Posts Tagged ‘history’

Pearl Harbor Day

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Infamy:   evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

“December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”  It was the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and I remember listening to the radio as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke those words to Congress when he asked them for a declaration of war.  I was “five-going-on-six” and I remember it all clearly – the barbed wire on the beaches, the Victory gardens, the tinfoil drives, the air-raid wardens and rationing books, Kilroy, Lucky Green going to war, and being allotted only one pair of shoes a year – unless you were a kid.  We got two.

We hadn’t been at war – not with anyone—for five years, which at that point was my entire life.  I had no idea what a Big Deal that really was.  Perhaps no one else did either at the time.  As it turns out, that five-year period from 1935 through 1940 has been the longest time the United States has been at peace in our 232-year history. Both beforehand and afterwards we’ve had several periods as long as three years without being involved in a war, most recently 1976, 1977, and 1978 after the Vietnam War.  But mostly… we live with war.

IF you were born after 1978, you may have memory of two separate years that were not  involved in a major war – 1997 and 2000.  Other than that… not so much.  Since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.

Gun-toting Robotic Combat Robots

Yes, FDR had it right.  We remember Pearl Harbor – at least some of us do.  But how many more days of infamy have we forgotten?  When did we and the rest of the world go numb? Perhaps it was when researchers began using their knowledge of how human emotion develops to try to build robots that can feel.  But are they teaching those bots to remember?  Especially, to remember the important things?  Like Pearl Harbor.

Wind-ups and Lesson Plans in Oysterville

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sydney Winding Down After Winding Up

Yesterday, it was ‘get out the wind-up toys’ night, and I was fearful.  In my mind (as I planned our holiday activities) it would be a time of play and laughter and reminiscing.  We’ve given wind-up toys to one another as stocking-stuffers for years, but this is the first time in forever that we’ve had the leisure to get them out and put them on display for ‘the season.’  Usually, Nyel and I do it hurriedly to have everything at-the-ready and the family blows in at more-or-less the last minute.

This year I asked that things be different – that everyone gather ten days ahead so that we could talk about the house, its generational contents, and its future disposition.  Hard topics, in a way, but, joyful, too.  There are few subjects as close to my heart as Oysterville and this old family house – the house we’ve all taken for granted for our entire lives.

‘The Kids’ – Christmas 2017

I was lucky enough to be living on the Peninsula for twenty years before my mother died – a whole generation of time to hear her stories of times past and to learn the history of the beloved objects I had never even been curious about.  Much of that information has found its way into one or another of my books and, probably, much has crept into the family-memories of Charlie and Marta.  But, with only short ‘special occasion’ sorts of visits, I am not confident how much has stuck with them.  It’s partly the historian in me but mostly the family DNA in me that wants to convey whatever I can before it’s too late.

So… here we are.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured decorating the house, cooking festive meals, and talking about this and that with the historic information just coming in willy-nilly the way it had for me.  But twenty days doesn’t equal twenty years of incidental ‘indoctrination’ (which sounds severe but I can’t think of another word that fits.)

Who is this guy? Is he flipping us off? Or picking my teeth?

Unpacking and playing with the wind-up toys went perfectly!  Just as planned!  And, right on cue, Charlie asked, “When are you going to talk with us about the house?  Isn’t that why you wanted us up here early?  Don’t you want to show us about things in each room or something?”  Gulp!  Suddenly, I realized that the way I learned my Family/House/Oysterville history lessons isn’t quite the way it will work this time around.  And, just as suddenly, the teacher in me kicked in.

I awoke this morning with my ‘lesson plans’ completed. I fully expect our ‘classes’ and ‘field trips’ to be as much fun as last night’s wind-up experience was.  How did I get to be so lucky as to have two such wonderful ‘kids’ home for Christmas, indulging me in my desire to give them Lessons for Posterity?  I hope I’m up to the task.

Let the lessons begin!

Deferring Judgement

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Time and time again, I have found that my first knee-jerk impressions of things should be kept to myself.  And, time and time again, I have ignored that little voice in my head that says, “If you act on this impulse, Sydney, you will be sorry.”  I don’t know why I go ahead and act anyway.  It is a curse.

So… here I go again.  This time it’s about the invitation to an exhibition received a day or so ago from the venerable Washington State Historical Society.  I truly have no idea what the exhibit will be about beyond what the (to me) very startling announcement said:  “GLASNOST & GOODWILL:  Citizen Diplomacy in the Northwest.”

