Many Glacier Hotel is located in the heart of Glacier National Park, on a rocky ledge by the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. It is surrounded by a scene of almost uncanny natural harmony. Just across the lake is a mountain in the shape of a perfect pyramid: Grinnell Point. Each peak and cliff to one side of Grinnell has a partner in just the same position on the other side of the valley. Thus, Mt. Gould balances Mt. Wilbur; the Garden Wall balances the Pinnacle Wall; Mt. Allen balances Mt. Henkel. This remarkable panorama has few parallels in the world.
The Great Northern Railway built all of Glacier Park's hotels through a newly organized subsidiary, the Glacier Park Hotel Company. Louis Hill, the Great Northern's president, chose the Many Glacier valley for the largest of the hotels. Great Northern bridgebuilders rigged the huge logs which serve as roofbeams and lobby columns. A sawmill, erected near the hotel site, fashioned thousands of boards from trees which were cut down inside the park. Several hundred men were employed in construction, from 1914 to 1917.
"Many," as the structure is affectionately known, was for decades the largest hotel in Montana. It has some 240 guest rooms in its Main and Annex wings. It is built in the style of a Swiss chalet, with overhanging roofs and balconies. It is painted a rich, deep brown, with white and gold trim. The Cross of Helvetia, white on a scarlet shield, is Many's coat of arms, and hangs on the door of every room.
The Chalet City
In 1913, while Many Glacier Hotel was still on the drawing board, the Great Northern built a cluster of chalets a few hundred yards from the hotel site. These chalets remained part of the Many Glacier complex for many years.
There were eight chalets, as well as an office and some auxiliary structures. They were built in an alpine style, in many different shapes and sizes. Heavy rocks were placed on the roofs, in a gridwork of poles, to hold the roofs on amid the terrific winds which blow down Swiftcurrent Valley.
Two chalets ("H" and "I") and the office were clustered beside Swiftcurrent Falls. Nearby was a famous combination dancehall and packhorse depot called "The Puff and Blow." The other chalets were ranged above them on the lower flanks of Mt. Altyn.
Chalet "C" was crushed in an avalanche a few years after it was built. The avalanche came from "South America:" a snowfield named for its characteristic shape, which appears each spring on the slopes of Mt. Altyn. The doomed chalet was completely flattened, as if a giant's foot had trampled on it and stamped it into the hillside.
Most of the other chalets were burned in the disastrous Swiftcurrent Valley Fire of 1936. "H" and "I," the only surviving chalets, may still be seen near Swiftcurrent Falls, where they house Many Glacier's maintenance personnel.
Many Glacier's Original Decor
Many Glacier's Main wing opened to the public on July 4, 1915. The Annex was finished for the 1917 season. The building's appearance in those days was quite different than it is today. The steepled portico was not constructed until the 1950's. Thus, guests often were drenched with rain when they alighted at the front door.
The great stone chimney by the door was much more prominent in the days before the portico. A Swiss handyman used to climb this chimney in his lederhosen and Alpine hat, to amuse the passersby. This practice was banned after it was taken up by "gearjammers" (Glacier Park bus drivers) who were less proficient in balance and dexterity.
The most striking feature of Many's original decor was the Circular Staircase. Standing in the lobby, near the front of the present gift shop, it led downstairs to the Bamboo Room (now renamed the St. Moritz). The staircase included two semicircular flights of stairs, with bevelled handrails. In th, center was a fountain: a tall mound of native rocks and ferns, surrounded by a pool full of trout.
The hotel's decor was a startling combination of styles, reflecting Louis Hill's eclectic taste. It included elements of the American West, the Swis Alps, and the Orient. Japanese parasol were set in stumps on the lobby floor. Dozens of Oriental lanterns hung overhead. Bearskins and buffalo skulls were hung at regular intervals on the balcony.
All around the lobby were thick, knobby pillars upright cedar logs, with the bark removed. These logs had been brought by train from the West Coast (as had a set of anomalous totem poles, unknown to the local Indians). The lobby floor was painted bright van, Windsor chairs, wicker chairs, and canv folding chairs stood about the lobby.
In the dining room hung long canvase covered with Blackfeet Indian picture writing. These pictographs told the exploits of the painters, who bore such names as Chief Boy, Shorty Black Bear, Many Tailfeathers, and Stingy. The dining room's handsome highbeamed roof was fully exposed in the early days; the false ceiling had not yet been constructed.
