every year the Aldasoro family would come down from their ranch high above Telluride the day before the Fourth in order to be in town for all of the Independence Day festivities. The “powder monkey” – the 6 a.m. dynamite blast – served as their wake-up call.
Pam Bennett’s most anticipated game of the day was the Nickel Grab. Huge bags of nickels were dumped out the second floor window of the old Elks Club (in the Nugget Building) and kids would run willy-nilly to grab as many as they could.
The firemen’s water fight was also particularly memorable. “They would aim the hoses at each other – it was pretty exciting,” she recalled.
39 Years in Telluride
The Fireworks and Riding Little Red
As a child, Scott Bennett would ride Little Red, the historic fire truck that now appears on main street just once a year, for Independence Day. (It’s currently parked on main street where the firemen are selling Fourth of July T-shirts.) Perhaps it was those exhilarating rides on the fire truck that compelled Bennett to join Telluride’s volunteer fire department as an adult; he has been a member for 12 years.
Telluride’s fireworks show has always been a spectacular one, and now Bennett is in charge of the display. “It’s been fun to see the evolution of the show,” he said, adding that every year seems to be bigger and better than the one before. This year will be no different, he said, and there may even be “a few surprises – you never know!”
Brigitte Depagter Kusuno
27 Years in Telluride
The Shaw’s Annual Party
For years, Dan and Carly Shaw would throw huge Fourth of July parties on the lawn of their house on the sunnyside of Pandora Street. Kusuno remembered Joe Raley’s special fireworks show – a warm-up to the town’s big display.
“He would get this huge box of fireworks and light them all out in the street in front of the party,” she recalled. “I was always so impressed.”
Kusuno also enjoyed participating in the pie-eating contest and fish-grabbing game, events she now watches her two children, Landon (4 1/2) and Kai (2 1/2), participate in every Fourth of July. “Those are what I remember doing as a kid, and now my little boys are doing them,” she said.