Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yakima Memory Project

Yakima Memory Project: "In July of 2001, the Yakima Valley Regional Library and Yakima Valley Museum began a project titled Yakima Memory. This project involves the digitization of approximately 9,000 photographs in two collections, and provides access to the new digitized collections via the internet. The intention of this project is to provide easier access to the photograph collections for study while securing a method of preservation and conservation." Yakima Memory includes items from the Yakima Historical Society, the Sundquist Research Library, and the Click Relander collection.

The web interface isn't pretty, but there are a lot of great regional resources here including photographs of Indians (some by famous photographer Lee Moorhouse), articles about Yakima valley history, XX. There are oral histories online as well, though they are embedded in a terrible Flash player that allows users to play the files, but not to download them or even to fast-forward, rewind or pause. There are even streaming videos online, and the truly Yakima-obsessed (and who is not?) can watch The Great Bank Robbery, a silent film created in 1950 by the Yakima Little Theater Project. The dialogue cards written in magic marker are a nice amateur touch.

The Yakima Memory Project is a pretty impressive resource for local history. Though the website could use some design help, and the techinical decisions on presenting audio and video were not very good, there is a wealth of material here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Video Podcasting from the Minnesota Historical Society

Video Podcasts from the Minnesota Historical Society. The MHS has some great brief video podcasts on its website. I found this one while researching googling a public history controversy--the refusal of Minnesota to return to Virginia a Confederate flag captured at Gettysburg by a Minnesota regiment. (As then-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura famously said of the request, "Why should we? We won.")

I think these three-to-six-minute vidcasts are a nice model of how a public institution can use the video podcasting format for different purposes. There are vidcasts about historical issues such as the flag controversy or the 1963 Andersen – Rolvaag Election Recount (and which of us can forget that?). Mini-documentaries on Minnesota historical topics such as the1892 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis or The Younger Brothers: After the Attempted Robbery show off highlights of the MHS collections and are great classroom resources. I especially like how they use vidcasts to present and to preserve museum exhibits: see RetroRama - A Celebration of ’50s Suburbia and Pulp Fiction. Even roadtrips by MHS staff become fodder for vidcasts as in this video on 1950s Tourist Cabins.

Virtually any small humanities institution with a video camera and a YouTube account could create online documentaries along the Minnesota model. I think I feel an assignment for my Public History class coming into being!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bury Me Not on the Lone . . . Walmart?

Paved Paradise: Cemeteries in Parking Lots: "While I was researching the 'Cemetery Safari' chapter for my upcoming book Weird Oklahoma, I came across an unusual burial site west of Tulsa that was entirely enclosed within a strip-mall parking lot. Once sacred ground, it's now a conspicuous patch of grass in a sea of asphalt, a quirky spectacle to the shoppers forced to drive around it on their way to Radio Shack . . . And it got me thinking: were there others like it?"

Quite a few others, as it turns out--and check the comments section for even more. Does anyone know of such a landlocked cemetery in the Pacific Northwest?

[Pictured is the Tullahassee Creek Indian Cemetery – Sand Springs, Oklahoma: "Situated right between an ATM and a postal drop box, this Indian cemetery comprises about 1/4 acre of isolated turf in a parking lot outside Tulsa."]

Update: Alan Stein of points us to the Saar Cemetery in South King County, Washington, " surrounded on three sides by a Winco Foods parking lot and the fourth side is bounded by South 212th Street next to the Valley Freeway (State Hwy 167)." (Map) Thanks Alan!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Splendid sleighing snow now in this vicinity."

SNOW STORM: Snow began to fall in this vicinity Monday evening last, and continued until Wednesday evening covering the ground to the depth of fourteen inches. The thermometer ranged but a short distance above zero, and the wind blew most of the town. Wagoning was practically abandoned though some teams were out. Stages were detained. Up to the time of going to press no mails have arrived since Tuesday. Several unsuccessful efforts were made by the stage to leave Colfax. One evening the stage was abandoned a short distance from Colfax, and in the following morning it was nearly covered by a snow drift. The letter mail left Colfax yesterday morning by horseback; this morning, in a four-horse sleigh. Paper mail will be delayed until the weather improves. Splendid sleighing snow now in this vicinity. No wind, and but few drifts. Although down for some time between this city and Colfax, the telegraph wire is now working between Colfax and Couer D'Alene.

-Spokan Times » December 4, 1880 » Page 3 » Column 4

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Idaho's Controversial Lynching Mural

From the Spokesman-Review: "Murals depicting white settlers accosting and then hanging a shirtless Native American man have been displayed openly in Idaho’s temporary Statehouse for the past year, with a note from the state Historical Society promising that interpretation of the murals is 'forthcoming.'" The controversy of the mural goes back at least to 2006. The mural pictured here is apparently one is a series.

The murals were painted in the 1930s as part of a WPA project by artist Martin Fletcher. But Fletcher abandoned the project when he discovered that he could make more money painting portraits. The paintings were finished by "no fewer than 25 relief workers." When Martin toured the finished paintings he said they were "acceptable, but certainly nothing to write home about." Martin noted that "The finished product was further impaired when companion panels somehow were separated and now appear on different floors. For example, Indians charging down one staircase wall menace a steam locomotive, while the covered wagon train the Indians were suppose to be attacking hangs safely on another floor."

