On a sunny fall day not too long ago, I had the opportunity to visit Leadville, Colorado.
At over 10,000 feet above sea level, it is the HIGHEST incorporated city in the United States!
You feel up high in Leadville – the City in the Clouds - not only because of the thin air and high elevation, but because the sky seems even more brilliantly blue up there.
I can’t say enough good things about Leadville.
Okay, okay, I should qualify the above statement by telling you that Leadville has the most God-awful, brutal, punishing winters, so House Crazy Sarah could NEVER actually live there. Nonetheless, it is a fabulous place to visit (when the weather is nice).
Leadville was home to many legendary figures of the wild west (including: Buffalo Bill Cody, Baby Doe Tabor, Poker Alice, Texas Jack, Doc Holliday, Margaret Tobin Brown – a.k.a ’The Unsinkable Molly Brown’) and the places they frequented like the Tabor Opera House in the center of town:
Leadville is small but it has a plethora of old house museums. Unfortunately, when I visited with a friend in October, it was ‘off-season’ (meaning not the short 3 month summer tourist season) so most of the old house museums were closed for the year.
I always gravitate toward levity and humor on my blog, but I’m going to veer sharply from that today. This post is an extremely tragic story and there is no light or humor to be found in it.
Regular readers of my website know that I’m endlessly intrigued by abandoned houses, villages and towns and the stories behind them. But when I learned about this small town in France I actually cried.
Here is the story of this uninhabited town, frozen in time and grief….
Oradour-sur-Glane was a village in the west-central Limousin region of France with roots going back 1000 years in time. The majority of the town’s inhabitants, plus a couple of unfortunate souls passing through on bicycles, were killed on June 10, 1944 by the German Waffen SS soldiers in World War II.
642 innocent men, women and children ranging in age from one week old to 90 years, were rounded up and slaughtered. The village was then pillaged and burned.
On the order of then president of France, Charles de Gaulle, the remains of the town of Oradour-sur-Glane were preserved as a permanent memorial and museum.
A new village named Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby, but the ruins of the original town survive to this day, bearing witness to the horrors that occurred there.
On the morning of June 10 1944, a German SS battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane with the aim of exacting revenge and teaching the French a lesson for a purported kidnapping of a Waffen-SS officer by the French Resistance movement.
In a sad twist of fate, the occupying Nazis mistook Oradour-sur-Glane for their intended target village with a similar name: Oradour-sur-Vayres.
This past Labor Day weekend, I dragged my reluctant family on a jaunt up into the Colorado high country to find a certain ghost town known as Ashcroft. Located 11 miles outside of Aspen, Ashcroft is easily accessible and the site is well-tended by the Aspen Historical Society.
On a bright sunny Colorado day, we traversed the short trail and came upon the remains of Ashcroft…
Not much of the 1880′s town has survived the harsh winters at 9,521 feet above sea level. But a few tenacious old cabins and commercial structures have hung on through the changing of the centuries.
Ashcroft began as a mining town in the early 1880′s when silver deposits were discovered nearby. There was such a rush to the site that a courthouse was built and streets were laid out in just two weeks time!
After going through a succession of names, the town finally settled on “Ashcroft” in 1882. By that year, the town’s population had grown to 2,000 and it was home to 13 taverns.
At its peak, Ashcroft eclipsed nearby Aspen’s population and boasted 20 saloons along Main Street. (That’s how you can gauge the importance of frontier towns: the number of saloons in town.)
Everybody knows about Hugh Hefner’s infamous Playboy Mansion in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of southern California.
If you’ve been around for long enough, you may recall that Hef actually first headquartered in the city of Chicago, and it was there that he christened his first Playboy Mansion.
The original mansion was a massive 72-room neo-classical French brick and limestone residence in the Gold Coast historic district of Chicago. It was strategically located at 1340 North State Parkway – within walking distance to the first Playboy Club.
Hefner owned the Chicago Mansion from 1959 until 1974 – when he moved full-time to his current home in LA.
The Chicago mansion was Hef’s prototype for his LA home and they share many of the same unique features such as a “woo grotto” concealed by a rushing waterfall. The Chicago mansion also featured an indoor pool with a bar underneath, accessible by descending a fireman’s pole. From the bar, you could look up to a full view of Hef’s bathing bunnies in the pool above. The Chicago residence also had a large game room, a bowling alley, and Hef’s infamous round, rotating bed.
Try as I might, I could not find ANY pictures of these unique features on the ‘net – and I spent hours looking. I’m sure there are some out there somewhere, so if you know of any, please do share!
Apparently, the third and fourth floors of the Chicago mansion were the designated “Bunny dorms” where rent for aspiring Playboy models and waitresses at the nearby club was a mere $50 a month.
The mansion dates back to 1899 when it was built for surgeon Dr. George Isham and his wife Katherine. The residence was designed by James Gamble Rogers who is also known for his academic buildings that grace the campuses of Yale and Columbia Universities.
In its early days, the home hosted grand parties with attendees such as Theodore Roosevelt and polar explorer Admiral Robert Peary.
Hefner purchased the property in 1959. After he sold the mansion in 1974, it was donated to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was later sold to a developer who converted it into seven luxury condominium units.
During Hef’s reign at the mansion, there was a brass plate on the door with the Latin inscription: Si Non Oscillas, Noli Tintinnare (“If you don’t swing, don’t ring”).
I posted about the Harmony Tea House on St. Joe’s Island a few days ago.
Today I’d like to give you the full tour of the Island. Me and a fellow house lover – my friend Marie Hunter – spent a beautiful Friday afternoon in early July exploring the Island and not only house-peeping, but old country church and historic schoolhouse peeping as well.
St. Joseph Island is the third largest island in the Great Lakes – it is located on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in northern Ontario. There is a bridge so you don’t have to take a boat to get there – although many do in the summer months.
The Island is a gorgeous mix of rugged woodlands, pastoral farmland, beautiful beaches, and quaint villages. And since it is an island, there are several marinas and many beautiful waterfront properties.
Full disclosure here: I grew up not too far (about 1 hour) from St. Joe’s Island and I am in love with the place. In fact, if I ever do move back to Canada, I would like to buy a house on the island and live there full-time.
There are some newer homes on the Island, but by and large, it is a place that has stood still through time. The pioneer/settler’s spirit is still alive and well here and the Island is relatively untouched by modern development. The pace of life is S-L-O-W (Serene, Lovely, and O so Wonderful!)