Sunday, April 20, 2014

British Pathé has been making newsreels since the First world War--and just put 85,000 historic films online for free in a special Youtube channel. There are plenty of news outlets and bloggers digging through the content and finding neat things. Is there anything from the Northwest?

A quick search reveals more regional content than one might expect in this British news source. Some of the highlights include:

There is so much more! Search within the Pathe collection for terms unique to the northwest--I searched "Spokane," "Seattle," "Oregon," and "Columbia River. Tell us what you find in the comments below, or on the Northwest History Facebook page.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Do We Do This?

OK, historian and digerati friends--how should I proceed with this project? We have an Excel spreadsheet inventory of 7000 items from a defunct museum, along with 7000 individual JPEG pictures of those items. How do we put these together, attaching an image to each spreadsheet item, in a useable format?

 Some background. From 1980 until some time in the late 1990s, there was a museum on the Fairchild Air Force base in eastern Washington. The museum was one of those labors of love, mostly powered by volunteers from the local military community. The focus was not only the base, but the military history of the Inland Northwest--so the collection  ranges from minnie balls picked up from 19th-century battlefields to a B-52 flight simulator. In the late 1990s the Air Force closed most base museums, including Fairchild. As the  artifacts were boxed  for storage, a quick inventory was created for the roughly 7000 items and a digital photograph was taken of each. The boxes went into storage at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Where they remain to this day:

MAC Director Forrest Rogers unveils some
of the ~300 boxes of the collection.
 My public history class has been tasked with surveying the collection and deciding what are some of the particularly interesting and noteworthy items. Obviously whatever we do will be only a start, and a professional conservator will have to come in at some point, but whatever we can do will help the owners of the collection as they work towards their plan of establishing a new aerospace museum in Spokane. After a conversation with board president Tobby Hatley, we decided creating a database of the spreadsheet and images would be the first order of business for my students and I.

My initial thought was to simply upload the spreadsheet to Google Docs, share with the class, add a column titled "images" and start dragging and dropping. I strongly suspect, however, that this is too large a data set to work with that way. So what do we do? We are experienced with Omeka from our work with Spokane Historical--can we simply convert a spreadsheet to an Omeka database in some fashion, or are are hand-creating each item? Is there another solution we should be examining--Drupal? Wordpress?

We are looking to create a working database and not (at this time) a digital project. We want to keep it quick and reasonably simple, so my students can move to the next phase--opening some of those boxes and locating the treasures of this collection.

How do we do this?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Book Bound in Human Skin?

When you are a public historian, the public finds you.  They bring you their questions and sometimes their special objects. Your aunt wants you to authenticate that genuine copy of the Magna Carta she found at a garage sale, a local teacher carries some historic letters from the community, a retired genealogist wants you confirm her findings that she is in fact the lost Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. I usually enjoy these often quirky and charming encounters.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the woman who came to my office a couple of years ago with a book to examine. As she told what is was I quickly realized that I needed to document the encounter, and with her permission I recorded a video:

Yikes! A book bound in human skin? What should I do?

I decided that my responsibilities were 1) determine the authenticity of the story about this book, in a manner that is respectful of native beliefs and culture, and 2) if it did turn out to be what it was said to be, to see it returned to the tribal descendants of the individual. The owner of the book--a really nice and ethical person--was willing to turn it over to a tribal group, if that is what it was, but first she wanted to know for certain.

My first discovery was that binding books with human skin really is a thing. The term is Anthropodermic bibliopegy. Here is a good blog post with some dramatic examples.Harvard even has a few However, there seemed to be only a few examples of the practice in America, or anywhere in the nineteenth century.

John Walton's biography is bound
in John Walton. How many
of us can boast as much?
Another route to discovering the truth might be investigate this General George B. Dandy. Sounds like a joke name, right? No, General Dandy was a real historical figure, who had a long career in the frontier army and participated in numerous engagements with American Indians, including the Box Wagon skirmish, where around 60 Indians were killed. That part checked out.

