Our Lady of the Rockies
The Lady of the Rockies is huge, but from Butte, looking across the toxic open pit lake, she is just a white nub along a rocky ridge. Get up close, though, and she looms 90 ft., the largest Virgin Mary statue in North America.
The trick is getting up there, and we never time our trips through Butte to make it for the last bus tour of the day, or can afford the three hours it takes.
The statue, a nondenominational tribute to all women -- but especially mothers -- took some six years to complete; the head was installed in 1985. It weighs 80 tons and sits on a 425 ton base, situated along the Continental Divide, 3,500 feet above Butte.
David Adickes, creator of the giant Sam Houston statue in Texas, told us that he met Bob O'Bill, the man who made Our Lady of the Rockies. "He was a welder. In Butte, there were no sculptors." Bob originally planned to build a five-foot-tall Mary in his yard, fulfilling a vow he'd made when his wife recovered from cancer. But according to Adickes, the idea of building a giant Mary quickly caught on as a way to boost the town's spirits when its copper mines were shut down.
Adickes was told that Bob made the Lady's head and hands first, for a statue 120 feet tall. "But then the FAA told them that anything taller than 90 feet would need a blinking light on its head." So the statue was built 90 feet tall -- and its head and hands are consequently way too big.
"It's only made of 16-gauge steel," Adickes told us, marveling at its durability. "You can rap on it. It makes a wonderful sound."
Last we checked, the statue was still being lit at night, and plans were on the drawing board for a ski-lift-style ride up the mountainside to speed visits.