"Due to budget cuts the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off"
State 17: Montana - October 2, 2017
We woke up in a Walmart in Bozeman, MT, to 3 inches of snow beautifully blanketing the Montana horizon. This was Rosie’s first exposure to winter’s wrath! However, Rosie assured us she was a Promaster, and was up to the task! Despite the snowfall, we had a very restful night sleep. Today, we drive 114 miles Northwest to Helena to visit the Montana Capitol Building and the State Museum. Helena is home to approximately 28,000 people making it the 5th least populated capitol city in the US. The town was founded in 1864, after gold was discovered in the region. Over the next 20 years, $3.6 billion in gold was extracted from within the city limits, making 19th century Helena home to more millionaires per-capita than any other city in world!
The economy of present day Helena, is a lot different from it golden glory days. Over a 1/3 of the Helena workforce are government workers, consisting of state capitol employees, educators, and The Montana National Guard. Helena may not be as far removed from its gilded past as one may think. In the 1970’s while construction crews were working on a bank in Helena, a vein of gold was discovered beneath the bank's foundation. This story would have been better if the gold was found beneath the home belonging to a family of 12 who were suffering financially and facing eviction! The last thing a bank needs is free money! What anti-karmic irony!
We decided to begin our day by exploring the capitol building. After parking Rosie, we made our way to the building's main entrance. The external rotunda consisted of oxidized copper, and perched on top of the darkened dome was a statue of Lady Liberty. I then noticed the building’s exterior facade was quite peculiar consisting of both sandstone and granite. Most capitols only use one type of stone for the external facade, and I am unsure of the reason Montana opted to use two different types. Perhaps it was by poor design, limited available resources, or as a cost cutting measure. Nevertheless, the two tone stone construction gave the capitol building an unfinished hodge podge appearance, and significantly distracted from it's overall presence. As I stood directly in front of the Capitol Building, I noticed yet another peculiar design flaw in the landscape of the capitol grounds. Bushes were planted on the capitol’s front lawn in an outline in the shape of state's likeness, and inside of the state’s bushed boundaries were additional ones spelling out “Montana 2017”. What would have been a creative and unique landscaping accent was ruined with the inclusion the current year. It must be an annoying annual tradition for the public works department to unearth and replant new bushes every year on New Year’s Day! I had to stand in the snow in the middle of the street while dodging oncoming traffic to get the picture of the Montana shaped landscaping. Please see the pictures below.
I entered the capitol building via the lower floor, and was pleased the see I would be not be illegally searched by security at the door. We made our way down the hallway, and discovered a desk where it appeared a tour guide once sat. On the day of our visit, all that remained was an empty desk, a plastic brochure displaying one self-guided tour booklet, and a letter stating effective August 2017, guided tours of the capitol building have been discontinued due to budget cuts. Cutting the tour guide from the state budget to shave a few dollars off the deficit is a sad and desperate move. This reveals Montana is not in good fiscal health, nor does it care about it's visitors and potential residents. Disappointed, we helped ourselves to the last remaining booklet from the brochure display, and began our tour. The Montana State Capitol was not making a good first impression on the Cross Country Couple.
We ascended the grand staircase to the first floor, and upon our arrival we were greeted by 4 impressive full body bronzes of prominent Montana legislators. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we made our way to the capitol's central room. Please see the pictures below.
While the above may appear impressive, the craftmanship left much to be desired. The walls were painted an awful dark red color, which served to highlight the poorly executed gold stenciling. The banisters railings were a painted a drippy dark green, and the institutional tile floors were reminiscent of my high school locker room. Please see the pictures below.
In each corner of the central rooms were 4 extremely large enclaves, which housed 3 very tiny busts of promenade Montana Lawmakers. Instead of placing another bust of a famous Montanan the 4th enclave, it instead housed a boom box. That radio looked absolutely ridiculous! Perhaps I am mistaken, and this boom box had great significance to Montana warranting such a prestigious display. Most likely, it was just placed there and then forgotten about. I stood in the central room for 20 minutes, and watched 10 government workers obliviously walk right by the radio including a janitor who mopped in front of it. Montana where is your state pride?
Next, we headed to the Old Supreme Court Chamber. The Montana Supreme Court moved out of the building in 1989, and although such a departure is not unheard of, it has become disturbing trend to witness. Unfortunately, we were unable to go into the court chamber, because it was locked and closed for construction. Although, it did not appear any construction was occurring within the room when I looked through the window. I was able to take a few pictures of the dark room through the glass on the door. Please see the picture below.
Unfortunately, we did not see the Montana’s Liberty Bell replica on display. However, they did have the state centennial bell on display from 1989. The bell was a gifted to Montana in commemoration of 100 years of statehood.
