ASPEN, CO - I couldn't pin it down right away; the vague sense of atmospheric recognition. Then it struck like lightning--this was the cemetery I knew as a child. Before the fallacy was shattered by visiting a real one, I'd pictured dense thickets of thin barren trees, overgrown vegetation climbing weathered tombstones, and graves scattered randomly over rolling hills. I had long since abandoned such youthful horror-fantasies, accepting the unspectacular reality of bright green, organized, well kept scraps of flat land as the places we store our dead. Yet there I stood, in front of a place not so loosely resembling what I thought to be a laid to rest misconception, lost in rambling thought. My “Walking With the Dead” tour of Ute Cemetery was yet to begin.
5:30 sharp, our guide is summoned by bell. He staggers out of the woodwork in his vest and undertaker's coat, alternately coughing and taking swigs from his flask. I let out a sigh of relief upon seeing his Doc Holiday demeanor, somehow knowing that neither the several children present nor I would be patronized during the next hour. Trinkets are disseminated to the guests for use during our stroll, including a flower he hands to my girlfriend. “What was that all about back there?” I ask her, trying hard to feign seriousness. My smirk betrays me once again, and we continue on our way.
The hills directly to the west block the already receding sun from reaching the cemetery, casting an eerie premature dusk over the grounds. Our chaperon leads us masterfully through the labyrinth of narrow gravel trails, stopping frequently to immerse us in tales of “Ute City's” early working-class pioneers. Dean Weiler's excellent storytelling is built on a foundation of acting experience and strong historical knowledge, while the character he plays is based upon several of the dead men resting in this very cemetery. Make it a challenge during your tour to catch which of the deceased he has borrowed from.