Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

Our little candle continues to glow!

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Screenshot of NYTM online article by McKenzie Funk

This morning’s email was full of commentary and requests from friends and from strangers — even one from a journalist/immigrant activist in Spain about my 2017 series “Stories from the Heart” written for the Chinook Observer.  When Editor Matt Winters and I first talked about the possibilities, I remember saying, “Erin Glenn and I have an idea… Maybe we can light a little candle to illuminate what our own Hispanic community is enduring… Maybe we can help…  Maybe…”

Screenshot of NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

And so we lit that candle.  The fourteen stories appeared in the Observer each week from July 26 through October 25, 2017.  They attracted the attention of the big city newspapers in Seattle and of the international media, as well.  An Aljazeera news station in Mexico interviewed a wife and mother from Ocean Park who had been deported by Ice.  BBC did a spectacular film which featured local fisherman “Rosas” as well as Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright and others.  And an investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, McKenzie “Mac” Funk, came to the Peninsula several times to talk to victims, advocates, onlookers and law enforcement.  And to learn more about ICE and their methods.

Mac’s story, “How ICE Picks Its Targets in The Surveillance Age” has been long in the making.  Yesterday, he sent me the link to the online version:  The “hard copy” version will be published Sunday, October 6.

Mario – Screenshot from NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

The article is focused on what happened (and is still happening) right here on the Long Beach Peninsula — mostly at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta and in Ocean Park — but in all our other communities, as well.  The article is long and detailed and frightening.  My eyes filled more than once as I read, remembering when Erin Glenn and I first approached the families who agreed to be interviewed.  Their fear and their bravery and their hurt were palpable.  I’m so glad their stories are reaching an audience wider than we had ever imagined.  And, of course, I hope the ripple-effect continues until change is effected and we can all say, “We helped.”

The Oysterville Sewing Circle – The Reality

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

The Oysterville Sewing Bee, 1907

My phone messages and Facebook messages — even my email messages — have been full of the news of a brand new book by Susan Wiggs called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel.”  People want to know what I know about it (nothing), if I’ve read it (not yet), and if it’s based on our Oysterville (not that I know of.)

However, what I THINK I know is that there is no longer another Oysterville — at least not in the United States.  There is an Osterville ( ‘y’) in Massachusetts (on Cape Cod) and there used to be an Oysterville, Oregon until it fell in.  Now there’s just us, at least as far as I know.

As for the “Sewing Circle” part of the title — we did, indeed, have a sewing circle here.   The women of Oysterville, calling themselves “The Sewing Circle,” or sometimes “The Sewing Bee,” met on an irregular basis in one another’s homes to work on the mending, darning, or other needs of the hosting household.  Female visitors in the village were included at the get-togethers.  Each session concluded with refreshments provided by the hostess.

Oysterville Women’s Club, 1932

In the mid- 1920s, they organized themselves more formally, founding the Oysterville Women’s Club and electing Mrs. Stoner as the first president.  They continued to meet weekly or bi-weekly and, while they spent some of each meeting on sewing projects, their endeavors by then included fund-raising for school equipment and acting as guardians of community needs.  During both world wars they worked on many projects for the Red Cross including knitting socks for soldiers and gathering sphagnum moss for bandages.  Sometime in the 1940s, they regrouped, included the men of the village, and called themselves the Oysterville Improvement Club.  The present-day Oysterville Community Club which meets in the schoolhouse is the present-day configuration.

“The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel”

Two photographs of the Oysterville Sewing Circle are displayed at the schoolhouse — one taken in 1907 and one in 1932.  My grandmother is in each of them along with several other relatives as well as neighbors I remember from my childhood.  I wonder what they would think of the new book called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle — A Novel.”

And, as for that — the blurb on says, “Stitched together with love, this is a story just waiting for your favorite reading chair. With her signature style and skill, Susan Wiggs delivers an intricate patchwork of old wounds and new beginnings, romance and the healing power of friendship, wrapped in a lovely little community that’s hiding a few secrets of its own.”

Could it be our Oysterville?  I guess we’ll have to read the book to find out.





I LOVE Reader’s Theater!

