A bandleader, a war refugee, and a car dealer walk into a Butte saloon.
They needed only one spot at the bar. They were all the same man.
He was a Slovenian Austrian bassoonist performing with the opera in Paris when the First World War broke out. Finding himself behind enemy lines, he had to flee. All roads lead to Butte and, in this case, East Butte. He was Anton “Tony” Leskovar, one of the colorful protagonists in the much anticipated third nonfiction book, “East of the East Side,” by Christy Leskovar.
“When my grandfather Tony Leskovar began his music career at the dawn of the 20th century, concert musicians in Austria were treated like movie stars of today,” said Leskovar. “They were idolized. The flags were lowered to half mast in Vienna when an opera star died. And then to be performing with the opera in Paris in 1914 — Tony was definitely at the top of his game. It all went to pieces when the First World War started.”
Another part of “East of the East Side” involves the baron and a maid and a baby named Karolina, the author’s great-grandmother. It is Downton Abbey-esque but in Vienna and about real people. The story goes on to Joe Lozar who escaped dirt-poor poverty in the southern reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He did what so many others did in his situation of him in the 19th century — he came to America. These three lives converged in East Helena where Joe built his saloon. All was on the upswing until he became afflicted with gold fever and faced off against one of the most powerful men in the state.
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Then they moved to East Butte.
To find the story, Leskovar traveled to Slovenia and Vienna where she pored through archives and library holdings and visited the places in the book, and she spent a great deal of time at the Montana Historical Society, Butte Archives, World Museum of Mining, and courthouses digging through their records. “Some of the entries in the church books in Slovenia were written in Gothic German, which I don’t read,” she said. “Fortunately I met many helpful people there who did read Gothic and translated for me.”
Tony Leskovar performed with the Butte Mines Band and was conductor of the symphony, all the while painting cars. “Shortly before I began my research someone stumbled across the Butte Mines Band papers in a building in Uptown Butte and gave them to the Butte Archives. Those were a treasure trove,” Leskovar said. “The historical context helps to understand the people, what they went through, the decisions they made. Had I not come across Will Campbell, the editor of the paper in Helena during the First World War, I might not have understood why some of the women in the story left. At least I think I know why. Each reader will draw his or her own conclusions. One thing I learned from talking with readers of my first book, “One Night in a Bad Inn,” though I wrote the book, and it’s nonfiction, once someone reads it, the story becomes theirs because each person brings his or her perspective to it.”
“East of the East Side” is also nonfiction. “Sticking to the facts is more of a challenge and much more time consuming but also more fun,” said Leskovar.
One of many historical gems that she unearthed was an account by the American ambassador in Paris when the First World War broke out. “That’s how I was able to describe what was happening to my grandfather Tony Leskovar when he unwittingly found himself behind enemy lines.”
“East of the East Side” spans the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. The places include peasant farms in the Slovenian region of Austria, Imperial Vienna, 1914 Paris, the early days of Helena and the smelter town of East Helena, the copper metropolis of Butte, the Slavic enclave of East Butte, the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the fertile desert of eastern Washington.
“This is such an American story,” said Leskovar, “to go from the Paris operates to the Flathead Indian Reservation with rugged smelter and mining towns in between. I found it fascinating.”
Leskovar was born in Butte. She attended St. Ann’s. Her family de ella moved to Kennewick, Washington, when her father de ella bought a bankrupt car dealership there. She earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering and French from Seattle University. She joined Bechtel in Maryland in 1982, but left her engineering career after a trip to Butte in 1997 that would alter the course of her life. She brings the tenacity and thoroughness of an engineer to her historical research on her. Her writing by her is honored by a lifelong love of reading great literature. Though her books by her are nonfiction, they read like novels.