A History of Things

Historical nonfiction comes in all shapes and sizes. There is the grand sweeping kind that tries to tell the story of a whole era or a monumental event. Then there are the social histories that see history from the perspective of a particular class or group of people. Another popular type is the historical biography that illustrates the life of an important individual. I’m an indiscriminate lover of all these varieties but I must admit I hold a special place in my heart for a historical work that zeros in on a specific object and tells its story through time. In addition to having a pleasingly quirky and often obsessive focus, these books also provide the service of telling history from a different perspective. At their best, they can help us to rethink assumptions about what is truly important and give us the rare gift of learning something new.  Here at the library, we have many of these histories of things. Listed below are a few of the standouts.

Concrete Planet by Robert Courland
concreteplanetWe take it for granted every day. The house you live in, the sidewalk you walk on, the countless bits of infrastructure that make civilization possible: they all rely on concrete. But where did it come from? Courland guides the reader through the fascinating tale of a substance that was created long ago, but only recently rediscovered after centuries of being lost. In addition to many interesting facts, the author also reveals a few disturbing ones. Chief among them is the fact that the concrete of today is not as strong as that of our ancestors despite many modern manufacturers’ claims. It turns out that those Roman ‘ruins’ have a much longer shelf life than a modern office building.

Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht by Bryan Burkhart and David Hunt
airstreamThis book is many things. It is a biography of Wally Byam the inventor of the Airstream. It is a cultural history of the Airstream, documenting its effect on the idea of recreation in America. Interestingly, it is also a history of the 1959 Cape Town to Cairo Airstream caravan. All of these parts are skillfully told with a dazzling array of archival images that make this book quite beautiful. If you want to learn more about the trend of mobile living in America definitely take a look at Home on the Road: The Motor Home in America by Roger White for a wider angle view of this phenomenon.

cellphoneThe Cellphone: The History and Technology of the Gadget That Changed the World by Guy Klemens
It is now a cliché to have a film demonstrate to the audience that it is ‘from the 80s’ by having a character whip out a cellphone the size of a loaf of bread. But this book goes way beyond that image to tell the history of the cellphone, which actually dates back to the 1940s. While a fun book, this title is definitely heavy on the technology of the cellphone with detailed discussions of concepts such as bandwidth and analog vs. digital so don’t feel guilty about skimming a chapter or two.

Digital Retrodigitalretro by Gordon Laing
This book tells the story of the formative years of the personal computer, 1975-1988, through the machines themselves. Each model is lovingly documented, photographed and provided with a detailed backstory. This was a frenetic period for the personal computer, with big corporations going head to head with eccentric professors, amateur inventors and kids working out of their garages. Definitely check this book out and visit the thrilling days of yesteryear when we were bowled over by the fact that the Commodore 64 had 64KB of RAM and BASIC was considered the programming language of the future.

theyugoThe Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic
You tend to think of history as a record of the ‘winners’ but as this book points out, epic failure can be instructive as well. Hailing from the former Yugoslavia, and riding a very brief wave of popularity in the mid1980s primarily due to a price tag under $4000, the Yugo turned out to be one of the most flawed cars ever built. The tale of how it even got to the commercial market in the first place, with the help of an overeager U.S. State Department and a Detroit auto industry reluctant to build cheap subcompact cars, is fascinating and instructive stuff.

jetpackdreamsJetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (but Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never Was by Mac Montandon
This is the story of one man’s quest to answer the burning, to some, question: Why can’t we all have our own working Jetpack? Popular culture, think Buck Rogers or Boba Fett, has been promising us one for a long time now. It turns out that prototypes were actually developed in the 1960s but funding quickly dried up so the Jetpack is now the province of a dedicated band of aficionados. The author travels the country to seek out these dedicated few to see if any of us will be able to commute to work via Jetpack in our lifetimes.

So if you are planning a foray into historical nonfiction, why not avoid the big picture and focus on the small stuff? The Devil is in the details after all.

Inside the Northwest History Room: Yearbooks

1924 Nesika page

Click to see detail

Through this blog I’ve had a chance to talk about a couple of the resources that get heavily used in the Northwest History Room (namely the Polk City directories and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps). While there are many different areas of our collection that see frequent use, the Polks and Sanborns are joined by our yearbook collection to make up our ‘Big Three’ of local history reference materials. This year we began the massive task of digitizing our collection with the aim of getting them all online. So far we’ve received scans of all of our Everett High School Nesikas; in 2015 we’re hoping to do the same with the Cascade High School Vista. Now comes the fun but time-consuming work of uploading and describing all those pages of history in our database, but I’m not here to bore you with that!

