Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Public History Ghost Story

When you are a public historian, the public finds you. I get calls and emails all the time with research queries, historical items that people want to be appraised or authenticated, and some pretty interesting stories. This post is about one of the latter. I hope it is OK to tell it here.

Lowell School, 1922. Photo from the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture
Maybe four or five years ago, I got a phone call from a man who had found my name through a mutual friend. The man was Native American, a member of a southwestern or California tribe, I forget which. I was actually in Centralia at the time, strolling down the historic main street. I remember that it was a sunny fall afternoon, and I was grateful for that as the man's macabre tale unfolded.

He told me how, as a boy, maybe eight years old, he was haunted by a series of terrible and realistic nightmares. In his dreams, he was a Spokane Indian boy his same age, forced to attend a white-run school. He had never been to Spokane and had no connections to our area. In his dreams, he was constantly disciplined at this school for things like speaking his own language and not being a good student. Sometimes he would be beaten in his dreams and wake up screaming. Often he would be locked in a basement cell without food or water for days at a time.

The dreams became so bad, he told me, that he underwent therapy. It went on for several years, and he was terrified to go to sleep at night. Finally, in one particularly awful dream, he was beaten and thrown into his basement cell--and in his dream, he died there. The school principal walled up the cell with his body inside.

The nightmares went away as he became a teenager, but he never forgot about them. It sounded to me like he still carried scars from those years. Then, in his thirties (I think?) he ended up moving to Spokane.

One day he ended up driving through the Vinegar Flats neighborhood. This is a quaint part of Spokane along Hangman Creek just before it flows into the Spokane River. It is a traditional worker's neighborhood that also includes some of the little commercial farmland still being worked within city limits. And before the arrival of the white invaders, it was the traditional sinter season campground of the Upper Spokane band of Indians. Anyway, the man was taken aback and stopped dead in his tracks when he came across this abandoned school building. The Lowell School, it was the school in his old nightmares.

Photo courtesy Spokane Historic Preservation Office
He arranged with the owner, he told me, to go inside. He recognized everything, even things like doorknobs and hinges, from his dreams. He said that he felt such a chill at the time, and I felt the same chill standing on the sidewalk in Centralia listening to the story. He was adamant that he recognized every single thing in the old building, which is apparently well preserved inside as we see in these photos from its 2015 nomination for the historic register.

Photo courtesy Spokane Historic Preservation Office
Then they went down into the basement. There was no sign of a cell. The basalt walls seemed original and that there was no sign of any alterations--no bricked up old doorway or other hints that there had ever been a cell down there. He said it was strange that every other detail was exactly as he remembered, but there was no sign at all of the cell where, in another life, he had died.

Photo courtesy Spokane Historic Preservation Office
The man wanted to know if the school had ever been a school for Native American children. I told him no, I was pretty sure that it was never used for that purpose (as the historic register nomination above confirms). There was a boarding school for Spokane Indian children at Fort Spokane, and it was terrible, but nothing at the Lowell School.

We talked for a long time. I am convinced that he was not pulling my leg but telling me the truth about experiences that he was trying to understand. He was smart and articulate and sane. I suggested that sometimes people have visions and that they are not always to be understood literally. We agreed to talk more--but we never did.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Nominate Someone for the Washington History Awards

Readers, I just received notice from the Washington State Historical Society that they have extended the deadline for award nominations to May 15. If you have visited this blog, you surely know someone who is doing excellent historical work in Washington State. Why not take a few minutes and nominate them for one of the awards below?

 

The Washington State Historical Society's annual awards recognize excellence in advancing the field of history in the state of Washington through writing, teaching, historic projects, and understanding cultural diversity. 

Click here for a nomination form, and here for a printable list of awards. 

The awards are presented to recipients each year at the Society's annual meeting in September.  

For further information about the awards program, contact Mary Mikel Stump, Director of Audience Engagement, at (253) 798-5878 or email: marymikel.stump@wshs.wa.gov.
Washington State Historical Society employees are not eligible for the awards.
To submit a nomination please download the nomination form and return via email to Mary Mikel Stump
List of Awards:
·         Robert Gray Medal
First given in 1968, the Robert Gray Medal is the highest award bestowed by the Washington State Historical Society. It recognizes distinguished and long-term contributions to Pacific Northwest history through demonstrated excellence in one or more of the following areas: teaching, writing, research, historic preservation, and service to local historical societies. The winner receives a framed Robert Gray Medal with a certificate.
 
