Monday, February 1, 2016

New Whitman Mission Film Online

A few years back I was filmed as one of the talking heads in a new interpretive film for Whitman Mission National Historic Site. I blogged about the experience at the time: In Which I am Filmed, and Confront a Ghost. The film premiered at the mission in 2013. I just noticed that it is now available on YouTube. Despite my participation the film is quite good--here you go:


I thought the old film, which provides an interesting contrast, was online somewhere but I cannot find it now. Anyone? In the meantime, you can enjoy this episode of On the Road With Charles Kuralt, which focuses on Narcissa and comes from a similar interpretive understanding of the event: Charles Kuralt on the Road to the Whitman Killings. (Bonus Hunter S. Thompson footage at the bottom of the post!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Bridges of King County and Other Online Exhibits


3 miles NE of Duvall: Cherry Creek, July 15, 1932. (Series 474, Bridge Number 267Y. Sections 4 and 5, Township 26N, Range 7E.) Courtesy King County Archives.



A nice feature that a digital archive can provide is to highlight digital collections with online exhibits. The Library of Congress has been doing this for years with their American Memory project, such as American Notes, Travels in America, 1750-1920. (In fact they have been doing it so long that the website feels dated--which is perhaps another blog post.) At the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives where I work we try to do the same thing on a more modest level with our Treasures of the Archives feature, which highlight a single image and links back to its collection. (More here.)



The King County Archives is doing a nice job with digital exhibits. Their latest, The Bridges of King County, features an 80-year-old collection of photographs of county bridges. "During the years 1931-1934, County bridge inspector Thomas Patrick Blum traveled throughout King County inspecting and photographing bridges," reads a helpful introduction. "This exhibit presents a sampling of
over 500 bridge photographs attributed to Blum." The archivists also tell us that Blum had "an artist's eye for composition and detail" and that the photographs "show us the range of bridge styles and engineering methods of the time."

The resulting exhibit is both a striking portrait of a King County that is long since gone, and a useful architectural history lesson about bridges and their construction. The images are organized by the type of bridge construction, from "King and Queen Post Truss" to "Concrete Slab." The captions describe the origins and uses of each style. And the photographs are wonderful, particularly those showing a rural King County of dirt roads and shaded country lanes. King County offers other online exhibits from their digital archives, including one of 16mm films from the 1930s.

Does your favorite digital archive offer online exhibits? Here at the Washington State Archives we are exploring the option, and would love to see more examples.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seafaring Indians and the Invasion of New England

Detail from a 1685 map at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
This is a quick post to direct your attention to a lovely piece over at Slate: Masters of the Atlantic: The forgotten contest between colonists and seafaring Indians for command of the American coast, by Andrew Lipman, a professor at Barnard. The piece combines my favorite topic, unexpected and forgotten aspects about the encounter between natives and Europeans, with a deft ability to tell a story. Lipman shows how the Algonquian peoples of the northeast had advanced seafaring technology of their own when Europeans showed up, and how the seas themselves were important zones of contact and conflict for two centuries. Indian pirates! I also found this podcast interview with Lipman which covers much of the same ground. Lipman's book, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast, comes out in a few months.

Slate has quite a lot of historical content, including The History of American Slavery podcast, The Vault which highlights "historical treasures, oddities and delights," and useful historical context pieces for current events and popular culture, like Who Was Hugh Glass?

Back in the day, when I was a grad student looking for a dissertation topic, I almost settled on writing a history of American Indians in the early 19th-century whaling industry. (I settled on a very different topic.) Lipman's excellent work has me thinking about paths not taken...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas in the Northwest

Is this so bad it is good?

   

 No, it is merely terrible. You probably do not need to be told that it was created in the 1980s. The song is "Christmas In The Northwest," written by Brenda Kutz-White in 1985. This was actually part of an album with the same title, which was so successful that it produced two sequels--the first of which had this memorable cover:


I found about Christmas in the Northwest at the estimable blog History's Dumpster, which has lots more fun information about what is apparently regional holiday standard to some people, including other songs from the record.

Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Documents from the Washington State KKK in the 1920s

Klan Rally in Colfax, Washington, September 1923. Colfax was a hotbed of what was a particularly strong KKK presence in the Palouse. Courtesy UW Civil Rights & Labor History project.
Here is a fascinating archive of an aspect of state history that we have tried to forget: Documents from the Washington State KKK in the 1920s.

The archive is part of the Labor and Civil Rights Project at the University of Washington, which  includes 11 projects which "bring together nearly one hundred video oral history interviews and several thousand photographs, documents, and digitized newspaper articles ... films, slide shows, and lesson plans for teachers" along with "several hundred essays about important issues, events, and people." It is a rich resource.

