Archive for the ‘Community Historians’ Category

Christmas Quandary? Here’s Hot Idea #1!

Friday, November 30th, 2018

Community Historians 2013

And here it is! December 1st already!  It’s the day I allow myself to begin thinking about Christmas – the cleaning and polishing and fluffing; the decorating; the gift-making or purchasing; the wrapping.  I know that most people are way ahead of me, but I’m a bit old-fashioned that way.  I don’t like to get ready so early that it’s all a let-down by the Big Day.

Even if you are more modern in your approach to the season and have all your gifts purchased and wrapped, there might still be that special someone on your list that you’d like to do something for, but you’re really not sure what.  Here’s my suggestion:  give them a gift certificate to the 2019 Community Historian Project.  It will entitle them to fifteen weeks of classes presented by experts in various (and amazing) aspects of local history, as well as to materials and information that they can explore on their own, and even the possibility of a field trip or two.  They will meet other community members with similar interests but, most likely, with very diverse backgrounds.  And they may even come away with a new interest or passion.

Aaron Webster, Flintknapper Extraordinaire

All that for $100!  How I wish that the Community Historians had been up and running when my dad was still alive.  He would have loved it!  And he was the quintessential “man who has everything” and was the one I wracked my brain over year after year.  But he’s been gone for 27 years now (OMG!  Has it been that long?) and the Community Historian Project is just entering its seventh season – just entering its prime!

Of course, there are a few “prerequisites” for participants besides filling out the application (which you can do for someone else if it’s a gift – they can fine-tune it later).  The participant has to be available to attend “classes” at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum every Wednesday morning for fifteen weeks beginning January 16th.  It helps if participants are interested in Pacific County history or, at least, have a healthy sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn.

Coast Guard Station at Cape D

And if participants might have a special connection or bit of knowledge related to our community, so much the better.  The greatest serendipities of the Community Historian experience are the unexpected alliances that occur when people discover that their interests intersect with an aspect that someone else is pursuing.  It is definitely one of those “infinite-ripples-in-a-pool” kind of things!

So, if my Hot Idea #1 tickles your fancy at all, I suggest you go to the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museam Community Historian website at and go to the bottom of the page and “Click Here.”  And while you’re filling out an application for that special recipient on your Christmas list, consider filling out one for yourself!  If you love learning about our past, you’ll love being part of the Community Historian Project!

When Memory, History & Fantasy Converge

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Michael with His First Book

This morning’s blog had to take a back seat for a few hours.  Michael Lemeshko arrived early bearing a cardboard tray of to-go cups — a caffè mocha for me, an Earl Gray tea for Nyel, and something else for himself.  It was a coffee date arranged some time back – a chance to catch up and, maybe – just maybe – a chance to exchange some useful information.

Currently Michael is gathering material for a new book.  This one is about B.A. Seaborg who was one of the movers and shakers here on the Peninsula in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.  From the Aberdeen Packing Company in Ilwaco to the town of Sealand contiguous to Nahcotta, it was Seaborg who was responsible.  And oh! so much more.

With his usual dogged determination and single-mindedness, Michael is pursuing every possible scrap of information about Seaborg – even to the point of trying to ‘reconstruct’ the Ilwaco streetscape of the 1870s, building by building.  One of the reasons for our coffee date was the hope (slim, I thought) that I might have some old photographs that would help.

Judge John Briscoe

“Come on over and have a look at my files,” I offered.  “I think I have about 30 photos of early Ilwaco –but you probably already have found them elsewhere.”  I knew he’d combed the various local museum archives and maybe even the Oregon Historical Society plus who knows what other nooks and crannies that might be hiding local history.  Michael is nothing if not thorough.

But before we got down to it, we talked about some of the aftermath from his first book about Judge John Briscoe, The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the Rest of his Neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula.  Last summer we both entertained the judge’s descendants – a group of great-greats from Pennsylvania and a great-great-great-granddaughter from Australia.  Already, Michael told me, he has met with several of the Hawkins family — descendants of Mr. Seaborg.

