A reader writes:
Thanks for the post on Our Lady of the Rockies. It is quite an icon in these parts. I'm a Montanan, though not from Butte, and not a Catholic. When I first heard about it, I thought it was hilarious: kitsch at its finest. But about seven or eight years ago I went with a tour up the mountain to see her.
First you buy your ticket at the local mall, and there's a little movie that you watch as an introduction to the sight you are about to behold. When they were building it, the weather was bad, funds were short, it was hard to put the pieces together, they had to use helicopters and it was a miracle that it got done at all. The bus drive up the mountain to see it seemed ridiculous, almost impassable, a rutted dirt road up a long, steep set of switchbacks. Scary.
The statue itself blew me away. It's huge and very white. Even more amazing, though, is that the interior is filled, crammed with hanging rosaries and little cards with prayers all over the walls. It was awesome in the way that shrines in India are awesome: people visit with such humility, uninhibited faith, and genuine hope. I found it very, very touching.
The actual "Butte Story" is probably quite a bit more complex than your reader suggests. As I understand it (a preponderance of internet sources such as this, no first-hand data), Bob O'Bill's original promise was to place a slightly larger than life size statue of Mary in his yard. As friends and co-workers and eventually even the military became involved, the scope of the project grew -- a much bigger statue, a site several thousand feet above Butte. A road was blasted to the site so that a massive concrete base could be poured. The statue, in four pieces, was eventually lifted into place by helicopter, to much ringing of bells and hoopla in town far below. A tram is (perhaps) in the works. To make the project more widely appreciated, the statue became a tribute to women in general and mothers in particular.
What is strangely lacking in the accounts I read is any information about Bob O'Bill's wife. I couldn't even find her name. Is she (or Bob) still alive? How old were they when she was diagnosed with cancer? Was her cure long-lasting? How did she feel about the monument to her recovery? As in "The Pearl of Love" (H. G. Wells, 1924) the monument seems finally to have reduced the woman herself to irrelevance.