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Butte Archives finds rare footage of Charles Lindbergh landing 'Spirit of St. Louis' in Butte

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives
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Posted at 11:29 AM, Apr 09, 2024

BUTTE — Butte is often referred to as The Richest Hill On Earth—a nod to its mining history and the elements that have been pulled from the ground. But in one Uptown Butte building, a different kind of mining is taking place. Instead of digging to extract copper, a volunteer at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives is sifting through hours of footage from vintage film collections to find historical gems.

"I was pretty excited," says Jim McCarthy, a retired public employee for Butte-Silver Bow County. "When I first saw it I didn’t think it was in Butte because I didn’t know Lindbergh landed his plane here."

McCarthy has been volunteering at the archives for over a decade and he says lots of pictures were taken to document Charles Lindbergh's touchdown in the Mining City, but video of the event is rare.

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"For somebody from Butte to capture that on film, I thought was really significant. I thought, you know, it’s a pretty good find," says McCarthy. He spends hours seated in a room in the basement of the archives building each week transferring film in a variety of formats from VHS to 16mm to a digital format so everyone in the community can enjoy the content.

The grainy black and white footage of Lindbergh landing the Spirit of St. Louis plane in Butte lasts about 14 minutes, but to digitize the film it takes around two hours. In today's fast-paced media setting where it takes just seconds to transfer content from a camera to a computer, that may seem like a difficult process, but for McCarthy, he sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community.

"Butte has been good to me. Butte has given a lot to me over the years and I just want to give something back," he says.

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives

The difficulty of transferring film to a digital format is nothing compared to landing a plane in Butte, and that is true even a century after Lindbergh's visit.

Butte’s own airport staff says the footage of the touchdown of the Spirit of St. Louis on the dirt runway was pretty remarkable, but even today with a smooth runway Butte is notorious for being a challenging place to land.

So did Lindbergh nail the landing?

"Yeah! He actually nailed it from what I've seen, yep. He did a great job. And then he avoided the big crowd of like 30,000 people running up to his airplane too at the same time," says Rick Ryan, assistant manager at Bert Mooney Aiport.

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The footage is part of the AJ Davis Collection shot by a banker in 1927 and aside from the Lindbergh landing, the collection captures hidden gems of everyday life from rodeos to people using snow coaches.

"It’s pretty unique that we’ve got footage of that plane coming to Butte and landing here. It kind of puts a feather in Butte’s cap, too. We were pretty prominent, you know. We were in the past and we can still be that way," says McCarthy.