©Bert Gildart: When travelers driving Highway 2 pass through Havre, Montana, most are unaware that they are driving over tunnels that once connected an outlawed way of life. Beneath the highway slumbers “Underground Havre,” a several block series of rooms that actually secreted opium dens.
As well, it interprets other aspects of Havre that have been selected as being worthy of interpretation to include a bootlegger bar, gambling hall, a mortuary, a brothel – and a few businesses that once thrived in the middle of this Montana town.
Interested visitors must join a guided tour. Guides lead groups to a creaky wooden door, and then descend a series of old concrete stairs. Here, beneath a dusty, hard-glassed skylight, the tour begins, passing first through an old tunnel to a series of clean well-lighted rooms that includes the old brothel. (We covered one in Skagway, too, The Red Onion.)
You remember the mannequin depicting the come-hither lady because she is standing to the side of a bathroom and because she is pressed against a bed covered with a purple quilt, which was folded back – as though extending an invitation.
The lady is also dressed in purple and she wears a slight smile. Entrance to her room — and to the bed – is through a laced door, and though we heard one woman say “How sad,” I had to wonder why?
Men out numbered women almost 100 to 1, and these women softened a harsh landscape in which hostilities were but a quirky gesture away.
Adjacent to the bordello was a bar and a laundry room, but what intrigued me most were two other mannequins. One depicted a man sitting crossed legged in a corner with a pipe resting in his lap. The other, however, was more graphic, for it showed a man cradling a pipe; but he was prostrate. His eyes seemed glazed and his expression was vacant.
Was he content? Perhaps not according to members of local church groups which began increasing in number in the 1920s.
We passed through other rooms, rooms depicting a dentist office, Indian wars, a drug store, sausage shop, meat market, and arts of the times. Finally, however, we entered a room presenting the mannequin of a small man, but one who enjoyed a huge business.
Art is part of decor; butcher shop; tour quickly
progresses from skylights to clean well lighted rooms.
His name was Chris Young, and he prospered as a bootlegger, big in the Havre, Montana, area in the ‘20s and the ‘30s. Interestingly, when he died in 1944 he specified that his fortune be used to benefit children.
One could say that there are lessons here, but most likely they are all of an existential nature. That may not be what the city fathers intended. Most likely they intended to show a way of life that once thrived, and to that extend they have succeeded admirably.
THIS TIME FIVE YEARS AGO:
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