Miracle of America

I told myself that, upon my return to the U.S., I would consider acting like a tourist for the next couple of years, trying to get to know the land of my birth, taking advantage of what’s around me and all of that. Mostly, I embarrass those around me and get lots of strange looks when I take photos of much of the food I consume and signs for bars in Stanford, MT.

Last week, my parents and I headed up to Polson—my dad to attend a conference, my mom and I to wander around the small downtown and drink girly drinks on the patio overlooking Flathead Lake. I had also hoped to play tourist there and participate in Flickr’s 888 Day on (you guessed it) 08/08/08.

Driving into town, the hard-to-miss sign (complete with waving Indian) for the Miracle of America Museum caught my eye and made me remember a friend who sung its praises, calling it one of the weirdest places in Montana. This is saying a lot, especially in a state with places like Gil’s Got It (so many poop animals) and the House of Mystery (must be said with spooky voice).

After a few slow afternoons of wandering the three blocks of Polson’s downtown (I bought a cool antique shelf and some mod paper), The Miracle of America Museum seemed the next logical stop. The museum is pushing its “Smithsonian of the West” moniker pretty hard, and though I am not sure it has reached that status, it’s hardly undiscovered. The Missoulian wrote an article this last year, and Let’s Go guidebooks recommended it for the last five years. It consists of one main building jam-packed with all sorts of interesting antiques (and a ton of crap) and then thirty-six outlying buildings such as a schoolhouse, a thatch-roof cabin and a country store.

Following the advice of the woman at the desk, “Just keep right. You don’t want to miss anything,” my mom and I headed off. The goods on offer within the main building range from the sheet music for songs about Montana to military propaganda posters to old spark plugs and sheep shearing machines. It’s a little overwhelming. There’s a collection of letters from a WWII G.I., starting from his correspondence from Hawaii and then moving into the telegrams his mother received—one saying he was MIA, another saying they had stopped the search for him, and then a check for ninety-six dollars and change that the military still owed him. It was chilling. So were the racist posters from WWII and the stolen Nazi flag on display. We saw some beautiful clothing and a very scary Medusa-looking hair curler machine which bared an uncanny resemblance to an electric chair. One of the highlights was when I put a quarter into a player piano, only to find that it also played drums and horns like some ticker tape parade headed down Main Street. It was like pushing the “Play Me” buttons on one of those annoying singing stuffed animals in the toy aisle—you can’t resist it, but then you are embarrassed once you fall for it and make everyone around listen to the too-loud tune. The drums caused some awkward laughter.

Political leanings are on display here in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. We are in small town Montana for sure. The military displays I mentioned above were part of it, as well as just the extent to which the military was featured there. The abstinence education display made me giggle, as did the tin sign advertising “Dr. Boxwell’s Silent Pill for Females.”

Even after an hour or so of wandering the outlying buildings, I hadn’t even entered them all. There were boat motors and old cars and random mechanical objects in droves, but also some great signs and displays and an awesome tiny post office, complete with about twenty brass P.O. boxes.

Kitchy, dusty, and often quite tacky, The Miracle of America Museum was also totally entertaining. Should you happen to find yourself heading North on US93 or anywhere else in Lake County, stop in and see the Miracle. It really is something.

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3 responses to “Miracle of America”

  1. Jen

    love your shot of the red bar stools — that’s great. i’ve driven past that museum a bunch of times with kev and a bunch alone when i was in school. i’ve always wondered what’s behind its doors… thanks for enlightening us! : )

  2. steph

    just today i came across a book of eve arnold’s, an american photographer who had spent some time in china, only to find that she was a tourist in her own home when she returned.

    i think it’s a good thing, though, and i’m excited to get back to great falls, and see again for the first time in two years. (won’t you be my tour guide?)

    also, your food pictures drive me crazy. i’m mirroring your diet in another time zone. i can’t help myself. i see it and i must have it.
    off to chinese….

  3. Charisma

    I love all the photos you’ve recently posted on flickr. Even if the Museum is tacky, I’d still be totally up for it.