Interestingly, Martin's original design did include captions to explain the history that they were meant to depict--though I cannot find any record of what those captions were supposed to say. The murals were controversial from the time of their unveiling and lynching mural has spent much of the last decades hidden under a flag. The plaques that are going up (Plaque 1 | Plaque 2) have a generic quality to them, as one might expect of any committee-written prose: "To the California-based artists of the Great Depression era who completed this work, the murals represented their concept of how the West was won. During the 1930s, government-sponsored painters sought to portray strength and triumph, a nation overcoming adversity to settle a vast land."

This interpretation seems off the mark to me. The mural here is clearly not a celebration. The Indian looks too innocent and helpless, the white lynchers too sinister and matter-of-fact. People in the 1930s, when lynchings of African Americans and immigrants were still often in the news, would have recognized the mural as a crude metaphor for America's unjust treatment of American Indians.

Most likely Fletcher intended a piece of social commentary similar to some of Thomas Hart Benton's contemporaneous murals. See for example this panel from Benton's series "American Historical Epic" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Fletcher's vision was lost when the actual painting of the murals fell to untrained WPA workers.

By the way, here is a great site that attempts to index all of the surviving WPA public art.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spokesman Review Article on the Great Depression

"Bank failures, layoffs and swan-diving stock portfolios are nothing new in the Inland Northwest. It has all happened before – bigger, deeper and longer (or so we can hope) – during the only Depression that has earned the adjective “Great.” Here’s how the Great Depression played out in the Spokane area." So begins a great and uncomfortably timely article by Jim Kershner in last Sunday's Spokesman-Review about the Great Depression in Spokane. The twin collapse of the mining and farm industries made the Depression an especially hard blow in the Inland Northwest. Kershner notes that "In a particularly demoralizing development for Spokane’s youngsters, the Manito Park Zoo was closed in 1932 because of plummeting tax revenues. Three bears were shot and stuffed."

New Deal projects to relieve the Depression were common in our are, and include High Drive, Riverside State Park, the Vista House on Mount Spokane, miles of sewers and storm culverts still in use, and of course Grand Coulee Dam.

The online version of this article includes a short video about the depression in Spokane and a 1932 SR article Freight Trains Carry Hordes of Restless.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Classics in Washington History 4: Local History and a Gallery of 19th Century Facial Hair

(This is the fifth and last post in a series, see the others here: 1, 2, 2.5, 3.)

I think one of the least-anticipated impacts of the digital turn on the practice of history has been the way that it revitalized local history in the United States. The internet with its blogs and listservs and easy web creation has made it possible for legions of amateur historians to put their research on the web, and you can hardly Google the name of any tiny town without coming upon a Geocities page dedicated to its history. At the same time the internet gave local historians new sources of information. In too many cases local historians used to simply recirculate the stories of the first chronicler of their towns with too little critical evaluation and no original research. But now databases such as the Historical Census Browser, Google Book Search and Google Patents, and other searchable large-scale digital repositories make it easy to dig out forgotten facts about even the most obscure towns.

Classics in Washington History offers some wonderful resources for local history. The collection includes a strong selection of "centennial" or "subscription" histories. These are town and county histories written at the turn of the previous century and printed locally in small runs and in many cases very few copies survive. They were often written by a local newspaper editor or attorney and were published by subscription. Often the histories were in two volumes with the second book being a collection of portraits and biographies of local worthies--specifically, local worthies who had agreed to buy a set of the volumes. These collections of formal portraits give this genre of publications its popular slang name among historians: "mug books." (Here is a nice article about evaluating mug books from

Classics in Washington History includes these subscription histories for Yakima, Spokane, Chelan, Big Bend, Walla Walla, Puget Sound, and several other counties. For all their flaws, these histories are invaluable for the local historian. The include details of local history such as the names of public officials and businesses that can be hard to recover elsewhere (especially if there was a courthouse fire at some point). Centennial histories often drew on the memories of still-living pioneers who had come to their towns by covered wagons or even with the fur trade. Most centennial histories tended to glorify and even whitewash the past (which reminds me of another term for this genre--"booster histories") but depending on the author some are quite frank about the seamy side of history. And finally for many towns the centennial histories are all we have in the way of historical records for many episodes. They are to be used with caution, but you can't not use them to do local history.

But the best parts of the mug books are the "mugs"--the late 19th century portraits of American men in all their hirsute glory. After the jump, a few notables.

Representative of the Old Testament look in American beards was Dr Dorsey S. Baker, M.D. of Walla Walla. The description of Baker from Lyman's History of Old Walla Walla County, Embracing Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties (1918) is also representative, in this case of the fawning nature of the biographical sketches in these volumes:

"No history of Walla Walla and the Inland Empire would be complete with-
out extended reference to Dr Dorsey S. Baker, now deceased, who for many
years figured most prominently m the professional, commercial and financial
circles of the northwest. He stood in the front rank of the columns that have
advanced the civilization of Washington, leading to its substantial development,
progress and upbuilding."

The oldest men in these mug books have John Brown beards, as with Michael Nixon:

But if old timers preferred their beards long and chin-hiding, the next generation was more into elaborate mustachios, as we see in the portrait of the Wickersham family from the same volume:

None of the Wickershams could hold a candle, however, to Spokane County's E. G. Marston and his impressive handlebars:

Henry Kausche of Walla Walla anticipated the "poser patch" so popular today, but took it to heights that few Indie kids could match:

Whereas Joseph Rose's twisted ends just look silly, as if his mother helped him prepare his mustache in the morning:

Joseph E Stauffer, M.D. schools them all on the curvy handlebar: