by Joanne Mangels, 20 February 1998.
Whether it’s diversity of size – from the Paul Bunyan, a 65 ft. logging tow listed in the National Register to a bird-point arrowhead, diversity of cultures, diversity of opinions from the moonshine stills to prohibition memorabilia, or just plain diversity of exhibits from harps to Harleys, the Miracle of America Museum has something for you. Over 100,000 objects displayed and their very diversity make this museum unique. It has been nicknamed, “The Smithsonian of the West” because of it’s many and varied exhibits.
“Where is this fantastic place located?” you ask. Well, the Miracle of America Museum is about two miles south of Polson, right on US-93. It’s 3/4 mile south of the US-93 and Montana-35 highway junction. It opens at 8 a.m. daily, year around. Busy summer days it usually closes at dusk and during the rest of the year, closes about 5 p.m. Admission is free if you’re under 3, for ages 3 – 12 it’s $2, and over twelve $5 (AAA & seniors over 65 – 50¢ off adult rate, maximum one discount per person per visit). Group tours are available.
Cars from a 1910 original Maytag auto, through a myriad of others vehicles to the mint ’69 Caddy convertible, captures the hearts of many transportation buffs. Two dozen motorcycles from a restored 1912 Harley to a 1965 “Trike” and three large showcases of cycle memorabilia, interests others. Bicycles range from an 1875 wooden “bone shaker,” an 1890’s ladies tricycle and a tandem bicycle with its rubber tires glued to the wooden wheels, to a fancy 1950’s model sporting nearly every gadget available. There are fire trucks, dump trucks, pickups, buggies, wagons, race cars, helicopters, an 1880’s vintage hearse, and an amusement park train. The museum recently added a new 2500 sq. ft. automobile display building. The artifacts added to the transportation display in the last year include a full size steam RR switching engine and an A7D Corsair jet attack bomber.
Have we captured your interest yet? Well perhaps you’d enjoy an original oil painting by Merle Olsen, a pastel drawing of a pow-wow dancer by Pina Jo Miller, small bird sculptures by Ace Powell, or a spectacular wood carving by the late deaf-mute John Clarke, called “Cutapuis – The Man Who Talks Not” by the Blackfeet. His carvings have appeared in galleries world-wide. This museum exhibits a Clarke sculpture carved from a single piece of wood, depicting a dramatic incident involving a mother bear, her foot caught in a trap, two cubs by her side and an advancing, rifle-toting hunter. Artistically executed, but definitely not “Fine Art” in the usual sense is a delicate picture made of rattlesnake bones and rattles and another of crocheted human hair which was made in 1889. In quilts, beadwork, even the varied styling of dozens of cast iron tractor seats, our ancestors created beauty in functional objects.
In the yard behind the main museum building lie over two dozen more buildings. There visitors can view the Montana State Fiddlers Hall of Fame, walk through an old-time general store stocked with antique merchandise, attend an original 1912 one-room school, see a saddle and harness repair shop, and tour a two story barn filled with agricultural implements and one of Montana’s largest barbed wire displays. Another building is full of old wooden boats, like Marcus Daly III’s sporty Garwood runabout the Third Bird, marine engines, and fishing displays. Logging memorabilia fills yet another building and the barber shop, sewing shop and appliance shop are overflowing with appropriate vintage artifacts. The 1500 sq. ft. fully stocked blacksmith shop and machine shop is looking for a full, part time, or “drop in” smith to exhibit the art, using museum equipment. There’s also a trappers cabin and a Land Office full of old maps and early views of the area.
Veterans will appreciate the extensive military display which includes over 20 vehicles, a large collection of home-front posters and memorabilia from several wars. Gil Mangels, President of the Museum Board of Directors says, “The tribute to veterans isn’t to glorify war, but to recognize the veterans of all wars and to help each of us remember the sacrifices they made to preserve our freedoms.” The Law Enforcement display and a small Fire Hall pay tribute to these public servants.
This 501-C-3 non-profit museum welcomes your tax deductible donations of any kind which will help improve the displays or help preserve the museum for future generations. If you want to arrange a special tour, or if we haven’t answered all your questions, just give us a call at 406-883-6804.