The Ku Klux Klan in Washington State reminds us of just how large a force the Klan was in our corner of the world. Historians often refer to the organization in the 1920s as the "Second KKK." Unlike the first KKK, which was a short-lived (though brutally effective) terrorist organization in the states of the defeated Confederacy, this second rising of the Klan was better organized, more widespread, and expanded its message of hate to target not only blacks but Catholics, Jews, and recent immigrants. And it was popular, with millions of registered members nationwide.

To explore the collection I focused on one section: Newspaper Clippings from Pullman and Colfax. It is a small subsection of the site with just 11 articles but it paints a vivid picture of the Palouse in the grips of the Klan fervor. A November 1922 article from the Colfax Gazette, "Klansmen Visit Christian Church," recounts how a recent meeting of the Christian Church was interrupted when "six white-robed figures silently entered" the building during services. They handed the minister an envelope which read "Please open and read after we retire, K.K.K." The envelope included $30 for the congregation and a proclamation of the KKK's purported principals, including "the supremacy of the Divine Being," the supremacy of the constitution, and "the sublime principles of pure Americanism."

The county seat of Colfax seems to have been a Klan hotspot, with many members and a sympathetic newspaper editor. A few weeks after the church appearance the Gazette featured another article friendly to the Klan, titled "Klansmen Do Not Tar and Feather." The article described how the Reverend L. E. Burger of Walla Walla, "official spokesman of the Ku Klux Klan," gave a speech to packed audience of 1000 people at the town auditorium. "We are not men who go out at night and commit unlawful acts," the Reverend declared. The Klan, he declared, was "law abiding" and "opposed to the I.W.W. and the bolshevik and every I.W.W. organizer in the United States." He also declared that "it was not intended that the races shall mix. Let's keep our race pure." Berger ended with a plea for new members and by passing the hat for donations.

Soon the Klan was riding high in this part of the Palouse. H. J. Reynolds, a Pullman minister called for the establishment of a local chapter of the KKK to prevent "desecration of the Sabbath" and to suppress "the red element, the local bootleggers, and other evils." By October of 1923 a crowd of 5000 resident of Colfax and surrounding areas turned out to watch Klansmen burn a 90-foot cross and initiate 125 new members into the group. The article made a point of noting that the ceremony took place "in a field owned by County Commissioner P. M. Price." The article noted that "cars were parked along the road for a mile and a half in any direction from the entrance."

There was also opposition, and the Pullman Herald seems to have led the anti-Klan movement in the area. A stinging January 1923 editorial in the Herald declared that although one of the objects of the Klan was "to perpetuate and to cultivate true Americanism," the methods which it uses to obtain this object are absolutely un-American." A September editorial congratulated the mayor of Lewiston, Idaho, for ordering the police there to arrest Klansmen who engaged in vigilante activity.

KKK Parade Float in Bellingham in 1926
The Palouse was by no means unusual to have so much Klan activity in the early 1920s. Much of America--especially the more white, rural areas--was in the grip of the Klan in those years. The organization claimed 4-5 million members by the mid-20s. Politicians were afraid to denounce it, and many actively sought its endorsement.

Washington State had a very active Klan presence. In 1926 there was a massive KKK rally in Issaquah, and in 1929 the Washington State chapter of the KKK held a convention in Bellingham, where the mayor gave the leader a key to the city.

The highwater mark of the Washington State Klan was in 1924, when the KKK backed a ballot measure that would have outlawed private schools, most of which were Catholic. Though a similar law had passed in Oregon the year before, Washington voters rejected the measure 2-1.

By the late 1920s this second KKK was in rapid decline. Feuding leadership, some high profile scandals, and the onset of the Great Depression all contributed, as Klan rolls nationwide shrank to around 30,000 supporters by 1930. This decline was mirrored in Washington as well, as mentions of the Klan in regional newspapers slow and then halt altogether as chapters became inactive.

These handful of articles from Colfax and Pullman paint a striking picture into Klan activity in one small section of our state. There are hundred of other articles to explore at the Labor and Civil Rights Project, such as the fascinating "The Washington State KKK and the U.S. Navy." The site is a great resource for teachers willing to tackle tough historical issues as well.




Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Mystery of a 1950 Mural in Spokane

My wife and I like to go on what we call history walks around Spokane. We pick out a neighborhood and walk a big loop. We are looking for signs of history--old commercial buildings, ghost signs, quirky neighborhood businesses, and the abandoned staircase or exposed brick paving that indicates previous uses and eras. (Yes we are geeks--what of it?) The one fast rule of our history walks is that we always end at a neighborhood bar. Last weekend we walked the Garland district, and inside the Brown Derby Tavern we found a real treasure.


