Marble Museum Reveals Astonishing Past: Along the Aspen Marble Detour

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Marble Museum Reveals Astonishing Past:

Along the Aspen Marble Detour

Upon reflection, I can appreciate the incredulity I receive each time I state that, for all the times I have made my way to Marble, Colorado, over the 16 years I have called the Roaring Fork my home, I have never found the Marble Museum open to the public.

In my defense however, I would offer the fact that, in direct contrast to the habits of most – that is to holiday, tour and visit places in high season and weekends – my preference, and Kris’s too, is to wander and explore precisely whenever and wherever low season prevails, and tend to avoid weekend outings to towns and cities in the summer altogether. Which obviously explains why I have been at odds with this excellent museum’s quite logical hours of operation, which of course, Marble being so very far off the beaten track, so remote, and so way up high in the mountains, that there would be no point opening the place during the times that I am usually out and about.

And so, in putting together the Aspen Marble Detour, I now find myself plunged once again (for I was a tour guide once before, many years ago in Portland, Oregon) into the very hours, schedule, and timetable that I usually set aside to avoid. Now, with the mystery solved, we can peek behind the curtain and see what I have been missing all these years, and it’s a lot, I can tell you.

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Yes, this is a magnificent building alright in which to house a museum, and a charter schools as it turns out. But, being Marble, Colorado, this is no ordinary museum, a hint of why is gained by the nicely cut, pitched faced marble so cleverly arranged around the entire lower floor. Not just any marble from some far off quarry, as would usually be the case, but excellent examples of top quality local Yule marble. Each piece expertly cut, pitched and installed. In fact, the array could virtually serve as resume for practically every stone facing I have ever pitched, carved, and punched into a block of stone. And it’s all right there at eye level, open to full scrutiny.

If I did not know better I would have mistaken this basement wall for an merchant’s architectural stone shop display, such is the variety and multiplicity of each piece. For while this may present a random spectacle to the untrained eye, I can assure you that each and every one of these stones’ effects may be produced by applying the appropriate tools and technique. In fact, any trained and experienced banker mason, including myself, could rather easily reproduce and apply each and every effect and produce an unlimited number of them. To the point that when they are all arranged together in one giant effect, which is how these blocks usually appear on classical stone buildings, the whole mass of blocks appear uniformally random. Here however, since all effects are melded together, the equation is reversed, producing a wild, nonthreatening higldy-pigldly effect that works well, especially for a school building.

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For instance, I present this little wall sample, snapped at random, but quite illuminating all the same. Note that none of them look quite the same. Notice the roundish holes in the large stone at the top left-hand corner. Well they are only attained via a punch – the name for a tool, which as it sounds, punches holes directly into the face. Do you notice them anywhere else? No, you won’t. Now turn your gaze to the sharp edged pitched into the face of the rectangular stone in the bottom right corner. Those waves have been pitched directly into the face by the same tool, though perhaps a smaller one, that smashed off the edges, with such spectacular style, in the block immediately above. Although in this case the effect seems to have been gained via two massive blows.

In my opinion, what these wall present is not only the supreme quality and durability of the fledgling and practically unknown “Yule marble”, for although quarried, cut, dressed and laid a hundred years ago, the marble certainly looked as good today as I imagine it looked on the day the blocks were laid. Each one of the effects presented by each block is seemingly effortlessly pressed into the stone, such is the nature of Yule Marble. What this wall is saying to the world is that Yule marble can do it all. Whereas granite, sandstone, even limestone for instance, would be stretched to replicate each and everyone of the applications on display here; and yet this magical new white stone seems to be able to do it all with such flair and apparent ease. What this wall most certainly does point out is that this new-fangled Colorado Yule Marble seems to be able to do it all, from the wildly decorative and ornate to brute fortress wall, everything in between, and possibly so much more.

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The windowsills for instance appear to have been singled out for quite spectacular treatment, with wave after wave of pitched angled blows raked across the face, and I suspect subsequent air chiseled (sort of masonry Direct Method carving), combining to create a spectacular, and I am sure expensive effect, but a method I have applied many times myself in the creation of my Collection Series Colorado Yule Marble Sculpture.

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Now, let’s climb the steps and take a look inside and see just what I have managed to conspire to miss for all of these years.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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My first impression upon walking through the various rooms, encountering the large information boards, and generally assessing the place was; ‘man, what a wildly ambitious project Marble really was in its day’.  Very little of what you are about to see in the photos  remain visible today but evidence of their once formidable presence is everywhere. And that is precisely where the ambitious modern day museum steps in to save the day. For bear in mind that what you are about to see represents but a fraction of the voluminous information cleverly arranged on display.