On the reverse, an explanation to “Dear Members and Friends:  You are invited to a special evening preview of our newest exhibit…an in-depth exploration of how citizen diplomacy in Washington and the greater Northwest contributed to the thaw of the Cold War.”

Say what?!?  They’ve got to be kidding!  I really couldn’t give a fig about the contribution of the NW or any other place to the thawing of the Cold War – not right now.  Not when things look to be pretty dicey with Russia.  What is this all about, anyway?  A plea for us Northwesterners to be diplomatic once again?  Is it a commentary on our present-day difficulties with our democratic voting process and it’s apparent interference by Russia?  What…?

Like most people born around the time of World War II, I lived through the Cold War years.  I remember the bomb shelter our neighbors built.  I remember the faculty meetings when I was first teaching during which we were told that if worse-came-to-worse during school hours, our place was with the children until each and every one could be collected by a parent.  Since my husband and I were both teachers… what of our own children?  Oh yes… I well remember the anxieties of the Cold War.  Years and years and years of wondering about that red telephone at the White House.

The invitation further says, “Join us for [a] presentation by special guest Dr. Richard Scheuerman,  Professor Emeritus at Seattle Pacific University, about the remarkable 200 year history of friendship between the peoples of Russia and America.”  All very well and good, say I.  But, what about that old standby, “timing is everything”?

I know I should go and see, first-hand, what the exhibit and the presentation are all about.  Will I?  Maybe.  It depends what else is happening on October 5th…  I’m not feeling very compelled to learn about our historic relationship with Russia.  Maybe later when we’ve managed to sort out a few pressing domestic problems.  Maybe.

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.

The Days of Infamy

Sunday, September 11th, 2016
9/11 - AP Photo

9/11 – AP Photo

I woke up this morning remembering the September 11th of fifteen years ago.  It was a Tuesday and we were ‘sleeping in’ after a big weekend celebration for my mother’s 90th birthday.  A phone call from North Caroline woke the household.  It was Frances Mitchell’s pilot son who had received an early a.m. standby alert.  He was calling to tell his mother to stay put.

Too late.  Frances and her friend Dick had left the day before to drive down the coast.  “Something has happened,” he said.  “Turn on your television set.”  And so we sat with Charlie and Marta and watched the horror of the day unfold.  Charlie decided to drive his rental car back to L.A. despite the contract he had signed to return it to PDX.  Marta stayed an extra day and then went up to the San Juans to visit friends as previously planned.  I’m not sure what we did.  Only that first part of the day is forever etched in memory.

FDR Delivers Pearl Harbor Speech, 12-08-1941

FDR Delivers Pearl Harbor Speech, 12-08-1941

It was “a date which will live in infamy” as President Roosevelt had said of December 7, 1941 and, like Pearl Harbor Day, 9/11 would be forever etched in our minds.  I was five when Pearl Harbor was bombed and I remember clearly sitting in front of our big console radio with my mom and dad, listening to FDR’s speech.  If I didn’t exactly understand the words, I fully realized that something terrible and important had happened.  My dad’s tense expression and my mother’s anxious insistence that I sit in her lap while she held me tight told me more than the tinny-sounding words coming from far, far away.

The other date that is clearly etched in the minds of my generation, of course, is November 22, 1963 – the day President Kennedy was shot.  I was in the middle of teaching a math lesson to my second grade class at Southgate School in Hayward when the principal came to the door and beckoned me into the hallway with the news.  At that point, JFK was still alive.  Teachers were informed but we were cautioned not to tell our classes…yet.

November 22, 1963

November 22, 1963

I’m sure there are people far wiser than I who could tell us why those days of shocking uncertainty stick in our minds so vividly – more clearly defined than most joyous celebrations that we’ve also experienced over the years.  Why do we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and then, not two months later, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated?  Not that I’m am regretting those memories… We need to remember.  Just as we need to redouble our efforts toward peace and harmony and understanding.  Now more than ever.

Rolling on through those Triple Digits

Saturday, June 25th, 2016


Southwest Roadscape

Southwest Roadscape

In some ways, a twenty-first century road trip is more a “beam me up, Scotty” experience than a “head ‘em up, move ‘em out” sort of ordeal.  I’m talking air conditioning, cruise control, books-on-cds, etc. here.  All those ‘creature comforts’ that we’ve incorporated into modern car travel that make the miles fly by in relative comfort.

As we rolled through Arizona yesterday and we watched the “outside temperatures” soar into the triple digits, I thought about those days of my childhood when the radiator would overheat, the tires would go flat and traveling in summer was always as much ordeal as pleasure.  It was when “horses sweat, men perspire, women glow” were words to live by. (Well, maybe not the horse part so much.)  Road trips were definitely Adventures with a capital ‘A.’I

On Our Dashboard

On Our Dashboard

have memories of interminable roadside construction delays, of driving with all windows open despite having to breathe the dust stirred up from miles of unpaved, graveled roads, and of carrying extra water and two spare tires against the inevitable breakdowns of one sort or another.  Getting ‘roadside assistance’ was a matter of waiting for a kindly motorist to stop or maybe even leaving the carat the side of the road and hitching a ride to the nearest service station. No cell phones.  No rest stops.  No radio reception.  Road trips were hard work.

Our Santa Fe, New Mexico to Hurricane, Utah leg yesterday was really a piece of cake.  The 570 miles sped by as we listened to one of the Charles Todd “Bess Crawford mysteries and enjoyed the view from our 65° cocoon.  Outside temperature: 107!  Really?

A Perfect Ending to a Day of Travel!

A Perfect Ending to a Day of Travel!

“But it’s a dry heat,” everyone says, apologetically.

“Doesn’t really matter.  We’re enjoying it all,” is our response.  Especially when compared to what we remember from ‘the olden days’ of travel!

Jim Crow and the Community Historians

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Image_5Wednesday might be hump-day in some places, but here on the Peninsula it’s paper day and, for four months of the year for a lucky few of us, it’s Community Historian Day.  As a long-time retiree, I discount the hump-day part.  In fact, the days go by way too fast to celebrate the passage of time.  But I do love to take a quick, online peek at the Chinook Observer on Wednesday mornings – especially on the days that I can’t get my mail until later in the day.  (For those who don’t know, newspaper delivery on the Peninsula involves the U.S. Post Office.)

Sometimes, the headline news segues right into the Community Historian class.  Today (which is the final 2016 community historian gathering) couldn’t offer a better example.  “JIM SAULES, NOT JIM CROW” says the front page.  And then, “Effort underway to change racist names in Wahkiakum County.”

We’ve talked about Jim Saules in our Community Historian class.  He is a not-so-well known historic figure in Pacific County.  Saules was the black cook aboard the U.S.S. Peacock, one of Commander Charles Wilkes’ U. S. Exploring Expedition vessels. On July 17, 1841, under the command of Lt.  William Hudson, the brig “sailed straight for a shoal west of Cape Disappointment and grounded” according to Lucille McDonald in her book, Coast Country published in 1966.

USS Peacock , Drawing 1813

USS Peacock – 1813 Drawing

Subsequently, the crew were taken to Fort Vancouver to await Wilkes – except for Saules who was next heard of three years later in Oregon City where he became embroiled with an Indian named Cockstock.  Saules was found guilty, popular opinion mounted against him, and Indian agent (and later founder of Pacific City) Elijah White, advised him to leave the Willamette Valley.  Saules headed for Astoria where he found employment as a cook and later moved back across the river to the area where the Peacock had stranded.

McDonald’s spin on “Saule”[sic] paints him as a brigand, a squatter, and in general, a shady character.  The Observer, on the other hand, identifies him as “a multi-lingual fiddler, bar-pilot, a ship’s captain and an entrepreneur” and goes on to say:  “He was one of just two people to have been publicly flogged in Astoria, and was probably the catalyst for Oregon’s infamous black-exclusion policy.  But all he got for his trouble were three Columbia River landmarks with miserably racist names; Jim Crow Creek, Jim Crow Hill and Jim Crow Point.”

Whether or not Saules had direct connections to any of those landmarks is up for conjecture.  I am probably in a minority, but I vote for leaving the names the same.  Changing them, at least in my mind, once again white-washes our history.  People need to know that Jim Crow was not an actual person, but came from a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African Americans.  ‘Jim Crow’ came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States.  And, for whatever reasons, our forefathers saw fit to commemorate the expression by using it as a place name.