Was it common for nineteenth-century Americans to mutilate the bodies of slain Indians? Unfortunately, it was. I won't try to compile a list, but nearly every 19th-century victory battle between whites and natives ended with the winners collecting bloody souvenirs from the corpses of their enemies. Some native warriors collected scalps from the dead. American soldiers too collected scalps, but also were known to take fingers, genitals (both male and female) and strips of skin. There are literally hundreds of cases of this behavior, throughout the nineteenth century and for that matter the twentieth.

How about the provenance of the book? The signature of Dandy appeared genuine and matched other signatures by him on official documents. The book, Army Life on the Pacific by Lawrence Kip is a well-know volume which describes the Indian Wars of 1858. Dandy was a fellow officer with Kip in these campaigns and would likely have bought a copy of the book when it was published in 1959. The marginalia in the book appeared to be by someone who took part in the events described. And Glenn Adams, the previous owner, was a pretty famous person in regional history. He ran a tiny publishing company, Ye Galleon Press, in Fairfield Washington from 1939 until 2003 (!), publishing about 600 titles, mostly reprints of obscure books of regional history. It is hard to believe that he would have scammed his hired help with a phony story about a book bound in human skin.

I did not like where this was heading.

Artist's rendering of the Wagon Box Fight
My campus is also home to a state crime lab, as well as a fine biology department. My first thought was that the book should be tested. In a series of phone conversations I learned that any testing would require sampling--cutting out a small section of the binding for analysis. I did not feel like it was right to do this without talking to the tribe first--and I did not want to even begin what might be a painful conversation for them without being a little more certain.

Finally, I brought in the big guns--I called the Smithsonian, and followed up with an email that included both a link to the video and some high definition scans of the book's bindings. It took a while but someone did get back to me. I am removing a few names as this was a private email, but here is the gist of the answer:

Dear Mr. Cebula, 

I have received several requests from other people here at the museum to review your inquiry concerning a book purported to be made of human skin. 

First, let me say that if you feel that this needs to be fully investigated, some destructive sampling will HAVE to be done, such as chemical test, or histological study. From the photographs and the video I saw, there are several locations on the book that a small sample could be removed for such analysis. 

I have worked with many other investigations concerning the use of human skin and organs as coverings or displays and in the rough visualization from the pictures and the video, the thickness and the overall texture of the 'hide/skin' is not obviously consistent with human skin that I have encountered. 

I have studied purported skin lamp shades from WWII, human and non-human shrunken heads from S America, hair lockets and scalps for N & S America, mummified and frozen bodies from around the world, and I don't feel that the material on that book is consistent with human tissue. 

I would also feel that if this was human skin that a fine well executed book-binding would not have been done. This book is bound like a commercial binding; inside papering is well attached, folded papering and cover endings and spine well done. I am of the opinion that if someone were adorning their book with human skin that they took off of a killed NA Indian for a "trophy" it would have not been, even at that time, a accepted norm to do and I believe that an established and/or good bookbinder would not have agreed to have done this work. Thus my opinion is that this would not been the skin of a human. 

So with al that said, I again suggest that if you believe there is substantial proof (other that hearsay that it is covered with human skin) and you feel this need to be clarified, then a sample of the tissue will need to be acquired and chemical / histological testing will be the only way to positively confirm / deny this identification. 

If I can follow from my experience from the reported objects made from human skin or flesh by the Nazis, in all but one instance, the stories were just that...... Sincerely,

This expert opinion is really convincing to my mind, particularly the part about the professional, mass-market quality of the binding, and the fact that it does not look "consistent with human tissue" to a scholar who has seen his share of human skin. I solicited a second opinion for a medical museum on the east coast, and their answer was the same. This book is NOT bound in human skin.

