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. Many of these blog posts have been converted to podcast episodes, available at KBMF.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gertie the Babyseller – where she lived and worked

For background, context, and a photo of Gertie, see this link.

By Richard I. Gibson

Casey Block: Gertie probably lived in
the basement apartment here.
Her office was next door (to the left).
Photo by Dick Gibson
Gertrude Pitanken (maiden name not known) was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887, and came to Butte by 1907. Trained as a chiropractor, she worked as a nurse at the old St. James Hospital where she may have met her husband, Dr. Gustav Pitanken. Gustav died July 22, 1930, age 66, and Gertie assumed his practice, which included abortions.

When Gustav died in 1930, he and his wife had an office at 511 Metals Bank and they lived at 663 Colorado with one Henry Davis. The following year, Gertie moved her office to 616 Metals Bank and married William Van Orden, who had retired from the Butte Police Department in 1929. She presumably moved to his residence at 119½ Hamilton Street, in the basement of the Casey Block at the corner of Hamilton and Granite. She was definitely living there by 1934.

Gertie maintained her office at 616 Metals Bank until 1940, when the office was relocated to the top floor, #85, in the Hirbour Tower at Broadway and Main. The 1940 directory is confusing in listing her residence as Columbia Gardens (there was a small neighborhood of that name near the amusement park) but it seems that she was also maintaining the residence with Van Orden on Hamilton Street. She’s back there by 1942, when her office relocated again, to 115 Hamilton, the Maley Block just south of the Casey Block. It was from this location that she sold babies into adoption in the 1940s and 1950s.

Casey Block (photo from Piccadilly
Transportation Museum web site)
The office continued at 115 Hamilton (third floor, I believe) until 1959, but Pitanken and Van Orden moved from the basement apartment at 119½ Hamilton to a home at 829 West Quartz about 1945; by 1952 Pitanken was living in the same space as her office at 115 Hamilton. Van Orden, who was listed separately in the Directories through all this, has disappeared by about 1950.

Gertie died April 19, 1960, and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. 115 Hamilton was vacant in 1960.

Criminal charges were brought against Gertrude Pitanken three times: in 1929, for botched abortions, falsified death certificate, “not proved;” in 1936 (dismissed; later sanity commission declared her sane); and in 1939-40 – arrested at home (Columbia Gardens), charges were dropped. Gertie allegedly had incriminating information about city officials including judges, which resulted in her cases being dismissed. Whether that’s true or not is unknown.

Sources: Butte Archives VF 0681, 1745; city directories. With the exception of the Columbia Gardens neighborhood, I believe that all the locations mentioned above are still standing.

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