In just a few weeks, many people in Cody/Yellowstone Country will become zombified. Even the sweet faces of innocent little children will begin appearing around town with blood dripping from their foreheads as they cling to the guiding hands of grown-ups, attired in bloody, shredded apparel.
I love this time of year, and not just the candy and costumes. As adults, teens, kids and infants embrace their First Amendment right to express their inner wacko, Halloween is a reminder that a little quirk can be good for the soul.
Perhaps that’s what Lee Smith thought 44 years ago when he began building a multi-story log house in wildlife-rich Wapiti Valley by hand, a process that lasted until he fell to his death from the roof in 1992 at the age of 48. We locals have many names for that lonely, decrepit house – the Smith Mansion and Pagoda House are the kindest references. Some people just call it the Crazy House.
Anyone who drives through Wapiti Valley has seen this structure perched on a hill on the south side of the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway. It’s rambling five stories are accented – seemingly randomly — with protruding staircases, precarious balconies and shattered windows.
Even though it never had electricity, it was the home where Smith lived with his wife and two children. In the early 1992 Smith stepped up work on the structure, creating additional meandering rooms that featured architectural accents like elk antlers and random containers made from metal scraps. His projects often took him to the roof and upper floors where he worked without safety tethers. On a windy April day in 1992, he fell and died.
As the house slowly decays, even vandals and teens with more daring than sense no longer try to enter its long-abandoned walls. What is left of them. Some windy day, it may crumble to the ground. Until then, it sits, abandoned, on a lonely spot overlooking the highway.
I’ll be sad if the house falls. It is one of the many quirky, one-of-a-kind places in Cody/Yellowstone Country that have a great backstory. I think Buffalo Bill Cody, the legendary showman whose entire life was a great quirky backstory, would have liked the Crazy House too.
Until next time, I’m buying theatrical makeup and lovin’ life here in Cody/Yellowstone Country.