Robert Gray Medal·         David Douglas Award
First given in 1979, the David Douglas Award recognizes the significant contribution of an individual or an organization through projects, exhibits, digital presentations, or programs such as apps, websites or blogs, educational products or any other vehicle that informs or expands appreciation of any field of Washington State history during the previous year. No book nominations permitted. The winner receives a framed certificate and David Douglas pin.
 
·         Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching History
First given in 1998, the Governor’s Award is presented to an outstanding certified teacher of Pacific Northwest history in an accredited K-12 school in Washington or to a nonprofit organization. The awards committee welcomes nominations of persons who demonstrate effective teaching by any measure of excellence. This may include, but is not limited to the use and development and an innovative curriculum, consistent effectiveness in utilizing Pacific Northwest history in either the classroom or the community over an extended period of time, the advancement of Pacific Northwest history as a field of academic inquiry, a lasting impact on students, the use or development of innovative technology, and the encouragement of Pacific Northwest themes in History Day presentations. The award includes $750 and a Gold Star of recognition.
 
·         Peace and Friendship Awards
First given in 1975, one of the two Peace and Friendship Awards is presented to a Native American and the other to a non-Native individual who has advanced public understanding of the cultural diversity of the peoples of Washington State.  Winners receive a framed President Jefferson Peace and Friendship Medal with a certificate. If nominating for both awards, submit separate nomination materials.

·         Charles Gates Memorial Award
First given in 1965, the Charles Gates Memorial Award recognizes the most significant achievement among all articles published in Pacific Northwest Quarterly during the previous year.


·         John McClelland, Jr. Award
First given in 1989, the John McClelland, Jr. Award is presented for the best article in a particular volume of Columbia Magazine. The winning article exhibits the readability and interest that typifies Columbia.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Short Lesson: The Green Book, or, Driving While Black in Jim Crow America

I love good historical podcasts and have been working them into my public history classes. I find a podcast episode that I think my students will like, play it in class, and then have them explore some related resources in a structured way. With the current buzz around the controversial best picture, The Green Book, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share one such short lesson: 

The Green Book, or, Driving While Black in Jim Crow America



American automobile culture reached its peak in the decades after the Second World War. An economic boom, the Interstate Highway Act and a new emphasis on family vacations gave rise to a new American tradition: The road trip.  These same decades, however, were the era of Jim Crow America, where racial segregation was the rule in most public and private spaces. What was a middle-class black family to do?

Enter The Green Book. Published from 1936 to 1967, this travel guide for African-American motorists provided a list of businesses that did not discriminate. The Green Book promised blacks the opportunity to travel “without embarrassment.” Using information assembled by an army of black volunteers, the information in the Green Book was never complete, but by the 1950s the listings were extensive and nationwide, offering African Americans an opportunity to travel from coast to coast--if they planned carefully.

Resources:

Possible Classroom Activities:
  • Plan a trip, pretending that you are a black family during this time period. Perhaps you are touring the major National Parks, or historic sites along the east coast, or visiting the Great Lakes. Use your imagination. Plan a six-day trip including places to eat, sleep, get gas, and use the bathroom. Your car, a 1954 Buick Plymouth Plaza Station wagon, has a range of 356 miles on a full tank of gas--less in the mountains. Your kids always swear that they used the bathroom before you left the hotel, but you know kids. Record your itinerary, either as a document or for extra points as a custom Google Map.
  • Examine the advertising and names of businesses in the Green Book. Are there ways that businesses signaled that they were open to African Americans?
  • Use Google Maps Street View picture to go looking for some of these businesses. Do the buildings still stand? What are they used for now?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

404: When Digital Projects Disappear

Image result for 404There used to be a great website about LGBTQ history in Spokane. I blogged about it. It included transcripts from dozens of oral interviews. It also had thematic excerpts from multiple histories, organized around topics like "coming out" and "nightlife." So when a researcher contacted me a few weeks ago asking about resources for LGBTQ history in Spokane, I knew exactly where to send her. But the site was gone.