In fact, I will now go so far as to say that if you come all the way to the historic town of Marble, and decide not to tour the museum, you will not only have spurred a golden opportunity to learn all about one of America’s great and noble stories, but will also have missed out on what I promise anyone, will be time very well spent and enjoyed. Forget any preset notion of a standard rural museum, this place is absolutely unique, tells a pulsating story, and appeared to me bursting with pride.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Expertly curated and hands on, the complex and amazing story of Colorado’s famous and renowned Yule Marble is laid out in spectacular manner. Huge bright eye-level information boards tempt the viewer deeper and deeper into the story to the point whereby one doesn’t quite know where to cast our eyes next. It doesn’t matter though, we keep on going, looking deeper into this and that, flipping pages of photos, clippings and letters. We are even encouraged to touch the sacred relics with our own hands. Amazing…

On and on we go, staring from this to that as we work our way along the various boards, never quite sure what we will encounter next.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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The story of the Lincoln Memorial presents a tortured legacy for the remote town of Marble, Colorado, in that while deemed a complete success by one and all, the Yule marble quarry never-the-less would find itself closed and shuttered mere months after delivering the massive project on time, on budget, and to the contented admiration of an entire nation.

The problem? Well, there were many, but primarily the dilemma can simply be surmised as twofold: firstly, this was a very, very huge project – the logistics of which, when taken into consideration just how remote the Yule marble quarry is, absolutely boggle the mind. Sure, the quarry had by this point, just prior to World War One, been turning out the very highest quality marble product and delivering it to prestigious projects from coast to coast. It was no problem at all thanks to the world’s largest finishing mill, and a very astute Integrated Operation that saw the quarry, the transportation, finishing and shipping all working under one organization, plus a skilled and experienced workforce; Marble Colorado could accomplish pretty much anything in marble that it pleased.

The problems arose when the sheer size of the blocks needed for the columns sent the quarry into a frenzy of activity to the point whereby quite often the volume of waste rose to 80 percent or more, as is evidenced by the huge piles of cut marble tossed out of the quarry itself, and most of the junk pieces lining the edge of the Crystal River in order to deter erosion and undercutting of the railroad tracks.

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As much of this material is now being harnessed and re-purposed to excellent effect a hundred years later, the new salvage endeavor is all the evidence we need that the problems encountered by the quarry in supplying top quality marble for the Lincoln Memorial were nothing whatever to do with the stone itself, but a combination of too many huge, unnecessarily monstrous blocks, some of them 11 feet in length by 8 feet in height, and the astonishing distance they had to be moved. Together these two factors conspired to sow confusion into what should have been a simple enough task. The monster blocks required much waste in order to remove from the quarry, and then their huge weight combined with the long rail journey to open up cracks in the marble, resulting in many finished blocks being rejected, by the bureaucrats with no stone experience, just feet away from their destination in far, far away Washington D.C.

I will even go on to say that, as more and more evidence emerges, I feel quite inclined to say that, if I didn’t know better, given the timing of both quarry closures, 1917 and 1942 The Lincoln Memorial, AND The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier might well have been something of a poisoned chalice aimed to knock Colorado Yule Marble out of the game forever.

Too bad, because the really good news is that The Yule is Back, and like never before. Instead of 80 percent waste, we now have 80 percent material, with 20 percent waste. And even that ‘waste’ is tended to and utilized – it is after all marble, a semi-precious stone. And not just any stone at that, but the marble that many in the industry are realizing is now proving to be ‘of the finest quality ever to be quarried’. Quite the turnaround I would say.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Yes! None other than the Lincoln Memorial itself was hauled out of that fledgling, remote and isolated quarry. But how? How did this teeny weeny tiny Rocky Mountain community possibly turn out such an unlikely miracle?

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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And not just the mighty Lincoln Memorial, but the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – the largest block of marble ever quarried at the time, it too was hewn out of a hole in Treasure Mountain, high above the town of Marble, as was the stone work for a great many prestigious projects across the land.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier proved to be a particularly egregious affair in that the famous cracks that have mysteriously opened down through the years, were a result of this being the biggest block of marble in the world at the time, and transporting such a beast would have caused it to be unceremoniously shunted and jostled along the entire 2,000 mile way. Once arrived in D.C., any such cracks that did form would have been pounced upon and pried open further by Washington’s notorious freeze thaw conditions due to the capital’s location amid a swamp pressed right up to the salty, hot and cold damp of America’s notoriously humid Eastern Seaboard.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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But such is fate. Due entirely to the detrimental conditions placed upon such an immense block of marble, strains puts upon its colossal weight ensured that cracks did appear and that for many would appear to prove Yule’s deficiency as a building stone.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth, for an identical piece to the current cracked tomb stands somewhere on a flat bed rail car, just waiting to be carved as a replacement, which I am sure it will one day, proving without a doubt that our lovely Colorado Yule Marble is not only the preeminent marble for carving and slabbing, but as a building material is par excellent; durable, flexible, and second to none.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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In my opinion, these hardy pioneer quarriers, rail workers, marble sawyers, cutters, finishers and polishers, worked miracles considering the technology and machinery of the times. And so I think we can safely look elsewhere to lay the finger of blame. Furthermore, perhaps there was a reason why such a behemoth had never been quarried before, and this fact has to do with viability concerning the moving and transportation of a 56 ton block, not the ability to pluck it out of the ground. But how were these people to know? Forward-thinking, and armed with an iron-willed confidence, these men willingly set too upon any and all tasks with which they were charged. It was never their position to question the logic of the operation – such as: if this is really to be a tomb, a sarcophagi, then why was the block required to be solid?