Many Glacier was nearly selfsufficient in the years before World War Two. A hydroplant below Swiftcurrent Falls provided the valley's electric power. A laundry (staffed by young women called the "Laundry Queens") washed and ironed the sheets and towels. The kitchen cooled its meat with ice bunkers. The ice was cut in big blocks on Swiftcurrent Lake in the wintertime, and stored ln an icehouse, which still stands on Burch's Bay.
The doorway leading into the Employee Cafeteria bore the inscription from the gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno: "ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE." Employees and guests alike enjoyed "The Plunge," an indoor swimming pool with a lifeguard known as "The Duke of Dirtywater." The pool grew murky and forbidding due to infestations of algae, and eventually had to be filled in.
Much of our knowledge of the history of Many Glacier Hotel is drawn from the recollections of Many's master storyteller, Ray Kinley. Ray came to work in the Swiftcurrent Valley in 1919, as a fishing guide. Three years later, he was hired at the hotel. He continued to work there through 1977, when he finally retired at the age of 86.
In his final summers, Ray was still doing heavy labor as Many's gardener, rowing tourists around on fishing expeditions, and ruling firmly over a dormitory of spirited young employees. These accomplishments were all the more remarkable in that Ray had only one arm. The other had been lost in a railroad accident long ago.
Ray owned a collection of 50 or 60 outlandish hats, which had been left behind by various guests and employees over the years. He liked to change hats several times a day. "Why do you wear that hat?" a startled employee once asked, encountering Ray in an enormous Sherlock Holmes cap, with a bill at either end. Ray answered tartly, "I wear it so the manager won't know if I'm coming or going."
Ray led an active life in California after his retirement. He delighted in helping the Glacier Park Foundation write this history of Many Glacier. Ray died on May 2, 1985, at the age of 93.
Ray's stories of bygone days at Many are incomparably vivid and entertaining. The following tale is one of his best.
Foiling the Fliratious Butcher
In my long years as a fishing guide, I have taken out many celebrities. Two whom I remember were Harriet Parsons (daughter of Louella, the Hollywood columnist), and her friend Edie Adams, a star with the Ziegfield Follies. One cold blustery day, I took these two out fishing on Lake Josephine. The ladies brought a bottle of "Old Thompson" along in the boat, to ward off the chill. One was seated in the bow and one in the stern. I was in between them at the oars, and so I enjoyed two sips to their one, as the bottle went back and forth between them.
When we got back to Many Glacier that afternoon, the ladies were chilled. I took them to the "Steam Room" down on Stagger Alley the room with the big hot water tank in it so that they could warm up. We had just arrived when in walked my nosey roommate Butch, the hotel butcher. He was notorious for chasing women.
"Why, Ray!" Butch said. "You don't mean to have the ladies sit down in this dingy Steam Room! You take them down sent right now, to cleaning the hall to our room, and I'll meet you there with four cups of coffee"' I protested, but Butch was adamant. He led us all down Stagger Alley to the rooms which he and I shared. It was rooms 26 and 28 (they're 46 and 48 today) one room was our bedroom, and the other was a lounge for my fishing customers.
Butch ran down to the grill and fetched us back four steaming cups of hot coffee. Then he started to make plans to join our fishing party tomorrow. "You can take Miss Parsons out in one boat, Ray," said Butch. "I'll follow along and bring Miss Adams in the other." He couldn't keep his eyes off that gorgeous Edie.
The ladies didn't sound enthusiastic. They plainly weren't fascinated by Butch. "We'll leave it to your good judgment, Ray," said Harriet coolly, as they departed.
Early next morning, I went to breakfast and sat down next to "Casey" Jones. Casey worked as chef at Many Glacier for years and years before World War Two. I explained the situation to her, and asked her help. "He'll ruin the whole day for me, Casey," I said. "I'm in this for the money. If Butch horns in and makes us a foursome, the ladies will look on it as a date, and then I'm going to lose my tip!"
"Why, that womanizing soandso!" Casey exclaimed. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do, Ray. I have steak listed on the menu tonight, but I'm going to change it to chicken. East Glacier just phoned to say that they have 300 fryers down there on ice, to be shipped up any time we want them. I'm going to have them _ and then I'll set Butch ~ ''''6 the batch of 'em! That should keep him safely occupied till you've gotten the ladies out of here."
Noon arrived, and I escorted Edie and Harriet down to the boat dock, where we would catch the launch to Lake Josephine. I asked the skipper to hold the boat while I went to run an errand. I also asked him to sound a loud blast on the whistle in five minutes' time.
I walked up to the kitchen, and stepped in upon a scene which defied description. Chickens were everywhere. They were strewn across every inch of level space stoves, tables, counter tops, and window sills. There in the midst of them was Butch, hacking into the carcasses like a madman, ripping out entrails and flinging them into a nearby garbage can.
