Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: July 2014

On the way to Logan Pass...

A bike ride to celebrate America’s birthday…

A couple weeks ago, I headed up to Glacier National Park to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Apgar Village to Logan Pass. My friend and I had planned the trip nearly two months beforehand, had taken time off from work, had tuned up our bikes, aired out our sleeping bags, stocked up on granola. Because I’m a history nerd, I started researching the history of Glacier in preparation. How in the world did they manage to build the Going-to-the-Sun Road? How do they plow it? When did Glacier become a tourist destination? Who were the individuals that turned Glacier into the park we know today? And of course, that led to more questions. As usual, I began to explore Fort Missoula’s archives. While the archives focus mainly on the history of Missoula and Fort Missoula, I stumbled upon several old postcards, a few newspaper inserts promoting Montana as “Vacationland!” and this 1987 Monte Dolack poster featuring the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Commissioned by Bikecentennial (now Adventure Cycling, located in downtown Missoula), it was the perfect image to get me started on my research. I was giddy with excitement – I thought of the image as almost a foreshadowing of my own trip, a preliminary glimpse!

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Monte Dolack's Going-to-the-Sun Poster, commissioned by Bikecentennial in 1987

Monte Dolack’s Going-to-the-Sun Poster, commissioned by Bikecentennial in 1987

But first, a little bit about the poster itself. In the foreground, closest to the viewer, we see three small, bright birds—a flicker, a tree swallow fly, and a scarlet tanager—that form a sort of triangle around a lone rider in a red shirt. His bike wheels are a blur of opalescent white and his shadow stretches to the bottom edge of the image. The Going-to-the-Sun Road stretches out before him, climbing slowly, laboriously, up towards the continental divide. The green mountain falls away steeply beside him and in the distance we can see rocky mountain ridges still dappled in snow. The rider is almost above the clouds that hover in the valley to the right of the road. There are two other riders ahead of him, just past the waterfall. The landscape is dramatic and the colors incandescent. But probably my favorite detail is the tiny rearview mirror clipped onto his glasses. This guy is one prepared rider! But who is he? What’s the story here? Monte Dolack’s a well-known name around Missoula, but what’s Bikecentennial?

A Detail of Monte Dolack's Going-to-the-Sun Road Print

A Detail of Monte Dolack’s Going-to-the-Sun Road Print

On their website, Glacier Cyclery says that Greg Siple, one of the co-founders of Bikecentennial, posed as the cyclist we see in the Dolack print. I couldn’t find that report corroborated elsewhere, but the owners of Glacier Cyclery are familiar with Adventure Cycling and it does make sense that Siple would be the model. It was Siple, after all, who thought that the best way to celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1976 was with a bike ride from San Francisco to the east coast. The idea came to him in 1972 while on a bike tour from Alaska to the southernmost point of South America with his wife, June, and Lys and Dan Burden. Originally supported by National Geographic, one of their goals on the “Hemistour” ride was to promote the sport of cycling. While in Mexico, they began to solidify the plans for Bikecentennial. “My original thought,” Stiple says, “was to send out ads and flyers saying, ‘Show up at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco at 9 o’clock on June 1 with your bicycle. And then we were going to bicycle across the country. I pictured thousands of people, a sea of people with their bikes and packs all ready to go, and there would be old men and people with balloon-tire bikes and Frenchmen who flew over just for this. Nobody would shoot a gun off or anything. At 9 o’clock everybody would just start moving. It would be like this crowd of locusts crossing America.” (

It wasn’t easy to gain the clout and financial support necessary to embark on such an endeavor. The Siples continued on the tour of South America, while the Burdens were forced to return to the US early because Dan had contracted hepatitis. While the Siples spent another two years on the Hemistour, Lys and Dan began laying the tracks for Bikecentennial. They sent a wave 10,000 flyers out to bike clubs around the nation and overseas, followed by another wave of 3,000; they continued to court individuals at National Geographic who expressed an interest in the adventure; they spread the word to old cycling friends; eventually, in 1973, Lys took on the job of researching the route—an enormous, time-consuming task undertaken in a VW bus. By January 1974, the Burdens found themselves in Missoula: “It was a logical place to start Bikecentennial, since I had many friends, a university from which to draw talent, and a place where we could live inexpensively, attending school on the G.I Bill during the day, working on Bikecentennial at night.” In the summer of 1974, they, along with another couple, road the route that Lys had mapped out on their bicycles. The following year, Bikecentennial gained an important sponsor in Shimano and suddenly, they had the kind of traction they needed to move forward (

