Anaconda’s City of the Dead

IMG_1348In the preservation plan survey of 1984-1985 rarely did I give much attention to historic cemeteries–no one in the Helena office was focused on this property type and in all of my public meetings I never heard someone to make a case for cemeteries as either designed landscapes or community memory palaces.  But in the thirty years since my work in the south has constantly drawn me to cemeteries, and when I began my re-survey of the Montana historic landscape in 2012 I was determined to look closely at cemeteries across the state.

IMG_1364As i climbed the hill behind the courthouse and walked into Upper Hill Cemetery, I found acres of graves and monuments, a reflection of the town’s late 19th and early 20th century roots, and marker upon market that spoke to the ethnic groups, trade loyalties, and general working-class makeup of Anaconda.  Here was a true artifact that I most certainly missed in 1984, and worthy of listing in the National Register of Historic Places.


IMG_1447One unmistakable reality was that in death, as in life, Anaconda laborers could never leave the overwhelming presence of the Stack–wherever you go within the acres of the Upper Hill and Mt. Carmel Cemeteries you need leave the presence of the concrete and steel giant of the Anaconda Copper Company. Striking how many of the headstones face the stack.IMG_1446Another reality was that fraternal loyalties–the brotherhood of labor–remained even as the bones that had once labored so diligently had decayed into dust.  Fraternal organization often offered burial insurance–you were guaranteed a place within the fraternal plot even if your own birth family–who might be on the other side of the ocean–had long ago forgotten your face.

IMG_1365The Brotherhood of American Yeomen offered a gated plot, defined by a Victorian cast-iron fence that made a perfect rectangle.

IMG_1366The Knights of Pythias, on the other hand, offered a monumental cast-iron gate, emblazoned with their name, as the entrance to their fraternal plots.


The Eagles plot is identified by a large concrete column with an aggressive appearing metal American bald eagle spread across the top.

Some organizations, often forgotten today, left intricately carved memorials to their brothers.  The T.O.T. E. is a secret password, purported to mean “totem of the eagle,” that belongs to the Improved Order of Red Men, the nation’s oldest fraternal organization that traces its roots to the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party of the American Revolution.  Its monument in Upper Hill Cemetery is the most evocative of all.


IMG_1359Details and hidden meanings abound in this graveyard sculpture, and it is impossible to take it all in at once.


IMG_1452Hayes Lavis, who died in the Great Depression, is one of the few of the Improved Order of Red Men identified in this fraternal grouping.

IMG_1436Military veterans are found throughout the cemetery–that is no surprise, but then it is surprising to see how many local men fought and died in the Spanish-American War of the late 1890s.  The plot in their honor rests at one end of the cemetery, under the watchful gaze of the town “A” on the nearby hillside, but the low concrete wall that once defined the memorial is crumbling, just as our memory of this war and its veterans fade in the 21st century.

Other markers speak to the diverse ethnic communities that comprise Anaconda. My Carmel is the Catholic half of the huge cemetery.


The McGrath marker is one of the hollowed imitation stone but actually metal markers that were made elsewhere and shipped to Anaconda.

IMG_1451Family plots are also prevalent, with that of the Brown family and the loss of a child being particularly poignant.


The Thomas Michael monument also features statuary mourning the death of a child. Few places anywhere are sadder than the “children’s” section of this cemetery.

The huge cemeteries are certainly an interesting and significant historic property, one that should be listed along with the Stack as one of Anaconda’s attractions.

It looms over the entire city and leaves an unmistakable human face to the industrial and transportation history of Anaconda.