"Why, Butch, what are you doing?" I said in a voice of complete astonishment. "That boat won't wait' The ladies are already sitting on board it"' At that very instant, the boat whistle sounded impatiently in the distance.
"I know, Ray"' sobbed Butch. "You'll have to go along without me. Oh, that witch! That witch! I'll get even with her if it's the last thing I do"' Over in the corner, behind the coffee urns, I could see Casey Jones, holding her mouth, and shaking with uncontrollable laughter.
I ran back down the lawn to the boat dock, and we soon were underway. The ladies were pleased to learn that Butch wasn't going to join the expedition. "Oh, Ray, I'm so glad he decided not to come," said Edie. "I was afraid that he would spoil our whole day."
A. J. Binder
A.J. Binder was manager at Many in the "teens" and the 1920's. He and his wife, Mary, lived in Room 225, on the second floor lobby balcony. Mr. Binder was a disciplinarian, and the employees used to walk considerable distances to hold parties out of his hearing. Sometimes they would carry a portable gramophone a mile to Lake Josephine, set it up on shore, and crank out songs in the darkness.
During Binder's reign, the millionaire John D. Rockefeller visited Many. His party of travellers took up most of the rooms on the Long Hall, on first floor. Rockefeller took umbrage at the rustic bathroom arrangement (baths "en suite," which were shared by the rooms on either side). He went to Binder, and requested a rebate of one dollar per room. As Ray Kinley observes, however, "nobody looked big to Binder." He politely but firmly refused to reduce the bill. The Great Northern's general manager, however, showed less backbone. When Rockefeller went to him, he ordered Binder to humor the powerful guest and grant the rebate.
The Early Employees and their Uniforms
In the early years, a majority of Glacier Park hotel employees were drawn from Minnesota, which was the Great Northern Railway's headquarters. Then as now, most employees were students and other young people in their late teens or early twenties. Applicants were called for personal interviews with A.J. Binder on the 13th floor of the old Great Northern building in St. Paul. It was said that Mr. Binder deliberately hired a few "bad apples" each year, in order to fire them and set an example.
Great Northern set aside special "employee cars" on its westbound trains each spring. The young people disported themselves in these special cars with guitars and boisterous chatter, getting very little sleep. Loud cheers would erupt when the mountains first came into view, around Shelby, Montana.
Employee wages were very low. Many days of work were needed to pay for railway tickets to the park. In the early years, employees had no days off until the end of the season. Then they were given a threeday holiday at other park facilities, at steeply discounted rates.
The early dining room staffs were composed of professional waitresses. It was considered bad form in those days to write down orders, and Great Northern feared that nonprofessionals would vex the guests by mixing up the orders in their heads. In those days it was lawful to pick park flowers, and every waitress had to furnish fresh bouquets to garnish her tables.
Until 1924, the waitresses wore longsleeved black dresses at breakfast and at lunch. At dinner, they switched to a Swiss peasant costume, with colorful skirts and lacedup bodices. In 1924, the Swiss costume was adopted for all meals, to enhance Many Glacier's Alpine motif. In 1941, the Swiss costume was discontinued, and waitresses were dressed in maroon and rosecolored costumes manufactured by nuns at the House of the Good Shepherd in St. Paul. In the 1970's an Alpine costume was reintroduced.
The bellman positions have always been coveted by Many Glacier employees, since they tend to bring generous tips. In the early years, these jobs were often parcelled out to sons and relatives of Great Northern personnel. The early bellmen wore grey uniforms trimmed with green cloth and red soutash braid. In the 1950's, Alpine lederhosen were introduced, and these have become the traditional bellmen's gear.
Front office personnel in the early years wore suits, as they do today. Ray Kinley loved to describe an early room clerk nicknamed "Digger O'Dell." This youth invariably dressed in a drab black "undertaker's suit." He had a cadaverous face, and a gangling bony figure. When guests checked in, he would hand out their room keys, give a ghoulish leer, and groan, "You're going to looove that room!"
The Destruction of the Sawmill
After the hotel was built, the Many Glacier sawmill stood idle by the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, not far from the present boat crew's cabin. It was surrounded by heaps of sawdust from the thousands of boards it had planed.
Stephen Mather, the Director of the National Park Service, thought that the mill was an eyesore, and ordered it removed. The Great Northern procrastinated in carrying out this order. In August, 1925, Mather visited Many Glacier. Without warning or diplomacy, he personally dynamited the sawmill.
Ray Kinley, fishing in a boat on Swiftcurrent Lake, saw rangers racing down the trail waving red flags. A moment later, there was a thunderous explosion, and heavy machinery spiraled high up into the air.
