August 19, 2011

Living History Days attendance 659, 35 percent rise versus 2010
South Park City has feel of a real old west town on Aug. 13-14

By Laura Van Dusen

Jimmy Vitt, an icon of South Park City's Living History Days, demonstrates stunt riding to spectators on Saturday, August 13.  He is a stuntman at Universal Studios, where he performs on horseback and on motorcycles, flips cars, and fall off high buildings. (Photo by Laura Van Dusen/The Flume)

On most days strolling down the one street of South Park City – the restored 1880s historic mining town in Fairplay – is like walking through a ghost town. But this past weekend on Aug. 13 and 14 the ‘town’ was alive with volunteers and employees and even some guests dressed in period dress of the 1860s through 1890s.

Attendance on Saturday was 384, said Cindy Huelsman, administrator of South Park City, which is more than double the average attendance of about 160 on a normal summer weekend day. 

Even on Sunday, with the cloudy skies, cool temperatures and an afternoon rainstorm, attendance was 275. 

There were also 30-40 volunteers in period dress celebrating Living History each day. The rain on Sunday didn’t seem to detract from the festivities, said Huelsman. The gunfights went on as usual despite the shower; people just put up their umbrellas, she said.

Many comments were directed at The Flume indicating it seemed like fewer people were attending this year than last, but with the final count last year of 326 when the event happened only on Saturday – and including the attendance of 162 on the Sunday following Living History Day last year – attendance for the weekend was up 35 percent compared with 2010.

Buildings occupied

Buildings were occupied as they were in the past. Rick Barth, secretary/treasurer of the South Park City board of trustees, was dishing up ice cream in front of the soda fountain in the restored J. A. Merriam Drug Store almost like it was served up more than 100 years ago, when the soda fountain was part of the Kleinknect Store in Hartsel. Almost, that is, except that this past weekend the only flavor offered was vanilla and the ice cream came out of a box.

The character of itinerant preacher Father John Dyer was represented by Carl Anderson of Dallas-suburb Richardson, Texas, who also has property near Fairplay. The roll of Dyer was a good fit because Anderson is a non-denominational pastor in Richardson. He said that this is the third year he and his family have volunteered at the event. Anderson’s wife, Cathy Anderson, portrayed the schoolmarm, and the ‘students’ in school were the Anderson children.

Will Kaufman is the owner of a very tame burro Margarita, who is one year and two weeks old and is making her second appearance at South Park City's Living History Days. (Photo by Laura Van Dusen/The Flume)

On Saturday on the west end of town, Ingrid McDonald and Dianne Hartshorn from Colorado Springs were baking bread over hot coals in a Dutch oven. Hartshorn also demonstrated how to make butter by putting heavy whipping cream into a jar and shaking it with a snapping motion, which makes the fat and protein in the cream stick together. After about ten minutes of shaking a small jar one-third full of whipping cream, one has a tablespoon or so of butter and about the same amount of buttermilk. 

To complement the bread and butter, samples of lemonade, watermelon-ade and four-berry-ade were available for tasting.

On Sunday the pair changed ingredients and utensils to make fresh ice cream.

Hartshorn said in a phone conversation after the event that she had never met a friendlier group of people than in Fairplay at Living History Days. She said the “whole atmosphere was so different than anywhere else” and that everyone involved was very nice to work with.

Those who ventured as far as the Star Livery barn saw the burro, Bonita, with her year-old foal, Margarita, pets of Will Kaufman of the Como area. Also on the west end of town, children and some adults were taking advantage of the horseback rides that were offered throughout each day from one end of town to the other.

The stuntman

Back for an encore from past years was Universal Studios stuntman Jimmy Vitt (stage name Matthew James), his brother Johnny, and a company of cowboys. The Vitts epitomize the cowboys of the late 1800s, and displayed that in their stunt riding skills and acting in shoot-out skits on Front Street. But they demonstrated even more what a frontier town was like by simply their presence in town, riding up and down the street and interacting with spectators, dressed as the drifters that roamed South Park in the late 19th century.

Another welcome return was the Gold Canyon Gunfighters group from Colorado Springs, who stage the skits and gunfights that have become a staple of Living History Days. Their performances always include the notorious “town drunk,” played convincingly by Dave Johnston, whose “‘whiskey” bottle actually contains a mixture of apple juice and tea. 

Bryan Ripley, 12, totally gets the game of Faro and shows off his winnings to prove it at South Park City's Living History Days in Fairplay on August 13.  From left to right are: Paul Martin, an unidentified card player, Kathy Martin, and Bryan. (Photo by Laura Van Dusen/The Flume)

In the Rache’s Place saloon, Paul and Kathy Martin of Colorado Springs taught visitors the game of Faro, a game that originated in France in the 17th century and became popular in the United States during the California gold rush of 1849. 

Watching the gun fight on Saturday, August 13, at Living History Days are, from left, Olivia Rowley, 3, Mackenzie Rowley, 4, and Joshua Plunknette, 7, all of Colorado Springs.  (Photo by Laura Van Dusen/The Flume)

To play the game for money is outlawed in all 50 states, according to Paul Martin, but this weekend gamblers were playing for chips. An unlimited supply of chips makes everyone a winner. 

Twelve-year-old Bryan Ripley of Highlands Ranch in Metro Denver declared after playing a few hands, “I totally get this game!” He held his own during the game and ended up with a stack of gold chips. The Martin’s are members of the Colorado Trailblazers, a group that performed skits for Living History Day in between Faro lessons. The couple spends their winters practicing the game, and they travel in the spring and summer to Faro competitions. They’ve been on the Faro circuit for two years, but Kathy Martin said the game “wasn’t widespread until last year.”

Rache’s Place was also the place to buy bottles of non-alcoholic birch beer, root beer, ginger beer and sarsaparilla from the bartenders – Harley Hamilton, president of the South Park City board of trustees, and his wife, Penny Hamilton.

Harley Hamilton was in a good location to witness the Faro lessons and said it was a “great success” and that it was “an interesting and fun thing for people to learn about.”  When Paul Martin talked about wanting to come back next year, Hamilton enthusiastically agreed. 

On the porch of the Pioneer Home, the Enchanted Strings duet, made up of Carol and Randy Barnes of Buena Vista, played instruments and sang. Jo Rourke and Terry Swanson demonstrated the leisure time of pioneer housewives as they worked on quilts.

Whether the event will be two days again next year will be decided at a future board meeting, said Huelsman. But that decision will be influenced by the positive comments voiced to the board by attendees and volunteers and the happy faces seen throughout South Park City over the weekend.

Kathy Anderson from Richardson, Texas, teaches class at the South Park City historic school house during Living History Days at South Park City Museum in Fairplay an August 13-14. (Photo by Bernie Nagy)

Photos from this year’s Living History Days can be viewed at the association’s website at