February 9, 2017

Lydia's: A Montana Tradition

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Library Technician

Last fall after spending the day in Butte, my husband and I wanted to find a quick bite to eat before heading back to Helena. It was getting darker and there were fewer and fewer cars as we headed away from downtown Butte, past the car dealerships and the airport. I was ready to turn around but just at that moment, I saw a lonely sign in front of a nondescript, anonymous looking building. The sign indicated that this was Lydia’s: A Montana Tradition. I’d heard of Lydia’s as, well, a Montana tradition and an Italian restaurant. So, of course, we had to try it. Once inside, the décor - lush-textured walls and seating, the mirrors, the colors and subdued lighting, the sunken floor with tables that accommodated many groups and yet, gave the feeling of one big group – resembled a 1960s lounge club. And, as we settled into our cozy section, our waiter brought over dishes filled with food. We hadn’t ordered anything and already we had food! A platter of salami and cheese, a little dish of green onions, a casserole of sweet potato salad, a saucer of anchovies, a basket of breadsticks, a small bowl of salad for each of us with a selection of home-made dressings, a dish of beets, and a plate of sliced red bell peppers. Wow, I didn’t even need to order an entrée. But, with that kind of a start, I was curious to see what other goodies we might receive. With our substantial main selections came more of these little treats – a dish of ravioli, a bowl of spaghetti, and of all things, a plate of French fries. It was quite the meal – delicious, hearty, different, relaxing, and fun.

Back in Helena, I had to learn more about this wonderfully unique experience called Lydia’s and its history. Originally located in Meaderville, Lydia Michelotti’s restaurant was called the Savoy Club before moving to the Flats in 1946. The current building was constructed in 1964 next to the older [1946] building and the restaurant has carried on the Meaderville-style dinner tradition. As Lydia’s brother, Dave, once commented, “We serve a Meaderville dinner today with chicken, steak and raviolis the same way they did in the old days. The sad thing is today when you say Meaderville no one knows what you are talking about” [1].

"What you can see from the headframe?" - Issue #1 Copper Commando
(view from Leonard Mine headframe of Meaderville, Butte, Montana)
Catalog #: Lot 019 B14

Meaderville was known as the Italian-American neighborhood of Butte and was renowned world-wide for its supper clubs that served sumptuous, multi-course meals. Lydia Micheletti grew up in this neighborhood - alternately nicknamed “Little Monte Carlo” (for its open gambling) and “the Night Club Mecca of the Rockies” [2] - and became a dishwasher in one of its restaurants as a young girl to help her family. She later worked under Ted Traparish at the Rocky Mountain Café, where she honed her cooking skills.

The star of the Meaderville night club restaurants, the Rocky Mountain Café on Main Street was considered one of the world’s top restaurants. In fact, an editor of the New York Evening Post wrote in his column, “This may be one of the three or four great restaurants in the world.” [3]. This editor was not the only writer enamored of the Rocky Mountain Café. Many high-profile newspapers and magazines, such as Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, provided the public with a glimpse of this amazing place and enticed them with statements like, “The Best Steak inside me”.  And, the September 1953 issue of Good Housekeeping contained a full-page article entitled, ‘A Big Night in Butte” by Dorothy Kilgallin. In it, she details her the contents of her lavish meal, beginning with the appetizers. “There were olives, stuffed celery, mushrooms, salami, an assortment of cheeses, sardines in oil, crab meat in Russian dressing, shrimp in hot sauce, artichoke hearts, pimientos, pickles, anchovies, a jar of Russian caviar and a big salad with Roquefort dressing…Then the steaks came.”  She ends the article with this perfect statement, “Even after seeing the prices in big black letters I went out feeling as if I had accepted charity.” In 1961, Teddy retired and the restaurant closed before expansion of the Berkeley Pit claimed all of Meaderville. [4]

Rocky Mountain Café flyer [5]

After learning the trade from master chef and host Teddy Traparish; and skilled with re-creating the recipes her mother brought from Italy, Lydia opened her own restaurant and it has been a mainstay in Butte since. As Lydia’s website states, “Meaderville and its many supper clubs are now part of Butte’s colorful history, but Lydia’s proudly carries on the ‘Meaderville-Story’ through our Italian-American dinners.” [6]

Cited works
[1] Kearney, Pat. Butte Voices: Mining, Neighborhoods, People. Skyhigh Communications, 1998, pp. 296-98.
[2] Kearney, Pat. Butte Voices: Mining, Neighborhoods, People. Skyhigh Communications, 1998, p. 214.
[3] Tribune Staff Writer. “’One of World’s Top Restaurants’ Near Butte: Few Dining Spots in U.S. have Won More Praise.” Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT), 26 April 1953, page 13
[4] Excerpts Concerning Montana’s Famous Restauranteur Teddy Traparish, 1888-1971. Compiled by Edward Craney. [Butte, MT: Edward Craney[, 1971?.
[5] Excerpts Concerning Montana’s Famous Restauranteur Teddy Traparish, 1888-1971. Compiled by Edward Craney. [Butte, MT: Edward Craney[, 1971?.
[6] Lydia’s Supper Club, http://www.lydiassupperclub.com/. Accessed 7 February 2017. 

