This piece was carefully extracted from a one-second video clip of the inside of a burned-out building in Butte, Montana.
Butte possesses a rich spiritual tradition. More than a hundred years of robust, violent mining has bequeathed it an inheritance of ghost stories, legends, and other folkloric paraphernalia. As a result, the town is stuffed full with little playful Halloween tours and independently published ghost story books with poorly designed covers, but underneath the sheen there's something more compact. There are stories of nineteenth-century laborers who didn't come home from the coal mine one particular day, of men hoisted and hung in the city courtyard, of madams plying their trade for decades in dingy little cells. If you ask the right people, and ask patiently, you will hear pauses and the ruffling of brittle newspapers and, finally, a solemn affirmation of the people that once were.
These ghosts don't really float around, moaning, in the old hotels and oil-baron mansions that loom over the city, no matter what you hear. You can probably dispose of the most popular stories told by smiling locals as commercial poppycock. But having stood in the underground sections of Butte, in the subterranean living quarters of the whores and the boarded-up bedrooms just recently discovered by today's building managers, I can say with certainty that these ghosts do exist, quietly. They're in the walls, under the floors. Buried under the pavement of downtown, which is, thanks to economic attrition, deserted save for abandoned buildings and so much shattered glass. These ghosts persist in the emotions of spaces and places, and Butte persists, too, grey and proud and ragged and losing strips of its hide in the rough wind.
Here I present to you Butte's eternal mystery, the dark vacuum under the wrapping-paper of memories, the something that was on your mind some time ago. The cold of the room wraps around you, curls up, tastes bitter, floats on the fog carpet of your breath, hardens to ice on the machinery, tastes like red.
Matthew Schwager is an undergraduate at Montana State University, where he studies music and literature. He is planning on exploring more aspects of Butte and the mystery of memories in future video works.