On poster board hung near the entrance of the Butte Depot Sunday night, paper people were pasted in neat rows above paragraphs detailing who they represented and how they died.
There was a 15-year-old newsboy from New York. An 18-year-old unmarried man from Pennsylvania. A 35-year-old from Norway and a 48-year-old Butte policeman. All 57 casualties of the 1895 Kenyon-Connell Warehouse disaster were recognized on paper at the first big fundraiser to commemorate them with a physical memorial site.
Hosted by the Butte Historical Memorials nonprofit, the Meaderville Spaghetti Fundraiser aimed to raise money — through dinner tickets, a raffle, and two separate auctions — for a metal memorial sculpture to be placed on the corner of South Idaho and West Mercury streets.
Currently, the Kenyon-Connell explosions are recognized by an informational sign that stands on the corner where the planned sculpture will be along with a telephone pole near ground zero spray painted with “NO MEMORY.”
The sculpture will be the first official memorial of the disaster, which took place on a cold January night 123 years ago and is the deadliest in Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department history. Thirteen firefighters died that night, along with most of their horses and approximately 41 other civilians.
“This was the first great tragedy in Butte, and there’s no memorial,” said Chris Fisk, a Butte High and adult education history teacher. “And there are memorials for a lot in Butte.”
“There’s a memorial for a dog that was at the pit, but for the 57 people killed in this explosion, there’s nothing,” Jim McCarthy, the Butte Historical Memorials Inc. chairman added.
After Kurt Sheehan, a Butte firefighter and Butte Historical Memorials board member, commemorated the firefighters of the disaster and Father Russell Radoicich led The Lord’s Prayer, well over 100 people got in line for the Meaderville spaghetti meal.
“Meaderville-style spaghetti is a Butte tradition,” McCarthy said. “It’s a good, family meal that touches people’s heartstrings.”
There is a special ingredient that sets Meaderville spaghetti apart, but Butte’s “Little Italy” recipe is a secret, said Pauline de Barathy. Her cousin made the special dish at the old Italian neighborhood’s Aro Café, and she gave Fisk the family recipe used for the Sunday night event.
“The sauce is brown, not red, due to a special spice,” de Barathy said. “Fisk is the only other person I’ve given the recipe to.”
Although both Fisk and McCarthy admitted this was their first time organizing a fundraiser for a big project like the Kenyon-Connell disaster memorial, they said they hoped to be closer to the $150,000 price tag by the end of the night. With the funds raised, the historical memorials group plans to at least erect the base and the "fateful call box" portion of the five-piece sculpture this spring, the men said.
But while the funding and logistics of the memorial sculpture may be headed by adults, it was Butte’s high school students who inspired them to take action. As Sunday’s sunset started to cast the Highlands in a coral hue, Butte High School’s history club president, Josie Klapan, 17, stood near the "NO MEMORY" disaster tribute pole just up Arizona Avenue from the spaghetti feed.
Like the students before Klapan who created this ground zero marker, she said she was in disbelief when she learned there was no memorial for those who died in the 1895 explosions.
“Nobody really knows what even happened here. It was one of the biggest catastrophes in Montana,” Klapan said. “I think it would be really nice for the youth to know what happened and how many people gave their lives to help save others.”