Bringing History to Life

It takes an extraordinary teacher who can bring history life. In Derek Strahn and Jim Thompson’s case, they both get to help their students bring history to life right here at The Baxter.

Each year in late February, students taking the AP American Studies course with Derek and Jim take over The Baxter for a day of 1920s Jazz Age Presentations. Derek, a social studies teacher, and Jim, an English teacher, co-teach the course for a more interdisciplinary style of teaching. While incorporating art, music, and drama, they encourage other ways for students to show off their skill sets and strengths.

This approach to learning is most evident when the students get to choose Cultural Interest Groups in which to be involved throughout the course: architecture, art, entertainment, fads and fashions, music, and technology being the topics of interest.

When the students present on their area of expertise during the 1920s Jazz Age, they invariable ask if they can do their presentations at The Baxter because of its architectural history and the helpfulness of The Baxter team. Being that The Baxter was built at the height of the Roaring Twenties, in 1929, it makes for the ideal location to relive the Age of Jazz.

“There are few historical structures in Bozeman that epitomize the essence of the Jazz Age better than the Baxter,” said Jim. “Students not only learn the facts of this time period, but they can actually imagine the glamour and excitement of the 1920s.”

Presentations vary each year, but most often, students will wear the fashions of the era while playing Jazz music or dancing the Charleston on the ballroom’s stage. Some students will recreate a speakeasy (sans booze of course) and discuss the fads of the era such as flagpole sitting.

Frequently, students in the art and architecture groups will present on the Art Deco and Classical Styles that were both popular in the 1920s and 30s, the same styles Fred Willson used when designing The Baxter. Fred Willson, George Baxter and Eugene Graf were all heavily involved in the design, construction and investment of The Hotel Baxter.

“Having the architecture group discuss Fred Willson’s contributions while everyone stands in The Baxter’s remarkable lobby, brings the entire era to life in a way that a textbook cannot,” said Jim.

Seeing all of the students dressed to the nines in flapper dresses and Charlie Chaplin suits dance to Louis Armstrong in the Ballroom brings a sense of the past to the present in our historic building.

Wistfully, Jim will be retiring this year, making it 25 incredible years of teaching at Bozeman High. We would like to commend him for all that he has done to preserve history – most notably, the history of Bozeman – and the impact he has made on his students. We hope that his legacy and the tradition of bringing history to life at The Baxter, continues for generations to come.

-Anna Lau