I shared the correspondence with the owner of the volume. She seemed something between disappointed and relieved at the findings. And really, wouldn't you be? Me, I was glad that this had turned out to be a bookselling misunderstanding rather than a war crime. I think the simplest explanation is that the kindly Mr. Adams was bamboozled by a book dealer, many years ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Field Trip!

It was a wonderful day for Northwest History today, as I got to do a field trip with some of my public history students. This quarter we are creating a smartphone driving tour of Idaho's Silver Valley, an area with a rich history. So today we piled into a couple of cars and took a road trip.

We visited the Wallace District Mining Museum, the Northern Pacific Depot Museum, Cataldo Mission (and the adjacent museum), and the ghost town of Burke. The highlight was the Mining Museum, where director Jim McReynolds rolled out the red carpet and gave us an inside view of running a small museum. Shauna Hillman opened the Depot Museum specially for us and gave us a wonderful tour. Some of the interesting features of Burke were hidden under the snow but we still enjoyed gawking at the mining ruins and comparing historic photographs to what remained. On the way back to Spokane we did a quick visit to Cataldo Mission, including a lightning visit to the Sacred Encounters exhibit. A few photos:

Silver Valley Field Trip

I really should do this sort of thing more often. Not because it is a great educational experience for my students (though it is!) but because I enjoy it so. In what other profession do you get to spend your days with bright, enthusiastic young people, discussing your favorite topic? I do love this job.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Presentation this Wednesday: Alaska's Gold Rush Maritime Landscape

This sounds fascinating!

Remains of the SS Islander, which sank in 1901
with a reported ton of gold bullion
On July 17, 1897, the steamship Portland pulled into Seattle carrying $700,000 in gold from Alaska. The event sparked the first in a series Gold Rushes that brought tens of thousands of people to Alaska. The Gold Rush era left many lasting legacies, among them a complex marine archaeological landscape that extends thousands of miles from British Columbia to the Arctic. This lecture builds on four field projects and the speaker’s experiences as commercial fisherman in Alaska to discuss the dynamics that created a vast “shipwreck landscape” and describes selected shipwreck sites investigated by teams from the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, the Sea Education Association, and the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program. The lecture touches on Alaska history, the history of history technology, and addresses contested issues of community memory and its relationship to the archaeological landscape.

The Spokane Society of the Archaeological Institute of America
invites you to a lecture by John Odin Jensen. Jensen will speak on the Gold
Rush in Alaska, which left many lasting legacies, among them a complex marine
archaeological landscape that extends from British Columbia to the Arctic. This
lecture builds on four projects to discuss the dynamics that created a vast
"shipwreck landscape" and describes shipwreck sites investigated by
teams from the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, the Sea Education
Association, and the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program.

This lecture will be held: Gonzaga
University's Wolff Auditorium in Jepson Center
6:30 PM, lecture
ends at 8:30 PM

Lecture is FREE:

AIA Event Listings - Alaska's Gold Rush Maritime Landscape - Archaeological Institute of America:

'via Blog this'

Type your summary hereType rest of the post here

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Conference Announcement: American West Center at Fifty

Via the excellent Greg Smoak, this call for papers for a special conference: The American West Center at Fifty. Don't be misled by the title, the conference is about the entire history of the American West, not specifically about the University of Utah’s American West Center. I appreciate the emphasis on public engagement. The conference is Sept. 19-21 and deadline for proposals has been extended to April 15. Here are the details:

The American West Center at Fifty 



A Symposium on Public Engagement in the Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah September 19-21, 2014

Western Lands, Western Voices, a three-day interdisciplinary symposium exploring the past, present, and future of public engagement in the Humanities and Social Sciences will be held in Salt Lake City, September 19-21, 2014. The symposium marks the fiftieth anniversary of the University of Utah’s American West Center, the oldest regional studies center of its kind in the West. Our goal is to bring together college/university and community based practitioners for a lively discussion of the place and power of publicly engaged/applied scholarship in the American West.

