An American Ghost Town – Butte, Montana
Set in the Silver Bow County of Montana State, USA, Butte is a modern day town with an almost Ghost-Like feel; but this wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, Butte was a major mining camp, with gold and silver for starters. Down the line, there came an advent for electricity which caused a soaring demand for copper, which happened to be abundant in the area. This demand continued to increase and really spiked during World War I, where copper was used in about every rifle bullet (much of which came from Butte).
During the 1930’s and 40’s, Butte continued to pour out tons of copper every day, although the ‘great depression’ of the 1930’s led to less demand for the minerals, hereby, resulting in a decline in population, since most inhabitants of Butte were miners. By the 50’s, the major mining companies decided to switch from the costly & dangerous practice of Underground mining to “Open Pit mining”. This birthed sites such as the Berkeley Pit, which at the time was the largest truck operated open pit copper mine in the United States. Berkeley pit was eventually shut down by 1982 due to toxic waste that was affecting the town’s main water source, and now exists only as a tourist site.
While the bulk of buildings erected during its heyday still stand, most of these buildings are either partially or completely empty. As such, any visitor to Downtown Butte (often referred to as Uptown Butte since it’s situated on a hill) would see often times, that the street level stores are occupied while the upper storey floors are deserted. I visited one of these stores which happens to be a bar, it still had that 50’s/60’s vibe that you would have seen in old movies; piano and microphone at a corner of it, small round tables & chairs and wall of photographs that takes you back in time of the bar’s heyday when it was graced with frequent visits from America’s’ elite and celebrities. Today, the bar opens only two days in a week, Friday & Saturday, since not a lot of people live in Butte. It is also one of the few American cities that allow possession and consumption of open containers of alcoholic beverages out on its streets.
If you are lucky to be here in the summer, Butte’s Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks show is the largest in Montana state. I’m talking about over 20 minutes of back to back fireworks going up and “Ka – Blueey” in the sky. It’s so good that in 2008, Barack Obama spent his last Fourth of July before his Presidency campaigning in Butte, participating in the parade with his family, and celebrating his daughter Malia Obama’s 10th birthday.
Since Butte was a mining town, an obvious feature no one can miss while getting around are dozens of abandoned mining rigs that grace its skyline. These “Headframes”, as popularly called, are black in color and often rise 200 feet in the air, make a definitive statement about what drove the city earlier in the 1900’s. One of the neat things I love in Butte are the many “ghost signs”, which are often very old signs painted on the sides of buildings (a cheap version of a billboard). Most of the businesses these signs promote are long-gone now. These signs add a certain mystique to Butte which is sort of hard to explain until you visit and see them for yourself. I was amazed to learn that Butte is attempting to preserve these ghost signs.
For a town that’s termed “Ghost Town”, Butte still rocks and has no plans of doing otherwise anytime soon.