B.A. Seaborg

And, I picked his brain a little about some things I’ve been working on.  Especially about online research sites.  Too, we talked about early magazine publications – especially Harper’s Magazine and their terrific illustrations.  Harper’s is the oldest general interest monthly in America.  Its debut was made in June 1850 and it soon began featuring works by American artists and writers such as Horatio Alger, Stephen A. Douglas, Theodore Dreiser, Horace Greeley, Winslow Homer, Jack London, John Muir, Frederick Remington, and Mark Twain.  But I digress…

When we finally got to the photographs, I was absolutely gobsmacked that Michael found five in my files that he hadn’t seen before.  One of them was actually a photograph that he was hoping against hope existed — and not just in his mind’s eye.  And voilà!  There it was!  I think he was beyond Gobsmacked.  All-in-all – a most satisfactory coffee date!

All In A Day’s Work If You’re Retired!

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

It was a long day.  We left the house at a reasonable 8:00 a.m. and returned thirteen and a half hours later, having accomplished two of the three things we set out to do.  Two out of three ain’t bad I thought to myself – especially since the third was an add-on to our original plan.  What we didn’t plan on was such a very long day.

First, it was up to Tacoma to meet with our friend Ed Nolan of the Washington State Research Center (part of the Washington State Historical Society).  We had arranged to pick up five boxes of books and documents – the last boxes of the Larry Weathers collection.  – for transfer (maybe today) to the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco.  It’s the final step in the process of finding the appropriate repository for Larry’s considerable accumulation of Pacific County history information left homeless by Larry’s sudden and unexpected death in 2004.  (CPHM has housed the bulk of his collection for several years and has made it available to Community Historians who find it a veritable treasure trove of information.)

Then, lunch at the RAM with Ed – a ritual that we’ve repeated periodically since 1996 or ’97 when we began our first donations of the Espy Family Archive.  We hadn’t had a “catch up” visit for at least three years – not since Nyel’s serious heart issues began back in 2015.  I, for one, am grateful that Ed is continuing to work though he could have qualified for retirement more than a decade ago.  His knowledge of the WSRC archives is prodigious and his awareness of what’s “out there” looking for a permanent home is singular.  Talking with him is always a treat.

Then, it was on to Seattle to pick up my very distressed (probably in all senses of the word) leather jacket.  I’d left it at Judy’s Leather Repair in early June and between our infrequent trips north and Judy’s unscheduled closing in July, yesterday was the first day I could collect it.  She had relined it for me which cost an arm and a leg and was well worth every dollar!

It’s the second re-lining since I bought the jacket in 1991 – a $40.00 Nordstrom purchase made on a trip with my mom to Timberline Lodge the day after Christmas that year.  It must have been on sale.  I don’t remember.  The best purchase I ever made – never mind that I’ve spent close to ten times that amount on relining it over the years.  And thank goodness that Judy, in her late seventies, is still in business!  She’s the best!

Then, on to Goodwill.  Nyel is on a quest for vests (maybe even a well-used leather one) and the Seattle Goodwill is a great place for such a search.  But, it wasn’t to be.  We hadn’t counted on the three-thirty five o’clock traffic or the road construction or the game at SafeCo Field.  OMG!  It was a nightmare – an hour-and-a-half long exercise in frustration and misery without getting even close to our hoped-for destination.  And why are we always surprised that Seattle ain’t what it used to be when Nyel lived there in the ’70s?

Goodwill aborted.  Homeward bound by six.  Twenty-one-minute delay on I-5 out of Tacoma – a car crash said my cell phone.  Fairly clear sailing beyond that and home at last at 9:30. Do NOT ask me what we do now that we are retired!  Especially do not ask me if we do much traveling.  It’s a bit of a sore spot at the moment

The Wonderful Advice of Irene Martin!

Friday, March 9th, 2018

Irene Martin

I already thought my admiration for fisher/author/historian/priest Irene Martin knew no bounds.  Last Wednesday when she spoke at the Community Historian class, she soared higher than ever in my esteem.  I’ll try to explain why, but I doubt that I’ll even come close.

