Restoring the peace 

The controversial 30-foot-by-30-foot de facto canvas that long hosted the painted peace sign on Waterworks Hill may be gone, but a move is afoot to bring back the symbol nonetheless.

The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center recently began circulating a petition on the idea and also has created a taskforce to figure out how it might be done. The process, says JRPC Director Betsy Mulligan-Dague, begins with getting the word out so the community can collectively debate and decide what form a new, highly visible symbol of peace might take, and where. The last thing they want to do, she says, is ignite a war about peace, and while there’s talk of a new sign to mimic the old, there’s also the potential to create a wholly different symbol, perhaps a dove.

In May 1983, Missoulians woke up to find a green peace sign plastered on the microwave reflector that phone company Qwest’s predecessors installed in the 1960s, according to JRPC member Jim Parker. The company whitewashed the symbol and it was promptly repainted in red, beginning a long history of painterly battles between the company, which feared for its liability, and renegade painters who used long roller brushes to coat the bottom panels and hung suspended from ropes to reach the higher portions. Between ’89 and ’92, Parker says, competition ensued and the space was filled, at various times, with a smiley face, a fist, a swastika and a question mark with the words “Nothing Happens.”

The lively history of the peace sign ended in 2001 when the obsolete microwave reflector on which it was painted was disassembled and its nine panels scattered to garages and backyards throughout the city, following fierce community debate about whether the sign amounted to vandalism, an uplifting reminder of hope, an insult to veterans or simply a local landmark.

Besides gathering signatures and input, the JRPC is holding a Sept. 11 walking vigil from the Waterworks Hill trailhead up to the site of the old peace sign at 5:30 p.m. Mulligan-Dague says the symbol of peace is important in these war-wracked days, and plus, “It was something that made Missoula Missoula.”

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