1968 Armistice Day in Crested Butte
A talk by George Sibley at the 2024 Flauschink Slideshow 

       In 1968 I walked into the local bar and immediately noticed 5 old men sitting around a table. It was unusual because typically you would see the old men sitting at the bar where they could look at each other through the mirror without turning their heads. I asked the bartender what was going on and he told me it was Armistice day and those guys are all veterans from world war one. You know what’s really strange, all 5 of those guys fought with a different army. Around the table was John Panian who was from Yugoslavia. There was Ralph Falsetto, in the old country he was Italian and he fought with the Italian Army. There was Frank Hodgsen who was an Englishman and he fought for the British army. Then there was Anton Danni, who had already immigrated to the United States, who fought with the American Expeditionary Force. There were four armies around that table and the fifth guy, Eril Lunk who was a German and he fought with the Kaiser. So we not only had five armies represented at that table but we had both sides. 50 years before had been Armistice day, the day that the armistice was signed and they could all stop shooting at each other. 

       All of those guys emigrated to the United States within a few years after the war, looking for, as immigrants usually are, a better life. As Eril Lunk put it most vividly “They told us in America that milk and honey flow in the streets.” Which is kind of a strange image. They all came looking for a better life and they found hard times here. It was a hard place to start. We have heard about the great American melting pot, it was really kind of a pressure cooker, it filled from the bottom. You came, and to have the gumption to cross the ocean with very little money, very little anything, in hopes of finding a better life. Things were not that good in Europe and you have a situation where five armies all engaged in a war, four against one. 

       It was a hard life for them and they came and because people like to hang out with those who speak the same language, there were neighborhoods that grew in Crested Butte. The Italians were over on the southeast side of town, Whiterock and Sopris avenues. All of the Central Europeans were on the West Side of town. The English, who got here first, were on the north east side of town in the vicinity of the little church that is still there. They had big families, the sons all went to work in the mine as soon as they could, which was anywhere from the age of 12 up, and they put all the money together to try and buy their way out of the mines by buying a business in town or buying some ranchland downvalley was a favorite too, we still have the Rozmans and Guerrieris and a number of other families that started at the mines and worked their way into ranching. It’s what you would call a heritage culture, it isn’t really an economy, ranching in this valley, it’s a culture. It’s passed along, you have four and five generations in some of those families. But they all started out at the same place, in Crested Butte at the mines then moved on out. Kids that were not old enough to work in the mines, they had gangs just like Europe, that ran around and harassed each other, physical fighting and that kind of thing. 

       But through time the edges kind of wore off from those separations and it came down to five old men at the table, drinking beer, eating Gal Starika’s world famous spaghetti, and telling stories. After they finished eating, Emil Lunk, the German, got out his bandonium, a kind of accordion-like instrument, and played some music, which he said he had done back in Germany in 1917 and 18, with the troops on the other side. 

       I found that to be a moving experience in a way, that these guys who had all been shooting at each other in a sense 50 years before were now in Crested butte, in America, and it’s the kind of story that we need to remember as we are hearing what we are hearing these days (in regards to immigrants). That kind of thing was also on our minds while we were sitting around in January in the various bars around town thinking, boy this place is dead and we thought this is not an economy because you cannot get rich in it. We are not here for the economic opportunity, we are here because we want to be here and what we are doing, we are a culture, just like those guys that were sitting in the bar that day. They brought their culture with them to the extent that they could. They never made much money working as miners or as ranchers, but they had a culture. And the essence of the culture I think was how to have a rich life without needing a bunch of money. That’s the problem here for us all to think about in the 21st century. But at any rate we put that together with the fact that we were basically not creating an economy here, we were creating a culture. People come into the mountains because it wasn’t like where they grew up, coming to the mountains and starting a new life, a new culture, and it has evolved as a culture. A culture that spends time outdoors, a culture of people that enjoy getting it on every so often, Flauschink, Vinotok, it’s all in the interest of having a rich life without needing a lot of money.

World War I veterans, who fought on different sides, came together to reminisce at Frank & Gals in 1969. Photo by Sandra Cortner

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