Butte-Silver Bow is not allowing a company to film inside the Steward Mine Yard for a paranormal show on the Travel Channel, something one county official fears would lead to future ghost hunters breaking into and damaging the sites.
Commissioners effectively voted to deny access for such filming, but later Wednesday night, they passed measures on an emergency basis allowing world-renown photographer David Yarrow to take pictures with wild animals in Butte this weekend.
One authorizes street closures for the photo shoots at sunup and sundown Saturday and another releases state wildlife officials from any liability if something goes wrong with the animals.
But a majority on the council, after a long debate, would not authorize Chief Executive Dave Palmer to sign a location agreement allowing My Tupelo Entertainment, in conjunction with the Travel Channel, to film a “Destination Fear” program at the mine yard.
Destination Fear is a paranormal show that features ghost hunters and practical jokers who visit places reported to be haunted.
Mary McCormick, the county’s historic preservation officer, said filming was also planned at the World Museum of Mining and other locations in Butte, but she was concerned about the mine yards because they are historical treasures and less secure.
“A show like this … is going to give Butte national recognition as a place where you can come and hunt for ghosts, and that may be fine in controlled buildings, maybe hotels where there are people living there,” McCormick said.
But she said ghost hunters have ruined numerous buildings and sites in the U.S., including rural churches, and she did not want that to happen to the county’s historical mine yards.
“It’s going to be on TV and it’s going to be cut up into videos and it’s going to be broadcast, and I guarantee you that we are going to have people come to Butte and go into our mine yards and hunt for ghosts,” she said.
McCormick said she’d heard “from more than one person” that vandalism at the long-vacant “Caretaker’s House” at Basin Creek Park just south of Butte began when an adult took high school kids there to hold séances and use Ouija boards a decade ago.
Efforts have been made over the years to protect the mine yards and tours can be arranged in them now, McCormick said, and filming and photographs for historical purposes was OK.
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“There is such a big story to tell that is real and true about mining and cultural life and reclamation and remediation, not searching for ghosts,” she said.
She also said the location release proposed by the production company would be governed by Tennessee state laws and Butte-Silver Bow was waiving any rights to inspect or approve footage.
Commissioner Cindi Shaw said she shared McCormick’s concerns and because the mine yards were “precious antiques,” the county should pick and choose who is allowed to film there.
But Commissioner Jim Fisher said Butte was trying to promote economic development and “bring people to town.” A paranormal show might be “a little off the wall,” he said, but it was filming and the county shouldn’t say no.
In the middle of the debate, a county official said local government has its own access agreements for public property, including the mine yards, and the film company could simply agree to one.
Then Eric Hasler, who helps oversee the county’s mine yards, said someone from the production company had sent an email Wednesday afternoon saying none of the filming at the Steward would be related to the paranormal.
That seemed to further cloud the issue and after more debate, the council first rejected a proposal to swap the company-proposed agreement with an access pact from Butte-Silver Bow.
Then the council voted 6-5 against the originally proposed location agreement. Voting against it were Commissioners Shaw, Michele Shea, Brendan McDonough, Dan Olsen, Shawn Fredrickson and John Sorich. Voting for it were Fisher, John Morgan, Josh O’Neill, Eric Mankins and Bill Andersen. Dan Callahan was absent.
Later Wednesday night, the council approved the proposed street closures for the David Yarrow photo shoot at the request of Maria Pochervina, director of Butte’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Plans came together at the last minute, she said, so she asked that the request be added to the agenda on an emergency basis. Commissioners did that and after a 20-minute recess, added another measure releasing state wildlife officials from any liability.
The photo shoots are set for around 7:30 a.m. Saturday on Park Street near the Montana Tech arch and around 4:45 p.m. on Main Street between Broadway and Granite. It's possible Yarrow will do additional shoots in Butte on Sunday.