Surely they could have hollowed out the middle and reduced a 55 ton block down to a more reasonable 20 tons or so, which I imagine would have been appreciated by everyone struggling to move this monster down along the line as it was unceremoniously shunted from one yard to another, stopping at every little town along the way, and literally jolting it to pieces in the process.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Another amazing fete of patience, physics and supreme confidence was the Tomb’s precarious multi-day descent 4 miles down from the Yule marble quarry, perched high above the town of Marble, Colorado, via an electric tram fueled by hydroelectricity supplied by the quarry’s own plant.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Yes, let that sink in: waaay back when the concept of environmentalism has yet to find traction, the Colorado Yule marble quarry was being daily serviced by a remarkable tram powered by hydroelectricity produced on site. It beggars belief.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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I cannot imagine the tremendous stresses and strains this pioneering electric tram absorbed during its countless journeys down the 4 mile track to the town of Marble, burdened with tons upon tons of raw quarry blocks, which must have been nerve-racking for the crew from time to time. But obviously these challenges took their toll, and as we see in the above picture, repairs were attended to in short order by the obviously talented and hard working crew.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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In regard to getting the marble out of the town of Marble, just take a look at these beauties. These mighty looking engines were tasked hauling with cars loaded with marble 20 miles down the Crystal River Valley, again taxing upon both crew and brakes, to the town of Carbondale, where their big brothers on the main line would carry the marble on their way to practically every major city in America – such was the demand for the gleaming new white marble from Colorado during the early part of the 20th Century.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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As mentioned above, believe it or not, Marble – this tiny little town of under 100 permanent year-round residence today – at one time boasted the actual ‘Largest Marble Finishing Mill’ IN THE WORLD.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Vast it was, and all brought together under one massively ambitious notion called ‘The Integrated Plan’ devised and funded by the great John Cleveland Osgood, who lost a considerable fortune to the Yule marble project, and perfected under the watchful and canny eye of the unfortunate Channing Franklin Meek, who was to lose his life in the quarry, and under dubious circumstances at that.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Above we catch a glimpse of the mill’s truly massive stone yard. Each of these rough blocks await a specific application once they are wheeled along and into the huge banker shop indicated by the tall gabled building arrayed with high windows to allow plenty of light for the masons busy carving away many feet below. My guess is that these windows would have had their light defused to avoid shadowing upon the stone being worked.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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The finishing shop shown above would not require such specific conditions to those required by the carvers, and so here we see the workplace of those charged with applying the finish to fully carved stones. These workers would have spent their entire day carefully rubbing down piece after piece with a formulaic procedure of ever finer abrasives ensuring that, when eventually placed together, they will be identical.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Whatever anyone says about the Yule marble quarry, and people say enough believe me without ever considering their own words, they just repeat pretty much anything they have ever heard about the place. Down through the years I’ve heard that the quarry closed because ‘the marble was crap’, the ‘mine was dangerous’, the ‘proposition was un-viable’, there is ‘a curse’ (which could I admit hold a grain of truth), etcetera etcetera. I’ve been told with absolute certainty that the huge blocks of marble seen lining the riverbanks simply “fell off” the trains, “so cheap was the marble that is made sense to over load the trains and just let it fall off”. Yes. People actually say that, often and repeatedly.

Now, take a look at the two gentlemen above, do they look like people who would knowingly and purposefully overload a train? Ridiculous. No, these men hold between them a 10 foot core sample of marble, encased in a half shell of metal for protection, taken from a single block of Colorado Yule Marble. No doubt this remarkable example of Yule’s exemplary whiteness would make the rounds from coast to coast across the country, as evidenced by Colorado Yule Marble appearing on more and more prestigious buildings across the land.

