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, January 12, 2015

Cold wave, January 1902

By Richard I. Gibson

Obviously it’s not THAT noteworthy: It gets cold in Butte in the winter. The cold wave of 1902 made the news, though – one of the coldest late January cold spells on record.

Wagon wheels creak with the complaining whirl of extreme cold and windows are sheeted with ice. The big policeman shrinks one coil deeper into his big coon-skin coat and wishes somebody would start something in the near-by saloon.” —Butte Inter Mountain, January 25, 1902

The only colder temperature than Butte was at Fort Assiniboine, where -48° to -52° was recorded. The cold snap was statewide: 27 below at Helena, 35 below at Great Falls, 15 below in Billings.

“The hotel lobbies look inviting and travelers who come from sunnier climes postpone their business engagements and ask the clerk anxiously how long this is going to last.” Yes, some things never change.

At the busy corner of Main Street and Broadway, the “Ice Picture Man” entertained passers-by by reading Frostographs. The article from the Inter Mountain is quoted below in its entirety:

He came sliding down Main street with a festive air, whistling “When the harvest days are over, Jessie dear,” and occasionally balancing himself with the dexterity of a circus rope walker on the icy pavement until he reached the little knot on the corner, who were studying the thermometer and agreeing that it was much colder than the register indicated.

“Say,” said the gentleman with the whistle, who moved as if he had learned to walk on a pair of Norwegian skis, “did any of you fellows ever notice the peculiar designs on the windows here in Butte when the weather gets very cold? Now, it is a well-known fact that frost reflects the surrounding objects on the window panes, and that when you see trees and plants on the glass they are simply reproductions of the trees and shrubs in the neighborhood. These pictures are scientifically known as ‘frostographs.’

“If you notice the pictures on the Butte windows, however, you will see that there are very few of these beautiful trees and designs on the window panes, and I believe this bears out the theory that they are really reproductions.

“Now I have a theory.” Here half the audience slipped quietly away. “These pictures that you see on hear are photographic reproductions of familiar objects around the city.

“Let me show you,” and the stranger assumed the attitude and tone of the professional dime museum conductor. “On the right you see a faithful representation of the shafthouse of the Gagnon mine. Ah, I see you recognize the similarity. Over here you can observe readily a very excellent reproduction of the Hennessy building. Here, partly blurred by the melting ice, and yet readily recognizable, are the smoke stacks on the hill. See, there are the stacks of the ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Neversweat,’ and away up on top of the pane you find the shafthouse of the ‘Mountain View.’

“Now, note the perspective, how much larger in comparison these buildings are than the reflections of the works on the hill. The new Hirbour building takes up about half the pane, and even the city hall looks twice as large as the Hennessy building.”

“Say, mister,” said a street urchin, who happened along at that moment, “what do you call that mixed-up-looking mess there, close to what you call the city hall?”

“That,” said the professor, without a moment’s hesitation, “is a remarkable picture: that is a flawless frostograph of the police disturbance in Butte,” and before the crowd could catch its breath he was sliding down the hill with an easy swing that would make a Norwegian ski-runner ashamed of himself.

Source: Butte Inter Mountain, January 25, 1902

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