Two funerals, two shrines for Thompson
SOMEWHERE IN THE WOODS NEAR ELK CAMP — While beers and beads circulated below in Snowmass Village, a lighter was igniting Black Cat fireworks and bud in a forest clearing about 2,000 feet higher in elevation for a party of a different kind.
The occasion was the observance of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's passing on the same date two years ago, which this year happened to fall on Fat Tuesday — a fitting coincidence given the Good Doctor's voracious taste for overindulgence.
But the hallowed day designated for hedonism, real or otherwise, wasn't one of Thompson's most savored holidays.
"He didn't celebrate it because he thought it was too commercial," his widow, Anita Thompson, explained over the telephone. "But he still liked to drink and party."
Indeed, every day was Fat Tuesday for Hunter S. Thompson.
Clad in festive costumes, the merry band of skiers pinned pictures of Thompson and other memorabilia on the trees, ate pineapple from a Leatherman knife, and took soft puffs of marijuana between loud explosions of fireworks.
The men, whose names are being withheld to protect the guilty, were tending to a shrine at Snowmass Ski Area dedicated to the man who authored "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and was almost elected sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970. Thompson ran on the Freak Power ticket and chronicled his adventures in Rolling Stone magazine in a story called "The Battle of Aspen."
"It feels weird to celebrate his death day as opposed to his birthday but it somehow seems appropriate for him," said a bearded man identifying himself only by his alter ego, Rusty Hematoma.
Hematoma, who had a festive flag draped over his shoulders and a sticker declaring "I Didn't Do It" affixed to his helmet, is one of a handful of Aspen residents who created the Hunter S. Thompson shrine on Feb. 20, 2006 — exactly one year after the enigmatic writer killed himself.
For decades, the woods within the Aspen and Snowmass ski area boundaries have been devoted to famous fallen heroes including Bob Marley, Elvis and Jimi Hendrix. Shrines have also been created for popular locals who have died, and other shrines, such as Yankee Stadium, dedicated to national treasures.
At Thompson's shrine, an American flag is strung up between two trees. More than a half-dozen other trees feature laminated pictures depicting Thompson, newspaper articles, magazine covers, a basket stuffed with writings, and a mannequin arm donning a chewed up ski glove with a crumpled Gonzo sticker on its forearm.
Another shrine at Aspen Highlands, at the aptly named Joint Point, is also dedicated to Thompson. Unlike most, Thompson has been blessed with two funerals and two shrines. (His first memorial service at the Hotel Jerome featured an array of celebrity speakers including Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and many others. His second memorial service included an extravagant pyrotechnic show in Woody Creek during which Thompson's ashes were blasted out of a cannon monument that was taller than the Statue of Liberty.)
The originators of the Snowmass shrine told stories about their encounters with Thompson. One man, identifying himself as R.W. Featherstone, said that Thompson once grabbed his girlfriend's breasts at the Woody Creek Tavern, so he went to Thompson's red convertible and stole one of his hats.
Another man recalled how he was working security at a Jazz Aspen Snowmass concert at Buttermilk when Thompson rolled up with his entourage holding a drink of Chivas Regal in his hand. He put a wristband around Thompson's wrist as his supervisors instructed him to "Let him through! Let him through!" Thompson was on his way backstage to meet Bob Dylan, whom he rapped with in Willie Nelson's tour bus.
Throughout the land, Thompson fans were expected to honor the author Tuesday. Anita Thompson said she invited "thousands of readers" onto www.owlfarmblog.com  to join her in lighting a candle or fire yesterday at 6 p.m. MST.
In what has become a tradition, she burned a Christmas tree to set off a bonfire in her backyard for family and friends.
"To get together and have a bonfire on this day that Hunter died is a way to remind us that his spirit is very much alive," she said, noting that his birthday is also celebrated at Owl Farm. "It's not so much for Hunter, as it is for us. It's an important date that has deeply affected us and probably will forever."