Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The “M”

Here's a special edition "Montana Moment" in celebration of Valentine's Day. Be sure to read to the end.

Ever wondered about letters on hillsides? Many Montana communities display these letters, often visible for miles on barren slopes. These familiar icons seem to be a product of the American West.  According to the experts, the University of California Berkeley boasts the first hillside letter, a giant “C” displayed in 1905. Other colleges and universities soon followed suit. As land grant colleges became established in western states newly admitted to the union, they joined the tradition. Montana has 112 hillside letters, more than any other state. Carroll College in Helena, Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana Tech in Butte, and the University of Montana Western in Dillon all display hillside letters. Other smaller schools and high schools also joined the trend. The University of Montana’s “M,” however, was the state’s first.

Image from Hotdogger Blog
Students constructed Missoula’s first “M” of whitewashed rock in 1909. Throughout the early decades, upperclassmen used the “M” to exert authority over the freshmen who were responsible for its upkeep. The sophomore class replaced the first “M” with an upright wooden model outfitted with $18 worth of lights. A larger wooden “M” soon replaced the upright one, but students did not properly attach the pieces and a blizzard carried them off. Forestry students built the trail leading up to the “M” in 1915. It has since served university and community groups who have used the “M” to advertise events or causes, and it has seen demonstrations and pranks. And once, with the addition of giant letters, a creative suitor even spelled out the message, “MARRY ME!” If the offer was accepted, it is not on record.

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