First, you need to know that Irene had been scheduled since last fall to talk to the class on March 7th about Fishing on the Columbia.  I’m not sure what aspect she had in mind, but whatever it was would be informative, of that I was sure.  However, three and a half weeks before her speaking date, the Martins had a house fire.  Everything (almost) was lost or severely damaged by smoke and water.  Did Irene want to cancel her speaking date, Betsy had asked.  “No, but I might talk on a different topic,” she said.

And so, she did!  She talked about how we preserve history and what she learned from the fire.  It couldn’t have been more appropriate for Community Historians.   That’s what we are all about – preserving and disseminating local history.  Her experience and her advice resonated with every single one of us.

First and foremost: Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms.  “Promise!” she said.  And she told how her husband had replaced theirs just six hours before the fire broke out.  “Had he not, I would not be here today.”

She told about doing an inventory of everything in the house some time ago – with a granddaughter.  “I told her I needed help.  Plus, I think I bribed her… Money always works with teenagers.”  In any event, they spent several weeks talking about every single thing in the house and the stories that went with them.  “If someone doesn’t know the stories, those stories and that bit of history will die with you,” she said.  “Share your stories.  Over and over again.”

“And,” she asked, “are all your old family pictures labeled?  Are the names on the backs?  Saving the pictures without the names doesn’t do any good at all a generation or so later.”  It was a second promise she extracted from us: “Go home, and after you replace those smoke alarm batteries, label your pictures.”

And there were many more practical suggestions from her recent first-hand experience.  I’m glad to say that I’ve been on a similar wave-length for some time, preservation-wise.  Photos labeled, check!  Inventory complete, check!  Stories shared, check!  With regard to that last one, I sometimes fear that I’m repeating myself, especially with the stories in my blog.  After hearing Irene, I think that might be okay.  For posterity, you know!

Fake History: A Righteous Discussion Topic

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

“Plank Road” – from CPHM’s Community Historian webpage

Although our current prez claims he coined the term “fake news,” the little bit of research I’ve done about the origin of that catchy phrase does not corroborate (Surprise! Surprise!) what he says.  No matter.  Whoever came up with that particular descriptor did a great service to us all, as far as I am concerned.  It has rapidly become an aphorism that the general population understands.  Whether it is used properly or not, “fake news” has become a red flag, of sorts.  It helps some of us to think twice or to dig deeper before we take what we hear or read at face value.

Besides that, we now hear about fake-other-stuff and we know immediately that there is a question as to its veracity.  Bravo!  Yesterday, for instance, Betsy Millard, Director of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum (CPHM) posted an interesting article on the Community Historian Participants at CPHM Facebook page.  It is from the American Association for State and Local History:  “6 Steps to Historical Literacy: Your Guide to History on the Web.”  The introduction said: “Fake News, false stories, misinformation, propaganda—it’s an important time to reinforce critical thinking skills and remind students and citizens not to accept information at face value.”

Teachers’ Institute – Oysterville, 1885

I didn’t see the term “Fake History” but that is what they are saying to be on the lookout for!  I love it!  For years I’ve been lamenting the misinformation that is being propagated about our local history – propagated by some of our most cherished institutions, in fact.  I’ve written in this very blog about the erroneous information published in our local Visitor’s Guide and even posted at the County Historical Society’s museum right across the bay – unfactual information about the founding of Oysterville, a historical event near and dear to my heart.

We’ve talked about other examples of false Pacific County history at our Community Historian gatherings, but we’ve never used the label “fake history.”  Perhaps that terminology will bring more focus to the problem.  I hope so.  What I really hope is that we can concentrate on practical ways of eradicating or correcting some of that fake history – beyond talking to the local perpetuators of such misinformation. Perhaps finding ways to correct articles on Wikipedia (so often the source of misinformation) or… who knows?   I look forward to next year’s discussions.

Sweet Relief

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Early Nahcotta

On Wednesday, against all odds, I presented a Power Point Program, “Peninsula Settlement” to the Community Historian group at the Columbia Heritage Museum. And I do mean “against all odds.” Just as I began to put the presentation together – which photos in which order with what titles and what subtitles, my computer screen went black. Or maybe it was royal blue. Then, marching across the screen came the white letters: Microsoft Windows Update. Say what???

