Like all Westerners whose fates have been tied to extraction industries, folks here are familiar with booms and busts. This town of 5,000 once was a roughneck boom town. But in 1982, with the molybdenum mine closed by recession, residents of this nicely placed place, facing the front range of the Rockies at 10,200 feet, can enjoy the view and remember better days. One of the best was a century ago, when Leadville was larger than Denver, and the famous aesthete came to lecture the locals about pretty things.

Before the spring of 1860, few--if any--white men had been in this part of the Arkansas River valley. But by July, gold finds had drawn 10,000 adventurers. By 1864 about 300 remained. In the 1890s lead and silver produced a Leadville of between 30,000 and 60,000--no one knows for sure because in those days people followed wandering stars and did not loiter. However, everyone knows that a red-letter day in Leadville was April 14, 1882, the day a train decanted Oscar Wilde.

He later said that Leadville's miners, in their red shirts, high boots and corduroy trousers, were "the only well-dressed men I have seen in America." What those hearty fellows made of his getup can be imagined. Told that Leadville rowdies would shoot either him or his manager, he replied that he could not be intimidated by anything done to his manager.

"I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time, which elicted the inquiry, 'Who shot him?'"

In another letter: "I spoke to them of early Florentines, and they slept....I described to them the pictures of Botticelli, and the name, which seemed to them like a new drink, roused them from their dreams...." Letter writers are not under oath.

What is touching is the ache for refinement and self-improvement that caused communities like Leadville to import the likes of Wilde to proclaim that "life without industry is sin, and industry without art is barbarism." After the lecture, a torchlight parade took Wilde and his host, Horace Tabor, to Tabor's Matchless Mine, into which they descended in a bucket for what Wilde called a banquet: "When I quaffed a cocktail without flinching, they unanimously pronounced me in their grand simple way 'a bully boy with no glass eye.'"

Tabor was a classic Western figure, a boom-town store owner who made a fortune in silver and land, and became a senator. In the eventful year of 1882, he married a dashing divorcee. A decade later he was bankrupt. The dashing divorcee was found frozen to death in a shack beside the Matchless Mine in 1935.

Before staying a night with Jefferson Davis at his plantation, Wilde passed through St. Joseph, Mo., where people were paying "the income of an English Bishop" for relics from the house of a recently deceased celebrity, Jesse James. Before that, Wilde had visited a Nebraska prison:

"Poor odd types of humanity in hideous striped dresses making bricks in the sun, and all mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face. Little whitewashed cells, so tragically tidy, but with books in them. In one I found a translation of Dante....Strange and beautiful it seemed to me that the sorrow of a single Florentine in exile should, hundreds of years afterwards, lighten the sorrow of some common prisoner in a modern goal...."

Wilde was to read Dante in Reading jail.

When he arrived in America in 1882, Wilde was asked by customs officials if he had anything to declare. He replied: "Only my genius!" Fifteen years later in Reading jail, he wrote (in "De Profundis") that he had been "the spendthrift of my genius....I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character."

He died in his 47th year, as a new century was born, in 1900, in the OP/ED

The Wilde Wild West By George F. Will

LEADVILLE, Colo.--Like all Westerners whose fates have been tied to extraction industries, folks here are familiar with booms and busts. This town of 5,000 once was a roughneck boom town. But in 1982, with the molybdenum mine closed by recession, residents of this nicely placed place, facing the front range of the Rockies at 10,200 feet, can enjoy the view and remember better days. One of the best was a century ago, when Leadville was larger than Denver, and the famous aesthete came to lecture the locals about pretty things.

Before the spring of 1860, few--if any--white men had been in this part of the Arkansas River valley. But by July, gold finds had drawn 10,000 adventurers. By 1864 about 300 remained. In the 1890s lead and silver produced a Leadville of between 30,000 and 60,000--no one knows for sure because in those days people followed wandering stars and did not loiter. However, everyone knows that a red-letter day in Leadville was April 14, 1882, the day a train decanted Oscar Wilde.

He later said that Leadville's miners, in their red shirts, high boots and corduroy trousers, were "the only well-dressed men I have seen in America." What those hearty fellows made of his getup can be imagined. Told that Leadville rowdies would shoot either him or his manager, he replied that he could not be intimidated by anything done to his manager.

"I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time, which elicted the inquiry, 'Who shot him?'"

In another letter: "I spoke to them of early Florentines, and they slept....I described to them the pictures of Botticelli, and the name, which seemed to them like a new drink, roused them from their dreams...." Letter writers are not under oath.

What is touching is the ache for refinement and self-improvement that caused communities like Leadville to import the likes of Wilde to proclaim that "life without industry is sin, and industry without art is barbarism." After the lecture, a torchlight parade took Wilde and his host, Horace Tabor, to Tabor's Matchless Mine, into which they descended in a bucket for what Wilde called a banquet: "When I quaffed a cocktail without flinching, they unanimously pronounced me in their grand simple way 'a bully boy with no glass eye.'"

Tabor was a classic Western figure, a boom-town store owner who made a fortune in silver and land, and became a senator. In the eventful year of 1882, he married a dashing divorcee. A decade later he was bankrupt. The dashing divorcee was found frozen to death in a shack beside the Matchless Mine in 1935.

Before staying a night with Jefferson Davis at his plantation, Wilde passed through St. Joseph, Mo., where people were paying "the income of an English Bishop" for relics from the house of a recently deceased celebrity, Jesse James. Before that, Wilde had visited a Nebraska prison:

"Poor odd types of humanity in hideous striped dresses making bricks in the sun, and all mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face. Little whitewashed cells, so tragically tidy, but with books in them. In one I found a translation of Dante....Strange and beautiful it seemed to me that the sorrow of a single Florentine in exile should, hundreds of years afterwards, lighten the sorrow of some common prisoner in a modern goal...."

Wilde was to read Dante in Reading jail.

When he arrived in America in 1882, Wilde was asked by customs officials if he had anything to declare. He replied: "Only my genius!" Fifteen years later in Reading jail, he wrote (in "De Profundis") that he had been "the spendthrift of my genius....I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character."

He died in his 47th year, as a new century was born, in 1900, in the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris. There, a wit to the end, he said he was dying beyond his means. A monument by Sir Jacob Epstein marks his Paris grave. If, at the end, after a life of boom and bust, he thought of beauty and better days, he may have remembered the rays of the rising sun striking the second highest peak in the continental United States--Mt. Elbert, at Leadville. Hotel d'Alsace in Paris. There, a wit to the end, he said he was dying beyond his means. A monument by Sir Jacob Epstein marks his Paris grave. If, at the end, after a life of boom and bust, he thought of beauty and better days, he may have remembered the rays of the rising sun striking the second highest peak in the continental United States--Mt. Elbert, at Leadville.