1916 yearbook page

Click to see detail

So why are the yearbooks so important to us and the work that we do? Mainly because they’re very important to the people who contact us. Whether it’s a walk-in to our room or a phone call from overseas, people seek scans from our yearbooks for a variety of reasons. Most people are doing genealogical research; the Nesika goes back to 1909, so there are a few generations of Everett residents contained within them. In some circumstances yearbook photos are actually acceptable forms of identification, so we get individuals and family members seeking them for a variety of reasons. One afternoon I helped a walk-in researcher locate photos of their birth mom whose face they had never seen.

Aside from being of interest for personal or nostalgic reasons, our yearbook collection tells us a lot of general information about Everett’s history as it grows and adapts to changes in local and national society. I’ve only just begun working through our scans but from the beginning in 1909 to the farthest I’ve reached, 1930, I’ve seen the girls’ hair shorten along with the length of their athletic costumes. Also striking to see is the rapidly increasing participation of females in different school sports and the addition of new events like field hockey and swimming. In the boys’ athletics one can watch the rise of the legendary Enoch Bagshaw era of Everett High School football, which led to a string of championships (opens an MP3 of our Bagshaw podcast).1922 Girls Hockey team

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Some of the history documented in these yearbooks can be sad or uncomfortable. The budding Nesika series goes ominously silent in 1917 and doesn’t resume until 1919, with that year’s volume including a memorial for the students and alums who lost their lives in the First World War. Other pages in 1919 display long lists of those who served and returned. In some volumes there are pages featuring minstrel show lineups, racially and ethnically insensitive jokes, and advertisements with black-face caricatures. The jarring nature of how casual and deeply ingrained racism was during those decades helps remind us of where we’ve come from as a society and how to continue moving forward.

In addition to reading between the lines to glean cultural information from the yearbook collection, we also get to learn about Everett’s commerce and industry. Starting in the 1920s the yearbook staff sold advertising slots to local businesses. Through these ads, many repeated from year to year, one can get a picture of what businesses were common. Also present are ads from many of the major employers in the area such as Sumner Iron Works, local paper and timber mills, and packing companies presumably to entice recent graduates to join the ranks of the working class.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Whether it’s family information, social context, or just enjoying some of the vintage artwork, you can find out all kinds of things by paging through our yearbooks. We hope that our future online collection will make this personal connection with local history more easily established for those near and far. In the meantime, scans are available at any time by request, or can be viewed at the Northwest History Room (the hard copies of the yearbooks are there as well, and are fun to look through). I will also be featuring interesting tidbits I come across during this project on our Northwest History Room tumblr – be sure to keep an eye out.

Band Books Week

Just last night I was thinking how indescribably important music is to me. I started playing organ at age 4, then guitar, viola, trumpet, French horn, mandolin. And along the way I began composing and studied this in college for some 12 years. I’ve played in various rock bands since the early 80’s, currently play in two. Music is the thing that keeps me going. So imagine my joy to hear about an entire week celebrating books about bands:  Band Book Week. Here are but a few of the titles available at Everett Public Library. Bands 1-3 Motley Crüe: The Dirt
Cockroaches, rats, piles of beer cans, Tommy Lee and the boys, alcohol, drugs, music and girls. Everything one could want in a heavy metal band biography.

Jonas Brothers: A Big Buddy Book
Embarrassed to admit that you’re still in love with Kevin, Joe, and Nick? Well my friend, you are not alone. This book is aimed at the younger crowd but will certainly satisfy those more mature Jonas fans as well. The pages are Burnin’ Up with interesting tidbits, so read it Tonight. No need to be Paranoid, just wait A Little Bit Longer and the Jonas juggernaut will come to you!

Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys
Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Beach Boys? No, there is not. This book looks at 50 songs by the seminal California surfer band. As well as the band’s history, its influence on current artists and culture is examined.

Bands 4-6 The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard
In Seattle we claim him as our own. No one else has ever played guitar like Jimi, probably no one ever will. Here we find photos from 1967 of Jimi and the lads at the height of their experience, perhaps the finest ever taken. This book is worth a look for any fan.