It was seven a-frigging-o’clock at night. Prime time for computer business. MY computer business. And, sure enough, along flashed something, faster than my eyes could focus, about the unusual time of the update. I’ve never actually seen one in progress before; I think they must happen in the middle of the night. Not that I saw this one either – mostly a continuous warning not to turn off my computer.

Two hours later, it was done – presumably updated. I thought I could work a few hours, then sleep fast for that four a.m. alarm so that we could get Nyel to the hospital in time for his ablation. And while in the waiting room, I could continue working. After all, I had days and days yet. But come to find out, during this long, mysterious ‘updating’ process, my computer had had a stroke. It no longer had the space bar function of the use of the first four number keys. And who knew what else.

Isaac and MaryAnn Whealdon

For days I stewed and fumed and figured ways to work around the problem. Hours went by – scary hours with Nyel on the operating table for nine of them and then the interminable days of his recovery interspersed with the inevitable setbacks. My computer continued to function by fits and starts. I tried not to think of it as a metaphor for Nyel’s situation….

By Wednesday, I had a sixty-minute program ready to present with only a few glitches that my community historian colleagues gently pointed out. They get high marks for ‘editing!’ And they were so complimentary with many suggestions that I “take it on the road.” Actually, I’m thinking about it. Perhaps I could do one of those Salt programs down at the Port of Ilwaco next year. The teacher in me would love to explain to an audience the whys and wherefores that answer the perennial question from newcomers: “Why can’t all the communities on the beach cooperate on …” this or that project.? Oh my. Let me count the ways.

Ocean Park’s “All Boy Players”

And so many stories – about John Douglas who died with his boots on. Literally. Or Isaac Whealdon who had to choose between his church and the devil in the music box. Or how about the Kola brothers who, in their youth, had a disagreement about green paint and never spoke to one another again, though they fished from the same gillnet boat for the rest of their lives. Yep. I’m thinking about taking it on the road!

Meanwhile, I get my replacement computer today. Definitely not a metaphor for anything.  Nyel would be the first to tell you that I can still push all of his buttons as usual….

Of Ghost Ships and Ancient Mariners

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

British Ship Glenmorag, wrecked near Ocean Park, March 18, 1896

In an area such as ours with its stormy winters and many creaking old structures, it’s not surprising that ghost stories abound.  But, what is surprising to me is that we have no stories of phantom mariners or ghost ship sightings – or at least none that I’ve heard.  Since the waters adjacent to us have long been called the “The Graveyard of the Pacific” that seems odd.

According to James Gibbs in his 1950 book, Pacific Graveyard:  Losses total well over 200 deep-water ships with damages inflicted on an additional 500.  The fishing fleets alone have suffered about 500 loses and another 1,000 fishing craft have been damaged.  Within one hour in a sudden gale of Cape Disappointment, May 4, 1880, 200 fishermen were drowned when their vessels capsized.  That makes for a good many ghostly possibilities.

Astoria’s “Butterfly Fleet” lost off the Mouth of the Columbia, May 4, 1880

It’s been seventy years since Gibbs wrote his definitive book on shipwrecks there have been many additional wrecks and a rising toll of loss of life.  If you have lived here for any time at all, you undoubtedly know someone from a fishing family who has suffered the loss of a loved one.  Perhaps that is the very reason we don’t hear much about the local version of The Flying Dutchman or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Our waters are still the most treacherous in the world and maybe, for many of our neighbors, stories of Davy Jones’ Locker are difficult to deal with – not fodder for tales around the evening campfire.

Rescued crew of the French ship Alice at the Taylor Hotel, Ocean Park, January 1909

Yesterday at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Chris Dewey from the Maritime Archaeological Society.  The group is new – less than two years old – and its mission is “to seek out, investigate, and document shipwrecks and other maritime archaeological sites; conserve artifacts from those sites, when appropriate; and educate the public in areas of maritime cultural heritage, historic shipwreck preservation, and the science of maritime archaeology.”  They use amazing high tech equipment to locate, measure, and document wrecks and parts of wrecks in and around the mouth of the Columbia River.