"Jim Crow" - Minstrel Show Tune, 1930

“Jim Crow” – Minstrel Show Tune, 1930

I seriously question whether changing the ‘Jim Crow’ name would be a good thing.  Don’t we need to take ownership of our history, racist attitudes and all?  When I was in school there were no mentions of African-Americans in my history book.  It took the Civil Rights Movement several decades later to begin to raise our consciousness.  I fail to see how eliminating the evidence of our shameful attitudes does anything more than continue the cover-up.

But maybe my thinking is askew.  My friend Andrew Emlen who takes kayaking excursionists on the river says the name ‘Jim Crow Point’ is “an embarrassment.”  I agree.  But if it prompts some righteous discussion with people who don’t know the history, then I think that’s a good thing.  I hope I can talk about it a bit with the Community Historians this morning.  I’d like their take on it.

The Shape of Things that Were

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015


Oyster Schooner "Louisa Morrison"

Oyster Schooner “Louisa Morrison”

Yesterday, I found one of those historical puzzle pieces that I’m forever looking for. It was in realizing its shape that finally caused it to surface. If I were a jigsaw puzzle aficionado like some of my friends, I might have solved the mystery long ago. But, I have to confess that though I think about shape in many general ways – the shape of things to come, the shape our old gazebo is in, getting my office ship-shape – I seldom think of the shape of things well known to me.

Take coins, for instance. The only consideration I give their shape is in terms of size. In my mind, some coins are larger than others, but they are all round. I’m sure that the numismatists among us would scoff at my naiveté, although I have to say that I did consult a serious coin collector friend years ago about this very historical quest; no amount of research on his part uncovered the puzzle piece.

Louis Wachsmuth and Plate of Native Oysters

Louis Wachsmuth and Plate of Native Oysters

It was my mother who long ago prompted my curiosity on this particular subject. When telling the story of Oysterville’s heyday in the 1850s, she always said, “A plate of oysters in San Francisco cost a Mexican slug which was worth two and one-half twenty-dollar gold pieces.” And in a little booklet called “Oysterville’s Beginnings” she wrote exactly the same information except that she used the term “groat” instead of “slug.” (Perhaps she thought that the modern reader would confuse slug-the-coin with slug-the-gastropod.)

Try as I might, I’ve never found information about such a coin – slug or groat. Until yesterday. I was reading an article by A.B. Roberts written in 1914 about his stay on Shoalwater Bay in 1853. He reminisced about being paid for his labors in constructing a mill at the mouth of Salmon Creek – One Sunday morning Mr. Watkins wanted to change small gold for a $50 “slug octagon.” I said those pieces were only worth $48. Mr. Watkins said “You don’t like our money.” I said “I don’t like those slugs…”

$50 1851 Slug

$50 1851 Slug

When I Googled “Octagonal slug worth $50 in 1853”… voilà! On an auction site I found it – complete with photos and description! The $50 ingots or “slugs” or “Californians” did pass as money; for most of 1851-53 they were the principal accepted currency in California… Five different ‘lots’ were listed, each containing one coin (if I’m reading the information correctly.) All lots sold at auction and ‘realized’ from $11,500 to $36,800.

My mom would go on to say that, to the best of her knowledge, no one had ever found any gold here in Oysterville – not even those cheeky people with metal detectors who we chase out of the cemetery now and then. Nor have I ever heard of an oysterman who uncovered any gold on the bay. Nor of anyone finding a treasure trove while digging in their garden. Never mind that Charlie Nelson used to tell about the men pitching gold pieces outside the saloons here in town when he was a boy…

Anyway, I’ve never been on the quest for an actual gold piece. Just the knowledge that there was such a coin – a slug worth two and one-half twenty dollar gold pieces – is satisfactory in the extreme. Although…

and speaking of oral history…

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Family Storytellers - Harry and Dora Espy, 1896Papa and Aunt Dora circa 1896

Family Storytellers — Harry and Dora Espy, 1896

As most of us know, the spoken word is tricky – especially in the matter of reporting the what, when, where or how of events. Even first-hand accounts must be looked at through the filter of the speaker’s biases and acuity of vision, but by the time the story is told and retold by others – or even remembered later by the original speaker – things often change.

The age-old children’s game of “Telephone” is the clearest example of how words are misheard and ideas are changed as we tell a story again and again. We all know, though we often pay little attention, that ‘gossip’ can’t be quoted as gospel. We tend to put more credence into ‘first-hand accounts’ when they are written down. We also tend to place confidence in stories passed from generation to generation in cultures that have perfected their process of oral tradition — often by almost ritualized re-tellings.