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Sydney reads from Dear Medora — 2007

I love reading aloud!  I love doing it and I love to listen to other people do it and I love to incorporate it into the teaching/learning opportunities of various aspects of my life.  Today our Community Historians had an opportunity to participate in a Reader’s Theater experience focused on “Washington at War:  The Evergreen State in WWI.”

Our guest speaker was Lorraine McConaghy, a historian who works at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.  She talked to us about the process of creating a reader’s theater piece by utilizing original sources – in this case, excerpts from writings, diaries, speeches and correspondence.  She suggested that we consider developing a reader’s theater experience from our own research projects – perhaps presenting such a piece to local community groups or schools and asking “listeners” to participate in a significant historic event by reading the script aloud.

Early IWW Poster

As an example, she brought along a script she has developed concerning “Washington at War: The Evergreen State in WWI.”  We sat around a large table – fifteen or twenty of us – and read for forty minutes.  We read the words of politicians and labor leaders, of journalists and social activists – diverse opinions about a controversial subject in a nation as polarized 100 years ago as it is today.  It was eye-opening and familiar, both.

Topics covered the period between 1914 and 1919 and included immigration, wartime industrialization, women’s rights, social change, radical labor, epidemic disease, and worldwide turmoil.  We even sang – songs of the period like “Over There” and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres.” (It was no surprise that we all knew the tunes and the words; our gray heads give evidence that we are probably separated from that War only by a generation or two.  We probably learned those songs from our own parents or grandparents.  I couldn’t help wondering what a school group would make of them.)

Shoalwater Storytellers, 2013

Fun!  Fun!  Fun!  But then… I knew that it would be.  I was doing Reader’s Theater back in the early eighties and found it one of the best ways to put the ‘story’ back in hi’story’ for both participants and audiences.  Perhaps you remember the Shoalwater Storytellers (1981-2013-ish)?  A little different take on the form – we had costumes (hats) and props (sticks and barrels) in addition to scripts – but the idea was the same.  To research a topic and use original, contemporary sources to give voice to history.  Three cheers!!  (Did I say I loved it?)

Kudos to Nancy and Colin!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Page 87

The day had been a long one.  I was at the hospital with Nyel at 8:15 to give him a little assistance in sending his cardio mem information to Seattle – an electronic (magic) cyberspace communication with his Seattle cardiologist telling what the pressures inside his heart are.  Then our Community Historian class at the Heritage Museum until noon – today all about the cutting-edge methodology for archival preservation of photos and documents.  And then back to spend three more hours with Nyel – strategizing with caregivers about next steps.

Home to work in the garden for an hour or two.  Mostly clean-up that should have been done last fall.  I can’t remember why I didn’t do it then…  When I finally decided to think about dinner, I noticed that today’s Observer was still tightly rolled up the way our postmaster puts it in our mailboxes.  I took a minute… and I’m SO glad I did.

Our Coast Artcle

Nestled within the paper was the annual copy of our coast magazine.  And on pages 86 to 91 is a marvelously illustrated article about our house!  “Historic House In A Historic Village” is the title.  I had all but forgotten the interview with author Nancy McCarthy and the follow-up photo session with Colin Murphey.  It all happened last September and, somehow, we’ve had a few other things to think about since then.  It seemed like a big surprise!

Best of all, I didn’t find a single factual error in the entire article and, I’m here to tell you as a writer who often interviews people – getting everything right in a long article isn’t all that easy.  Nancy did a beautiful job.  Kudos to her and to Colin who captured the visuals to perfection!  I hope you take a look – and mark September 22nd on your calendar.  (You’ll know why if you read the article.)

The Pioneer Connection

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

“So, you come from the beach,” she said.  Not a question exactly.  Susan Watkin, Family Nurse Practitioner, was one of the many workers who came in yesterday, one after another, to check on Nyel’s well being, his needs, his hopes for getting outta here.  I didn’t pay much attention until the words “the beach” registered.

“Of all the people we’ve met here, you are the first to refer to Oysterville as the beach,” I said.  “You’ve been to the Long Beach Peninsula before?”

“Yes,” she said, “My great-great-great grandparents lived there.”

“So did my great-grandparents,” I responded.  “They may have known one another.  My family name is Espy.  Who were your ancestors?”

Richard and Mary Carruthers’ Pacific House, c. 1870

“Oh!” was the response.”My mother is the one who’s into genealogy.  I’ll find out and let you know tomorrow.”

