For 20 years, it was Missoula’s most dubious and surreptitiously maintained icon: the peace sign painted on a telephone relay tower atop Waterworks Hill.
Each spring, the reflector was whitewashed, purportedly to improve its signal. Each spring, the anonymous activists known only as the Northside Liberation Front ascended the hill under cover of darkness and restored the symbol.
But in 2001, Qwest proclaimed the tower obsolete and dismantled it. Alternating howls of protest and high-fives of victory ensued.
What no one foresaw was the peace sign’s staying power as a Missoula icon. Thirteen years after its dismantling, the sign endures in photographs and bumper stickers, and on coffee cups, pins, clocks and greeting cards.
The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center even purchased a small parcel of land on the south face of Waterworks Hill directly above downtown Missoula, where a smaller peace sign made of rocks pays tribute to the original symbol – and its message.