The Montana Historical Society
Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building - 225 N. Roberts St.


The Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building under construction, 1951


COURTESY OF KATHRYN FEHLIG • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VIEW IN A NEW WINDOW

 

A 1950s Postcard View


 

Two 1960s Postcard Views




COURTESY OF WENDI KOTTAS PETERSON

Notice in the photo above the additon of the tall, round stack to the roof of the building. It was added in 1962 because rooftop drafts caused by the effect of westerly winds on the elevator penthouse were blowing down the original, shorter stack and extinguishing the pilot flame in the heating plant. A dangerous situation.




Charles M. Russell Room, 1950s


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Works of Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) have long been a major draw for the Montana Historical Society. The postcard view above shows the Russell gallery as it appeared in the 1950s. Your editor spent many enoyable hours in this room. Russell was one of Montana's great souls, and - in my opinion - the finest western artist of all time.



"Montana Heritage"

1955 HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MONTANA PROMOTIONAL PAMPHLET

This interesting and nostalgic 33-page brochure details the functions of the Historical Society, and abounds with photos of the current museum as it was in the 1950s. It also has numerous behind-the-scenes photos. This PDF download is presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.
Click the brochure cover below...


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD • PUBLISHED HERE WITH PERMISSION




Beautifully Crafted Dioramas

The Museum had numerous highly-detailed dioramas during the 1950s -70s, illustrating various scenes from Montana history. The use of forced perspective to create the illusion of depth was utilized to great effect in most of the dioramas.

 

The Spectacular Buffalo Pishkun Diorama


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

The "Buffalo Jump" diorama has long been a favorite of museum visitors.



Creating the Buffalo Jump Diorama, 1952


FROM "MONTANA HERITAGE" - 1955 HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MONTANA PROMOTIONAL PAMPHLET

Two photos of Gardell Dano Christensen (1907-1991) working on the buffalo jump diorama, 1952. State budget constraints forced Christensen to leave the MHS in early 1953. The diorama was completed by artist Leslie H. Peters.

 


Diorama Depicting Seismic Oil & Natural Gas Exploration


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

This 1950s diorama featured an African American figure.

 

 

Oil Drilling Diorama


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

 

 


A Diorama of the Early Days of Copper Mining in Butte, Montana


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Depicted are Marcus Daly, Ben Ali Haggin and George Hearst.

 

 

Diorama Depicting an Early Telephone Exchange


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

The exchange was housed above a saloon.

 

 

Cattle Roundup Diorama


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Created by artist Irvin "Shorty" Shope.

 

"Territory Junction "

"Territory Junction" was a mock frontier main street which occupied part of the lower level of the Montana Historical Society in the 1960s - 70s. It featured 13 stores and offices with authentic 19th Century fittings and artifacts. This exhibit has long since been removed.



"Territory Junction" Dentist's Office




"Territory Junction" Jewelry Shop



The Back Bar of "The Mint" Saloon


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

The back bar of Great Falls' "The Mint" Saloon, which was once frequented by Charles M. Russell. It is currently on loan from the Montana Historical Society to the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, and may be seen there.

 


"Territory Junction" Newspaper Office



 

"Territory Junction" Junction

 

"Big Medicine"
SACRED WHITE BUFFALO

"Big Medicine", the sacred white buffalo (1933-1959). Although "Big Medicine" can still be seen, he has been such a memorable part of the Museum visit for so long that he is included here.

The birth of this white buffalo at the National Bison Range on Montana's Flathead Indian Reservation was seen as an auspicious event by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He was well cared for, and lived beyond the normal bison life span. While he was still alive, preparations were made by the Montana Historical Society to have his form preserved for future generations.



The Montana Centennial Parade Passes the
Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building, 1964


COURTESY OF TOM KILMER

 



Ed Towe Antique Ford Collection

From 1967 to the mid-1970s, the Montana Historical Society enjoyed the loan of the Ed Towe antique Ford collection. From 1967 to 1970, the collection was on display at 1325 Helena Avenue, where the above photo was taken. Upon completion of the south wing of the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building in 1970, the collection was moved there for several years.

The collection was subsequently housed at the old State Prison in Deer Lodge, until it was dispersed by an IRS sale in 1997. If anyone knows when the Towe collection left the Montana Historical Society, please drop me an e-mail.



Studio in the basement of the Montana Historical Society, 1970


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD



A 1973 Video Clip Featuring the Museum

 
COURTESY OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER

Taken from the 1973 promotional film "Helena-City of Gold", produced by the Helena Chamber of Commerce. The Ed Towe antique Ford collection and Territory Junction attractions mentioned in the clip are no longer at the museum, but the institution has expanded and improved greatly since the film was made.



The Keelboat Mandan and the "Merci Train" French Boxcar
On Outdoor Display at the Museum Ca. 1959


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD • CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

The keelboat "Mandan" was built for use in the RKO motion picture "The Big Sky", starring Kirk Douglas. The script was adapted from Montanan A. B. Guthrie's novel of the same name.

After filiming was completed in Wyoming in 1951, the boat was shipped to the Historical Society in Helena, and put on unprotected outdoor display in back of the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building. It was immediately vandalized. A fence was built around it (which didn't keep kids off), and it remained on display for many years.

It was eventually loaned to the city of Fort Benton, and was officially deaccessed by the Montana Historical Society in 2005.


 

Recent Photo of the "Mandan" in Fort Benton, Montana


J. STEPHEN CONN

"Merci Train" Boxcar • A Gift From the People of France

Pictured above, about 1959, is Montana's "Merci Train" boxcar, in a sad state of neglect behind the Montana Historical Society Building. When this photo was taken, the boxcar had only recently been moved to the Museum grounds from the Northern Pacific railyard, where it had languished for a decade. It was subsequently restored.

Condensed from Wikipedia:
The Merci Train, also known as the French Gratitude Train or the Forty and Eight. This train was sent in response to trains full (over 700 boxcars) of supplies known as the American Friendship Train sent by the American people to France in 1947.

Forty-and-eights were French 4-wheel covered goods wagons used as military transport cars. The term refers to the cars' carrying capacity, said to be 40 men or eight horses. Built starting in the 1870s as regular freight boxcars, they were originally used in military service by the French army in both World Wars, and then later used by the German occupation in World War II and finally by the Allied liberators.

Composed of 49 cars and filled with "gifts of gratitude", the Merci Train arrived in New York City on February 3, 1949, and was divided amongst the 48 states with the remaining car to be shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii. The Train and all 49 cars arrived aboard the Magellan bearing a banner which read: "MERCI AMERICA" on February 3, 1949, with over 25,000 onlookers in attendance. Immediately the trains were distributed amongst the states.


Gift-Laden Boxcar Arrives in Helena

The Merci Train boxcar was exhibited for a time at the Civic Center, then languished for almost a decade in the Northern Pacific trainyard. The following .doc file from the Montana Military Museum tells the story of the boxcar's movements around Helena, and its several restorations. It is currently on covered outdoor display at the Montana Military Museum at Fort Harrison, as seen in the photo below. Thanks to Raymond Read of the M.M.M. for kindly providing so much information about the boxcar.

Click on Image to Open .doc File

Visit the Montana Military Museum Website

Visit the Merci Train Website



COURTESY OF THE MONTANA MILITARY MUSEUM

 

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