“Great!” I told her.  “I’m not so much into genealogy as I am into the history of the area and the old family stories,  Chances are I’ll know who your ancestors were.”

She didn’t wait until “tomorrow.”  She was back in a trice.  “Carruthers!” she said with a big smile and, I imagine my smile was equally radiant,  “I do know a little about the Carruthers!” I told her.  “When you come in tomorrow, we’ll talk!”

“Letters To Louise” by Carol Carruthers Lambert

I can’t wait!  Does she know that Richard and Mary Carrruthers owned the famous Pacific House in Oysterville?  Or that one of her cousins lives in Warrenton and wrote a book about the Carruthers Family called Love Letters to Louise?  Or that her great-great-grandfather replaced my great-grandfather as County Sheriff in November 1868?  (R.H, Espy resigned after only three months in office because, goes the family story, the county insisted that he pay for his badge of office.  He refused as a matter of principal.  The historic record is silent concerning who paid for Carruthers’ badge.)

I can’t wait to talk to her again today!  No telling what we’ll learn from one another!

Next Door A Century Ago

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Mr. Wirt and His Chickens

The Oysterville of my childhood is fast disappearing.  The people, of course, have shuffled off years ago.  I think the only resident left who is older than I am is Bud and, when I was a kid, he was not in evidence.  He was ‘a lot older’ than I was in those days, of course, which when you are a kid might mean five or six years.  In Bud’s case it was probably more like ten which put us in different worlds altogether!

Some of the buildings of those days are gone, some are new, and others have been gentrified almost beyond recognition.  Our place, the Wachsmuth House across the street, the Heckes House (which used to be next door and now is three houses away), the R.H Espy House (the Red House) are pretty much the same.  To the south, the Charles Nelson House and the Ned Osborn House are as I remember. The Church and the Schoolhouse haven’t changed a bit – except that both of them are in better repair than they were seventy or eighty years ago!

Wirt House, 1939

And, of course, up around the corner heading out to the beach, the various Andrews properties are much the same as they were – the garage and the adjacent house, the Oysterville Store and Post Office and the old Andrews residence to the west.  Missing are the houses that were across the road, that make the “neighborhood” feel a bit different.

But of all the physical changes, I most miss the Wirt House.  It was located right across the lane (now called Clay Street) from my grandparents’ place (where we live now.)  I don’t remember the Wirts – they were perhaps a bit older than my Granny and Papa.  My mother always smiled as she remembered Mrs. Wirt.  “She used to come get water from our pump in the front yard.  She’d always call out, ‘Hoo! Hoo! It’s only me, coming to get some water.’  Our water was a lot better than theirs for some reason.”

Wirt House – 1939 WPA Photo

In my childhood, though, the Holway family lived in the old Wirt House.  It was a warm and welcoming household – always lots of activity with five kids.  All of them were younger than I – even the oldest, Johnnie – though he was exactly one week younger.  Somehow that was important…  Everyone in town was impressed when they built their new (and present) house.  My grandmother wrote to Willard in New York in the late 1940s, “It’s going to be the grandest house on the Peninsula!”    Even so… I miss that sweet little Wirt House.  It’s probably an old-age thing – that feeling we’d rather call “nostalgia.”

Another Storytelling Opportunity!

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Nina Macheel

Yesterday’s batch of email brought news from a woman who used to live here and who was gone before we could really call ourselves “friends.”  Nina Macheel!  A woman I much admire – a generation younger than I, talented beyond all measure, intelligent and well-spoken and… a gazillion other things.

Her note brought news of a new venture – with a new friend (and from a new residence in a new-to-her part of the country): she has begun a blog called “Pomegranate, Red.”  On its Welcome page it says the site is a “virtual” gathering place for thoughtful women. (Sorry Guys!)  Truth to tell, they almost lost me right there.  I’m not much into “women things” or “guy things.”  I enjoy all the perspectives and, come to think of it, have assiduously avoided women’s groups since I got out of high school.  (Oh.  Except for the Walking Women of Oysterville a number of years Ago which only served to reinforce my beliefs in a merry mix of genders…)


However, the underlying purpose of the blogsite – storytelling – is absolutely near and dear to my heart.  It’s what I do.  It’s why I, along with Lawrence Lessard, developed “The Shoalwater Storytellers” in 1981 – a performance group with the sole purpose of retelling the stories of our Pacific County olden days.  It’s why I joined forces with Jim Sayce ten years ago to develop a way to continue the story-telling legacy here and why I helped to form our Community Historians.  It’s why I write books about the history of our area and why I encourage others to find their own way to continue the telling.