Next, our booklet directed us to the Senate Chamber. Above the speakers podium in the front of the Senate was a very large and extremely impressive bronze plaque titled “We Proceed On”. I would have loved to view that magnificent work of art up close, but the doors to the Senate Chamber were also locked. Never fear, outside of the Senate Chamber was a scaled down version of the bronze plaque. It was a limited edition with only 75 in existence, and was on sale for the bargain price of $3500.00. If this is a little out of your budget, the gift shop was selling bronze medallions for $80.00 complete with wood stand and Certificate of Authenticity. Most state capitols have a gift shop near the entryway, which is a good source of generating revenue for state governments. However, soliciting items for sale directly outside of the state Senate Chamber was extremely tacky. At the very least they could have had a tour guide give me sales pitch, and gave her a cut on the commission. Perhaps then I wouldn’t currently be on this very disappointing self-guided tour.
Our last stop on the capitol tour was the House Chamber, which for the life of us, we could not locate! The self-guided tour booklet was of no help, and we wandered around the building aimlessly for 45 minutes. Long at last, there was a break in the case! We discovered the way to access the House’s upper gallery was via the Senates upper gallery. What a strange and disruptive design! After walking around the Senate’s upper gallery, we walked out a side door, down a long hallway and finally found the House's upper gallery. As you might have already guessed at this point in my story, the door was locked! AarghAarghAargh!!! Please see the pictures below of our frustrating journey to the House Chamber.
We went down a nearby flight of stairs, which appeared to be a fire escape, past the congressional cafeteria, and entered a room called the House Lobby. The House Lobby was actually my favorite room in the capitol, and featured many large and beautiful works of art. Please see the pictures below.
After admiring the paintings, we made our way to the doors of the House Chamber, and learned it was closed for construction. Once again, I saw no signs of construction occurring when looking through the window into the chamber. Above the podium in the front of the room, hung a famous mural entitled “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians”. If construction was actually occurring, why would they leave a priceless painting on display? I zoomed my camera in as far as I could, and took a picture of the painting through the glass on the door. I really wanted to see the painting up close, and was extremely disappointed to be locked out for no apparent reason! This was the worse capitol tour I have been on, and thank God it was finally over!
Upon exiting the capitol building, I walked across the street to the Montana State Museum. Outside of the museum was a very large bronze depicting the skull of a bull. Albeit ominous, the sculptures detail and massive scale were quite impressive! Hopefully our experience at the museum would turn out better than our experience touring the capitol! Please see the pictures below.
Whatever hopes we had for a good state's museum tour, were euthanized the moment we walked through the front door! The lobby looked and felt as if we had walked back in time to the 1970’s. I am not talking shabby chic, retro, trendy 1970’s. From the description on the displays having been typed on a typewriter, to a vintage sofa with decades of coffee stains on the cushions, the state's museum was old, dirty, and dated! Clearly, the museum was built way back when, and then ignored and forgotten. Against our better judgment, we paid our admission of $5.00 per person. I am not going to go into great depth about the displays within the museum, because there wasn’t much worth mentioning. The artifacts were far too numerous, and most were not necessary to tell the history of the state. Many artifacts on display lacked a description, or were illegible from being typed on a typewriter decades ago. The wood display cases were old, poorly constructed, and falling apart. By far the most disturbing display was an old, dirty, smelly, and just plain nasty buffalo hide that had a sign above which read, “Try on the buffalo robe. When you are done trying it on, please return it to the hanging bar so others may try it on”. I wouldn’t have worn that buffalo robe even if I was butt naked on top of Mount Everest! If I lived in this state, I would be embarrassed by the Montana State Museum! If you don't believe me, please see the pictures below.
By far the best collection on display at the Montana State Museum was a special exhibit featuring an extremely talented painter, bronze sculpture and artist of the Old American West named Charles M. Russell. During his lifetime, Russell created over 2000 paintings of Cowboys, Indians, and Western landscapes. Many of his pieces are featured in some of the most prestigious museums throughout the country, and in 2005, one of his paintings titled “Piegans” sold for $5.6 million at auction. His mural titled "Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians" hangs in the Montana State Capitol. (As you may remember, this is the painting I wanted to see in the House Chamber. However, I was unable to view it due to a locked door and construction that was not actually occurring.) Although Old American West art is not my preferred genre, I do possess an appreciation for quality art, and Charles Russell was indeed a talented artist. The emotions he evoked from the images he chose to portray are as moving today as they were back in his era. Please enjoy the masterpieces below of man who was known as “The Cowboy Artist”.
Of the 15 state capitols we have toured thus far on our cross country trip to find a new state to call home, the Montana State Capitol and State's Museum has been the greatest disappointment! So much in fact, I am going to send this blog post to the Montana Governor; Steve Bullock. Helena, MT was once home to more millionaires than any city in the world, and today they can’t even afford a tour guide for the capitol building. Such sad and desperate actions reveal, either the state government is not in good fiscal health, or they do not possess pride in their state. Perhaps both is true! We visit each states capitol, and state museum with an open mind a fresh perspective that any state we visit may be our new home. Our visit to the capitol building and state museum, gave us ample reasons to not move to Montana. What a shame! After departing the Montana State Museum, we drove 90 miles Southwest to Anaconda, MT for geographical convenience, and found a quiet back road to park Rosie for the night.