Many are the reason’s for Colorado Yule Marble’s struggles down through the years, but if you ever hear anyone spouting the myth of train overloading, please do me a favor and attempt to set them straight. Now, let’s peek inside the quarry.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Having worked for two years in various banker shops around the City of Bath in England, I instantly recognize these conditions. Stone dust everywhere, hoses, drills, dust, dust, and more dust, everywhere, at all times, all day, every day, year in, year out, forever. Welcome to the life of an early Twentieth Century Yule Marble Quarrier.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Quite naturally the Yule marble quarry has, and I suspect always will, gather a lot of interest with tourists, travelers and pilgrims alike. Although no longer able to scramble around the quarry as of old, even today visitors to marble and its excellent museum appear quite captivated by what they find. And quite frankly, saftey issues aside – entrance to any mining operation in America is banned by federal authority, I’m sure that the quarry now and yesteryear has much better things to do than halt operations and stand around to pose for the strange interlopers and their photographs.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Case in point: see the blocks of marble lining the riverbank? Think they fell off a train and just happened to land there? Nope, they were placed there to protect the tracks from water erosion. And so please, do you think that between us we can lay this old tale of ‘them just spilling off the cars willy nilly’, and just landing by chance where ere they please?

Then, once we have cleared up that little bit of nonsense, we will begin on the notion of Yule’s demise being due to inadequacies inherent within the stone. Ha.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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OK, and now we are getting to the crux of the matter. Here we see salvagers busily stripping the world’s largest marble mill just six months into World War 2, shortly after delivery of the world’s largest block of marble had resulted in the installation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The quarry, mill and all – the entire Integrated Operation was closed again, just as after the First World War. This time, rather than mothball the place, as had happened in 1917, the plan was to utterly gut and destroy the place, and utterly gut and destroy it they did, systematically, temperamentally and with such devastating malice that practically nothing of this astonishing logistical achievement remains in tact today.

I’ve heard people talk of a fire – which there most certainly was, but even if there was, in terms of significance the damage was minimal and could easily have been restored and most probably was. No, this was destruction on an almost unimaginable scale – almost as if an enemy air force or artillery had taken the place out.

Which all leads me to think that, even at the height of its power and prestige, Colorado Yule Marble has always, and perhaps always will, face enemies hell bent on mischief and destruction. Let’s hope that they never, ever get the chance to repeat their previous chaos and that the new, improved, environmentally spotless new quarry, under the seasoned and watchful eye of Colorado Stone Quarries, show the world exactly what the likes of John Cleveland Osgood, Channing Meek, and everyone involved with Yule has known for over a century now, that this ‘new-fangled’ 99.5 percent pure calcite marble from high in the Colorado Rockies, is as good or even better than any of its rivals anywhere in the world.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Above we see the wanton destruction of the marble mill, and below the sad spectacle of the last train out of marble, never to return. Yule marble’s fate was now sealed for over 40 years. The quarry filled with water, and the town rapidly went into decline, to the point that the population sank to that of one – the town’s obviously formidable school teacher.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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1942. Last Train Out Of Marble, Colorado.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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This is the point where museums bring everything to life for me, when the attention turns from the buildings and machinery and onto the people who lived in them, operated all that stuff, attended the schools and scattered themselves into the background whenever a photograph was being snapped. And here they are, well a few of them. The Marble Museum display presents an enticing selection of old photographs that will have you staring at faces that are staring straight back at you with what would appear to be almost equal curiosity. Well, all except those two boys in the upper right hand corner, I wonder whatever became of them?

Who were these people, and what were they thinking as the shutter snapped? “Cheeeeese”.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Not sure who exactly that boy in the middle is, but my guess is that he was, unlike is now former colleagues, perhaps he knew he was bound for the Ivy League, who knows, but that is one helluva stance, and dead center too. Who is he?

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Meanwhile, the ladies of the local thespian society present their latest play.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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And now this gentleman below, could he possibly be related to the confident young man in the school portrait? My guess is probably yes.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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But here in conclusion, we have a real hero of Colorado Yule Marble, ‘Colonel’ Channing Franklin Meek, a man who arrived in town with 3.5 million dollars of other people’s money, set up a company, placed himself as chairman, and promptly commenced putting the Yule marble ship to order.

Circumstances surrounding his unfortunate death by leaping to avoid a runaway marble wagon are mired in hearsay and suspicion. Consider that just prior to this entirely avoidable “accident”, Meek had broken a quite bitter strike by actually working day after day suspended in a harness drilling holes in the quarry face. But perhaps even more crucially, when these broken and increasingly desperate quarry men, facing a winter of brutal hardship if they did not capitulate, were forced by their employer to work for less than they were paid before the strike. Hard medicine to take for the workers, and something they would be loathed to ever forget.

But pushed or shoved, the tragic death of Franklin Channing Meek effectively put paid to the quarries’ fortunes for the next four long decades, as no one – and I mean – no one, could possibly follow in that man’s shoes. Bad luck, bad timing, bad decision making, it didn’t matter in the end. Upon this great man’s demise the quarry would sink into a dizzying demise from which it could not halt. Until now.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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C.F.M. His Spirit Lives On.

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Marble Museum Reveals Astonishing Past:

Along the Aspen Marble Detour

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thanks for visiting martincooney.com

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