It's hard to not to drive past The Smith Mansion on the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, just outside Yellowstone National Park, and wonder what the hell it is. It looks like the work of a madman -- each story of the 75 foot structure is precariously stacked, held up by what seem like impossibly unstable 2x4s nailed together by hand.
The Smith Mansion was built by local resident Lee Smith -- it was his passion project. By all accounts, he wasn't off-his-rocker crazy, he just wanted to build, and the mansion was his ultimate creation. As Smith's daughter put it, "Not many people have that much passion in their lives...[it's] a rare piece of art." Looking at it, you probably don't need to be told that he didn't have any blueprints; he was just building what felt right and complemented the ruggedly beautiful wilderness around him. He lived in the house while he built it, with no running water and little electricity. But, one windy day in 1992, tragedy struck. Smith was killed after taking a 12 foot fall off the mansion while working on it.
Ever since then, the structure has sat, untouched, but not quite forgotten. Each year, thousands of people drive past along the byway and see the Smith Mansion -- it's a great photo op. Despite the building's popularity, Smith's daughter is struggling to raise enough money to preserve it -- as it stands, the mansion is too unstable after years of neglect to offer tours. You can get special permission to go inside, but otherwise, it's best to stick to photographing the outside of the building -- at least, until the mansion is properly restored.