I had hoped to ask Mr. Dewey if he or team-members have heard of or, perhaps, experienced first-hand, any ghostly sightings in line with their work.  But, before I could approach him, he was gone…  Probably just as well.  Even if I explained that my search for ghosts of the area is for the serious underlying purpose of documenting our history, he might have been a bit skeptical.  Still… I have his card and it might be worth a shot.

Mike Lemeshko: Author!

Thursday, September 8th, 2016
Mike Lemeshko and His New Book

Mike Lemeshko and His New Book

“I just sold my first book!” he told us yesterday afternoon.  Mike Lemeshko was talking about The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the rest of his neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula – his hot-off-the-press, self-published book about Judge John Briscoe (1812 – 1901)I couldn’t have been more pleased had I been saying those words myself!

In the book’s preface, Mike tells how the book came to be – from an intriguing first ‘introduction’ to “the cantankerous farmer” in 2010, through the six-year journey that has resulted in this 100-page volume, complete with photographs and a thorough documentation of sources.  I was surprised to find myself in his acknowledgements and, though his words were kind and perhaps true from his perspective, from my own point of view I was simply one of many who clapped and cheered from the sidelines.

We met three (almost four) years ago at a Community Historian class.  I was impressed that a) Mike was ‘commuting’ to Ilwaco every week from Bothell; b) that he was part-owner of the Anchorage Cottages, a long-time Peninsula landmark; and c) that he was hoping to learn more about the man who had taken out the original Donation Land Claim for that property back in 1853!  I knew a little about John Briscoe – he and his family had lived next door to my great-grandparents in Oysterville in those early days.  Mike and I talked a bit that first day of class, and so our friendship began!  And so did the clapping and cheering.

By Mike Lemeshko

By Mike Lemeshko

During that first fifteen weeks, Mike was the most attentive ‘student’ ever.  He took notes, quizzed the speakers, talked with classmates.  He was curious about everything – where and how to proceed with research, who to contact for further information, who Briscoe’s descendants were…  In the next few years he returned for more Community Historian classes and it wasn’t long before he, himself, was the go-to guy for the how-to questions!  When it comes to researching local history, Mike Lemeshko ‘knows where the bodies are buried.’

No one could have been more delighted than I when Mike began talking about putting what he had learned into book form.  “I’m not a writer,” he would say.  In fact, that’s what he said yesterday when he presented me with a copy of the book.  Maybe not.  But he is now an author and documentarian and, I hope, on his way to another book!

The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the rest of his neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula (and doncha just love that old-fashioned, tell-it-all-on-the-cover title!) is available at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and will, no doubt, be showing up at other local outlets as well.  When you read it, you’ll be clapping and cheering, too!

From Long Island to Glass Butte

Thursday, August 11th, 2016
Nyel, Obsidian Prospector

Nyel, Obsidian Prospector

According to Wikipedia (a site with which I concur in this particular case), I believe that Nyel and Cate Gable and I have been rock hunting.  They say: Amateur geology (known as rockhounding in the United States and Canada, and regionally known as rock hunting in southern Oregon) is the recreational study and hobby of collecting rocks and mineral specimens from their natural environment.  We have actually been on a Great Obsidian Hunt at a place called Glass Butte, not far from Bend, Oregon.

I’m more inclined to think of Bend as being in central Oregon but… no matter.  The three of us have been on a trek to gather obsidian and, luckily for us, one of the very best sources of obsidian on the hoof is just five hours and change from the Peninsula.  Shiny, sharp and perfect for making spear and arrowheads, obsidian is formed from lava flows.  In the case of Glass Butte, the eruption was about 4.9 million years ago.

Nyel at workAnd, who knew that obsidian comes in a variety of colors in addition to basic black?  At Glass Butte there is plenty of gem quality obsidian readily available for collection on the ground surface. Rainbow, black, pumpkin, mahogany, midnight lace, gold sheen, silver sheen, fire, and double flow varieties can all be found in the area.

