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.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Smells of Butte


By Richard I. Gibson

Geologists know that rocks have distinctive smells. Probably not enough to take your identification to the bank, but when you break granite it smells differently than limestone or sandstone. We might not know for sure what it is, blindfolded, but we’d know they are different. And wet smashed granite doesn’t smell the same as hot dry granite.

Butte must have accosted the world with its smells. I can imagine that the early stamp mills – smashing rocks – must have generated a really distinctive dust smell, and if it was winter, or raining, it would have been just that much different. People notice these things, in the town where they live, where they know its cycles and systems.

If you lived at 401 North Wyoming, at the foot of the Anaconda Road, would you smell the thousands of men pouring down the Road every eight hours – even if they’d showered in the dry, even if they were picky about keeping their street clothes clean?

It’s inconceivable to me that at least in spring and summer, walking past the dozen groceries on Park Street, that you wouldn’t be drawn by the citrus scent of imported oranges and grapefruit, piled on the sidewalk stands. By the fresh lettuce and tomatoes, by the bread – Oh, the fresh-baked bread!

And the restaurants! So many, so varied! What tantalizing aromas must have enticed the miner, the haberdasher, the clerk, the teacher! The complicated blending of Greek, of Italian, of Serbian, of boiled cabbage, must have been unidentifiable, but memorable. Your grandparents, your great-grandparents could probably be transported to a spot in Butte in a particular time if those molecules could be blended again. Like the smell of an old window screen after a summer rain, evoking the scenes of childhood. Like a circus memory, the smell of cotton candy and roasting peanuts and elephant dung and acrobats’ sweat. Smells of Butte.

There’s no such thing today, but it’s not all gone. You can walk down the block of Park east of Montana at certain times, when the Renfrows are roasting coffee at Tap 'Er Light and Chuck is doing something in Quarry Brewing that sends more aroma than usual into the air. It’s usually late morning, on a not-too-cold day, with just enough breeze, probably 2.7 miles per hour, to move the scents around. It doesn’t smell like coffee or like beer. It smells like Park Street east of Montana.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered your blog. I have had similar thoughts but my mind wanders to the sounds. I thought about this the last time I was at the Granite Mountain Memorial. I cannot imagine the sounds of the Hill. All the bells and whistles that sounded on regular and irregular basis along with the automobiles and trollies; along with the standard sound of everyday living. Butte had to have a volume that was unusual for Montana and the West.

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