A crowd of Many Glacier hotel guests also were treated to the spectacle. Mather vented his annoyance at the Great Northern by rounding up all the guests he could find, and leading them out on the hotel porch to witness a "birthday surprise" for his daughter. When all were assembled, the fuses were touched off with appropriate drama and fanfare.
One of the most intriguing figures of the early years at Many Glacier was Jean Boutonniere, the FrenchCanadian gardener. He was a shy man, who would hide his face with his hand as he was speaking. He had an imperfect command of English, and a thick accent. He would make statements such as, "sat leetle mushrat, she be de tees' fish what swims in de lac."
Jean lived in a little cabin just beyond the Annex (the cabin since has been moved to the parking lot, and is now the Many Glacier service station). He adopted various wild creatures, including a porcupine and a crow. The crow, whose name was Jimmy, would ride along on Jean's shoulder and peck at the ears of unsuspecting passersby.
Jean was a remarkable weather prophet. He could predict not only sun and storms, but the very Northern Lights' One day he remarked to Ray Kinley, "Tonight two A.M. you see lights from St. Mary"' Ray looked out at 2 o'clock and, sure enough, saw the Northern Lights shining in two beams from the direction of St. Mary. Ray (a legendary weather prophet himself) said that nothing in his life had intrigued him so as to wonder how the gardener knew that.
How Stagger Alley got its Name
After Prohibition was repealed, a glassedin bar was opened downstairs in the St. Moritz Room (known in those days as "The Grill"). The wranglers from the horse concession used to gather there to drink up their pay. When the bar closed at midnight, the drunken cowboys took the shortest route to their bunkhouse, which stood near Swiftcurrent Falls. Instead of climbing stairs to the lobby, they tramped down the Lake Level hallway, disturbing sleepers as they went. For this reason, the hallway has long been known as "Stagger Alley."
Bertha Hosford was the nurse at Many Glacier for many years before World War Two. She was a wise old woman who had worked for decades at Chicago Children's Hospital. She was a motherly figure to the young employees, but a terror to malingerers.
Sometimes, on the morning after a late employees' party, a call would come from the dorms: "We have a boy here, very sick!" Miss Hosford immediately would find two husky employees and lead them up to the sufferer's room. The huskies would hold the victim down, while Miss Hosford spooned a liberal dose of cod liver oil down his throat. As she completed this errand of mercy, she would say sweetly, "We'll be back to give you the second dose in an hour"' The sick youth invariably revived and reported for for work in a matter of minutes.
Bear in the Kitchen
One autumn in the early years, the Many Glacier kitchen completed its season with a considerable surplus of bacon and flour. This food was stashed away for the winter in the Employee Cafeteria. The bacon was placed on the floor with a layer of flour sacks on top of it.
During the winter, an enormous black bear smashed his way into the kitchen. He tipped over tables, shattered dishes; and tore boards up out of the floor. He soon found the food in the cafeteria, and slashed and tossed aside the sacks of flour in his impatience to get at the bacon. When he had gorged himself, he smashed the cafeteria's big west windows, trying to find his way back out. A terrific wind came roaring in, and blew the flour in a blizzard through the wreckage of the room.
Many Glacier's caretaker, Cyril McGillis, heard the shattering glass, and promptly ran to the kitchen with his rifle. He met the bear in the entrance passageway, and killed it with one shot. Cyril had the bad judgment to publish a magazine article dramatizing the episode, with a photograph of the bear pelt. The National Park Service candemned the killing of animals in the park, and forced the Great Northern to fire Cyril.
During the 1930's and '40's, Many was managed by Omar Ellis. He was a wise old hotel man from Maine, who had once worked at Many as a front desk clerk. He loved to fish, and could often be found in the evenings enjoying a solitary cast or two on the little lake now known an Governors' Pond.
Mr. Ellis would come down the lobby stairs each morning at precisely 7 A.M. More often than not, he would find Ray Kinley (ostensibly on duty as the night clerk) fast asleep in front of the fireplace. "Ray!" he would growl in an ominous voice. "How long will it take you to pack your bags?"
"Well, Mr. Ellis, I imagine that I can be packed and gone by noon," Ray would say, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"Very well. By the way, are you free for fishing tonight?" Mr. Ellis would respond, walking off for the Employee Cafeteria.
Stories abound about Mr. Ellis, whom one longtime employee describes as being "an absolutely unique and explosive character." Songs were even composed in his honor. A favorite ditty sung by employees at forbidden dormitory parties made the following scampish inquiry:
"Tell us, tell us, Mr. Ellis,
Why you are standing on the trellis,
Yelling, 'O my stars! You can't do that!"'