Apparently, many serious rockhounds choose to dig for preferred material and our Expedition Leader (that would be Nyel) included a pick axe and several crowbars in our equipment cache.  But we did little digging.  As State Parks Interpreter Aaron Webster had told us, there is plenty for the taking right along the roadside.  The area is owned by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and individuals can collect up to 25 pounds per day or 250 pounds per year without charge.

Lunch Break for Rockhounds

Lunch Break for Rockhounds

It was Aaron’s flint-knapping demonstration last spring at a Community Historian’s class that prompted our interest.  I was entranced by the process (which, of course, he made look SO easy!) and told Nyel all about it.  He talked to Aaron and got more information and then mentioned it to Cate who, it turns out, just loves rocks.  I thought I’d just go along for the ride and take a few photographs.

But, once we got there, my old rock hunting memories kicked in from the summers of my childhood – all those excursions to look for agates over on Willapa Bay’s Long Island.  I remember that I could hardly tear myself away when the tide dictated our return to the Peninsula.  I just knew that there would be a more perfect agate just a few steps farther on.  Fast forward seventy years or so and I knew that the ultimate hunk of obsidian was just on the other side of that clump of sage brush.  So did Cate.  So did Nyel.

It was a good thing that we were in our little Prius-C.  Space availability probably kept us honest.  It certainly wasn’t any natural restraint on our part!  Wow!  You had to be there!




Jim Crow and the… – Part II

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Dick Wallace Examines Artifacts

Yesterday’s 2016 Community Historian class was everything a culminating event should be – lively discussion, more questions than answers, laughter, and even food!   (Make-your-own deli sandwiches, chips, lemonade and cookies!  What could be better?)

The day’s main activity centered on the contents of black storage bags – items in the museum’s collection that await cataloging and/or placement in the permanent storage area.  People worked singly or in pairs examining, analyzing, and using their powers of deduction to identify a variety of items.  Great fun!

But, it was the discussion at the top of the day that I enjoyed the most.  Instead of a “homework discussion” (there had been no assignment) I asked what the group thought about yesterday’s Chinook Observer headline story: “JIM SAULES, NOT JIM CROW –Effort underway to change racist names in Wahkiakum County.”   No one had yet seen the newspaper, although at least one class member had read elsewhere that State Senator Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, recently proposed changing 36 Washington place names that contain racial slurs. (“Oh,” was one remark, “another, urban do-gooding outsider…”).

April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016

Commentary ran the gamut. One woman, brought up in the south, said the present Jim Crow name conjured up the days of her childhood when, as a white child, she wasn’t allowed to ride in the back of the bus “where all the fun was.”  She was definite that the name should be changed.  At the other extreme were several folks who thought we risk losing our history by obliterating names from the past.  “Our attitudes change as our culture changes, but we shouldn’t erase the story of how we got here,” someone said.

Anne LeFors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Ann Lefors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Mostly, though, the group felt there were many questions that need answering before a final decision is made.  Why was that name given to that particular point of land?  Does it commemorate something that happened there or, perhaps, an individual who lived there?  And why substitute ‘Saules’ for ‘Crow’?  What connection did Jim Saules have with that area of the river?  (He is known to have ‘squatted’ for several years at Cape Disappointment, but association with the areas upriver are a bit vague.)  And, if Jim Saules does not have an historical association with the area, why choose his name as a replacement?  Because he’s black?

There was commentary about the changes to school names and boulevards after the JFK and MLK assassinations  as well as about the recent announcement of replacing Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the twenty-dollar bill. What do we gain by such replacements?  And what do we lose?  Is it true that one of the factors in making the Jim Crow decision is pure economics – that potential tourists are scared away from our area because of the name?

Bottom line:  everyone agreed that more research was needed to find out why Jim Crow Point was so named in the first place.  Even more importantly, whether the name stays the same or is changed, the Community Historians said over and over that “interpretation is the most important ingredient of all.  It’s all about putting the story back in history.  Without the story, why bother?”