I and I: Bob Marley
Poems and paintings bring Bob Marley’s biography to life in this children’s book. Some of the Jamaican terminology might prove incomprehensible, but this beautiful book is well worth a look.

The Clash
At the front of the punk rock movement, and then careening around a hairpin turn to create London Calling, considered by many one of the greatest rock albums ever. While many punk groups demonstrated little intelligence or creativity, the Clash brought reggae into their first album, featured thoughtful lyrics, and crafted clever and enjoyable songs. This book is created by the band and includes materials previously unavailable for publication. If you don’t know The Clash, take advantage of this chance to meet them. Bands 7-9U2 by U2
Whenever I think of U2, I recall a Ben Stiller skit where he portrayed Bono saying, “I’m not actually a god, I just play one on TV.” And while the band has become a frequent target of parody, there is no denying their impressive success. I discovered the lads with their first album, Boys, and this remains my favorite, but the remainder of their catalogue reads like a world’s greatest hits list. So read about their origins and rise to fame, praise them, mock them and perhaps learn, like Bono, to be a god.

Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones
Much to my eternal surprise, this former underground American punk band has grown to be an American icon. Their songs are frequently heard on television commercials and myriad bands imitate their style and cover their songs. This is the no-holds-barred story of the Ramones, filled with bad decisions, in-fighting, drugs, and bad health. Gabba gabba hey, read this one today!

Radiohead and Philosophy:  Fitter Happier More Deductive
I have to admit, Radiohead came into their own sometime after I stopped listening to new bands on a regular basis. So I’ve never thoroughly absorbed their oeuvre. However, I know them to be a creative, innovative band. This heavy-hitting book looks at the influence of big-time philosophers on the band.

Yes indeed, I do love music, so…. What? What do you mean it’s not really Band Books Week? I gotta check this out, dear Reader. I’ll get back to you.

Making Fantasy Football a Reality

I was a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan as a kid, and there are three big reasons why:

1. I lived in St. Louis between the time the Cardinals left for Arizona and when the Rams moved there in 1995. I had to look outside my city for some TDs.
2. Eventually, Joe Montana moved from the 49ers to the Chiefs. Swoon!
3. A boy I had a huge crush on wore a KC Chiefs jacket and so, really, I never stood a chance.

winning fantasy football stephen noverI’d watch games on the weekend on an old black-and-white television I was lucky enough to have in my room. I’d stay up late to watch the scores on TV whenever a game wasn’t televised. I’d try to talk to friends or family about the Chiefs but aside from my crush-worthy dreamboat, who I couldn’t approach due to my nerves and shyness, no one was interested. No one seemed to share my love of the game. I suspect this has less to do with my mediocre understanding of the NFL and more to do with the fact that in St. Louis, Cardinals baseball was, and still is, the majority of residents’ focus. They didn’t have time for football, and they didn’t have time for me.

Wah wah.

Let’s skip forward. The Rams moved to St. Louis at the same time I was starting high school. I was still a ways away from the confident, boisterous person I am today but I was starting to come out of my shell and develop my own likes and dislikes based less on what cute boys wore on their backs and more on my own fast-changing opinions. At some point I had to make a choice: I could stay up late to watch the Chiefs or Conan O’Brien. There was no contest, and I remain Team Coco today. My love for the game faded and I’m sad to say that as an adult who dropped her cable TV subscription years ago, I barely have time for the Super Bowl.

To me, St. Louis never really came to embrace the NFL quite like Seattle does. Now that I live in Seahawks country I am exposed to the game by proxy as coworkers and neighbors share in the Hawks’ wins and losses. I still haven’t gotten back my intense love of the game, but I think that may change. I have discovered fantasy football.

Fantasy football combines the love of the game, obsession with statistics, and dreams of your own perfect team together into one solitary, wonderful hobby. Or lifestyle. Hey, I’m not judging. I seriously don’t know what to call it!

There are several free and easy ways to get started building your own team, one of which is directly on the NFL website. I’m working on putting my own dream team together for this season and trying to recruit like-minded friends to join forces to form our own league next season. In a league everyone drafts their team from one group of players, meaning one football player can only be on one fantasy team. Drafting can get dicey, so I’m preparing a list of tiebreakers and other hopefully fair ways to settle our inevitable disputes.