Employees roared with laughter at this line, which immortalized something that Mr. Ellis had actually bellowed across the lobby in chastising an employee.
Mr. Ellis played a heroic role in Many Glacier's epic battle with the forest fire of 1936. He directed the firefighters, and then slept sitting up fully dressed in the lobby, when everyone else had gone to bed. He returned to Many, a legendary figure, for years thereafter, finally retiring a few years after World War Two.
The Many Glacier Hydroplant
Prior to World War Two, the only source of electric power in the valley was the Many Glacier hydroplant. It was located downstream from Swiftcurrent Falls, about a quarter mile from the outlet of Swiftcurrent Lake. Water from the hydroplant flowed into conduits in the low concrete dam (still visible today) a short ways upstream from the plant. Wooden pipes brought the water through a drop of some 40 feet to the hydroplant turbines, which harnessed power for the generators.
The noise level in the hydroplant was tremendous, approaching that of a jet engine. At times, a branch would penetrate the intake screen and disintegrate in the turbines, with the sound of an explosion. Conversation was almost impossible. The hydroplant operators had an insulated telephone booth for communication with the outside world. A firehouse bell was installed to alert them when the telephone was ringing. Nothing else would penetrate the din.
The plant was manned in continuous shifts. On the midnight change of shift, the operators would carry a 25pound wrench which was used to adjust the turbines. The homebound operator would carry the wrench and pass it to the operator coming down to work. The big wrench gave them some sense of security on the dark trail past the falls, which was habitually used by bears.
The Forest Fire of 1936
During August, 1936, a forest fire smoldered on the slopes of Heaven's Peak, across the Garden Wall from Many Glacier. Haze filled the western sky for weeks. The sun was dull orange, and the waters of Swiftcurrent Lake were covered with fine ash, like the remnants of burnt newspaper. Nevertheless, the fire seemed to be under control. No one dreamed that it could threaten Many.
On August 31, a high wind suddenly blew the fire across the fire lines. The following day, it crossed the valley and burned uphill toward Swi£tcurrent Pass. As evening fell, it crossed the pass and raged down into Swiftcurrent Valley.
At Many Glacier Hotel, Ray Kinley glanced out a window and saw two glowing red spots, "like dragon eyes," high on the crest of Swiftcurrent Pass. Then Mr. Ellis ordered the employees to their fire stations. The guests were packed into buses, some of them strenuously resisting. The last buses left in the nick of time. As they turned the corner for Babb, chalets "D," "E," "F," and "G" were blazing a few score yards away, on the slopes of Mt. Altyn.
The fire swept down from the pass to the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake in about an hour. A great wind blew down the valley ahead of it. Flaming pine knots flew through the air across the lake and struck the hotel, like missiles fired from a catapult.
Terrified animals of all sizes raced past Many ahead of the fire. An eerie orange light filled the night sky, reflecting from the bottoms of the clouds and from the surface of the water. Providentially, the main blaze was deflected by the lake, and blew past the hotel on either side. It burned to Lake Sherburne before it abated.
Meanwhile, employees on the balconies, armed with firehoses, successfully quenched all the embers which were flung against the hotel. They were in high spirits, despite the danger. Ray Kinley recalled that "when the boys weren't putting water on the fire, they were putting it on each other."
After the fire had passed, the waterlogged crew retreated into the lobby. Wrapping themselves in Hudson's Bay blankets, they sat in a circle around the fireplace. Ray described the scene as being "like an Indian council." Ducky Wucky, the Assistant Housekeeper, had resourcefully set up ironing boards to hold big pots of coffee. Candles flickered around the lobby. The electrical system had failed during the fire.
The great fire's aftermath gave rise to Many Glacier's most famous anecdote. Mr. Ellis exultantly telegraphed Great Northern headquarters in St. Paul: "WE HAVE SAVED THE HOTEL!" The response was a oneword telegram: "WHY?" Great Northern was losing enormous sums on the hotels, and viewed its investment in Glacier less happily than before.
Swiftcurrent Cabin Camp
The history of Many Glacier is intertwined with the history of Swiftcurrent, a historic site directly across the lake. In the "teens," Great Northern established an unusual teepee camp at this location. Guests slept on army cots, in fullsized canvas replicas of the 23pole Blackfeet Indian teepee. A ranger station was built nearby. A general store was also constructed in the early years, with a colorful proprietor (somewhat hard of hearing) known as "Deefy" Gallagher.