January 26, 2017

Public Enemy #1 - The House Fly

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

Have you ever looked at a house fly and thought that it might be the cause of your death? Probably not, but during the early 1900s, the house fly was denounced by public health officials and newspapers across the country.

Called the Queen of the Rubbish Heap [1], the house fly was blamed for transmitting every major contagious disease, including typhoid, cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and smallpox. Thus the house fly stood at the crossroads of two movements in public health, the scientific quest to understand the nature and causes of disease and the resulting effort to prevent them.

Roundup Record (Roundup, MT)
July 28, 1911 p1


One of the notable aspects of the cartoon above is that Judge Science is presiding. In newspapers, the life cycle and habits of the house fly were discussed and condemned. In one notable article, the author concludes that the house fly is more evil than the bed bug and that all the public’s revulsion of the bed bug should be transferred to the house fly. [2]

Whitefish Pilot (Whitefish, MT)
June 29, 1911 p6

But just knowing the house fly was the culprit wasn’t enough. It was time to use this newfound knowledge of their habits against them. A major campaign was instituted to exterminate the house fly. Newspapers carried advice from public health officials about how to fly proof homes and deny flies their breeding grounds. This task became so ubiquitous that it carried over into poetry and advertisements. Indeed even school children were brought into the act.  When the Montana State Board of Health 1911 conducted an essay contest in 1911, one of the three topics was “The Evils of the House Fly, and How the House Fly can be Eradicated.” [3]

Saco Independent (Saco, MT)
August 6, 1915 p8


The Enterprise (Malta, MT)
June 15, 1910 p4


But the house fly was really only part of a larger problem: sanitation. The house fly was so dangerous because of the conditions. One of the other essay topics from that same Board of Health contest was “For the best description of an unsanitary back yard located in the district in which the child writing the essay lives, and the evils of such a back yard. Please note that the evils of the back yard should be treated not only from the standpoint of the effect on individuals owning and conducting the yard, but from the standpoint of the effect of such a yard on the community at large.” This focus led to community “clean-up days” in which either the state or community chose a day, usually in early spring, when all businesses and schools closed so everyone could focus on cleaning up the rubbish that had accumulated over the winter. The Clean-up Pointers below give insight to the mindset of the people and a glimpse of the conditions of their daily lives.

Blackfoot Optimist (Blackfoot Idaho)
April 1, 1915 p7

It’s easy to take our living conditions for granted so the next time you see a house fly stop and consider that a hundred years ago it might have caused your death. Then swat it with a fly swatter. After all, it’s still a potential public health hazard.

[1] The Libby Herald. (Libby, MT), July 25, 1913, p6. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
[2] "The House-Fly and B.B." The Yellowstone Monitor. (Glendive, MT), July 4, 1912, p8. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
[3] "Sanitary Education -- Contest for School Children." The Enterprise. (Malta, MT), October 12, 1911, p1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

January 19, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Sarah (Sallie) Gammon Bickford

Born into slavery, Sarah Gammon Bickford came west to Montana as the nanny for a Federal judge in 1871. Making Virginia City her home, she married a black miner with whom she had three children, all of whom died in childhood. She then married a white man and had four more children. Her second husband’s death left her the majority owner of the Virginia City Water Company, which she soon owned entirely after purchasing the rest of the stock. She was the first and only woman in Montana to own a utility. Sallie died in 1931.

Key dates

1855—Sarah (called Sallie) Eva Blair is born a slave in Tennessee.
1866—Freed from slavery, she moves to Knoxville, Tennessee to live with her aunt, Nancy Gammon. She takes Gammon as her last name.
1871—Travels to Virginia City, Montana, as a nanny for Judge John Luttrell Murphy.
1872—Marries miner John Brown, divorcing him eight years later.
1881—Ten-year-old daughter Eva dies.
1883—Marries Stephen (Dick) Bickford.
1890—Inherits two-thirds ownership in Virginia City Water Company.
1902—Purchases all remaining Water Company stock.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for these terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: sallie bickford, sallie brown, mrs. bickford, dick bickford, elmer bickford, virginia city water company

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

January 12, 2017

Imagining History

by Tom Ferris, Archival Photographer

The Montana Historical Society photograph archives is home to approximately 500,000 photographs, in print and negative form. A large portion of the collection can be identified by subject, photographer, place, and date - and quite a bit of it by only one or two of those identifiers. I’d like to share with you a photograph that falls into that second category and has always led me to imagine what the unknown details are. We know the photograph was made by Evelyn Cameron, in the Fallon/Terry, Montana area, and probably in 1912. The questions of who and why remain a mystery. Why a photograph was made can be one of the most important aspects of understanding an image.

