We came across Tom - and his friend Tim - while wandering in Butte, Montana. Once home to a population of over 100,000, Butte boosted the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi. At one point, the town was the largest to be found between Chicago and San Fransico. The town is a bit smaller - and perhaps a bit sadder - today, with close to 35,000 citizens.
Tom and his friend Tim were barbecuing in the yard next to their apartment building when we walked by. Tim spotted our cameras and started asking about our travels. When we shared we were from Boston, he was quick to point out that Butte was more Irish than Boston. He followed that fact with a few more - such as the (unconfirmed) fact that Lucille Ball was born in Butte.
Tim works at KBMF, a radio station housed in the old Carpenter’s Union Hall. Once known as “the Gibraltar of Unionism,” there’s a long labor history in Butte. In 1878, the Butte Workingman’s Union was formed, becoming the first organized union in Montana. It organized the first miners’ strike that year, protesting wage cuts in the silver mines.
When we asked Tom if he was born in Butte, he quickly pulled up the leg of his pants with the proof. Butte might be known today for its Superfund site and their environmental disasters, but the pride for their mining history remains. Headframes, most from out of commision mines, pepper the city. We thanked him for the photo and let the crew get back to barbecuing.