Great Northern built five circles of cabins at Swiftcurrent in 19331934. These cabins were almost all destroyed in the fire of 1936, together with the ranger station, a museum, and the rest of the Swiftcurrent complex. A few of the cabins survived, because high winds blew the fire through the area in freakish, irregular patterns.
Great Northern rebuilt the burned cabins shortly after the fire, adding a campstore and a coffee shop, and later four motels. For many years these buildings were painted a startling pink, but they were converted to a more appropriate shade of brown in 1983.
World War Two
Wartime austerity forced the closing of Glacier's hotels from 1943 through 1945. Many Glacier lay shuttered durin these years, attended by Fred and Ester Knowlton, its longtime caretakers. These years saw the passing of an era.
Before the war, the great majority c tourists came by rail. They were brought to Many Glacier by buses, and generally took the trails on horseback. Hundreds of riders saddled up each morr ing at "The Puff and Blow." The Annex was occupied largely by wealthy familiar who stayed for most of the summer.
After the war, these patterns change The wealthy "regulars" grew less numerous. Horseback riding lost popularity, and hiking became more popular. Most guests now arrived in the park by car or bus. Great Northern's ticket sales declined, and its enthusiasm for runnin the hotels decreased accordingly. All the facilities were weathered, and needed an overhaul. Mr. Ellis and other longtime employees retired. The "Reco struction" era of the 1950's was about to unfold.
John Budd, the president of the Great Northern railway, authorized a massive renovation program in Glacier in the 1950's. The program's objective was to make the hotels more attractive to outside buyers. Great Northern wanted to leave the park.
A construction contractor, Don Knudsen, was appointed general manager of the Glacier Park Hotel Company. He was given a budget of $1,500,000 for the project.
Most of the renovation was carried out at Many Glacier Hotel. Old timers characterized this era as "Reconstruction" or "The Reign of Terror." The Circular Staircase was torn out, to allow expansion of the gift shop. Several guest rooms were removed, and the new Swiss Lounge was put in their place. Tile floors replaced the original hardwood. Private bathrooms were installed in every room except the Crows' Nests. The portico was added to the hotelfront.
Crews of men worked all winter long for several years on the renovation. They lived in the Women's Dorm, and worked in the hotel amid arctic temperatures. At mealtimes, they would sometimes leap out the upstairs windows and slide down snowdrifts the shortest route to the dorm. In a typical winter snowdrifts pile up all along the hotel' east face to a height of over 20 feet.
The laying of the tile floors was an especially messy project. The underlying wood was tarred, and drunken or careless workmen would step in the tar and track it all around the hotel. The tar seeped up for years through cracks between the tiles. Squads of summer employees used to crawl along fifteen abreast, with gassoaked rags, to clean it up.
The Seilset Era
During much of the 1950's, Many was managed by Lloyd and Gertrude Seilset. They were a "motherfather operation," who treated the employees as a sort of extended family. Although informal, the Seilsets put great care and effort into their work. Mrs. Seilset always tried to keep fresh flowers all around the hotel. Every evening, she led an employee songfest in the Many Glacier lobby.
The Seilsets opposed some parts of the reconstruction program, and fell out of favor with the company in 1957. Thereafter, Many Glacier was managed by professionals, and professional entertainers replaced the songfests for a period of time. The last Great Northern manager was Ashby Stiff, a hotel school professor who walked about the halls of Many Glacier with his basset hound, Sherlock Holmes.
Many Glacier's chef in the 1940's and 1950's was the redoubtable Minnie Rhode. She was a stout, pugnacious person who ran the kitchen with an iron hand. Employees quailed to hear her voice boom out at their elbows, "That lettuce is wilted"' or "We do not serve cold rolls"' She had a compassionate side, however. Employees returning late from a climb were sometimes treated to special late meals in return for the story of their adventures.Mrs. Rhode's baker was a jolly Greek by the name of Nick Xrpolias. He was esteemed for his contributions to employee hiking parties. Groups of Many Glacier employees plying the park's backcountry trails characteristically were found to be lugging along a large and unwieldy cherry pie.
One of Many's most colorful characters was the horseconcession wrangler "Blacky" Dillon. Blacky was named for his thick black beard, which gave him the look of a genial bandit. He had a powerful odor of horse manure and alcoholic drink.
Blacky had a sense of the dramatic, and often came sweeping through the doors of the hotel in a long black operatic cape. A tourist, fascinated by the cape, once asked, "Blacky, where did you get your costume?" Blacky indignantly answered, "Lady, this is no costume' These are my clothes."