Also, I was put off by this statement in their initial blog: Yet we have much resistance to story telling [sic] in our culture.  The word itself is loaded with negativity.  (See,red/tell-me-your-tales/) I had to force myself to continue reading and found myself saying right out loud (very loud!)  “NO!  That’s not true.  That has never been my experience.  Not here in Pacific County Washington!”  After all, I’ve been listening to people tell stories about the past and the present, about their experiences and about how things came to be as they are for more than eighty years.  Storytelling is alive and well here! 

Community Historians

So… I urge you to check out this new blogsite and to contribute to it!  I certainly intend to – if for no other reason than to show that “culture” out there that we are way ahead of them – if indeed that statement about “resistance to storytelling” has any truth to it.  I’m actually more inclined to believe that this is a clever ploy on Suzanne’s and Nina’s parts to get us to take the bait – a challenge of sorts!  (And, I wonder what will happen if you men submit a story or two.  I can’t believe, in these enlightened times, that you’d be rejected!  Go for it, I say!)

High Tide Season

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

High Tide at Our House, Dec. 20, 2018

Toward the end of December here on Willapa Bay, the tides are typically higher than at most other times of the year.  Depending upon which tide table you check, we’ve already had the highest tide of the year – an 11.57-footer at 11:05 a.m. on December 20th (which was this past Thursday.)  My neighbor Cyndy referred to it as a “King Tide” – a term I’d never heard before.

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) “a King Tide is a non-scientific term people often use to describe exceptionally high tides.”  I didn’t know that.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, I’ve just heard winter high tides referred to as… “winter high tides.”

I don’t know what an average high tide is, or even if you can really call a tide’s height “average” but, around here, any high tide in the ten or eleven-foot range is considered pretty high.  If the timing is such that there is a big storm behind such a tide, the incoming water has been known to roll right on into town – over the meadows, up the lanes and onto Territory Road.  Old-timers can tell you about people who have rowed their boats right down the street!

Oysterville by Willard Espy

My favorite high tide story has been told for several generations in our family.  My uncle Willard Espy memorialized it in his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  In honor of High Tide Season and of my great-grandfather R.H. Espy, I reprint it here:

One day in the 1850s, a winter tide lifted the Stout home from its location on the bay bank (the house must have been about the size of a two-car garage) and carried it seaward in the midst of a driving rain with Mrs. Stout and their three small children trapped inside.  A neighbor rushed to grandpa with the news.  Grandpa set aside the accounts on which he was working, unlaced and removed his shoes, pulled on wool socks and gum boots, donned slicker and sou’wester, and waded down the flooded lane to his dinghy.  He upped the anchor, settled the oars in their locks, and began to row, using short, even strokes.  The wind was intense, the rain was heavy, and the house had been bearing toward the bar for nearly an hour.  Grandpa, however, followed without hesitation the path of the now retreating tide glancing over his shoulder at intervals to see where he was going.  At last the Stout house hove dimly into view, already listing to starboard, and well down in the water.  Overtaking it, he snubbed his boat to a porch post, waded over the porch, and forced the front door open against the pressure of the water inside.  In the living room he found Mrs. Stout in water up to her balloon-like breasts, which she appeared to be using as water wings.  She was holding the head of her one-year-old above the surface with one hand and that of her two-year old with the other.  Her three-year-old sat on her shoulders, his hands rooted in her hair.     

The Meadow at High Tide, 2017

The building had sunk too deep to be towed back home against the tide.  Grandpa used the painter and anchor from his dinghy to moor the house for future salvage, and rowed the Stouts back to Oysterville.  He could not swim, but he knew how to row.

Beginning on Christmas Day and continuing for a week or so, there will be a series of ten-foot-plus morning tides.  I don’t think any of our houses along the bayside are in danger of floating out to sea, but you might have your dinghies ready for a rescue run just in case!