A Bikecentennial Certificate on Display at Adventure Cycling in Downtown Missoula

A Bikecentennial Certificate on Display at Adventure Cycling in Downtown Missoula

I’m sure there were a lot of moments when the founders doubted their initial idea—putting together an unprecedented, enormous event that spans a continent is tough!—but in the summer of 1976, “Bikecentennial operated 300 trips servicing 4,100 men and women. All fifty states and several foreign nations were represented. Just over 2,000 bicyclists rode the entire length of the trail” as reported in BikeReport. Not only did the Burdens and Siples and their colleagues have to map out the entire route, but they needed to make sure that the cyclists had somewhere to sleep every night along the route and recruit the numbers to make the trip a huge (and safe) success!

Once I read up on the history of Bikecentennial, I started to wonder why Monte Dolack would have featured Glacier in his poster. I assumed that the poster was a commemoration of the original 1976 bike trip, but the route during that trip didn’t pass through Glacier. In fact, the route only touched the southeastern-most part of Montana. But after the 1976 ride, Bikecentennial continued to design bicycle tours around the country and, in the mid-1980’s, Michael McCoy and his wife led the company’s first mountain-biking tour….through Glacier County! Today, Adventure Cycling is the leading such company in the U.S., with 47,000 members and over 42,000 miles of bike routes mapped out across the country. If that’s not a lesson in dreaming big, I don’t know what is!

Maps and directions designed by Adventure Cycling for Bicycling the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Maps and directions designed by Adventure Cycling for Bicycling the Lewis and Clark Trail.

As much as I love bike riding, I’ve never been a bike tourist. Last summer, a friend from the east coast, a fellow cyclist, bought me maps designed by Adventure Cycling, detailing the Lewis and Clark Trail for bicyclists. I had never even heard of Adventure Cycling and I still haven’t had the chance to use the maps (yet!). I’ve never camped out on someone’s farm in Virginia or pulled into a campsite in Yellowstone with panniers full of food and clothing and a sleeping bag and a tent. While our trip to Glacier would barely skim the surface of such a venture, it was my own small foray into the world of adventure cycling and I was thrilled to follow in the footsteps of the giants who created this incredible culture in the U.S. (a culture based in Missoula, nonetheless)! I had Monte Dolack’s print in my head all week, anticipating the glorious views, the birds chirping, the contagious excitement of the other riders, all looking out over the river or up at the Weeping Wall.

On the way to Logan Pass...

On the way to Logan Pass…

But there were no other riders. Or, rather, very few. Over the course of 45 miles, we passed eleven people. And nothing I saw resembled the Monte Dolack print. Where was the Glacier I was promised?! Instead, a chilly rain fell for three days. The clouds obscured the mountain peaks and I wore layers of long sleeves covered by a thin rain jacket. I didn’t see mountain goats or big horn sheep or a grizzly bear. When we set out towards Avalanche at 10 am, after delaying our trip in hopes that the rain would let up, it was pouring. Then that downpour turned into a drizzle and the drizzle, eventually, petered out to nothing. We cheered whenever the rain stopped, despite the insistent dreariness. I can’t even remember if it was raining at the top of Logan Pass: we were submerged in the cold wet of the clouds and the only living thing we saw was an enormous crow perched on a stake in the snow. On the way down, we saw wisps of blue sky and thought, yes, this is it! But it never quite cleared up and we never quite saw what those Adventure Cyclists saw in the 1980’s, or what thousands of others cyclists see today. What we saw was, I think, infinitely more rare. It was surreal and unearthly; an unimaginable solitude.