High school teachers of northwest history used to have an excellent resource, an online course called Time Travelers. It had video lectures by a prominent northwest historian, thousands of maps and documents, interactive timelines, all manner of goodies. The most valuable part to me were the dozens of video oral histories from tribal elders and historians across the northwest, in which they talked about how their tribes fared during different periods of history. The site was built up over a decade or more by a dedicated team of scholars. Then it went away. The Internet Archive preserves only the top levels and little to none of the wonderful content.

It used to be that if you were interested in the atomic history of Hanford, Washington, there was an app for that. Stories of the Reach was a Curatescape site and smartphone app with dozens of interviews from experts and Hanford workers. But it does not exist anymore.

Collectively these projects represent thousands of hours of effort by dedicated, passionate scholars, and each was an irreplaceable resource. I discovered there absence, one after another, in a three week period, and it has me thinking about digital projects and sustainability. What can we do to future-proof our digital work?

I don't know. In the case of these three, I am in touch with the creators and trying to figure out how to restore them. But what other sites are disappearing? A couple of years ago, Google's long-abandoned Google News Archive became exponentially less useful when the search feature stopped working. It apparently is not coming back. The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine preserves some web pages, but not the streaming media or the search or other functionalities. We need to do better with sustainability.





Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Exploring the Early-20th Century Criminal Underworld at the Washington State Archives

The Washington State Archives recently put a fascinating collection online:  a fascinating new digital collection: the Vancouver Police Department's Mug Shot Book, 1896-1940. According to the record description:

This volume titled "Photographs of Criminals" served as a record of individuals arrested by the Vancouver Police Department between 1896 and 1940 (bulk 1906-1940). Records may include a photograph, name, alias, inmate number, residence, nativity, occupation, criminal occupation, age, personal description, date of arrest, where arrested, crime charged, past record, and disposition of case. After arrest, these individuals may have spent time in the city jail, or may have been transferred to another facility. The photographs were not always taken by the Police Department, but provided by outside resources.

The book includes photographs of 718 criminals, the bulk of them arrested between 1908 and 1922. The carefully handwritten records that accompany the mug shots include names, known aliases, a detailed physical description, and the crimes each was charged with. It is a goldmine of information.

Meet, for example, Dana Bradway, thief. He has many scars. (He looks like he walked off the set of Peaky Blinders, doesn't he?)


Fred Bonehart, aka Fines Brown, aka Ernest Hunter, was a much harder case. A burglar and "yeg" (safe cracker) his career was interrupted by prison terms in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Idaho. Extensive tattoos. "Residence: no where."


Many of these records are quite sad. Alice Collins, a prostitute was arrested in 1918  for "Immoral conduct. Venereal." She practiced her trade at the Abbott House in the City of Vancouver, Washington.



There seems to have been a roundup of prostitutes in Vancouver, WA in 1918. Here are two more who were arrested: Anna Swartz, born in Russia, and Oregon native Hazel Stewart. Both were identified as venereal and to be "held until cured."



Though William Green's "criminal occupation" is listed as "Bootlegger," the reason for his 1924 arrest is given as "non-support."



The oldest indexed mugshot is of Thomas Moran, who committed a murder in Vancouver in 1889 and was arrested in El Paso in 1896. Moran was sentenced to 20 years at Walla Walla.



In an age before fingerprinting and universal IDs, police took careful note of identifying "Marks, Scars, Etc." Tattoos, when present, were a particularly useful identification. I wonder if it was the "TAT DANCING GIRLS ON R. LOWER ARM" that gave Moran away?



Moran's record has some notes, added later, that raise more questions than answers:

SENTENCED 20 YEARS AT WALLA WALLA
PAROLED JULY 19 1904
VIOLATED PAROLE SAME MONTH
$500 REWARD



This record series can be leveraged with other digital resources, like the Chronicling America digitized newspaper collection. Here is a story about Moran's escape from the November 28, 1904, Wall Walla Evening Statesman.

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This record series has tremendous classroom potential. Students will be drawn to the subject matter. They could research how different crimes were punished, the backgrounds of the criminals, even early 20th-century criminal attire and tattoos. This record series could be leveraged with other digital resources such as newspapers, census records, and city directories to tell larger stories. I can't wait to try it out.

Finally, this record series poses a question: Where are the other mug books? Surely, every municipal police department of that era had similar mug books? Most would not have survived, but surely Vancouver cannot be the only one. Reader, do you know where any mug books are?