Instructor Reflection – The Adventures of Frank Little (7.1)

On the Making of “The Adventures of Frank Little”
By Glen T. Southergill, Montana Tech of the University of Montana

I have for some time mulled Frank Little’s story. A tall red brick building located in the historic “Uptown” of Butte, Montana became my original inspiration. The building is visible from my office on the campus of Montana Tech. In fact, anyone can see it from much of Butte. It forms an important part of the skyline: a monument to the political and economic heritage that gained steam concurrently with the arrival of early telecommunications (to which all digital forums, including this one, remain heavily indebted).

In Butte it is impossible not to see.

During a walking tour while visiting for the first time, historian Richard Gibson directed my attention to the building’s top floor windows. In 1917, the executives of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) would have been behind them. They would have had available, had they known or wished to look, an unobstructed view of Frank Little dragged from his boardinghouse room. Little’s violent lynching would have been plainly visible from behind those rounded windows in warm comfort. With perhaps the ocular lenses used to view an Opera from box seats, witnesses may even have been able to see “3-7-77” (a vigilante code now worn by Montana Law Enforcement) affixed to Little’s body. All this they could have seen in comfort protected from the August elements.

Those windows drew my gaze. And they looked back. Now they stand above a complex of professional offices (attorneys, accountants, and the such), swanky lofts, and a local grocery.

The question the students bravely confronted and answered remains affixed to the imaginative gaze. They were challenged to take visible (archival) materials, to sense their affect, and to develop a ludic gaze. Developing a surrogate for historical materials is a near impossibility. There’s no contest between the cool rough surface of old red bricks and a digitally rendered projection. However, the same argument could be levied against historical narratives versus lived experience. It should not and cannot become a reason not to write of the past. Likewise, the limitations of adaption should not stop us from looking at and through play to see what can be revealed. How can a gaming situation cause things to be seen differently, they were asked? Our goal became not factual historical argumentation but an exploration of ludic argumentation and translation. Their answer, developed diligently in (and beyond class for publication), appears in this issue.