The Dead Bring History Alive

ghost_walk_1Even the ghosts at Bannack talk about history. That is the lesson learned from this year’s hugely successful Bannack Ghost Walks. Throughout the month of October, guides led groups of visitors on nighttime tours of Montana’s first gold rush town. Perfectly normal. Except for the ghosts. The past residents of Bannack wandered the streets once again (OK, they were volunteers in period garb and pale faces, but on dark misty night…). Some meandered through the crowd of onlookers, others had stories to tell. Stories of when they lived in the town. The intent wasn’t so much to scare as it was to present the history of Bannack in a new and interesting way. Even so, some of the monologues-like the crazed ramblings of Henry Plummer-were spine chilling.ghost_walk_2

Most people probably know the history of Bannack-how a group of “Pike’s Peakers” discovered gold in Grasshopper Creek, how the discovery spurred Montana’s first gold rush, only to be eclipsed the next year by the gold around Virginia City. Most people also know that Bannack was Montana’s first territorial capital. And people should know about the Vigilantes who rounded up Sheriff Henry Plummer’s gang of highway robbers and hung them. The Ghost Walks, however, tell a slightly different story. They tell the smaller, more personal stories of Bannack. The Ghost Walks address the little details, the people that fall through the cracks. It’s a macabre and spine tingling evening to be sure, after all, it’s a tour of a ghost town in October. But it is also a historical evening. I recently read an interview with Lucy Pick, an historian and author, in which she mentioned the difference between writing history and historical fiction: When you write history, you look for the broad implications and questions, and you can gloss over the small details. When you write historical fiction, you need all of those small details, and it is the small details that make the past really come alive. The Bannack Ghost Walks are certainly an event that makes the past come alive. The Walks are done this year, but they’ll be back next year, just in time for Halloween. Congratulations to all of the volunteers that made the Walks such a success this

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