Logan Pass, June 14 2014

Logan Pass, June 14 2014

For more on the history of Bikcentennial / Adventure Cycling, check out their website:

If you, like me, are curious about how they built the Going-to-the-Sun Road, check out this awesome video put together by the National Parks Service:

And if you, like me, have someone in your life (ehem, your dad) that loves to bike, check out Monte Dolack’s website for more on the poster!


The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

The Flags over Iwo Jima: What’s Fort Missoula’s Connection?

This week, millions of American flags will be raised across the country to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago. As my own small tribute to the founding fathers, I decided to take a look at Fort Missoula’s collection of American flags and compile some kind of survey, sharing photos and a bit of history where I could find it, attempting in my own small way to show that despite the ubiquity of the American flag as symbol, individual examples have a lot to teach us about history and patriotism. Of course, once I submerged myself in the collection, my research began to take a completely different, completely fascinating route.

The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

Most of Fort Missoula’s flags are stored together in one of the small textile rooms in the curatorial space on the second floor. However, there is one flag kept in its own unwieldy, somewhat enormous, albeit shallow, box in the main photography room. The naval flag, measuring 33½” x 61½” (that’s almost three feet high and just over six feet long), is mounted on a stretched canvas, sewn onto the canvas along its outer edges in an effort to preserve it. In many ways it is a standard 48-star American flag: white stars arrayed systematically over a blue canton (24¾” x 18”), seven red stripes, six white, the cotton seemingly battle-worn, or simply deteriorating with age. I found it interesting that the stars were printed onto the blue canton rather than sewn, while the stripes were comprised of individual strips of cloth sewn together. In terms of wear and tear, there are at least seven holes in the canton alone and the stripes, especially the red stripes, are littered with tears while stains are obvious on the white cloth. The colors are faded, especially as your eye moves away from the hoist. The 48-star flag was in use from 1912, with Arizona’s admission into the Union, until 1959, with the admission of Alaska, and there are countless extant examples—some of them rich with war stories, some simply flown at the neighbor’s house on the 4th of July.

Tears on the USS Missoula Flag

Tears on the USS Missoula Flag

This particular flag, flown over the USS Missoula from 1944 to 1946, is one of former. It is the sister flag to the flag first raised on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, undoubtedly one of the most significant flags of the 20th century. Naturally, my eyes widened as I read the page of information kept with the flag. Sister flag. That meant that the iconic Iwo Jima flag, immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, was also flown over the USS Missoula, alongside ours, right?

No, not right at all.

Here is the real story behind the flag and the Rosenthal photograph: On the morning of Friday, February 23, 1945, forty Marines led by Lt. Harold G. Schrier ascended Mount Suribachi, a volcanic vent and the highest peak on Iwo Jima, an island with major strategic importance for both the Japanese and Americans during WWII. They’d been instructed by 2nd Battalion commander Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson, “If you’re able to get up the mountain I want you to take this flag… If you can’t make it all the way up, turn around and come back down. Don’t try to go overboard.” The men had arrived at Iwo Jima on the USS Missoula and they carried a small flag from the ship with them on their mission. When they reached the summit, they managed to find a 20-foot rainwater pipe constructed by the Japanese and then, using the pipe, six men hoisted the flag at 10:20 am. Luckily, Leatherneck photographer Louis Lowery had ascended the peak with the men and was there to capture the moment.

Louis Lowery's Photograph of the First Flag Raising over Iwo Jima, 2/23/45

Louis Lowery’s Photograph of the First Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi, 2/23/45

James Bradley describes the excitement that washed over Iwo Jima with the raising of the first flag in Flags of Our Fathers, “As Lowery clicked this exposure, an amazing noise rose from the island below and from the ships offshore. Thousands of Marine and Navy personally had been watching the patrol as they climbed to the volcano’s rim. When the small swatch of color fluttered, Iwo Jima was transformed, for a few moments, into New York City’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Infantrymen cheered, whistled,and waved their helmets. Here was the evidence of Suribachi’s conquest. Here was the first invader’s flag ever planted in four thousand years on the soil of Japan.”

