Tombstone Tales brings Grand County history to life |

Tombstone Tales brings Grand County history to life

Gary Calder regales attendees at the annual Tombstone Tales event at the Grand Lake Cemetery with the story of Frank Selak and the Selak family, among Grand County's first ranching families. Frank Selak's tombstone is visible in the background.
Lance Maggart /

Each year, as the Labor Day holiday approaches, the Grand Arts Council hosts an annual event called Tombstone Tales that delves into the history and characters that made the town of Grand Lake the place it is today.

The Tombstone Tales are a form of interpretive history centered around the Grand Lake Cemetery and the, for lack of a better term, residents of that historic plot of land.. The event features a series of regional residents and local history aficionados offering attendees a first person narrative account of the lives that help form modern day Middle Park. Speakers, portraying historic characters, often dress in period garb. Most of the talks are given typically within a short distance from the actual gravesite of the individual being portrayed.

Each year the Tombstone Tales features a different theme. The theme for 2018 was ranching in Middle Park. The event kicked off at 11 a.m. Sunday morning as dozens of local citizens, second homeowners and holiday visitors met at the Gateway Inn to take a shuttle the short distance to Grand Lake’s cemetery grounds. Grand Lake area resident Jim Cervenka led the show as the gravedigger.

Cervenka outlined the history of Grand Lake’s cemetery and provided details on the other regional cemeteries that once held area residents before the lands underneath Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby were flooded. Cervenka also outlined the unique legal space Grand Lake’s cemetery occupies as the land is technically within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The remainder of the Tombstone Tales tour featured five different speakers outlining history related to the Selak and Lehman families and their respective homesteads in the Colorado River valley. Terry Sidell gave a detailed presentation on Redwood Fisher and the history of the still standing AA Barn, located on US Forest Service land south of Shadow Mountain Dam. Cathy Walton-Smith delved into the background of the Hudler Tin Whistle Ranch while Sue Sheriff portrayed her family’s background and the formation of the historic Sheriff Ranch, which still exists today.

For local residents Marilyn and Dave Binkley, this year’s event was their fifth time experiencing the living history at Tombstone Tales.

“I am always amazed at how some of the people who portray their characters do an amazing job of taking that character on,” Marilyn said, going on to specifically highlight the performance of Gary Calder as Frank Selak. “It makes living here more real, knowing how we got to where we are today.”

Likewise, Denise Williams, who owns a second home in the Grand Lake area, has attended Tombstone Tales several times over the last few years.

“I always learn something new every time I come,” Williams said. “It is fascinating, they do a good job every year.”

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