The Ugly Truth is This – You are Superficial

When it comes to Butte? The ugly truth is this – You Are Superficial. Take a walk through my world.

Admit it – when you see a place like this, your gut says “eye-sore” and “why hasn’t the county done something about this?”

Or maybe you don’t, and you are a rare breed of optimism+appreciation for places like this. But probably? Your gut Pavlovian response is, “tear it down!”

Let me take you by the hand into my world – why I think these old foundations are a place of wonder and an asset to our community.

But for me? It’s the perfect playground.

Textures that are smooth yet jagged.

Colors that are seafoam green, dark brown and creme.

Views of the towering East Ridge, the Belmont Headframe, the rising sun.

The pothole-filled pavement of the warehouse district turns to a bumpy dirt road, bringing you in through a place where the homes are modest, the fences painted multi-colors and the gardens blooming bright with wildflowers.

These old foundations breathe a sense of wonder into me.

What happened here?

Was this place once loved by both business owner and the employees that made a meager living? Did this place slowly die and turn into a cash cow that the owner walked away from after the railroad industry slowly crept out of Butte?

Was there a fire? Either by accident or by arsonist?

I lay on the pavement to bring the nail to eye level, imagining the walls built around me. The towering structure darkening the sky, the smell of grease lingering, the sounds of the men working on the train cars. Their hands calloused, cracked, and blackened. The kind of hands that leave a black rilm under and between the nails even after using Gojo.

Did the employees celebrate the destruction of this building from a cold hate of both industry and business owner? Or were they enraged to have their livelihood taken away, left with only nostalgic memories of comradery and abundance? Or worse – was there indifference? No passion either for or against, just a sort of – “oh, they tore the old shop down. Huh.”

Sometimes, I feel as though these types of places – the old foundations and front steps that frost the streets of our city – are seen as nothing more than an eyesore. But the people that see these things as eyesores are only seeing the superficial, much like you might determine the character of a person based on the shirt on their back.

To those people – you are looking at this city with the wrong eyes. Start looking at these places like a child does – with a sense of wonder. Start asking yourself questions about the place, bring your imagination into it.

headframe, butte, montana

People have said to me, “you make Butte look good,” and “you take ugly places and make them beautiful.” The truth is, I am doing nothing of the sort. I am taking what’s already there, and I’m  looking at Butte, Montana through a lens of what Butte City was once like. I’m bringing my imagination, sense of wonder, and curiosity in front of you.

I am not “making something look good,” I am merely showing you what is actually there through a lens of optimism instead of pessimism.

These places were never ugly, the truth is, you just told yourself that they were, because you couldn’t look past the superficial shards of broken glass and nails and actually see into the soul of the building – and I know what you’re thinking – “Soul? Who is this hippy, fru-fru chick and why am I reading this?” I don’t mean “soul” as in the religious/spiritual sense – I’m talking about the buildings past, the memories made by the people who gathered in the place, the industry that built this city, the paychecks cut to support the families on the hill. The “soul” is just a fancy word for the impact it had – and is still having – on the people of this city. Peel back the the superficial layer on top – just as we must do with people – and look at the personality, the experiences, the joys, hopes, fears of a place like this.

What would happen if you would look at Butte this same way as I?

My challenge to you – drive around Uptown Butte. Find an old foundation, a staircase with no home, or similar. Actually get out of your car (I know you’re going to want to just take a look through your window), sit on those steps, wander around that foundation. Imagine the walls that once existed, try to hear the children laughing, the baby crying, smell the casserole cooking, envision the life that happened where you are standing.

Now is this place an eyesore?

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2 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth is This – You are Superficial”

  1. I think your beautiful commentary left out one major element when talking about the lost economy.

    Pride in the work they did, sadness when it faded or was torn away. Sure, there are people in Butte who seethe with anger at all that was lost – different things for different people. Many angry at things that happened before they were born and that have nothing more than visceral angst for what they missed.

    In any profession there are those who love what they do and those who hate being stuck there. Few lay people understand that mining is a proud profession and paid (pays) well for the risks taken and the skills perfected. Most of the "downtrodden" were men who worked at support jobs underground, never rising above the menial tasks and paid accordingly.

    The analogy today is working minimum wage at McDonald's. It's supposed to be a stepping stone, a chance to learn and grow into greater things, not a permanent position.

    I'm with you, I see the glory of the past. Families supported in the old country and brought to America. College educated children from families who never made it past 8th grade, if they went to school at all. People and businesses that flourished because the mines paid wages and immense tax bills, bought hundreds of millions in goods and outside services, made charitable contributions and built infrastructure that serves us today.

    I also see the promise of the future. She's a grand town.

  2. Hi Larry!

    Thanks for taking the time for such a great, well thought out comment.

    I agree with what you're saying – the pride in the work they did – the people who loved what they did and worked to grow their skill, and used these jobs as stepping stones.


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