Participation: We seek submissions from college and university based scholars, community based organizations and institutions, state and local historical and cultural entities, and indigenous Nations. The symposium will engage diverse fields including history, anthropology, political science, ethnic studies, literature, cultural studies, and the arts. We strongly encourage participants and projects that span disciplinary divides. Submissions from graduate students, early career scholars, and community based scholars are particularly encouraged, as are those that address innovative ways of reaching public audiences. 

Topics: We are seeking proposals for panels, sessions, and individual presentation that illustrate the power and potential of publicly engaged scholarship. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Indigenous Sovereignty
  • Cultural Preservation and Indigenous Peoples
  • Oral History Methods and Applications
  • Community Based History Projects
  • Environmental Policy and Politics
  • Public Lands Management and History
  • Literary and Artistic Representations of the American West 

Session Formats: We are seeking submissions for sessions and presentations in a range of formats. Traditional research presentations are welcome, but we encourage collaborative formats such as roundtables and the NCPH’s “working group” format. Working Groups connect individuals working on similar projects or problems through the discussion of pre-circulated scholarship.

For complete panel or session proposals a designated contact person should submit a single PDF document that includes a one-page (approx. 250 word) abstract describing the general purpose of the session as well as one-paragraph presentation abstracts and one-page CV’s for each of the session participants. Contact information (address, phone number, and email) for all participants must be provided.

Individual presentation proposals should include a one-page abstract as well as a one-page CV with complete contact information (address, phone number, and email) . We will do our best to match individual submissions to create viable sessions.

Working Group Submissions should be made by individuals planning to serve as facilitators for the group. They should include a one-page abstract describing the central issue that the group will address and a one-page CV with complete contact information (address, phone number, and email). If the proposed topic is selected we will assist the facilitator in recruiting appropriate working group members.

All submissions should be sent in PDF format to by April 15, 2014. Please contact the American West Center at (801) 581-7611 if you have any questions.

Monday, February 24, 2014

History Trivia Night at NoLi Brewery

History and beer are a perfect match--and have been for at least 10,000 years. For those of you in the Spokane area, here is an opportunity to indulge in both. NoLi Brewery, our finest local brewmasters, are partnering with the EWU History Club for a trivia night. Come early and get a tour of the historic structure that houses the brewery. Details below:

EWU History Club & Phi Alpha Theta Present:
Trivia Night Fund Raiser
At the NoLi Brewery in the Historic Cascade Laundry Building
March 3, 5:30 – 8:00

$8.00 in advance,  $10.00 at the door.  Ticket covers admission and one raffle ticket.  Children under 16 free of charge.  Families welcome!!

Historic tours of the building start at 5:30
History Trivia competition begins at 6:30
Raffle at 7:30

For more information please contact Erin Pulley at

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Postcard Valentine's Day Story

One of the challenges of the Spokane Historical project has been finding images that we can use. Digital history is hungry for pictures, and unfortunately the institutions which hold historic images in Spokane are hungry for cash. Three is no budget for Spokane Historical, it is a labor of love from the EWU Public History Program. So I have not been able to use many historic photographs from our local museum or newspaper.

Historians, though, are nothing if not resourceful. We have found thousands of images we could use  by scouring other, copyright-free sources, including public archives like the Library of Congress and the Washington State Archives, old images in newspapers and Google books, and hundreds of historic postcards that I have purchased at thrift stores and online. Last year I bought this accordion-style postcard set of colorized images of Spokane from the 1930s and 40s:

Looking more closely, I discovered I had purchased more than I'd bargained for. I always consider it a bonus when someone has written on the postcards. Over the years I have found love notes, parental chastisements, and travel stories this way. This particular set of postcards was addressed to Gazel (yes, Gazel) Turner of Philippi, West Virginia. The postmark is October 17, 1945:

Here is Gazel in the 1940 census--daughter of Issac and Dessie. Apparently unusual female names were a Turner family tradition. She was 21, single, and like nearly everyone else in Philippi, had gone to school only through the 8th grade. What really caught my eye though was the note written around the return address inside:

Can you make it out? It reads: "With lots of love to the girl of my dreams I hope." I love how "hope" is underlined. Of course I immediately went online to the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives to see what happened with Miss Turner and her hopeful suitor. Here is what I found:

Reader, he married her. On the day before Christmas in 1946, eleven months after Milton dropped the post cards with his shyly-penciled love note into the mail. he and Gazel were wed. A Unitarian minister, the Rev. John Brogden, performed the service. I don't know when Gazel came out to Spokane or what she brought with her--but she must have brought our postcards, which she poured over again and again on her way across the country.

And that really is the end of story, because after their marriage in 1946, our lovebirds seem to have vanished. I can find no record of either Milton or Gazel, including no obituaries. And really, how does a person named Gazel hide from Google Search? One can speculate all sorts of scenarios, but I like to think they are still together, in their nineties, and living in a little shotgun house in Peaceful Valley, below the falls pictured in the postcard that Milton sent to his girl in 1945.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Spokane Street Scenes

I was digging around at the American Memory site at the Library of Congress today, looking for Spokane-related images. There is a lot to explore, including perhaps hundreds of images of American Indians in and around Spokane at different eras. One of my favorite images (and one of the earliest) is this 1879 street scene:
Spokane people lined up to receive food in front of Loenberg's Store,
Spokane, Washington, 1887
There is a lot to love about this image. This is very early in Spokane history. so it is a fairly rare image of Spokane in its frontier stage. I love how the Indian men and women are unposed--going about their daily lives in their regular clothes, very different from the staged photographs of Indians so commonly produced by white photographers for white audiences. I love the questions the image provokes--When did the Indian Agents dispense rations in Spokane, and when did this stop? Are any of the individuals identifiable? Why was this photograph made in the first place? Who is R. D. Gwydir?--I have seen the name of this Indian Agent before and I think one could assemble a decent biography. (Update: Check out this brief biography at Wikipedia--what an interesting character!)  And then there is the dog!

The other thing I love is the simple fact that there is an exact location provided: "Lomberg's store, Southeast corner of Howard Street and Front Avenue." So often the location of historic photographs is a matter of guesswork, and my work with Spokane Historical has made me acutely aware of the value of precise locations. Front Avenue was renamed Spokane Falls Boulevard for Expo '74.

A fun thing to when you do have an exact location for a historic photograph is to go into Google Street View and see what the scene looks like today:

Boo Radley's! A fun little local shop with funky gifts--my teenaged some loves the place, as do I. The building in the 1879 photo is long gone, of course, probably burned in the fire ten years later. I will think of that photograph every time I walk past this corner. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Children Recite "I Have A Dream"--in the Salish Language

The Salish School of Spokane is a local nonprofit dedicated to "creating a vibrant community of fluent speakers of Interior Salish languages by providing Salish language instruction to children and by empowering parents and families to speak Salish in their daily lives." I believe they have been around for just a couple of years, but they seem quite active with a variety of programs. For Martin Luther King Day, they recorded this wonderful little video of some kids reciting a portion of the "I Have a Dream" speech--in Salish!

Salish was the family of languages spoken over roughly the northern half of the Columbia Plateau, parts of the northwest coast, and over into western Montana. According to the Montana-based Salish Language Institute, Salish "is currently spoken by less than 50 people, most of whom are over 75 years old. There are no first language fluent Salish speakers under 50." The good news is that, as with so many aspects of native culture, there are currently efforts to revive the language among many tribes. Here is a short video about reviving Salish on the Kalispel reservation. If you want to check out some Salish, the Salish School has some audio lessons online. The Salish Institute has a YouTube channel with videos in Salish and English. Or you can just sit back and watch Caspar the Friendly Ghost in the Okanagan Salish dialect:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lulu O'Hara in the Carlisle Indian School Records (and More)

