Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three days in the life

… of a Butte tour guide/historian

by Richard I. Gibson

Woke up, got out of bed, Dragged a comb across my head…

Well, no. I haven’t needed a comb for decades. Here’s what really happened:

Some of the 2,500 artifacts in the Wah Chong Tai.
On Saturday I met a Chinese family at the Mai Wah Museum (it’s closed for the season, but we always try to accommodate people if we can find a volunteer to show them around). The parents had owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in Bend, Oregon, for many years, and they drove to Jackson, Wyoming, to pick up their daughter to bring up to Butte. None had been here before; they were in search of the grave of the daughter’s great-grandfather who lived here in the late 1940s.

I had tracked down a bit of information for them about the ancestor: he worked as an attendant at the Milwaukee Road depot (today’s KXLF) and lived across Montana Street at the Mueller Hotel (still standing) when he died in December 1950 and was buried in Mt. Moriah cemetery. They came to the Mai Wah to learn more about the Chinese experience in Butte. They provided some translations of Chinese labels for us (the parents are native Chinese), and I know they enjoyed the tour, but the line of the day came from the father, who said, “Well, this WAS worth driving 1,000 miles for.”

The Federal Building included the Butte post office in 1904.
On Sunday, another spectacular fall day, at Park and Main I met a woman from Boston who came to Butte to get a feel for the way things were here in 1900. She had my book, Lost Butte, but wanted more specifics to better characterize the experience of a character (a carpenter) in a novel she is writing. Butte is not the primary setting for the story, but important enough for her to visit to improve the tale’s veracity. We spent an hour and a half walking the streets, great fun for me too, and she gave me a question for further research: If today’s Federal Building on North Main was the main post office when it opened in 1904, where was the post office before that? I didn’t know, but it will be easy to determine (thanks to the Archives!). Note added later: in 1900, the P.O. was in the Goldsoll Block at 30-32 E. Broadway, just east of the City Hall.

And Monday morning I spent in a listening and discussion session with about 15 locals, including MainStreet/Folk Festival representatives, hotel folks, Tina from the Mining Museum, guest ranch operators, Forest Service people, and others. We attended a meeting hosted by the Montana Tourism Advisory Council and the Montana Office of Tourism, charged with devising a new 5-year strategic plan for tourism in Montana. Lots of ideas came out of it; my notes have a greater-than-usual number of stars (personal action items) ranging from web site stuff to educational programs I might help facilitate.

On the way to dinner at the Metals Bank, I stopped off at the Quarry to deliver a copy of Lost Butte to Erik, and encountered Cindy Gaffney, who is working on a project to bring a noted cheese maker from the Beara Peninsula of Ireland to Butte for next year’s An Ri Ra. Ultimately, Cindy would like to establish a cottage business using Butte mines as aging caves for Irish cheese, another link re-connecting Butte with ancestral Allihies Ireland.

Monday dinner was with a family who came to Butte from Pasadena, CA, and Connecticut. Harry had my book and when he called last week to set up the dinner, said it brought back fond memories of his time in Butte – in 1945, here for a few months when he was mustering into the Navy. He stayed in the dorm at the School of Mines and was befriended by a great many people here in Butte, so much so that it made a lasting impression on him. His unit marched in the V-J Parade here in August before he departed to lead his life elsewhere. This was his first visit in quite some time – the trip to Butte was essentially an 85th birthday present to Harry from his family. Tuesday he’s meeting with the Tech Alumni Foundation (Michael Barth) and with Chad Okrusch (he has Matt and Chad’s book, too). The family came to Butte because it was remarkable in 1945, and still is, as we all know. The dinner with Harry, his wife, and their son and daughter was as delightful as possible, a really memorable, truly Butte occasion for me. I can’t share Butte like a Butte native, but I sure can and do share Butte.  

If I ever act like I’m bored, or as if I have an uninteresting life, slap me down.

Wah Chong Tai photo by Dick Gibson; Post Office image is public domain from gsa.gov via Wikipedia.

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