I’m glad I have a year to get my brain wrapped around fantasy football, because there is a lot to learn. The library has a fantastic resource you can check out called Winning Fantasy Football: How to Play and Win Your Fantasy Football League Every Year by Stephen Nover. This book is packed with everything I don’t know about the game, and weighs in at almost 300 pages. I’m also going to rely on The Everything Kids’ Football Book by Greg Jacobs. There’s a nice, tidy, 10 page chapter on fantasy football that does a really great job of explaining the basics. But I’m already familiar with many of the concepts because I am obsessed with a little TV show called The League

league season 1The League takes place in Chicago and centers around an eight man fantasy football league. Each season of the show covers a single football season and follows the completely juvenile antics of league players, their jobs, their families, and their lives in general. The League is a completely raunchy and immature show, which is why it has become one of my favorite shows of all-time. It’s semi-scripted, which means that the writers come up with the basic plot points and leave the actors, who are all amazing comics in their own right, to spitball and improvise the dialogue. Comedians Nick Kroll (Ruxin), Mark Duplass (Pete), Paul Scheer (Andre), Jon Lajoie (Taco), Stephen Rannazzisi (Kevin), Katie Aselton (Jenny), and Jason Mantzoukas (Rafi-my favorite!) bring their own individual voices and styles to the characters they portray–and I can’t get enough of it.

I spoke to the DVD selector here at the library, who told me the library will be acquiring this immensely funny and completely dysfunctional TV show for the collection later this year. While I don’t have a link to the catalog for you, I suggest you keep checking the waiver wire and you’ll be able to pick it up when it becomes a free agent. Or whatever we fantasy football players say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go draft my team. I think I’ll follow the lead of Rafi from The League and try to pick up The Hulk via Bruce Banner. As Rafi once sagely stated, “Hey, it’s fantasy football. So the Hulk should be able to be on the team.”

Inside the Northwest History Room: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn 1914 title pageHere in the Northwest History Room of the Everett Public Library, we get frequent visitors looking into the history of buildings and land usage. One of the first resources we point people to is our collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. We have the set of 1914 maps, and a copy of the 1914 maps that was updated in 1955 to show the present state of the land. These dates come in handy for people who own older non-compliant structures because they can be grandfathered in if they predate 1955.

Aside from being able to check if your porch or outbuilding might be able to be grandfathered in, a lot can be gleaned from comparing the 1914 and 1955 maps. For example, in these two photos, you can see how the old Everett Flour Mill was gradually replaced by the sprawling Scott Paper Co. Mill (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Over time, this expansion meant altering the natural landscape by filling in some of the tidelands and building over them on piers. Roads and rails were altered to make way.

These two photos show the expansion of residential buildings that happened at 26th and Rainier. One can see how some buildings changed use, for example going from being a dwelling (‘D’) to being a shed, or gained or lost outbuildings. Some houses, surprisingly, remained mostly the same over the course of those 41 intervening years (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Lastly we have the key that helps us interpret all the colors and symbols used in the maps. This provides us with a wealth of information about the construction of the buildings, from the materials used on the exterior walls, to the types of windows and skylights present, to the appearance of the chimneys. This is really useful for people who are looking to restore their homes to an earlier appearance, or for people who are trying to discover what a demolished building looked like when no pictures exist (click image to enlarge).

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps key

 

I invite you to come down to the Northwest History Room at Everett Public Library’s Main Library to see what you can find out about your home, or any other Everett property you might be curious about – either David or I would be happy to show you how to use our map collection.

Did You Know? (Survival Edition)

plantsonthetrailJerusalem artichokes, serviceberries and blue camas roots are just a few of the plants you can eat to survive. Sacagawea taught Lewis and Clark about them and other plants on their expedition. This information is from the book Plants on the Trail with Lewis and Clark (chapter 3 “Plants as food”)  by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

We have a lot of books about Lewis and Clark and their journey, but I was particularly impressed with all of the sketches and copies of their original journal entries in Lewis & Clark: an Illustrated History  by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. The DVD of this book is based on is also available.

