Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Which I am Filmed, and Confront a Ghost

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So last Thursday I went down to Portland to be interviewed for a new interpretive film for Whitman Mission National Monument. My involvement with the project began back in January when I was contacted by a scriptwriter who was working up a treatment for the film. She had visited the monument and asked what to read and apparently someone handed her my book. We spoke on the phone two or three times. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and research that were going into the production. So when they asked me to be one of the talking heads in the film I was happy to agree.

They sent me the questions in advance--seven pages of them! I discovered that there was a lot I had forgotten since my book came out in 2004. I wasn't sure how to prepare. For each question I tried to come up with a sound bite and a longer set of talking points. The filming was done at the Old Scots Church, a historic 1870s church outside of Portland. It is beautiful.

The filming was interesting and a new experience for me. In many ways it was like a conversation, except that periodically the interviewer would ask me to repeat something because a truck went by outside or because I looked at the camera. For the first couple of questions I gave my long answers, and was diplomatically asked if I couldn't be a bit more concise? So from there on I gave my sound bite answers and they seemed to like that. All in all it was probably a fairly standard interview--except for when it got strange.

Dear Reader, have I ever told you about the introduction of my book? My book is about religious change among Plateau Indians in the early contact period, ending with the deaths of missionaries Narcissa and Marcus Whitman in 1847. I open the book at the 1850 hanging of five Cayuse men who were convicted of the killings:

Joe Meek knew how to hang an Indian. The recently appointed Marshall of Oregon knew as much about the natives as any man in the territory. As a mountain man he had lived among Indians for most of his adult life. Meek traded with Indians, he played their games, shared their prayers, wintered in their lodges, and had taken not one but two native wives. He had killed Indians as well--sometimes as a member of a native war party, sometimes in self-defense, and sometimes for the fun and frivolity of killing. But as the fur trade faded in the 1840s, Meek abandoned the free life of the mountains and moved to the Willamette Valley to try his hand at farming. When the burgeoning American settlement there needed a law officer, Meek was only too glad to exchange his plow for a badge. As he climbed the gallows that day in 1850, Meek was turning his back on his old way of life and returning to the fold of American civilization.

It goes on from there and I am pretty hard on Meek. Anyway, during a break in the filming I went outside to take a walk in the little cemetery that was hard up against the church. It is very beautiful and full of Oregon pioneers:

I took only a few steps into the cemetery and who did I find? Joe Meek, in his resting place twenty-five feet from where I was interviewed:

How weird is that? What are the odds? A chill ran down my back. And I went back inside and did the rest of the interview--what else to do? That night I kept expecting a supernatural visitor, but apparently ghosts can't travel very far at night.


Bill Youngs said...


Craig said...

My guess is the ghost was Edward Canby.