Blacky figured in Many Glacier's only recorded riot. He was drinking late one evening in the downstairs bar, with two young sturdy cowboys. The cowboys ignored a security guard's request that they finish their beers by midnight. The guard whisked the bottles away, and was promptly attacked by the cowboys. Five airmen seated nearby in the bar leaped into the fight on the guard's behalf, as did several employees. Blacky, a peaceable fellow, crawled away under the tables. The cowboys escaped, but later were captured when they returned to beat up Blacky for not coming to their assistance in the fight.
Blacky worked for decades as a Many Glacier wrangler. In his older days, he drove a fourhorse "tallyho" between Many and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. One fateful day, Blacky took this drive while in a state of intoxication. He whipped up the horses, who ran wild and terrified several elderly ladies aboard the coach. Moreover, the runaway tallyho struck and damaged the wrangler boss's new car. Poor Blacky was fired for this episode, and lived out his years as a stagecoach robber at Knott's Berry Farm, in California.
The Governor's Conference
1960, the Great Northern's last year as concessioner, was enlivened by the National Governors' Conference at Many Glacier. This event drew 48 governors, with a swarming entourage of family members, aides, and reporters. The tiny lake near the Upper Dormitory was heavily stocked with trout for their fishing convenience. It has since been known as "Governors' Pond."
Glacier Park, Inc.
Shortly after finishing the renovation program, Great Northern sold its holdings in Glacier National Park. The purchaser was Glacier Park, Inc., a company controlled by the Don Hummel family of Tucson, Arizona. The Hummels ran the Glacier concession for twenty years, from 1961 to 1980.
In 1981, Glacier Park, Inc. was sold to Greyhound Food Management, Inc., a subsidiary of the Greyhound Corporation. Greyhound has since undertaken a multimillion dollar program to upgrade the park facilities. Carpeting was laid in the Many Glacier dining room and lobby, all the rooms were renovated, and very extensive fireandlifesafety improvements were accomplished. Greyhound's contract to manage the park facilities extends for twentyfive years.
From 1961 through 1982, Many Glacier was managed by Ian B. Tippet. Mr. Tippet was born in Devonshire, England, attended London Hotel School, and then came to work in America as a y,oung man. After several years managing the smaller Glacier facilities for Great Northern, he was hired to manage Many Glacier by Glacier Park, Inc. Mr. Tippet also recruited personnel for all the hotels. In 1983, he moved to Glacier Park Lodge as the company's fulltime director of personnel and entertainment.
Mr. Tippet is a consummate professional. His staffs were highly trained, and had enormous esprit de corps. Through his personal energy and powers of motivation, Mr. Tippet created a famous program of employee entertainment in Glacier Park.
Mr. Tippet always retained the accent, manner, and appearance of an English gentleman. He gave colorful speeches as host of the various entertainment programs. Among the most memorable were those he delivered as Many Glacier's 'Prime Minister," at the opening of each Employee Olympics. As massed brass instruments played the Olympic Hymn from the balconies, and a runner entered the lobby with a torch, Mr. Tippet would gravely welcome a procession of teams representing such locations as Mount Wilbur and Mount Henkel.
The Floods of 1964 and 1975
On June 8, 1964, a tremendous flood burst out of the mountains of northern Montana. Torrential rain dissolved the winter snowpack, and washed it suddenly down the valleys. The lakes of the park overflowed at amazing speed as the raging creeks poured into them.
On the morning of the flood, the whole east slope of Mt. Altyn was covered with intricate "bridal veil" falls. The employees, at breakfast, watched the lake climb at a visible rate across the service road and up the hotel's back lawn. Mr. Tippet assigned Ray Kinley to muster the staff and save the Lake Level furniture.
The employees hoisted the downstai pianos onto sturdy blocks on the stag, of the St. Moritz Room. Then they se banquet tables all up and down the ha in Stagger Alley. They brought the furniture out of the bedrooms and propped it up on top of the tables. As they completed the work, the water came rushing into the hotel. It rose to a level of almost three feet in the St. Moritz Room and Stagger Alley. Only a trickle entered the Annex, which stands on higher ground.
The flood cut the road to Babb at Windy Creek and at Devil Slide. Many was cut off from the outside world for weeks, and didn't open until late June. The waters of Swiftcurrent Lake were a creamy coffee color for some time, because of the washing down of silt.
A second great flood occurred on June 19, 1975. It came after five days of unrelenting rain. The roofs at Many were thoroughly waterlogged, and sprung leaks in dozens of places. Buckets were set out all over the floors of the lobby, writing room, and dining room. Drops of water pelted down on the hot copper fireplace hood in the lobby, arising again in clouds of steam.
