• Photo by David Spear

    Photographing Butte: ‘A timeless town’

    We all know Butte is quite a town – but it’s a town that’s changed quite a bit in the past decades.

    Photographer David Spear has documented some of that change – and a lot of Butte’s magic – while photographing the city since the 1970s. Missoulian reporter Cory Walsh introduced readers to Spear’s new photo exhibit, “A Timeless Town in Time: Butte, Montana” in a recent story. 

    Spear came to Butte like many – a wannabe passer-by who was caught there by fascinated with the city. So he stayed for awhile and went back many times.

    David Spear first photographed Butte in the 1970s as an outsider, a Connecticut native by way of California.

    While some photographers parachute in and never come back, Spear’s fascination never waned.

    Photo by David Spear

    Photo by David Spear

    Much of Spear’s work focuses on the people of Butte.

    “I would take pictures and go back to the same places and see people,” he said. He’d show them prints and see how they were doing.

    • See a slideshow of Spear’s work here

    That’s how he was able to shoot intimate portraits of an elderly miner during his morning routine – smoking a cigarette and then wheeling his chair to a nearby bar to read the newspaper and learn who’d been arrested and who’d passed away.

    Tistol, he learned, rode a boxcar out from Minnesota in midwinter to work in the mines, and began using a wheelchair after he was hit by a truck.

    The exhibition includes two pictures, separated by decades, of Stevie Faulkner, a mentally disabled man well-known around town for offering shoe-shines.

    If you’re around Missoula anytime soon, check out Spear’s exhibit at the Zootown Arts Community Center.

    Jenna

  • The "Butte Beer" ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by Walter Hinick

    Ghost signs: Get a glimpse of Butte’s fading outdoor ads

    They really are pieces of artwork, the outdoor advertisements that adorn many historic and fantastic Uptown Butte buildings.

    They’re called ghost signs. And as writer Claudia Rapkoch found out in our story “Ghost Sign Scrutiny,” they’re a part of Butte lore just like many a good ghost story that’s been told about the town.

    Before TV and billboards, outdoor ads painted on buildings were a key way for companies to market their products.

    Companies hired sign painters, called wall dogs, to travel the country and promote their products. These painters were a combination of salesmen, artists, engineers, chemists and daredevils, and Butte’s population made it an obvious place to advertise regional national brands such as Bull Durham Tobacco, Rex Flour, Sweet Caporal Cigarettes and Coca-Cola.

    A campaign sign for mayoral candidate Tom Morgan before restoration. Photo by George Everett

    A campaign sign for mayoral candidate Tom Morgan before restoration. Photo by George Everett

    But just what is the best way to preserve the fading signs? That’s not an easy question to answer. Butte is currently debating how and if they should preserve the signs.

    We’ve got a slideshow of ghost sign images online now.

    You can read Rapkoch’s full story in our current March/April issue – or subscribe today so you don’t miss another Montana moment.

    Jenna

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      The Creamery Cafe ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by George Everett

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      The Dry Climate Cigar ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by George Everett

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      The Eddy's Bread ghost sign in downtown Helena. Photo by George Everett

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      The Sweet Caporal Cigarettes ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by Walter Hinick

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      The "Butte Beer" ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by Walter Hinick

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      A campaign sign for mayoral candidate Tom Morgan before restoration. Photo by George Everett

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      The restored Tom Morgan for Mayor ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by George Everett

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      The Wah Chong ghost sign during restoration. Photo by George Everett

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      The restored Mai Wah/Wah Chong ghost sign in Uptown Butte. Photo by George Everett

    Ghost Sign Scrutiny: Butte grapples with how restore outside ads

    By CLAUDIA RAPKOCH

    Many a ghost story has been written about Butte.

    The city’s metropolitan past is rich with colorful characters, drama and intrigue. But it was also an urban center where thousands of people lived their lives – and that made it a prime target for advertisers.

    Long before interstate highway billboards or other forms of modern media existed, there was only one way to reach potential customers on a daily basis outside of the newspapers.  Advertisers made use of the most readily available canvas at the time – buildings.

    Companies hired sign painters, called wall dogs, to travel the country and promote their products. These painters were a combination of salesmen, artists, engineers, chemists and daredevils, and Butte’s population made it an obvious place to advertise regional national brands such as Bull Durham Tobacco, Rex Flour, Sweet Caporal Cigarettes and Coca-Cola.

    That was long ago.

    Today, the remnants of the advertisements painted on walls are called ghost signs.

    To read the entire Ghost Sign Scrutiny story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Glacier Mountain Goats Montana Magazine

    Fan favorites of 2014: Which stories did you like the best?

    With 2014 coming to a close it’s hard not to look back and remember more than a few great stories we found to share with you inside Montana Magazine.

    But what did you, our online readers, decide were their favorites? Here’s our top four most popular stories of 2014, as decided by all our online friends.

