Town celebrates Wild West, Mining History, ‘5 Minutes of Hell’

They used to say that “anyone who’s anyone has been to Leadville” – in the 1800s, that is. Rich in history, exotic characters, astounding stories and technological feats, Leadville was one of the world’s most notorious mining towns that grew out of Colorado’s late-1800s gold and silver boom.

Leadville’s legendary legacy lives on at Leadville Boom Days Aug. 3-5 with a spirited three-day celebration of the Wild West, mining history and the amazing people that made this historic period one that stands the test of time.

Back in the day, Leadville’s streets bustled with activity, shared alike by those who were poverty stricken and those who had struck it rich. Lifestyles ranged from lewd, licentious and bawdy to uber-luxurious and high-brow. It would not have been out of place to witness a saloon gunfight surrounded by onlookers wearing the world’s latest fashions or dirty, old mining rags.

What united the populous, however, was a burning desire and a fervent dream to strike it rich and build a lifelong legacy. Many succeeded. Many more failed. It is this rich and vibrant heritage that is reflected in Leadville Boom Days.

Jim Booth, the mining skills competition coordinator, has been involved since age 19, first as a competitor, now as coordinator. He is a lifelong career miner, employed in mine development, recovery and restoration and was mine rescue team captain for years. His passion for mining is contagious.

According to Booth, Boom Days opens a window to the past that gives us a glance at the indomitable pioneering spirit of Leadville that lives on today. “Boom Days has been around for a long time and points to the past, helping us remember where we came from. The modern world was built on the backs of these hard-working miners. The skills they needed – the mental and physical strength required – is just unbelievable.”

Miners are a tight-knit brotherhood with a deep camaraderie. Skills competitions have been taking place since the 1800s. “People do not think about what it was like back then. Mining was often done by candlelight. When there were candle shortages, they hammered in the dark, days at a time.” One of the toughest contests, the Single Jack, affectionally called “five minutes of Hell” by Booth, entails a single miner holding a steel pike in one hand, a sledge hammer in the other, and hammering as big a hole as possible in five minutes. “This one’s a killer. It looks easy, but you’re just spent after it.”

One of his fondest memories of Boom Days was seeing the young man he mentored more than 12 years become last year’s champion. “It made me proud to see him win, and it makes me happy to see that I’ve still got it.”

Leadville Boom Days has something to offer for the whole family, including a street fair, live entertainment, costumed characters, gunslingers, kids mining competitions, games, a car show, pie-eating contest, cookout breakfast and more. Key events include a lively parade on Saturday morning, mining-skills competitions throughout the weekend and the famous burro race, which is the final leg of the international triple crown of burrow racing.

This will be an historic gathering celebrating Leadville’s rich history. Come immerse yourself in this extravaganza of colorful memories, remembering that “anyone who’s anyone has been to Leadville.”

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