Obviously it’s not that noteworthy: It gets cold in Butte in the winter. But the cold wave of 1902 made the news as one of the coldest late January cold spells on record.
On January 25 the Butte Inter Mountain reported that the “wagon wheels creak with the complaining whirl of extreme cold and windows are sheeted with ice. The big policeman shrinks one coil deeper into his big coon-skin coat and wishes somebody would start something in the near-by saloon.”
On the Flat, minus 45 was recorded. It was a chilly minus 40 at Columbia Gardens, minus 35 in Walkerville, and a toasty minus 30 across Uptown Butte.
The only colder temperature than Butte in Montana was at Fort Assiniboine near Havre, where -48° to -52° was reported. The cold snap was statewide: 27 below at Helena, 35 below at Great Falls, 15 below in Billings.
According to the Inter Mountain, “The hotel lobbies look inviting and travelers who come from sunnier climes postpone their business engagements and ask the clerk anxiously how long this is going to last.”
People are also reading…
At the busy corner of Main Street and Broadway, the “Ice Picture Man” entertained passers-by by reading Frostographs. The Inter Mountain newspaper reported that “He came sliding down Main Street with a festive air, whistling “When the harvest days are over, Jessie dear,” and occasionally balancing himself with the dexterity of a circus rope walker on the icy pavement until he reached the little knot on the corner, who were studying the thermometer and agreeing that it was much colder than the register indicated.”
The Ice Picture Man proceeded to declaim like a professor or a “dime museum conductor” about the images in the frost on the windows, which he said were “scientifically known as frostographs,” photographic reproductions of the local cityscape.
He pointed to a “faithful representation of the shafthouse of the Gagnon mine,” another of the Hennessy building, and the stacks of the Anaconda, Neversweat, and Mountain View.
A “street urchin” asked him what a jumbled mess of melting ice on one window pane represented. “That,” said the professor, without a moment’s hesitation, “is a remarkable picture: that is a flawless frostograph of the police disturbance in Butte,” and according to the newspaper reporter, “before the crowd could catch its breath he was sliding down the hill with an easy swing that would make a Norwegian ski-runner ashamed of himself.”
Local geologist and historian Dick Gibson has lived in Butte since 2003 and has worked as a tour guide for various organizations and museums. He can be reached at [email protected]