Ccookinglewis&clarkooking on the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Mary Anderson has a recipe for Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes and some other simple recipes that were probably staples in the men’s diets along the trail. I also discovered that there are no Jerusalem Artichokes in Jerusalem! However, looking at the Eyewitness Travel Guide for Jerusalem & the Holy Land with all the historic and cultural places that you can visit, really makes me want to travel there.

sacagaweaWithout Sacagawea, everyone on the expedition probably would have starved. There are many books about her. Most of them mention her finding and digging up roots and plants to help feed the men. Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark by Alana J White also tells the story of a near disaster with the boats and how she happened to save many books, clothes, a magnet, a microscope and the captain’s journals that were washed out of the pirogue. A few days later the two captains named a branch of the Musselshell River ‘Bird Woman’s River’ probably in her honor.

Northwest Foraging: the Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwestsassurvival by Doug Benoliel lists many plants that you may even have in your yard. There are drawings and directions for using the plants, and information about whether you use the bulbs, the stalk, the leaves or flowers.

We have many areas in Washington where you can “get away from it all.” In case you decide to go hiking or camping up in the mountains, you may want to take SAS Survival Handbook: for Any Climate, in Any Situation by John “Lofty” Wiseman with you. You will learn how to harvest and safely prepare food, make a camp, basic first aid and many other things that you hope you will never need to know!

 

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 2

In Part 1 of Adventures in Time and Space we looked at the history of that epic TV show, Doctor Who. In part 2 we will examine some of the books written about this pop culture juggernaut.

Hundreds of official and unofficial books exploring the show’s history and mythology are available. Here are a few of my favorites that are available at Everett Public Library.

Visual dictionaryDoctor Who: The Visual Dictionary is a large, glossy, colorful, official guide to the first four seasons of the revived series. The book is published by Dorling Kindersley (DK), who is known for their oversize illustrated books on hundreds of topics such as Ancient Egypt, Forensic Science, Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars. The books often have top-to-bottom and head-to-toe illustrations of their subjects, with detailed descriptions of the function of the various parts. So as one might expect, the Doctor, as well as foes such as the Cybermen, the Daleks, and the Sontarans are pictured from top-to-bottom with descriptions of the functions of uniforms, casings, and weaponry. There are also cross-sections of a few items from the Doctor Who universe such as the inner workings of the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, the Dalek Mothership, and a look inside a Dalek.

Lives and timesAnother slightly smaller but thicker official volume is Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times. Each chapter in the book tells the story of one of the 11 incarnations of the Doctor, first from a fictional point-of-view using diaries, memoirs, letters, and newspaper clippings written in the world of Doctor Who, and second from a real-life, behind-the-scenes point of view with quotes from each actor who plays the Doctor, co-stars, production team members and others connected to the program. For example, Harry Melling, who played Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin Dudley, is quoted about his grandfather Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, and the ‘wackiness’ and ‘boldness’ of Troughton’s acting. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is also quoted in the chapter on the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, in reference to Douglas Adams and the humor he injected into Doctor Who. Adams was the script editor on Doctor Who during the show’s 17th Season in 1979, just as his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was growing in popularity. Dawkins met ex-Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward (who was briefly married to Tom Baker in the early 1980s) at a party given by Douglas Adams: they were married in 1992. Dawkins also made a very brief appearance, being interviewed as himself on a news program, in the 2008 Doctor Who episode The Stolen Earth.

The VaultThe book that has captured my attention recently is the brilliant Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn. It’s a year by year celebration of the 50 years of Doctor Who and one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who books I’ve read. Right away the reader sees something that, as far as I know, has never been published before: a ¼ scale floor plan of studio D of the BBC’s Lime Grove studios, from the archive of Doctor Who’s first director, Waris Hussein. The floor plan shows the studio as it was laid out for the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child. Doctor Who was taped in the cramped Lime Grove facility for most of its first season between 1963 and 1964 and most of seasons five and six between 1967 and 1969. Each chapter starts with a summary of a year in the history of Doctor Who, followed by a topic relevant to that year such as the creation of Doctor Who, the role of the assistant, the concept of regeneration, violence in Doctor Who, Doctor Who fandom, the marketing of Doctor Who in the USA and so on. The book is illustrated with photos, artwork, production drawings, office memos, merchandise, costumes and props from the show and more. Doctor Who: The Vault is an impressive, beautiful, colorful book. It is a fitting celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who.

And still, this barely scratches the surface of what’s available. If you’re interested, take a look in the EPL catalog to find more material on Doctor Who. The catalog might appear small, but it’s bigger on the inside than you might think.