Just as Ullr Fest defines winter festivities in Breckenridge, so does the weekend of Kingdom Days represent the kickoff of the summer season.
“It was started to celebrate the heritage of Breckenridge and its rich history,” said Sandy Metzger, events manager for the town of Breckenridge.
Starting Friday and stretching into Sunday, downtown Breckenridge will be bustling with music, events and activities for all ages, offering a chance to kick back and celebrate the start of the summer season while at the same time learning more about the town’s historical roots.
No Man’s Land becomes a Kingdom
Sometime back in the 1930s, a group of women stumbled upon an old map dating back to the 1880s. Much to their surprise, they did not see their town anywhere on the map. Breckenridge, they declared, must be a “no man’s land” and might not have been annexed into the United States. This fanciful notion remained throughout the years, eventually leading to the town’s nickname of “The Kingdom.”
“It was completely false,” said Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. “The official maps at the time included Breckenridge.”
While the map missing Breckenridge was likely just an anomaly, the residents of the town made the most of their discovery anyway.
“This was during the Depression. There was mining still in Breckenridge but there probably wasn’t anything else going on,” O’Neil said. “These women created this clever marketing campaign out of this old map.”
Soon, the exclusion of Breckenridge on the map drew attention outside of Summit County. Eventually, the governor came out to perform a flag-raising ceremony at town hall and to officially welcome Breckenridge into the United States.
“The whole idea of Breckenridge being left off the U.S. map made national news at the time,” O’Neil said.
The governor’s arrival was a big success and highly celebrated in town.
“All of it was really false but it generated a lot of interest — and a party, if I understand. Which makes sense for Breckenridge, that we’d find a way to make a party out of this one little map,” O’Neil said with a laugh.
What started out as No Man’s Land eventually morphed into Breckenridge’s nickname of Colorado’s Kingdom, for which the events of Kingdom Days are named.
Fun for the family
Activities abound for young and old alike throughout the weekend. Many of these are associated in some way with Breckenridge heritage, from historic walking tours to free museum hours. The downtown area from Riverwalk Center to the Blue River Plaza will host many of the children’s entertainment and activities, ranging from gold panning to train rides.
“Every year, we assess what was really popular last year and try to tweak it and change it and keep adding new aspects to keep people interested,” Metzger said.
New this year is a kids’ entertainment area on the lawn of the Riverwalk Center, featuring a magician and interactive games.
“In the late 1800s, magic was very popular,” Metzger said.
Kids will also have the opportunity to try out games that were popular during the 1800s, including the classic rolling a wooden spool with a stick and running beside it. For a taste of history via transportation, children can enjoy free train rides around the Blue River Plaza and River Walk or take it slow on a burro ride with Red Tail the Mountain Man, an accomplished storyteller.
The Gold Prospectors of Colorado organization will demonstrate gold panning in the Blue River Plaza. Anyone is welcome not only to give it a try but to keep any gold that they find.
“It is hard. There’s definitely an art to it,” said Metzger, who has tried her hand at gold panning during previous Kingdom Days. “It’s fun because (the prospectors) are so passionate about it and it wears off on you.”
Hunting down history
In addition to having fun, Kingdom Days is a way to spread more awareness of the town’s heritage, Metzger said, not only for visitors but for residents, as well.
“There’s so much cool history that so many people who live here haven’t even experienced,” she said.
While the story behind the map may not be very historically accurate, Breckenridge has its fair share of Old West heritage, much of which is drawn from its days as a mining town.
Throughout the weekend, many of the museums and walking tours will drop their usual fees, allowing visitors to experience the history of the town for free.
“You can find activities for free pretty much all day, both days,” O’Neil said.
For children, O’Neil highly recommends visiting the Edwin Carter Discovery Center, which takes a look into the life of Professor Edwin Carter. The center will be celebrating the naturalist’s birthday on Sunday with free lemonade and birthday cake.
Those looking for more adult entertainment will enjoy the Behind Swinging Doors Saloon Tour.
“You get to hear about the old watering holes in town and get to go inside. Some of the buildings have our bars today,” O’Neil said. “It’s a fun walking tour of town, and people can have a beverage along the way.”
Another popular activity is the Haunted Tour of Breckenridge on Saturday night, which includes what O’Neil describes as “eerie and unexplained stories of Breckenridge.” While older kids may be fine, younger kids are advised not to come, as some of the stories have gory aspects.
Having the museums and tours available for free during Kingdom Days is also a way to expose visitors to Breckenridge beyond just its snowy slopes.
“This is a real town with a mining history. It’s more than a ski resort and a great place to come and hike and bike and all that,” Metzger said. “We have a long history in this town.”
While the tours and museums may be a bit more factual, on Sunday the blend between past and present becomes a bit wackier.
No one seems to remember exactly how the Outhouse Races got started, but everyone knows about the event and the enthusiastic antics of previous years. Essentially, the Outhouse Race consists of outhouse-like structures on wheels raced down the street with one rider and several pullers and pushers.
Teams of five work to build their outhouse racers, each with a different theme. The structure must conform to certain rules, as well, such as including a toilet seat and using only wheels or parts of a bicycle and not the whole thing.
Races go in heats of two down North Main Street, leading up to prizes for Golden Throne, Silver Moon and the Bronze Bucket — first, second and third place, respectively. The People’s Choice Award is given to the outhouse with the most popular theme, which viewers can vote on before the race.
“It’s a very Breckenridge way of incorporating history into how we are today,” O’Neil said of the races. “It’s in a similar vein of some of the other events we have in town, just wacky and kind of strange but really fun, and so I think it’s just a really fun way of weaving in a bit of historical flavor into a really fun modern event.”
Metzger agreed. “It’s totally zany, Breckenridge fun,” she said.