Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A town's history is more than entertainment

This weekend's annual Wagon Days celebration in Ketchum is a proven economic shot in the arm for a time of the year that once was the doldrums between summer and the ski season.

Hats off to those who've made it so, as well as a colorful, eye-popping entertainment event for the delighted thousands who'll line the parade route and "ooh" and "aah" as wagons, horses and parade celebrants make their way through town.

Yet, Wagon Days has a larger purpose and place. The weekend's festivities serve as an annual reminder, and an ongoing preservative, of Ketchum's history and the difficult lifestyle that hardy early settlers and miners endured to lay the groundwork for the community that exists today.

Communities that don't know of their origins and the hardscrabble existence of those who carved out the first signs of a town have no sense of tradition or pride that goes along with honoring the past.

It always brings a cold chill and shudder to those who care when someone callously suggests that the downtown Ketchum museum where Wagon Days' six Lewis Fast Freight Wagons are on permanent display be leveled to make way for a new city government building.

Even as another Wagon Days is at hand to pay tribute to yesteryear, the ability to celebrate another era of Ketchum history has received a terrible setback.

The right of the public to visit the onetime home of Nobel novelist Ernest Hemingway seems to have been denied as the result of neighbors who cowed The Nature Conservancy and City Hall.

The neighbors objected to occasional tours of the home where the Hemingways lived and he died. Tours would've been educational and supervised.

Now, unless the Conservancy, to which the property was bequeathed by Hemingway's fourth wife, or the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation, which planned on hosting the tours, pursues a city rezone to allow tours, an important element in understanding the life of a great American literary figure will be sealed off.

We sympathize with the Conservancy's hesitancy to plow limited funds into a protracted legal battle with obstinate homeowners blocking access to history.

However, Ketchum City Council members should see the public importance of the Hemingway home, not only to history but to serious aficionados of Papa's works and life, and grant special zoning rights to allow controlled group visits to the home.

For the city of Ketchum to make the historic Hemingway home inaccessible by caving to neighbor complaints would be the equivalent of the city prohibiting the Wagon Days parade because of noise.

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