Many of the family stories that I ‘know’ have come to me through several generations of telling. I am always a bit skeptical, especially of the details, and most especially when a story puts one of my forebears in a particularly good light. I try to repeat those stories exactly as I heard them but, if I write them down, I make the supreme effort to check out the facts insofar as I am able.

'Nahcati's Grave' by Earl Thollander

‘Nahcati’s Grave’ by Earl Thollander

The story of Oysterville’s founding is a case in point. All my life I’ve heard the tale of my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy and his friend I.A. Clark arriving here by canoe on April 12, 1854 in the midst of a rainy nor’wester. Their visibility was zero and had it not been for an Indian thumping on a hollow log on shore, they likely would have missed the Peninsula entirely.

Some years ago I found a written account of that story, recorded by my grandfather in an interview with his father, R.H. The one discrepancy between this first-hand written account and the oral account was the name of the Indian. I had always heard that it was Nahcati; in the written account, his name was ‘Old Klickeas.’

But look, though I might, I could never find anything that Clark had written, Although I knew two of his great-granddaughters very well – Edith Olson and Lucille Wilson – their story of Oysterville’s founding differed not a bit from the one told in our family, and none of us was ever sure if it came from their forebears or ours.

Envelope with I.A. Clark History

Envelope with I.A. Clark History

So, it came as a great cause for celebration (as well as a bit of a relief) when an envelope with Clark’s version of the story turned up not long ago. Written on the envelope was:

This envelope contains a history by my father Isaac Alonozo Clark about when he and Robert Espy landed in Bruceport, Shoalwater Bay (as it was then called), and later went together to Oysterville and lied together for a while in a log house which they built in 1854. He wrote the enclosed history later in 1942. His own handwriting. If I can figure out all his writing then copy for my brother Henry when the war is over.

Unfortunately, the notation is not signed, nor is the two-page letter that it contained. However, for starters, there are not many basic inconsistencies between the Clark and Espy versions of the story – only that they began their journey to Oysterville from Bruceport in the Clark version and from Astoria in the Espy version. And maybe there’s a bit of truth to both. Could they have begun in Astoria as Espy said, and stopped off at Bruceport where Clark picked up the story? I await the next installment.

Something Fishy in Ocean Park

Saturday, January 24th, 2015
Bay Avenue, Ocean Park - January 23, 2015

Bay Avenue, Ocean Park – January 23, 2015

I had to laugh at the sign out in front of Okie’s Sentry Market in Ocean Park yesterday: “Cod Pieces – 2.99 lb.”  Granted, cod piece was two words, not one. But even so. I wonder if Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have seen the humour. More to the point, I wonder how many of the passers-by on Bay Avenue even notice anything odd about it.

For those who are into classical theater or costuming and know about codpieces (one word), it’s a sure-fire chuckle. As defined by Wikipedia, is: A codpiece (from Middle English: cod, meaning “scrotum”) is a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men’s trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was held closed by string ties, buttons, or other methods. It was an important item of European clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries, and is still worn in the modern era in performance costumes….

Lost Portrait of Henry viii by Hans Holbein the Younger

Lost Portrait of Henry viii by Hans Holbein the Younger

The codpiece evolved from practical necessity. In the 14th century, men’s hose were two separate legs worn over linen drawers, leaving a man’s genitals covered only by a layer of linen. As the century wore on and men’s hemlines rose, the hose became longer and joined at the centre back but remained open at the centre front. The shortening of the cote or doublet resulted in under-disguised genitals, so the codpiece began life as a triangular piece of fabric covering the gap.As time passed, codpieces became shaped and padded to emphasize rather than to conceal, reaching their peak of size and decoration in the 1540s before falling out of use by the 1590s.

Even, so… what would have been the price of a codpiece? In the article, “Clothing in Shakespeare’s Time,” theatrical designer and collector Percy Macquoid (1852-1925) wrote: Her husbands clothes consisted of a gowne five shillings, a dublet and jacket six shillings and eight pence. Two payr hoses two shillings and eightpence. Two sherts one shilling and sixpence. A blak sleved cote three shillings and sixpence. A Fryse one shilling and eightpence. A canvass dublet tenpence, a cappe sixpence.

My best effort at calculating the value of one of Shakespeare’s shillings when compared to today’s dollars – $17.93. And still I know nothing at all about the price of a codpiece. Certainly it wasn’t sold by weight…