In my travels across this great state of Montana, I’ve visited many malls, and used many bathrooms. And I have noticed a peculiar phenomena I have never seen anywhere else. I don’t quite understand what it is about the odd relationship Montana cities have with their past that compels such places to hang the most fascinating, informative historical photographs along the hallways that lead to shopping mall restrooms.
The last time I was in the Kalispell Center mall I found myself standing outside the restrooms, entranced at the sepia-toned photographs of Kalispell in its younger days, with skinny saplings lining the streets of the east side, muddy roads and spare, elegant wooden homes. There was another photograph from Hot Springs, which, I think, had Teddy Roosevelt, Wild Bill Hickok and several other western legends sitting on a porch enjoying a hunting trip together.
I would have stayed longer, looking at the photos and learning about Flathead history, had the aroma of the deodorant cakes in the urinals not reminded me I was standing immediately outside the men’s room of a shopping mall, at the end of a hallway far from where most shoppers walked – where, unless nature called, you wouldn’t even notice the photos.
A sense of déjà vu came over me until I realized that Missoula, too, keeps some of its most interesting historical photos strangely sequestered along the battered hallway leading to the restrooms – and I felt the exact same way when, as a student at UM, I discovered the mini-mall-bathroom-museum there.
I’m sure there’s some implicit message there, that we are meant to interpret shopping malls as the pinnacle of human achievements, and in enjoying our progress, we should look back on how far we’ve come every so often – mainly when it’s time to change a diaper.
But I wonder if these photos deserve a slightly higher-profile display venue than the borderline disrespectful ones they enjoy now.
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