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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chimney-sweeping time in Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

“It has been noticeable that there is a great rush to have the chimneys of the houses swept and thoroughly cleansed for the accommodation and comfort of the ever-welcome Santa.” Anaconda Standard, December 21, 1902.

One of Santa’s “best and most faithful allies” in Butte was Elias Simmington, the “colored chimney sweep who has served Santa well for many Christmases.” Simmington grew up in Kansas and arrived in Butte about 1882. For more than 20 years, he made a point of sweeping chimneys of “good little girls and boys” in the season approaching Christmas. 

In 1902, Simmington’s promotion of Santa, assuring the children of Santa’s impending safe arrival, opined that since the previous year, Santa had taken to “new fandangled ideas,” and had gotten himself a peach of an automobile. The reindeer, getting a bit old and slow, were to be given a break for Christmas 1902 as Santa tested the new contraption.

In Simmington’s view, Santa liked Butte almost well enough to live here permanently, but the smoke was what kept him from doing it. And Santa’s aversion to smoke was Simmington’s incentive to keep the chimneys clean. In the performance of his job, he was sometimes mistaken for Santa himself. A little girl was certain Santa had arrived, but her brother, who Simmington said was “pretty well posted on everything,” told her, “Naw, that ain’t Santa Claus. Santa Claus has got white whiskers, and that man ain’t.”

Elias Simmington lived at 203 South Ohio Street just south of the intersection of Ohio and Mercury, in the Cabbage Patch. His tenement was a 10-by-20-foot brick veneered room, one of a short row of such homes on the west side of Ohio Street. He died before 1910, when his widow, Babe Elizabeth, was working as a janitor at Symons Department Store on Park Street and living at 1037 Iowa Avenue. She was still in that job and home in 1918. The little one-story house on Iowa Street is gone today, but the lot is a nicely landscaped yard.

On the same 1902 newspaper page as the article about Elias Simmington, another story reported on one Charles Whalen, immigrant to Butte from Baltimore. He came to Butte on the advice of his physician, to get over consumption. He claimed that Butte’s sulphur smoke contained a germicide that killed the consumption germ. “Arsenic in the smoke builds up the system,” Whalen said, “and there you are.” He said he was thinking about building a sanitarium in Butte for the curing of consumption through the breathing of its smoky atmosphere.

Resources: Anaconda Standard, December 21, 1902; Butte Miner, Dec. 21, 1902; city directories; Sanborn maps.

1 comment:

  1. Great ! I have spoken with a relative of theirs -