PAc # 90-87 G046-001 [Perhaps Norman Wold  Circa 1912]
Photographer: Evelyn Cameron

As an archival photographer here at MHS, I have been lucky enough to work with the Evelyn Cameron collection over the course of the last twenty years. This is my favorite photo collection being housed and preserved here, and we recently digitized about 650 of Cameron’s glass plate and nitrate negatives and uploaded the images to the Montana Memory Project. You can see them here.

One of the benefits of scanning film, (in this case a 3”x5” glass plate negative) at a high resolution is that we get to see details in the image which had gone unnoticed in print form. This is especially true if enlarged prints had not been made. While working on this image, (which could be of Norman Wold) I enlarged it on the screen to check for sharpness and quality and was surprised to find an earring in the mans’ left ear. This is a very uncommon accessory for white men of European descent at this time in western history, and it made me look more closely and inquisitively at this portrait.

Why an earring? Is this man a Gypsy? A sailor who has crossed the equator or sailed the seven seas? Why has this photo been made? Is this a tribute to the mans’ lost wife made for her distant family? Is it an advertisement for a far away potential bride – a form of Match.com from the turn of the century?

In Evelyn Cameron’s detailed diaries there are some references to a Mr. Wold who is a blacksmith, and a Mrs. Wold who is sick and expected to die in 1912. The photograph is identified as circa 1912 and seems to portray a home and possessions that the man is proud of. He is letting the viewer know that he is literate by displaying books and holding a newspaper. We can guess that family is important to him due to the presence of the photo albums. There are lace curtains in the windows and a fine tablecloth pinned to an oilcloth cover on the table. The subject is wearing a clean white shirt and tailored jacket. We can also see the right hand in detail, resting on a nicely embroidered blanket, and the left hand grasping a newspaper. These are the hands of a working man, perhaps a blacksmith – perhaps Norman Wold.

The presence of the woman’s hat caringly displayed on the chair covered in a blanket and fine white linens leads me to think the photograph may have been made for her family, but after considering this image so often I’d like to believe that the image served two purposes – a tribute to her and their marriage, and an advertisement for him. I don’t know much about “Norman Wold” but I hope he found someone and was happy. Considering the care he took in displaying his wife’s belongings, he may have been the kind of person who made someone else happy too.

I enjoy wondering about an unknown story contained in an image as much as I like learning the history when we do have the facts and documentation. If you have information regarding this particular photograph, please drop us a line at mhslibrary@mt.gov or give us a call at 406-444-4739.

If you are interested in further reading about Evelyn Cameron and viewing more of her work the MHS Museum Store carries “Photographing Montana 1894-1928 – The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron” by author Donna Lucey. It is an amazing story and the photographs are wonderful.

December 22, 2016

Carnival of Spoils 1893 - Locating State Institutions

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

Most Montanans have heard the story of the capital fight.  With the coming of statehood, the competition for state capital was fierce.  None of the seven contending cities won a majority in the first vote in 1892, so a runoff vote between Helena and Anaconda was announced for 1894. At this point, the contest escalated becoming part of the feud between copper kings Marcus Daly (Anaconda) and William Clark (Helena).  After a contest costing around three million dollars [1], the vote in 1894 declared Helena the state capital by about 2,000 votes.  However, the capital was only one state institution to be created in the aftermath of statehood.  The 1893 legislature proposed, argued, and finally located a number of state institutions, including the state prison and educational facilities which included a state university, an agricultural college with experimental station, a mining school, and a normal school.

“The carnival of spoils goes merrily on.”  This description from the Weekly Tribune of Great Falls on February 10, 1893, vividly describes the energy with which the legislature debated the placement of state institutions.

Educational Facilities
The Columbian
January 19, 1893, p.2

The location of the state’s educational facilities (state university, agricultural school with experimental station, school of mines, and normal school) drew the most controversy.  Two competing groups argued over the fundamental question of whether state institutions should be colocated or separated.  While originally the consolidationists wanted all state institutions located in the same city, they quickly decided to make their stand over the location of the four educational institutions.  Their main argument held that consolidated schools would reduce duplication of facilities and faculty.  Instead of separating these schools resulting in multiple tiny institutions competing with each other for funding, their vision was of a single institution serving all of these needs.  They accused their opponents of serving their local interests at the expense of Montana’s greater good.

