What it was like before things changed: Memorial Day in Crested Butte

Someone sent me a message through my wife to remind me that things in Crested Butte aren’t “changing,” they are “changed.” Fair. And I’m sure more than a few words will be devoted to the change over what looks like a very busy summer on the horizon.

One thing that doesn’t change (much) in Crested Butte is Memorial Day. If you want to get a taste of what Crested Butte was, then spend this Monday (or the whole weekend) in town.

Start with the parade. Veterans from the old Crested Butte families will squeeze into their old military uniforms and begin to gather at the Old Town Hall (now the Mallardi Cabaret) at Second and Elk about 8:45 on Monday morning. They’ll greet their old friends, reminisce about the previous year and chat about their old stomping grounds that are now the site of million-dollar houses.

At 9:30 they somehow fall into formation and someone sets the cadence for the long march to the cemetery. The little square of men in uniform follows the colors down Elk Avenue to the smattering of applause from the few onlookers who come to salute the veterans with ties to the town. It is sort of an old-fashioned, small-town, somewhat nostalgic movie scene. It happens as quick as a blink but it is a blink that lingers if you appreciate it.

A 10 a.m. mass will be held at the cemetery, where the gravesites have been cleaned up for the visitors. Everyone is welcome. A 21-gun salute fires off and taps is often played at the end of the service and the veterans then walk back to town. From there a potluck lunch is held and more memories are shared between these old-timers who knew a different Crested Butte.

If you want to jump deeper into old Crested Butte, head to Bonez for the traditional afternoon Memorial Day Polka Dance. The tradition will be led by the very traditional Pete Dunda Polka Band. There you will be taken back to a simpler time in Crested Butte. No one will be talking about increasing visitor numbers or appropriate density. The afternoon will be full of solid people, beer and dancing.

The families and now their heirs who were here when the community began the transition from mining town to resort community have made it a point to come back to gather on Memorial Day weekend. They will no doubt be a bit surprised when they see the new Arts Center going up by Pitsker Field or the old town dump being excavated below the cemetery. But most of them long ago accepted how the town was changing and many have counseled me to accept that change gracefully. That sort of sums up the people you might run into this Memorial Day weekend. Grace. They’ll be seen at the museum, at Donita’s, the bar and certainly the polka dance. Most are open and friendly and filled with acceptance and grace. I appreciate their return and their lessons.

So if you want to know a part of what kept the new people here that originally came to ski Crested Butte—it was the people. Sort of like what everyone still says about the place now. It is the people that matter. The people. Take a trip back to that early time and understand this place a little deeper on Monday. It will help when the reality of a busy summer hits sooner than you might expect.

—Mark Reaman

Check Also

More parking thoughts…

No Barbieland sequel from me this week although some of the discussion at Monday’s Crested …