Recovering history: A look inside Butte's underground


BUTTE, Mont. - One trip through the town of Butte and you'll see historic monuments everywhere.

From the giant, steel, black headframes, to the huge hole in the ground that can be seen from space, more commonly known as the Berkley Pit.

In the early 1900s Butte was booming and on its way to becoming a miniature New York, with close to 100,000 people carving a town into what would become "The Richest Hill on Earth."

"It's just the history in Butte is so exciting that the more you find the more it sucks you in," said Bob McMurray, owner of Old Butte Historical Underground Adventures.

McMurray makes a living underground.

The tunnels are rich with history, restaurants, brothels, even the old jail, and what was once one of the country's most infamous speakeasies, the Rockwood.

"Butte has such an amazing collection of intact historical resources that we can often go to the very same spot where things happened and show you the building and show you the space of where those things happened," added Dick Gibson, tour guide for Old Butte Historical Underground Adventures.

The Rockwood Speakeasy is considered to be the epicenter of much of what happened underground.

"Back in the day this is your nickel of beer and people got really upset when it went up to a dime," said Patrick Mohan, tour guide for Old Butte Historical Underground Adventures.

Coined the best of its time, the Rockwood is much as it appeared in the early 1900s, when prohibition forced alcohol onto the black market.

"This speakeasy here the History Channel thought it was probably your upper class that was here like your mayor, your police chief, and your judges," added McMurray.

During prohibition doctors would in some cases even write prescriptions for alcohol.

"We connected a lot of things back to the prescriptions back in the day when you would get a medical card that says you can be able to drink alcohol, and you can relate to the-present day medical cards that they can have now," said Mohan.

But in 1933 prohibition had ended.

The secret establishments no longer interested people as the partying began to return above ground.

Speakeasies and brothels began to collect dust and wither away.

But to hear McMurray tell about it, and to have the opportunity to walk down here is an opportunity to look directly into the soul of this town. And it's why Bob McMurray keeps coming back for more.

For more information on how to sign up for one of the many historical underground tours you can log onto the Old Butte Historical Underground Adventures website at:

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