 On the west wall is a giant mural, about 4 feet high and at least 12 feet long, showing what looked to be a 1940s crowd in the tavern. They are playing shuffleboard, smoking, joking around--one lady even brought her cat. The painting is breathtaking in its folk-art beauty:




Americans today have largely forgotten how important neighborhood taverns like the Brown Derby were to the social fabric of neighborhoods. In an era of walkable neighborhoods (and small houses) the tavern served as a social center a meeting place and perhaps a relief valve. Every neighborhood had such places, and the regulars represented a broad sample of the residents. This mural, painted in 1950, captures a moment in time in such a neighborhood tavern in amazing detail.

Aren't these great caricatures?

Sexy librarian cat lady.



Seven beers, this waitress can carry!

Who are these people? Who painted them? We asked the bartender about the mural and learned some sparse details. It was painted in 1950, and the people in the mural were actual patrons. The artist, Bill Swenson painted himself into the mural twice (he is the redhead at either end). Every once in a while, we were told, someone comes in and identifies one of the figures as a grandparent, but he did not know of any written record of who is who.

Bill Swenson, self-portrait


I dug around a bit and only found only a couple of things. Bill Swenson had a single cartoon in the 1942 Spokesman Review illustrating "a Spokane air depot artist's conception of how a number of employees felt the first day after the 'Victory Shift' was inaugurated at the depot to keep operations going 24 hours a day."
Spokane Daily Chronicle, Oct. 1, 1942, page 22
 Aside from that, I did not discover much about Swenson. The 1910 census shows a William B. Swenson, aged 14, living in Spokane on Fifth Avenue. On December 13, 1941 (days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor!) then 45-year-old Swenson married Barbara Jane Van Dusen before a justice of the peace. Other than that, nothing for certain--there were a lot of William B. Swensons in the country during the 20th century.

I dropped a line to a friend who has a regular column in the Spokesman Review, Doug Clark, suggesting that he might enjoy the painting. Doug wrote a piece about the mural, but he had no better luck in finding out the identities of the people in the mural--or the muralist.

And that is the end of the line for this historical inquiry. Unless someone comes forward with more information, we will never know the identities of the wonderful characters captured in this mural.







Sunday, October 25, 2015

Photo Exhibit of Fort Wright History

The Mukagawa Fort Wright Institute here in Spokane has been offering an exhibit of historical photos (and a few artifacts) from the fort at their Japanese Cultural Center. It was a very interesting exhibit, with some wonderful images. Since today was the last day, I thought I'd offer a few photos of the photos. Fort Wright has a fascinating history that you can explore on Spokane Historical. As for the exhibit, here is a hint of what you missed.











A map of the various modern property holders at the fort.
Wait, what did you think this was?

1919 view of troops on the parade grounds
Obviously, this was the best picture



Sohon drawing of the falls






Monday, September 7, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July, 1910

On July 4, 1910 The citizens of Spokane enjoying a "sane" 4th of July due to new ban on "high and dangerous explosives." The entire police force was on the fireworks beat, the Spokane Press reported, but it was "in the form of the less dangerous explosives." Other than a ranch hand being killed by a train in Greenacres, "no serious accidents have been reported."

What did the holiday actually mean to people back then? The editorial page gives us a glimpse into the meaning of the holiday, at least to the editors of the working-man's Spokane Press. The 4th was a chance to reflect on what they termed "The Unending Revolution." Arguing that American economic success stemmed more from historical good fortune than our "free institutions," and that we had "donated...whole territories of our precious domain to the corporations." The piece ended with a ringing call for worker solidarity.

The whole editorial page was devoted to the holiday, with cartoons, a holiday menu featuring "puree of percussion caps" and "Dynamite a la Newburgh," and a quirky, illustrated science-fiction piece "The 4th of July in 2011" which featured "an illuminated airship procession over Riverside Avenue" and an account of President Ichabod Jones recent visit to the King of England on the "international airship Sky-Terrier." The two spoke of "the former practice of parents arming small children with dynamite and gunpowder with which to blow themselves to smithereens." The entire page is hoot:


In national news, Spokanites were closely following the upcoming heavyweight fight between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries, which the paper predicted would be "the most important battle involving a colored man that has occurred in this country since the Dred Scott decision." Though the fight was to take place in Reno, the Spokane Press devoted no less than three front-page stories about the bout between the African American world champion Johnson and "The Great White Hope" Jeffries. Page 3 of the paper included more coverage, including large engraved images of the two fighters. The extensive coverage reminds us of the importance of the fight, which focused the attentions of the nation on issues of race at what was nearly the low point of post-Civil War race relations in America. (More on that fight here.)