Senator Paris Gibson of Great Falls led the consolidationists with energy and determination, always claiming that he was putting the best interests of the state above any other consideration.  His goals are called into question by the consistent impression that while claiming not to care where the consolidated school is located, the end goal was making Great Falls the consolidated location.  Many of the communities supporting consolidation indicated that they wanted it in Great Falls.  On the day the Senate debated the University Bill (SB 3), the first of the education facilities to come up for vote, Senator Gibson proposed an amendment that “Missoula must donate to the university 160 acres of land and $40,000 as an endowment fund”.  Later in his speech he offered on behalf of a consolidated university at Great Falls, 320 acres and $100,000 as an endowment fund.[2] Senator Elmer Matts, leading the segregatists, called Gibson’s amendment and speech an ambush intended only to delay the bill.  Both the amendment and the consolidationist cause failed, and the legislature proceeded to locate state institutions across Montana.

Even as the battle between consolidation and segregation waged, cities vied for state institutions.  The most heated of the educational fights was over the agricultural college.  The debate between Bozeman and Miles City came down to altitude.  Whose elevation was better for the experimental station: Bozeman at ~6000 ft or Miles City at ~2000ft?  The placement of the agricultural college influenced that of the normal school as well.  At various times Dillon, Livingston, Twin Bridges, and Deer Lodge were reported as wanting the normal school.  As the contest came down to Dillon and Livingston, the common refrain against Livingston was best summed up by the Red Lodge Picket “if Bozeman gets the agricultural college the normal school will hardly be located within twenty five miles”. [3]

State Prison
With statehood, the prison at Deer Lodge was transferred from federal to state control.  However, during the 1893 legislative session, Billings put up a strong challenge.  Since the Deer Lodge facility opened in 1871, overcrowding and maintenance had been continuous issues. [4] (Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. 725.6 M14h)  Billings advocates argued that Billings could build a new prison at less than the cost needed for upgrading and expanding the Deer Lodge facility.  Billings sweetened the deal by offering land and money even offering to pay the cost of transporting prisoners to the new prison.  The question of why Billings went after the state prison as opposed to one of the other state institutions is an interesting one.  The Anaconda Standard suggested one possible reason on January 15, 1893.  “As for the penitentiary, Billings wants it and wants it bad, not so much because she considers it a very desirable institution or especially beneficial in a pecuniary sense, as because she thinks it will insure the coming to Billings of the Burlington railroad, which otherwise may give her the slip.” The legislature declared that both cities would have a state prison:  the Western State Prison at Deer Lodge and the Eastern State Prison at Billings. Problems arose soon after when lack of funds put building plans in Billings on hold.  Due to the Economic Panic of 1893, the state treasury found itself unequal to the task of funding two prisons.  In 1896, the Board of State Prison Commissioners recommended that the Legislature “should make an appropriation to complete this building at once or else dispose of the materials and supplies on hand.” [5] The next report mentions using materials from the Billings facility at Deer Lodge. The Eastern State Prison was no more.

Other Institutions
While some cities lost the institution of their choice to another city, Boulder ran into a different problem.  At the beginning of the session, Boulder wanted the insane asylum.  However, as The Anaconda Standard explained on January 15, 1893 “there seems to be an impression that there is no need of haste in locating the asylum as the contract of Mussigbrod & Mitchell has still some time to run.” Eventually Boulder changed focus and obtained the State Deaf and Dumb Asylum (now Montana State Training School).  Both Miles City and Twin Bridges, who had lost their first choice were awarded other institutions, the Montana State Reform School (now Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility) and Montana State Orphans’ Home (closed in 1975) respectively.

How many of us can imagine these institutions being somewhere else?  How many of us can imagine these cities without their institutions?  Sometimes decisions of the past seem inevitable, but really they were decisions made by people.  What decisions of today will seem inevitable in a hundred years?

Works Cited
[1] Montana: Stories of the Land, Chapter 10, p195
[2] The Yellowstone Journal. February 3, 1893, p1.
[3] Red Lodge Picket. January 21, 1893 p2.
[4] Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. Call Number: 725.6 M14h
[5] Sixth Annual Report of the Board of State Prison Commissioners of the State of Montana. For the Year 1896. Helena: State Publishing Company, 1896, p21. Call Number: S353.39PR 1873, 1891-1906.

Additional Resources:
Laws Resolutions and Memorials of the State of Montana Passed at the Third Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly. Butte City: Inter Mountain Publishing Company, 1893. REF345.12M76