I live in Tacoma in the year 2010, but lately I've been obsessed with a particular day here, from over a century ago. It was May 22, 1903, the day President Theodore Roosevelt's private train pulled into the station and the sound of a 21 gun salute thundered over the waters of Commencement Bay, just as he stepped down from his rail car. Shortly after that moment, Roosevelt's lavishly decorated carriage rolled through town toward Wright Park and it seemed everyone was determined to get a glimpse of the president. A reporter for The Daily Ledger, described in exactly these words, the sight of "spanking northwesterners above the housetops, or dipping from every window." Back then you would only have to spend a nickel on the newspaper, in order to read about the event if you missed it.
I'm aware of the details of this day in history because I'm editing a book written by local author Michele Bryant. This gorgeous volume filled with photos, including many rare ones, will be published soon to benefit the Theodore Roosevelt Association. It documents Roosevelt's several visits to Washington State beginning with his first in 1903. Bryant is one of many Puget Sound writers we'll be especially grateful for in the future, because they are preserving our local history.
Did you ever feel the urge to do the same, to write down what you know, or the stories told by your parents and grandparents? Maybe your family is lucky enough to own artifacts with great stories behind them, like this modest example of Northwest Native American basket weaving from the Makah tribe. My grandfather bought it at the Pike Place Market in the 1920s, from the Makah woman who made it, and I grew up with this basket in our home.
Do you have your own special family stories, or want to record the events and life experiences that took place in your community long ago, before they're lost forever? If so, please read on. It's easier than you think to preserve and share your local history, and you don't even need to write a book. There are other, less time-consuming ways to publish and disseminate this information.
I interviewed writers from Everett to Olympia for an article published just this week, on a website called Neighborhood Life, the second of two I've had published there, on the topic of local history. The first featured Pierce County historian Andy Anderson, and his book "In the Shadow of the Mountain." This second article focuses on other ways to see your writing in print, through museums, historical societies, brochures and newsletters, on the web, and places you've never thought of. It contains useful insights and advice offered by authorities such as,
Drew Crooks, historian and author from Thurston County,
David Dilgard Everett Public Library, who is the author of books, articles, and more,
Priscilla Long, widely published writer, teacher, and Senior Editor of HistoryLink.org, and
Joe Follansbee, local journalist and Senior Editor of Fyddeye, a website about maritime history. He's also the author of "Ship Builders, Sea Captains, and Fishermen: The Story of the Schooner Wawona."
If you do decide to do this kind of writing, please do so responsibly. Carefully check and document what you represent as fact. Be exact with the details, dates, the spelling of names. It matters. There is nothing more upsetting than seeing published material concerning your own family or community that you know to be incorrect. Remember your obligation to future generations, and especially to the truth.
Now go call your Grandma and ask her to tell those stories again. Better yet, ask her about things she's never discussed before.
Watch out though. If you catch "local history fever" it can last a lifetime.
To read the article "Writing Local History - Options for Publication and Dissemination" please click here.
Makah basket photos courtesy of Robert Dickhoff.