For a more staid look July 4, 1910 in Spokane, check out that day's issue of the Spokesman-Review, a more traditional and generally conservative newspaper. Happy Fourth of July!





Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Interesting Vintage Film about Spokane Garry

Check this out:

   

This nearly 50-year-old film stands up pretty well. It has a condescending tone but is firmly pro-Indian, and tells the basic events of Garry's life story in context. It was shared to a Facebook group that I created, Spokane History Buffs.

Readers, does anyone know more about this film? What jumps out at me are the images used, including many colorized old photos and engravings of Spokane that I have never seen before. I wonder who has the originals? The film maker is credited as R. L. Pryor. A quick search reveals that he also made a 1970 film about the Spokane River. I can't discover anything more about him.

If you know any more about this fascinating film, pipe up in the comments!

Friday, May 29, 2015

James “Jimmie” Durkin: Spokane’s Legendary Liquor Tycoon

Spokane readers of this blog may have had the good fortune to visit Durkin's Liquor Bar, which opened up on Main Street last fall, approximately across from Auntie's Books. The bar is not strictly descended from the famour Durkin's Saloon of early Spokane, but it has a wonderful historic feel and some of the best craft cocktails in the city. But I digress...

I was looking for something else the other day and found this very nice blog post about Jimmie Durkin. Spokane James “Jimmie” Durkin: Spokane’s Legendary Liquor Tycoon
history experts may find little new, but for the rest of us it is a good introduction to one of the town's great characters:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

(Stolen) Idea for a Public History Project

Had I paid attention in Art History I could caption this.
So this showed up in my feed a while back: A Global Art Project Brings Paintings of Anonymous Figures out of Museums and onto the Streets. The story is about the Outings Project, which had it's genesis--well let's let the first link explain it:

While visiting the Louvre last last year, artist and filmmaker Julien de Casabianca was struck by an Ingres painting of a female prisoner tucked unceremoniously into a corner of the museum. He suddenly had an idea: what if he could somehow free her—both figuratively and literally—by reproducing her figure on a public street.

Casabianca's initial effort has morphed to worldwide street art movement, with "Outings" spotted in London, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Dallas, Chicago, Rome and more. The project encourages others to "photograph the portraits of people on museum walls, print them, and move them to streets walls." Check the Facebook page for the latest sightings.

Obviously, this is completely delightful. It is also a suggestive model for public historians. How about a public history version of this, where we paste images of famous historical figures around town? They could be anyone--presidents, civil rights leaders, American Indians. The goal would be to create temporary, guerrilla public history displays to raise the historical consciousness of the community.

 What would this look like in my own city, Spokane? I am thinking of a series of portraits around town, illustrating perhaps labor and civil rights leaders in Spokane or relevant to Spokane. The town has a rich labor history, with the Wobblies, other unions, some prominent labor actions like the Free Speech fight, etc. We could glue life-sized portraits of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Spokane Garry and Carl Maxey to downtown buildings. They could include speech bubbles describing their significance, or a digital interpretation triggered by a QR code or URL, or be just the images with no explanation for an air of mystery. Perhaps funding could be secured from a union or social justice group. There could be a guided walk on Labor Day.

Like the Outings Project, this could be a movement, in our case a movement of public historians. Who is with me?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Was an Indian Boy Lynched in the 19th-Century Spokane?



A friend drew my attention to this folk song by the local group The Blue Ribbon Tea Company. Discursive in the way that folk songs often are, the main narrative thrust is a story about a mute Indian boy who was lynched for whistling at a white woman, apparently in the 19th century. Give the song a listen, I will wait.

The boy, presumably a Spokane Indian, was what today we would call developmentally disabled. His people, though, looked at him as having a spiritual blessing. He could not speak but he did whistle, and his tribe believed he was communicating with the animals. One day, the story goes, Colonel George Wright's wife was out riding and thought the boy was whistling lasciviously at her. She told her husband and he promptly sent out some men who lynched the boy for offending his wife's honor in such a fashion.

It would be easy--and a mistake--to dismiss this tale out of hand. After all, George Wright never lived in Spokane let alone with his wife. It could not have happened as told. Yet other parts of the story ring true. It is interesting that the native informant begins by pointing out a cave that his ancestors had used for cold storage--a traditional practice in this area. It is also true that native peoples of the region valued the differently-abled as having special spiritual powers.