As the water climbed above the service road, the hotel guests were quickly evacuated. Once more, employees propped up the Stagger Alley furniture on banquet tables. This time, however, the crest of the flood was lower; only the boiler room and the bakery took a substantial amount of water. A bare trickle entered the St. Moritz Room. During the night of June 19, the weather turned cold, and the water level fell.
The entrance road was washed out in three places, and Many Glacier was closed for ten days. It opened again on a wintry evening, amid driving snow and intense confusion. Dozens of cars and buses drove up together as soon as the road was opened. The rooms were still icy from the shutdown, and all the guests clamored for extra blankets. Every vacant room was stripped, not only of blankets but of bedspreads, in order to satisfy the demand.
A beloved figure at Many Glacier from the late 1950's through 1976 was Vera Daly, the hotel seamstress. Mrs. Daly was an elderly woman, but wonderfully sprightly and full of vigor. She would sometimes engage in snowball fights with the housemen. She assisted in all sorts of costuming, and recited dramatic monologues as a frequent performer on Many's lobby programs. Every evening, she would appear on the hotel portico and sing "Taps," as the flag was lowered by the bellmen. She traditionally would close the Wednesday night Community Sing by standing, hand over heart, in the lobby, and leading guests and employees in singing the Many Glacier Hotel Anthem:
"Hail to thee, O Many Glacier,
Many Glacier has a long tradition of musical and dramatic entertainment, going back to its earliest years. In the Binder era, employees staged an annual "Masquerade," a combination talent contest and costume party. Ray Kinley recalled one performer making a dramatic entrance by sliding down the Circular Stairway's bannister, riding on a bearskin. In those days, the downstairs stage was at the northern end of the room; the staircase stood where the sta~e now lies.
Many Glacier almost always has had employee dance bands. A dance floor was located from the beginning in the Grill (now the St. Moritz Room) below the lobby. The Circular Staircase created problems, since it allowed the music of the dance to permeate into the lobby bedrooms. Lively numbers used to light up the hotel switchboard with irate calls. For decades, the hotel's dances always closed with the playing of "Goodnight, Irene." Dances often recommenced at "The Puff and Blow," and continued far into the night.
In the 1950's, departmental shows were often performed on the downstairs stage. The Kitchen staff, the Dining Room, the Front Office, and other departments took turns putting on these shows. The shows often involved adaptations of Broadway musicals to Many Glacier themes, with lyrics written by the employees.
In the late 1950's, after the Seilset era, professional entertainers were hired to put on shows for the guests. They performed such melodramas as "Black Day at Red Dog," "Pound on Demand," and "The Boor," and went on road shows around the park.
During Mr. Tippet's era, the entertainment program reached its zenith. A Broadway musical was staged in the St. Moritz Room every August for 23 consecutive years. The first was "Oklahoma"' in 1961, and the last was "Kiss Me, Kate" in 1983. The Thursday Serenade, a variety program hosted by Mr. Tippet, headed a weekly cycle of lobby shows. The immensely popular Hootenanny, a Monday night folksinging program, closed each week with the whole staff singing the rousing Kingston Trio number "Going Home." The dining room staff performed every evening during dinner. Most of these traditions are maintained to the present day.
Employees have organized many other special events in recent summers. Christ mas is celebrated each year on July 25, with hallway caroling, trees, and decorative banners, and a magnificent lobby program. On Christmas night of 1981, a baby was born in the hotel, to the delight of guests and employees. The Bellmen's Ball, a formal dance, was held for many years in June. The Fourth of July is usually celebrated with a long parade of red buses, gaudily draped with flags and bunting, and filled with brass bands and singing employees. A Germanfest (based on Munich's Oktoberfest) sometimes is staged in the St. Moritz Room, with hot dogs, beer, and German songs. The traditional Employee Olympics has featured foot races, boat races, pie-eating contests, and many other creative events for the entertainment of the visitors.
Many Glacier embodies a special sense of community that of a small group of people isolated high in the windy mountains. It has been compared to a mountain village out of another century. Far from television and other modern distractions, people mix easily, and creativity flourishes. People are drawn back to Many summer after summer by the special air of friendship which is found there.
Everyone appreciates the charm of this romantic old hotel. A special satisfaction, however, is reserved for those acquainted with Many Glacier's colorful history. The lobby and halls are filled with reminders of those who preceded us there the Ray Kinleys and Vera Dalys, Jean Boutonniere with his pecking crow, the brave employees who fought the fire in '36. The Glacier Park Foundation is pleased to share the tales in this booklet with you so that you, too, may fully enjoy your hours at Many Glacier Hotel.
The Glacier Park Foundation gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following contributors: