October 29, 2013

Polishing Mother's silver—and Mother, too?

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

The Montana Digital Newspaper Project offers glimpses into once-popular ideas that today may strike us as odd or even horrifying. This 1890 article from The Anaconda Standard describes a new process for preserving the bodies of the dead. 

Anaconda Standard, Dec. 7, 1890, p. 11
Anaconda Standard, Dec. 7, 1890, p. 11
Instead of embalming, families were advised to have their loved ones electroplated. "In from eight to 10 days, at a price varying from 300 to 3,000 francs ($60 to $600), you can have the life-size statue of your mother-in-law, should she happen to luckily (sic) die, as an ornament for your parlor."
The process was developed by a Paris physician, who promised that “modern Cleopatras may now smile in their last moments, knowing full well that their beauty will be handed down to future generations."


This modern mortuary practice promised to benefit public parks, as well, because "the finely formed bodies of dead women" could serve as statues and fountains. Electroplating bodies appeared occasionally in the news until the early 1900s. Why the practice did not catch on is unknown.

Eerily, the Anaconda Standard story abuts a large advertisement for Leyson's jewelry store, headlined as follows:

 Leyson's ad

You'll find the same news story, word for word, in the Cape Girardeau Democrat (May 30, 1891) and the Roanoke Times (June 28, 1891). All three papers were reprinting an item that originally appeared in The New York Journal. Reprinting texts (not always with attribution) was commonplace in nineteenth-century newspapers.

* The practice was profiled in Scientific American: "Electroplating the Dead," vol. 31, no. 797, April 11, 1891, p. 227.

October 22, 2013

Hollywood Invades the Prairie

by Kate Hampton, State Historic Preservation Office

“It creeps….It crawls…It strikes without warning!” It is…The Thing from Another World!
Montana has had its fair share of UFO sightings and cryptid tales, some told around a campfire and others played out on film.  Who could forget James Arness’ first feature filmthe science fiction classic, The Thing from Another World?  Arness is barely recognizable as “the Thing” itself, and Montana’s wintry landscape around the Cut Bank and Lewistown airports double for the North Pole.
Released in 1951 and based on John Campbell’s short story, “Who Goes There?” the movie chronicles the experiences of a scientific team that unwittingly releases an alien being from deep layers of Arctic ice. 
The Great Falls Tribune, Cut Bank Pioneer Press, and Lewistown Argus-Farmer covered the filming in December 1950 and January 1951.  Kenneth Tobey, pictured below in the dark topcoat at center, played Captain Patrick Henry.  Dewey Martin played Crew Chief Bob – and appears in the photo just left of Tobey, in the tweed overcoat. 

Clipping courtesy of the Glacier County Historical Museum
Location scouts chose Cut Bank’s World War IIera Army Air Force training facility and airport to substitute for the windswept, icy polar research station, and nearby Mission Lake served as the alien spaceship crash site.  Many locals recall the filming, and consistently tell the story of how frustrated the filmmakers became after they arrived. 
They picked Cut Bank for its wintry locale and landscape, but the team had to be creative when chinooks blew snow from the runways and prairie.  To create a blizzard and film the exterior of the “research station,” the crew trucked in snow from Many Glacier, mimicking a storm by blowing the snow with airplane propellers.  The crew also hired local crop dusters to whitewash the runways and surrounding land.  Severson Air provided several planes some used for aerial shots.  
 Clipping courtesy of the Glacier County Historical Museum

When the crew travelled to snowier Lewistown in January 1951, they employed local “actors” to use a sled dog team to search for “The Thing” across the hills east of town.  Missoula's Johnson Flying Service provided DC-3 planes used in the movie, and the crew modified them to look like military C-47's. 

Great Falls Tribune, Parade
section, January 15, 1951.
One Lewistown poet relayed the events in verse: 
…The kingpins flew ‘til their faces were blue, in search for an ideal place,
And the hit a “bonanza’ in Cut Bank Montana, My! The world seemed dressed in lace.
There was snow galore, and of cold - - much more; it was a “garden spot” for “The Thing,”
Even mittened shmoos and frosty igloos would look at home in that ring.
But the warm chinooks fooled the movie “cooks” and melted away the snow;
The directors moaned and the actors groaned. (Gad! That was a low blow.)
Though their loud cry, they wouldn’t say die and their tone bore a resolute ring;
So the men came down to Lewistown to film the gol ‘durned “Thing.”
They wore grins ‘cuz the airport’s rims were blanketed in virgin snow:
The weather was mild and the big boss smiled, and he ordered “On with the show!”…
 - “The Thing,” by Tom Kelley, printed in the Lewistown Argus-Farmer, January 14, 1951
Despite their trouble filming in Montana, the actors and crew enjoyed the beauty, people, and Montana cuisine – especially the steaks.  In the end, the film received mixed reviews when it was released in April 1951.  Over the past decade, however, critics have recognized it as one of the best science fiction movies ever.  The film and the original short story inspired John Carpenter’s remake, The Thing, in 1982, and a prequel to the story appeared in theaters in 2011.  Still, the original is dark and delightful – especially when you know the backstory.  Remember the movie’s ominous warning: 
Tell the world. Tell this to everyone, wherever they are.
Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”

October 1, 2013

Ice Cream from Two Eras

by Kendra Newhall, Assistant Registrar, Montana Historical Society

On Friday, September 20, Curator of History Sarah Nucci and I presented at The Association of Living History, Farms and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) conference in Virginia City, Montana. ALHFAM is an international organization focused on farming and agriculture. ALHFAM has greatly impacted the museum field through its advocacy of using reproductions rather than originals in museum programming; of systematically collecting and preserving living collections (stock and crops); and of sharing findings broadly. Our workshop focused on historic foodways through making ice cream.

Our first demonstration used Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe and a reproduction sabottiere. 

Thomas Jefferson's Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe. The original is held at the
Library of Congress and a digitized copy published on its web site.

Montana Cook Book, 1881, page 141
Next, we used a reproduction hand-crank ice cream maker and a recipe from 1881. Montana Cook Book, by the "Ladies of Butte City," is the earliest cookbook in the Montana Historical Society collections.