In a 2005 Missoulian article, WWII veteran and Missoula resident Bill Worf recalls standing on the beaches and seeing the first flag go up: “‘It went through the ranks like an electric shock,’ says Worf, who was 18 years old that day and is now 78. ‘We were getting really chewed up by artillery strikes that had been called in from the top of Mount Suribachi. So it was a big deal to see that flag go up. When it went up, a lot of us thought in another day or two we’d wrap things up and go home’” ( Of course, Worf and the others were wrong in their hope that the battle would end early: it lasted until March 26 and saw 26,000 American casualties alone, including 6,800 men killed in action.

Pvt. Bob Campbell took this photograph of the first flag coming down and the second going up, 2/23/45, courtesy of

Pvt. Bob Campbell took this photograph of the first flag coming down and the second going up, 2/23/45, courtesy of

Shortly after the flag from the USS Missoula was raised, Lt. Col. Johnson ordered the small flag taken down and replaced with a larger one. The story goes that Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal landed on the beach just as the flag went up and, recognizing its importance, said he wanted it as a souvenir. Johnson, upon receiving Forrestal’s message, supposedly declared, “To hell with that!” Johnson wanted to secure the original flag for his battalion, so he raised a larger one in its stead, a 56” x 96” flag taken from the LST 779. On the advice of Lowery, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal and Sgt. Bill Genaust made their way to the summit of Suribachi just as the men were attaching the second flag to a 100-pound pole. As they hoisted it, Rosenthal took the picture that would earn him a Pulitzer Prize, serve as the symbol for the Seventh War Bond Drive and as the model for the Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Genaust captured the event on video, although he would never have the chance to see it. Genaust was killed in battle just days later.

Joe Rosenthal's Photograph of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, 2/23/45, courtesy of the National Archives

Joe Rosenthal’s Photograph of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, 2/23/45, courtesy of the National Archives

The men in Rosenthal’s photograph—Sgt. Michael Strank, Pfc. Rene Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley, PhM2c John Bradley (Pharmacist Mate, 2nd Class) and Cpl. Harlon Block— the second group of six men to raise an American flag that day, would become celebrities. Three would be killed in action during the subsequent days of fighting, while FDR would bring the survivors home to tour the country and participate in the drive. Bradley’s son, James Bradley, further commemorated the flag-raisers with the 2000 book, Flags of Our Fathers, which spent 46 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Meanwhile, the men in Louis Lowery’s photograph would remain virtually anonymous—First Lt. Schrier, Sgt. Boots Thomas, Sgt. Hank Hansen, Pfc. Louis Charlo, Pfc. Jim Michaels, and Cpl. Charles W. Lindbergh. Charlo, the great-grandson of Chief Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish, was killed in action just a week after participating in the ascent of Suribachi. A Montana-native, Louis Carlo is commemorated by an exhibition at the Rocky Mountain Military Museum on the grounds of Fort Missoula, right next to an exhibition about the history of the USS Missoula. For his part, Lowery never achieved the fame of Rosenthal. He continued to work for the Marine Corps’ publication, Leatherneck Magazine, until his retirement in 1983, and he and Rosenthal remained close friends well after the end of the war.

Both the first and second flags raised on Mount Suribachi are now, appropriately, at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. The flag at Fort Missoula was, in comparison, just a bystander. But both USS Missoula flags—both the flag in Quantico and the flag at Fort Missoula—accompanied the USS Missoula—from Richmond, VA, where the ship was launched in September 1944, then to Pearl Harbor, where she trained, and then to Iwo Jima, where she ferried cargo and served as a floating medical station. However you want to look at it, this flag has seen a lot of action!

The Signal Gang of the USS Missoula, taken March 1945, donated to Fort Missoula by Arthur Loveridge (pictured bottom row, second from right)

The Signal Gang of the USS Missoula, taken March 1945, photograph donated to Fort Missoula by Arthur Loveridge (pictured bottom row, second from right)

The sister flag to the first flag raised over Iwo Jima was given to Fort Missoula in 2006 by Arthur C. Loveridge, a USS Missoula signalman who, after the war, hung the flag in his machine shop every year on the 4th of July.