More than 30 years ago I got a phone call from Eleanor Bennett. She befriended me because, as Parks and Recreation Board Chair, I had been working on cleaning up the south end of City Park and planting trees in the Park City Cemetery. When I answered the phone she said, “Sally, get over here. I have something for you.” Her tone of voice and demeanor demanded that I get right in my car and go immediately.
Upon my arrival, she handed me an envelope containing a bare root Colorado Blue Spruce seedling from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Her terse instructions were: “Plant this somewhere for me. I won’t live to see it grow.” She would actually live another ten years to see the tree take deep root and grow in my front yard. In thirty-three years, it has grown so much that I had to cut the lower limbs for the street sweeper to pass.
At the time, I knew she had written for The Park Record and that she had served on the City Council. I knew that she was a bit of a character, but every time I look at that tree, I think fondly of her. I’ve since learned that she actually managed The Park Record from 1970 to 1973, doing everything including writing articles, taking subscriptions, advertising, taking photographs, and delivering the bundled newspapers in her little red wagon to the post office for distribution.
That interlude in her life ended in August 1973 when the Park Record building on Main Street burned. Eleanor, who was still reporting for the newspaper, was accustomed to covering the news of fires. She heard the alarm and drove down to Main in her bathrobe and slippers, expecting to write a tragic story of destruction by fire and ended up running in and out of the building to save the petty cash box, the typewriter, subscription files and other essential equipment. The Park City Fire Chief surmised that the fire likely started in the back of Poison Creek Drug Store and spread to an oil tank which exploded into the other buildings adjacent to what is now Meyer Gallery and was once First National Bank. With new ownership of the newspaper, she decided to call it quits there.
Eleanor was born in 1910 in Kalamazoo, Michigan and moved with her military family to New York in 1907. She finished two years of college, but never married, living with her parents until they both died in 1957. While she had worked briefly at a newspaper in Larchmont, NY, after the death of her parents she began to travel. She related later that she just wandered into Park City in 1970 and didn’t have the sense to leave.
Since she was sixty at the time, she apparently didn’t come as a ski bum, but settled into life here, living alone with her collection of owl figurines in her house at 911 Empire Avenue that she called the “Owl’s Roost.” She was a mainstay of both the Women’s Athenaeum and the local Republican Party. She ran for City Council in 1975 and served until the end of her term at the beginning of 1980. She worked to increase the size of the library and was one of the key players in getting the owner of the Miners Hospital to agree to move it over to City Park.
Everyone seems to have an Eleanor Bennett story. Here’s one I found in an oral history at the Park City Museum Hal Compton Research Library:
Eleanor was a very serious sort of person and sometimes humor was lost on her. The April Fools edition of The Park Record was always filled with silly articles and fake ads, one of which was a fake ad for the “No Tell Motel.” Eleanor was horrified with such an idea and demanded that the place be shut down, saying “We just can’t have that here.” Then there was the time at the beginnings of the Arts Festival when she wondered how to get people to pay to attend. One of the fellows said, “We’re going to draw a line and just shoot them if they step over it.” Horrified at the thought, Eleanor said, “God would you guys really do that?”
Eleanor Bennett passed away on April 23, 1999. Before taking the job at the Park Record, a Parkite told her that the job “only paid peanuts.” Her reply, in recounting the memory in a Park Record column about her retirement announcement in 1980, was to report her meager paycheck (just $34.17 every two weeks). “Peanuts!,” she said. “… but I LOVE peanuts!” In just about thirty years in Park City, Eleanor Bennett took those peanuts and grew herself, just as the seeds of her tree have done now.