Last Best Books: "Found Yellowstone" and "Cold War Montana"

Found Photos of Yellowstone

Found Photos of Yellowstone: Yellowstone's History in Tourist and Employee Photos

Text by Amy Grisak,
Captions by Amy Grisak and Lee Whittlesey,
With a foreword by Lee Whittlesey

Found Photos of Yellowstone offers a beautiful and unexpectedly intimate portrait of America's favorite National Park, a history of the place told exclusively through the antique photos of tourists and employees of the Park.  

The photos, all in black and white, sometimes capture a vanished Yellowstone, which we cannot see today despite every valiant effort at conservation. Take, for instance, the 1927 photo of Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, smiling in apparent delight as Park Superintendant Horace M. Albright demonstrates the titular feature of "Handkerchief Pool," a thermal feature in which a handkerchief attached to a chain fluttered about the pool and rose to the top. Today, Handkerchief Pool has gone dormant due to debris tossed into the water over the decades. 

But to dwell on vanished natural features and buildings, while certainly one of the fascinating aspects of the book, is to miss what a wonderful, joyful (if bittersweet), and candid portrait of people's responses to Yellowstone, especially in the Park's early years. Page after page of photos show travelers' unrehearsed reactions to the natural splendor of the place, and anyone who thinks of old photos as stodgy things full of wooden, unsmiling people will be disabused of the idea after looking through Found Photos of Yellowstone. Nearly everyone, including First Lady Coolidge, wears a broad, unaffected grin. 

It struck this writer that the most poignant photos, for some reason, are those of long-ago concessioners enjoying their off-hours. These sparkling, gorgeous young people, many of whom would today be well over 100 or more years old, are photographed wearing hilarious costumes, fooling around, even sometimes seemingly caught in a flirtatious moment, like one daring female employee who, in a photo taken in 1926, has her hands around the arms of not one, but two men.

This lovely book, written by Distinctly Montana contributor Amy Grisak with an introduction by the legendary Lee Whittlesey (author of the essential Death in Yellowstone, among others), is a beautiful reminder that Yellowstone is not a static place, unchanged since creation. 

Perhaps even more vitally, Found Photos of Yellowstone shows us that the story of Yellowstone National Park is also the tale of the millions of people who have visited it, been amazed and moved, and allowed themselves and their lives to be forever changed.

Cold War Montana

Cold War Montana

By Ken Robison

Once again, Montana proves to be the most important place in the world.  

We all knew, for instance, that Malmstrom Airforce Base has ever been of great strategic importance owing to the large number of tactical nuclear missiles stored there at the ready. But who would have guessed that Great Falls Airforce Base, its predecessor, was, more or less a "Red Army Air Base" during the so-called lend-lease program that saw military resources funneled to our then allies, the Soviets, during WW2? Or that "Russians were present in numbers in downtown Great Falls... throughout the war?"  

Author Ken Robison, himself a former Cold Warrior who worked in intelligence and is now a historian at the Overholser Historical Research Center and the Great Falls/Cascade County Historic Preservation Commission, is the perfect guide through a murky world that sometimes feels like something out of a classic spy novel - complete with stolen diplomatic pouches, daring misadventures battling communists in the jungle, and the looming threat of nuclear annihilation. 

And all through it, Montana occupies its rightful place: the center of things.

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