The Suitcase Lady


June 8, 2021, 9:35 pm

Anyone who has ever taken a road trip out West has probably noticed a strange phenomenon. Westerners love to put giant letters on their mountainsides. These humongous initials are called “mountain monograms” or “geoglyphs”.

The first geoglyph was a super-sized “L” created by students at Lahainaluna High School in Hawaii in 1904. Plants were cleared to shape the letter, and then lime was put down to prevent the regrowth of vegetation.

In 1905, the second letter was a “C” constructed of concrete. It was made on Charter Hill by University of Berkeley students in California. As of today, around 500 hillside letters can be found around America, almost all of which are in Western States. The top lettered states are California at 81, Montana 80, Utah 78, Arizona 59 and Nevada 47.

While reading about these geoglyphs, I came across a big surprise. My home state of Wisconsin, an extremely non-mountainous state, hosts a giant letter. To be more precise, it is the biggest “M” in the world.

Our “M” was built in 1937 at the University of Platteville by students in the Mining Engineering Department. The area around Platteville is famous for its historic lead mines. Because of this heritage, our state flag even includes a picture of a miner.

The project began when students simply put foot tracks in the snow on the side of Platteville Mound to make a big “M” for the School of Mines. The snowy “M” was so popular it was replaced with limestone rocks when the snow melted. Picks, crowbars and wheelbarrows were borrowed from a local CCC camp to accomplish the task.

Throughout the years, the letter has been illuminated for homecoming by various means. In 1949, 250 cans with corncobs were torched to outline the letter. More recently, wicks in kerosene-filled coffee cans have been employed.

My newfound knowledge of this inevitably led to a road trip across the state to see the “M”. After all, that is my initial, too.

The “M” is visible for miles around.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Peter Little

    Oh yes, I lived under the M-of Monrovia, California for two decades, in the lovely San Gabriels. A welcoming sign of my home on my many returns from trips afar!

  • Elizabeth Levins

    Now I have to go to Platteville.

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