“The Graveyard of the Pacific…”

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Exhibition Announcement

This Friday evening, November 16th from 5:00 to 7:00, is the opening reception for a new exhibition at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, “The Graveyard of the Pacific: Dangerous Currents, Shifting Sands.” More than 20 ships will be featured in the exhibition along with historic artifacts, photographs, and first-person accounts from the Admiral Benson, the Alice, the Potrimpos, and the Glenmorag.

Those of us who live on the Lower Columbia are familiar with the term “Graveyard of the Pacific” which probably originated during the earliest days of maritime fur trade.  Some local residents may even have ancestors or relatives or friends who have fallen victim to the unpredictable weather conditions and treacherous coastal characteristics that have caused more than 2,000 shipwrecks and along the Pacific Northwest Coast with some 700 lives lost.

The Graveyard of the Pacific

Included in the exhibition are special tributes to two men who have raised our awareness about the history of shipwrecks along our coast – Charles Fitzpatrick and James A. Gibbs.  Fitzpatrick, an Ocean Park photographer from the late 1920s through the 1960s, documented wrecks that came in during that time period and memorialized others through his postcards.  In 1950, noted shipwreck historian Gibbs wrote Pacific Graveyard, still considered the definite work on this “shore of lost ships” as he called the area.  Also highlighted will be the U.S. Life Saving Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer rescue units who have risked, or even given, their lives to saving victims of maritime accidents.

Charles Fitzpatrick Postcard

The exhibition will be on view from November 16 through March 9, 2019 – roughly coinciding with what has been called “shipwreck season” along our coast.  Although modern aids to navigation have greatly reduced the number of shipwrecks since the 1920s, there are still lives lost each year.

Every resident who lives here, whether they simply endure, greatly enjoy, or actually revel in our winter storms should see this exhibition!

11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Brongwyn “Bronk” Kahrs Williams, Armistice Day 1919

Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – “the war to end all wars.”  The armistice with Germany went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The yearly commemoration has been called Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and, now, Veteran’s Day.

Although the war had begun on July 28, 1914, it was not until April 6, 1917 that America entered the war on the side of the allies. President Wilson’s administration decided to rely on conscription rather than upon voluntary enlistment to raise military manpower for the war. All male citizens and non-citizens between 21 and 31 (later, between 18 and 45) years of age were required to register at local draft boards.

In the following months, the headlines in Pacific County newspapers concerned “Home Guards” and “Red Cross.” Drill schedules were given and lists of needed bandages and sewing instructions were provided to the women on “the Homefront.”  Patriotism ran high and, by the Spring of 1918, 21 logging camps had been established throughout the Willapa Hills employing soldiers of the unique “Spruce Division” which (according to some estimates) provided a 5,000 percent increase in the production of aircraft lumber in little less than a year.

Brothers Rees and Lew Williams in France, 1917

Though the United States participation in the Great War was short-lived, especially by more recent standards, peace was eagerly awaited and, as reported in the November 15th South Bend Journal, there was a bit of confusion concerning the end of the war – not only here in Pacific County, but throughout the United States:

Sunday, Oct. 13th, at 3:39 a.m. witnessed the first demonstration for peace. Whistles blew, bells rang and generally everyone made demonstration. Everyone knew that it was about time peace came even though it was later learned that the report was false.

Then on Thursday, Nov. 7th, the report came that seemed so authentic that all over the nation there was rejoicing and great demonstration, even though the governmental heads gave no confirmation.

Again, on Monday, Nov. 11th came the word, this time confirmed from Washington that the armistice had been signed…So on confirmation of the report, the employees of the Willapa Harbor Iron Works, who have been employed on government jobs for a long time, making logging jacks and blocks and other logging tools, started out in force upon the street with cans and a circular saw, making all the noise possible. People generally were afraid to enter into the process lest it might prove another hoax, but the report being confirmed, the town fell into line. Whistles blew, bells rang, blanks were fired and every other exhibition of joy entered into…

…The streets were filled.  Flags were everywhere. Everyone was rejoicing. The South Bend division had a coffin on a small wagon, labeled “For the Kaiser.” The men had their hats off all through the march and if any forgot they were promptly knocked off for them…

…The city had the appearance of a great carnival.  Children were dressed in various costumes and draped with the national colors, flags were carried, confetti thrown, sparklers burned, firecrackers and revolver blanks were fired…

After all… it was the end of the war to end all wars!