    Butte's underground speakeasy. Photo by Lisa Wareham

    Butte’s underground speakeasy. Photo by Lisa Wareham

    What’d we miss? Tell us your favorite feature of 2014 by emailing editor@montanamagazine.com.

    Jenna

  • oneill

    Montana news: Osama bin Laden shooter from Butte?

    Montana is making news in a big way today with a story coming from across the ocean.

    The Montana Standard had a story online today saying that a British tabloid is reporting that it was a Butte native who killed Osama bin Laden.

    Rob O’Neill grew up in Butte and his father, Tom, still lives there.

    A 16-year veteran of military service, Rob O’Neill is now a motivational speaker. He spoke late least year at the Maroon Activity Center.

    “It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do anything,” he told The Montana Standard in an interview before his speech. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do the best you can.”

    At the time, he declined to discuss the specifics of the raid that led to the bin Laden’s death. 

    Here’s a 2013 story by Angela Brandt about Rob’s return to Butte.

    According to the Standard’s story, Tom told the UK’s  Daily Mail  that Rob did kill Osama. He also took part in the mission that helped save “Captain Philips” from Somali pirates. That mission inspired the movie starring Tom Hanks.

    Jenna

  • Meet Butte’s most famous dog, The Auditor

    A feisty Auditor is seen above in his younger years, before he acquired his trademark coat of dreadlocks. Courtesy of the Montana Standard

    A feisty Auditor is seen above in his younger years, before he acquired his trademark coat of dreadlocks. Courtesy of the Montana Standard

    He was a mongrel, a dog with dreads who lived long past the normal lifespan of most mutts in one of Montana’s harshest climate. He’s a piece of Montana history you’ve got to know about.

    He was The Auditor and he lived his life as a stray dog at Butte’s Berkeley Pit, where he gained a place for himself with the rest of the Big Sky Country’s quirky icons.

    The “Mysterious Mine Dog” was remembered recently in Butte’s Montana Standard, as a beloved mascot of the town.

    The Auditor was first seen roaming the mine in 1986.  The mongrel, who got his name from employees “by always showing up when you least expected it,” lived almost all his years wandering the barren waste dumps, leach pads and mine roads above the rim of the Berkeley Pit in virtual solitude

    The only time Auditor could be expected was at dinner, when he came to his shanty where mine employees would fill his dishes with food and fresh water. Human contact was something the elusive mongrel avoided when at all possible. Armored by a coat of dreadlocks, the animal would disappear for weeks, even in the bitter cold of Butte’s winter. But as his name stuck, he would always appear just about the time his friends at the mine had given him up for dead.

    The Auditor died in his dog house in 2003, but not before he became a state legend. He’s now memorialized with a statue at the Butte Chamber of Commerce building.

    Here’s another story from the Standard about the Auditor’s 2003 death.

    – Jenna

  • Butte's underground speakeasy. Photo by Lisa Wareham

    Throwback Thursday: Unlocking the history of Butte’s long forgotten underground speakeasy

    Here’s a fun through back Thursday for you: One the most popular stories of 2014 (so far) the mysterious and wonderful tale of the long forgotten Rookwood Speakeasy uncovered underground in Uptown Butte.

    Butte wasn’t necessarily a place that was pro-prohibition. For instance:

    “It is estimated,” The Butte Miner reported, “that 150 gallons of whiskey, 1,500 bottles of beer and 30 gallons of wine were destroyed by the hue and cry.”

    “The agents, taking advantage of the evening rush hour of thirst quenchers, had little difficulty in entering any of the places,” The Anaconda Standard added. Arrested at the Rookwood was infamous bootlegger and moonshiner Curly McFarland.

    The full story is up now.

    Enjoy!

    Jenna 

  • Mysterious story of Copper King’s daughter makes for one good book

    It’s always funny how closely connected we are here in Montana. What’s the saying? In Montana, it’s not seven degrees of separation, but three?

    It’s something like that.

    Montana Magazine book reviewer Doug  Mitchell found some surprising connections to the Huguette Clark’s story, detailed in the new book “Empty Mansions” by Bill Dedman. It really is a fascinating story about Huguette and her highly unusual lifestyle. She spent decades in a New York City hospital room while various, sweeping mansions sat empty. She was the daughter of infamous Copper King W.A. Clark, who made his fortune in Butte.

    Doug, from Helena, found that during his travels with his wife, he’d been close to many of the mansions. We weren’t able to print Doug’s entire story inside the Jan/Feb issue, but you can read the full edition online at MontanaMagazine.com. 

    We’ve also posted the extended version of Doug’s chat with Bill Dedman. Among a ton of other great behind-the-scenes details, Dedman told Mitchell that he drew much of the story from 20,000 pages of correspondence Huguette wrote and 20 years of nurses notes. It’s always fascinating to hear more about how an author finds, crafts and presents their story.

    Enjoy!

    Jenna

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