Carlisle Indian Industrial School, date unknown
I was excited to read in Indian Country Today that the student records of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School are now online. The Carlisle school is famous, or perhaps infamous, in American history. Civil War veteran Richard Henry Pratt founded the school in 1879. Pratt was a reformer and a do-gooder and devoted his life to what he saw as helping American Indians to survive--by forcing them to abandon their cultures and adopt white ways. "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man," Pratt once wrote, and at his boarding school Indians from all over the country were removed from their families, the boys had their hair cut, all were dressed in white clothing, and they were taught English and an industrial education. Discipline was harsh, and native languages and cultural practices were strictly forbidden. It is a sad story, not the least because nearly 200 children died at the school.

At the same time, schools like Carlisle (which became a national model for a time) brought together Indians from all over the country and provided opportunities to become acquainted, share notes, and begin pan-tribal networks that would grow into national organization such as the National Congress of American Indians. I knew anecdotally that any number of children from Columbia Plateau tribes had attended Carlisle--what would I find at the new database?

I found a lot, but let me focus here on one individual, a Spokan girl named Lulu O'Hara. Lulu's file, 16 pages long, provides a glimpse into her life. The earliest document is a 1906 "Application for Enrollment in a Non-Reservation School" form. The form gives her name as "Lula" O'Hara. She was 14 year old, had attended the Fort Spokane Reservation School for six years. Her mother, Milli O'Hara, was listed as deceased. Her father was Henry O'Hara, but he appears not to have been in the picture as consent was given by Joseph La Fleur, who signed the line for "Parent, Guardian or Next-of-Kin." (At first I thought La Fleur was her stepfather, but the 1910 Indian census shows that he was her grandfather.) The form lists Lulu's "degree of Indian blood" as "one-fourth" and her tribe as Spokane.

On the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area Flickr pool, there is class photograph from the Fort Spokane School that shows Lulu O'Hara. She is in the first row, third from the left:

Someone has hand-written a date of 1909 across the top of the photograph, but I note that the person who uploaded the photo to Flickr (my former student Clayton Hanson actually, who was interning for LARO at the time) wrote "Given date is possibly an error." Which it certainly is, since Lulu was at Carlisle by the fall of 1906. Given the Christmas theme of the image, the best probably date is November or December of 1905. A closeup of Lulu show a poised young woman with a stylish haircut and polished shoes, looking confidently into the camera while a fellow student puts a hand on her shoulder.
Lulu, 1905

A sort of progress report card in the file reveals that Lulu enrolled at Carlisle on October 21, 1906, for a term of five years. Her scholarship and conduct are listed as "good" and very "good." She studied sewing and what might be "rug work." By January of 1909 the 17-year-old Lulu was sent to board with a white family, a process known as "outing." Outing was supposed to help Carlisle students learn about white society by living with respectable families, even as they earned a little money. It also reinforced the Carlisle view of the future of American Indians after they graduated, working in either manual trades or as domestic servants.

Lulu was sent to serve Mrs. Harry Shallcross in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. She boarded there from May of 1907 to June of 1909. She must have returned to the house later, as she was visited at the Shallcross home a number of times in 1910 by a Carlisle field agent. He described "a pleasant home in the suburbs of town" and Mrs. Shallcross as "a kind woman, an excellent house-keeper." Lulu's wages were $6 a month and "will increase as she improves." Lulu attended school and a Catholic church, both nearby. "Lulu likes her new home very much. She is learning to cook, which pleases her."

The last outing report, from May 1909, notes that Lulu's conduct is "generally good" and that her wages have increased to $7. Lulu was now 18 and had worked for the Shallcross family for two-and-a-half years. She is described as "improved very much" since she came to work for the family, though "a little sullen at times." Lulu "expects to return to Carlisle June 1 to go home," the agent noted.

The last item in Lulu's folder is a January, 1912 "Record of Graduates and Returned Students" completed by Lulu herself. She was living in Creston and doing "general housework." Asked to "tell something of your present home Lulu wrote "I am living in a comfortable home with people of refinement."