The story is curious enough that I reached out to the songwriter, Bill Kostelec. I met him and his charming wife Kathy at their house. Kostelec turns out to have quite a backstory, he has a PhD in religion from Emory and has taught courses in Native American Religious Traditions at Gonzaga. He and Kathy are also skilled professional photographers. Bill poured us some coffee and he told me about the song.

The story of the lynching was told to him about 20 years previously by Calvin Garry, a great-grandson of Spokane Garry and a former paratrooper who was wounded on D-Day. Bill met Garry, who he estimates was in his 70s at the time, through one of his students who was also a member of the Spokane Tribe. Bill gave Garry a ride from the reservation to the city and the elder told him some stories, including that of the lynching. Garry pointed out the cave somewhere near Nine Mile. Garry did not place the lynching at Vinegar Flats or give any specific location. "He laid the story out just the way I told it in the song," Bill said to me. There were no additional details that Bill could recall--except that after hearing the story from Garry, his Spokane student asked several elders on the Coeur D'Alene reservation if they knew the story and they did, just as Garry had told it. Garry died in 2001.

We speculated about the facts behind the story. Of course the Wright part could not be true, but maybe his name became added to a story that really occurred. A search through digitized sources does not turn up any references to the incident in print or archival sources. Could there have been an unrecorded lynching of an Indian boy in the late 19th century in this area? It is certainly possible--extrajudicial violence against native people was common in that era, as we have seen with the lynching in Cheney. Such violence often made the newspapers (in some whitewashed fashion) but it is conceivable that the murder of one native boy might not have been recorded anywhere. This is particularly true if it were the very early period, before there were newspapers in Spokane.

The title of this post is the wrong question. Maybe the real question is not whether the story can be proven "true," but rather: Why was the story was told and retold in two local tribes, perhaps for over 100 years? I have come to believe that we historians have focused too much on the wars of the period, and too little on the many acts of small-scale acts of intimidation, injustice, and violence that we just as significant in the piecemeal dispossession of the natives from their land. The story of the mute Indian boy, true or not, is a piece of that larger puzzle.

Monday, May 18, 2015

EWU Public History Students in the News


Local TV station KREM this morning ran a piece about the ghost signs (those old painted advertisements you see on the sides of brick buildings) of Spokane, featuring none other than my brilliant grad students Anna Harbine and Frank Oesterheld. Frank is a former student actually, but I am still taking credit for him whenever possible. Here is the whole story, with a photo album as well as the video.

The ghost sign project began as a class assignment in my course HIST 407: Research Methods in Local History. The students fanned out across the city, built a map database of ghost signs, and then researched the stories behind the signs. A blog post here describes the project. Oesterheld was my teaching assistant and Harbine was a student in that class.

This project has proven to have surprising continued residence. Oesterheld and Harbine and two other grad students (Erin Pulley and Caitlin Shain) did a poster session about the project at the National Council for Public History conference in Monterey last year. The best stories became part of the ghost signs tour on Spokane Historical. Oesterheld and Harbine went on to develop a walking tour of the signs, which they led when the Northwest Archivists Conference came to town. And now this television piece.

Oesterheld and Harbine will be leading their walking tour of the ghost signs one more time, as part of a class they are teaching for the MAC--click here to sign up: Experiencing Local History: “Spokane’s Historic Ghost Signs Walking Tour”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bancroft Prize Winning Historian Ari Kelman coming to Spokane

Ari Kelman, the McCabe Greer Professor of History at Penn State University and winner of the 2014 Bancroft Prize in American History for his book A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, is coming to Spokane and Cheney on May 14th and 15th.

 This is kind of a big deal.

A Misplaced Massacre has been variously described as "a complicated and beautiful narrative," "an instructive lesson in public history," and "a reopening of a dark chapter in American history." In addition to the Bancroft, the book won the Tom Watson Brown Book Award, and the Robert M. Utley Prize. Kelman is also the author of  A River and Its City:  The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans and the forthcoming Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War.

Kelman will be speaking about A Misplaced Massacre at two different times and locations:

You can catch him at 6-8 p.m. Thursday, May 14th at Spokane Falls Community College. He will be speaking in Building 24, more properly known as SN-W"EY'MN--a Salish word for "a trading place for knowledge, materials, trades and commercial goods"--Room 110. [map]

Or come out to lovely Cheney the next day, Friday the 15th, 12-2 p.m.. Kelman will speak in the Hargreaves Reading Room in the Hargreaves building. [map] 

For more information about Kelman, visit his website where you can find reviews of his books, his blog, and other writings.