Ben Stiller and the Butte Archives?

blog1Three years ago, I took my children to see the updated version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, produced, directed, and starring Ben Stiller in the title role. It was my daughter’s first “grown-up” film, and we all enjoyed it so much that we purchased it when it was released on BluRay. In the film, Walter Mitty is charged with capturing the quintessence of Life magazine for its final print cover. Mitty’s vivid imagination soon leads him to real-life adventures in remote places, one of which is Iceland.

I was not very familiar with Iceland, but upon the fourth or fifth viewing of the film, I was suddenly struck with the idea to travel there with one of my besties. The idea of visiting Iceland has stuck, and I surmised that it must be a wonderful place to be, because you don’t meet many people who are descended from Icelandic immigrants. Until last month.

A small envelope came across my desk as part of a motley collection of items that were picked up during the cleaning out of one of Butte’s grand historic buildings. The envelope is a claim envelope with instructions for the work needed on the enclosed items. The envelope originated from Kristjan Guthmud, manufacturing jeweler, 507 Phoenix Building. The work order is to solder rings on two badges, with another soldering job that is not decipherable.

Kristjan Guthmud, it turns out, is an Icelandic immigrant! He came to Butte by way of Manitoba, Canada, in 1921. Born in 1896, he was the second of eight children born to Henry and Solrud Guthmud in Iceland prior to their emigration to Canada sometime after 1906. The family changed its name to Goodman, and it turns out that there were many Goodmans living in Manitoba in the early part of the twentieth century, all of them from Iceland.

We don’t know what brought Christie Goodman, as he came to be known, to Montana, but we do know that he arrived via the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and entered the U.S. through Sweet Grass, Montana, in 1921. In April, 1926, he declared his intention to become an American citizen. He renounced his allegiance and fidelity to George 8, King of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom he was then a subject. Had he become a Canadian citizen upon reaching adulthood? We don’t know. It is not even clear if he became a U.S. Citizen, as we do not have his final documents.blog2

In December, 1926, he married Virginia Fraser at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Two years later, she filed and received a divorce on grounds that he “quarreled with her continually over trivial matters.” The couple had no children. To our knowledge, he never remarried, and may have told his family he had been widowed, as that was his status on his death certificate.

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, he participated in church activities, Toastmasters, and Boy Scouts. He captained a senior hockey team called the Clarkes, and served as president of the First Baptist Church Men’s Council. He died quietly of cardiac arrest in February, 1981, at his home on Silver Street, and was cremated in Bozeman.

Chris Goodman lived an unremarkable life, except for the fact that he is one of the very few Icelandic immigrants to have settled in Butte, Montana.



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