One wonders--what happened to Lulu after that? Carlisle taught young Indians to reject their culture and seek second-class status in white society as mechanics and domestic workers. Many, however returned to Indian Country and their families. Which was it for Lulu?

I cannot find any further traces of Lulu in the public record--except for one source. A 2012 Fort Spokane Educator's Guide from the National Park Service has a snippet from an oral interview with Lula O'Hara about her experiences attending the Fort Spokane Indian School, before she went to Carlisle:

In the dining hall, they always used white tablecloths and napkins on the 
tables for the children. The dishes were of white granite with a blue edge. 
The cups were always stacked in a pyramid shape down at one end of the 
table, and the plates were placed upside down on the table when the 
tables were set. There were ten seated at each table. The children sat on  
stools along the sides and an older girl sat in the chair at each end of the 
table. Everyone stood behind his place until a bell was rung for them to 
sit down. There was also a bell for grace and a bell for everyone to turn 
his plate over at the same time. If anyone misbehaved, at a table, they 
had to sit all by themselves at a small table at the end of the room for all 
to see. This was not pleasant, so it worked very well for punishment.

The tone of the oral history and the fact that Lulu was interviewed at all shows that she did return to the Spokane tribe and was honored for her life experiences.

There are dozens of other files for Plateau men and women in the Carlisle Indian Industrial School archives--Colville, Spokane, Nez Perce, Flathead and more.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Will the 40th Anniversary of Expo 74 Pass Unnoticed?

One of my favorite stories about Spokane involves a friend in Missouri and the film Smoke Signals. This wonderful movie, about two Spokane Indians on a road trip, features some scenes shot in our city. When I lived in Missouri I lent it out to a friend. Afterwards I asked what he thought. 

"It was pretty good," he said, "except for that one ridiculous scene. You know, the one that makes it look like there is this huge waterfall right in downtown Spokane."

The falls have been there for centuries, but the ability to view them was lost for several generations of Spokanites. What brought the river back into view was arguably the most significant event to happen to Spokane in the late 20th century: Expo '74, Spokane's worlds fair. The above news report from a local station gives a nice overview of the way the fair remade the city. A polluted river, hemmed in by railroad tracks and hobos, was cleaned up and revealed. When the fair was over we were left with a magnificent urban park. It was a great victory of civic planning and visionary leadership. And it happened 40 years ago.

So what are we doing to celebrate? So far as I know, nothing. Our local history museum is busy building what looks to an ambitious new exhibit, but Expo 74 is just one of their 100 stories. I am not aware of any other commemorations planned.

We have the resources to do more. My colleague Bill Youngs wrote the book on Expo 74 (and a great book it is). There are some great photographs of Expo. Many, many residents have fond memories of the fair. We have a number of Expo 74 items on Spokane Historical, the smart phone app for local history. There is so much local pride, still, in the fact that we are the smallest city ever to host a world's fair. Heck, Expo even gets a shout out in our unofficial anthem Spokane Song by the band Trailer Park Girls:

          We once had an Expo / 
          I think it is time we got over it.

Does anyone know of any commemorations or celebrations of Expo 74 that are in the works? Anyone want to put something together?

Original Expo 74 Sky Ride car on Display at Riverfront Square

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A One-Room Schoolhouse Gets a Second Chance

A few years ago Bill Youngs and I took a ride through the countryside south of Spokane and Cheney, looking for lost and forgotten historic sites. I turned the day's explorations into a blog post at the time. By far the most evocative thing we found was this decaying one-room on a hill top near the town of Waverly:

The school was tucked back in some Cottonwoods

The bell long gone

Inside we could see the school was stoutly built
It had a stage!
Roof? What roof?
As you can see the school was pretty far gone in 2007, with massive holes in the roof and rotting floors. Its remote location however, tucked behind some trees off a dirt country road, had preserved it from serious vandalism. One could tell that it had been an unusually well-built school, with clapboards (rather than plaster) inside and out, a bell tower and even a stage. Bill and I agreed that it would take a miracle to save the place.

Fast forward to today and the school has in fact been saved. An article in today's Spokesman Review, Prairie View School gets new life in Waverly, details the efforts of local historian Glenn Leitz to save the building. (Leitz is also the author of quite a good book about the history of the northern Palouse region.) It has been moved from its lonely hilltop and rebuilt in the town of Waverly where it will be "reused for historic displays, a tourist attraction and possibly as a museum or venue for community events," according to the Spokesman. Here is the school today:

I have long had a fascination with these schools. Only a handful survive today in Spokane County, but a hundred years ago when the countryside was filled with small farms and large families, there was a one-room school every few miles. A few years ago one of my students, James Dupey, located all the schools in a 1927 atlas of the county and put them into a Google Map:

When James finished the above map I got quite excited, and went on a number of Sunday drives with smart phone close at hand, investigating the sites of these schools. I found a lot of empty fields! Sometimes there would be a pile of rubble or a cottonwood tree to mark where the school had stood, but mostly there was nothing at all.

If someone is looking for a research project, the one-room schools of Spokane County (or maybe any other rural county) would be a good one. At the Eastern Region Branch of the Washington State Archives we have the attendance books for most of the schools on the map above, going back to the 1800s. We also have some maps, architectural drawings for a few of the schools, and even a set of job applications for the position of one-room schoolhouse teacher for Adams county around 1900. And I suspect that once you started digging, the tiny historical societies that exist in every town would have a goldmine of additional information.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Biggest Indian Contest" Mystery Solved

In my last post I shared this picture of Spokane's "Biggest Indian Contest" and asked my readers: What the hell?

Spokane Mayor Burch with 'Biggest Indian' Contest Winner'
I got a couple of good responses. Over on the Northwest History Facebook page (and you have "liked" the Northwest History Facebook page, haven't you?) Charles Hansen pointed out that the photographer is Charles Libby. The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture holds the complete works of Libby, who is famous for his detailed records of the photographs that he took. I could head over there and ask to look at Libby's notebooks.

Riva Dean, the fantastic reference librarian at the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library, nailed it:

Hi Larry. I just saw your post this morning and then this afternoon, I realized where it came from! We have a file of photographs of the opening of the Indian Canyon Golf Course. There are lots of photographs of Indians dressed up and doing some pretty odd things – like shooting bows and arrows while someone is teeing off. This photograph is included in the file and it says “Mayor Burch greeting the ‘biggest’ Indian present for the golf opening ceremonies in May 1936.”

So there we have it--the Biggest Indian Contest was a promotional stunt for the opening of a Golf Course. Dean sent along a link to this 1935 Spokane Chronicle story about the event:

We can't just leave it there, however. The opening of the golf course was kind of a big deal in Spokane. The promoters played off the name of Indian Canyon and invited numerous native people to the grand opening, and photographers to record the event. Some of these images are similar to the staged, racist photographs of the period that tried to draw humor from the supposed contrast between native peoples and modern technology. Others are simply documentary or at worst playful. Here are a few from the University of Washington's digital collections:

Wenatchi man named George Nanamkin showing archery skill,
Indian Canyon Golf Course, Spokane, Washington, April 26, 1936

George Nanamkin golfing

Wenatchi man named George Nanamkin golfing

Wenatchi young people attend the opening of the Golf Course

Finally, in April of the next year the Spokane Daily Chronicle ran a photograph of George Nanamkin and some friends, again at Indian Canyon but this time in everyday dress. "Indians See Many Changes in Site of Historic Battle" the headline reads, though so far as I know there was never a battle at this site. From the sweaters and cardigans in the image, it looks like Nanamkin was there to play golf for real that day. I love the contrast between this image of real individuals on a holiday compared to the staged images above: