When History Splashes Off the Page

You may recall I gave myself a list of reading challenges for 2014. They are all self-imposed and they all just randomly fell out of my brain one day in a burst of madness inspiration. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of my reading resolutions or you just want to review, here is the list of my reading inspirations:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular (see below)
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Up until now I thought of this list as only a clever way for me to have some ready-made books to blog about. However, I really didn’t expect anything mind-blowing to result. Then I decided to tackle number five, the super-popular designation. And guys, I finished reading this book three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. I have been unable to pick up another book since. This book broke me. I am stuck in a rut, afraid to pick up another book because it’s really not fair to that book to have to follow behind one so good as this one.

The boys in the boatUnless you’ve been living under a rock, or just not in the Pacific Northwest, everyone has been buzzing about The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The library first bought the book last June and I don’t think we’ve ever been successful at keeping a single copy on the shelf. As of this writing there are still twenty-two outstanding holds across all formats. I was lucky enough to snag an eBook copy. Pro tip: if you need a popular book quickly, the holds queues for eBooks tend to be far shorter than physical print copies.

So there I was: sitting curled up on the couch, Saturday morning, fresh-brewed coffee in hand. This was back before that big summer heat wave hit Seattle. It was just me and the title screen on my Kindle. I had no idea what was about to happen, how truly involved in this story I would become. I ended up creating countless highlights in my eBook of passages I thought embodied a person, idea, or event. I didn’t count on how difficult it would be to retrieve said highlights later. So you’ll have to keep with me as I try to put into words how incredibly magnificent this book was, and still is.

Joe Rantz was born in Spokane in 1914. His childhood and early adulthood are detailed throughout the book, juxtaposed with great inventions of the time, and a healthy dose of local, federal, and world history. His father invented as a hobby, but it was never enough to pay the bills. When Joe was still quite young his mother died. His father, heartbroken and searching for work, moved all over the Northwest. Sometimes he took Joe; sometimes he left Joe behind; sometimes he shipped Joe out to a relative’s house. As a result, Joe had a severely unstable childhood but also became extremely self-reliant. Being left behind in a half-built house in the wilderness outside of Sequim, while your father packs up his new family and leaves for parts unknown will do that to you.

By the time he got to the University of Washington in 1933, Joe was always second-guessing his worth. Despite working hard, and during the Great Depression no less, to not only scrape together tuition money but also find a place to live, Joe never really saw his strengths. Joe was used to hard work, but he thought he would finally feel like he fit in with like-minded people in college. Instead his threadbare clothes and deep poverty made him feel like an outcast from the very start of his college career.

Eventually, Joe managed to work his way onto the UW crew team. Despite his aptitude, dedication, and stamina, he saw that his place on the team was not permanent and never guaranteed. Coaches swapped students around on different boats, trying to find the right combination of rowers. This boat-swapping, coupled with his childhood of abandonment put Joe constantly on edge, fearful that he would be let go from the team just when he was starting to feel at home. Knowing that staying on the crew team was his only chance to stay in college, and have a shot at a good future, Joe was constantly worried but always striving to be better.

Over his freshman and sophomore years, his boat had its ups and downs in competitions and teammate personality conflicts. But it wasn’t until his junior year that his teammates became as close as family. In 1932 UW’s west coast rowing rivals, UC “Cal” Berkeley, had won Olympic gold. Entering the 1935 rowing season, everyone at both UW and Cal knew that their coach would be pushing them to fight for the chance at the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. And any team competing against Germany on their home turf during an oppressive time would, if they could win it…well, do I need to go on?

The Dust Bowl. Nazis. The Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power. All of this is set against our group of farm boys, working hard on the waters of Lake Washington. This is a true underdog story, one made more inspirational because every word of it is true. Pay special attention to the quotes from George Yeoman Pocock at the start of each chapter. He handcrafted all the racing shells at UW during Joe’s tenure, and he was wise beyond his years. I would love to read more about him and his equally humble beginnings and incredible life.

I really did not think I would like The Boys in the Boat, but was curious how a book about rowing could become so popular. I told my dentist I was going to read this book. He, an avid fisherman and happiest, I suspect, when he’s on the open water, said that it was also on his list to read this summer. I feel like I did us both proud. Look at me, reading a book about sports! But it’s so much more than that. If you, too, decide to give it a chance, prepare to be swept away at forty-five strokes per minute. Now that I’ve written this review I hope it releases me from the spell cast by Daniel James Brown. I’m going to crack open a new book tonight and test my theory.

In case you’re wondering, and lest us always remember, the boys in the boat:
Left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John “Johnny” White Jr., Gordon “Gordy” Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris. Kneeling: Bobby Moch

1936 UW Varsity Crew Team

De-tech-tives

detechtives

Recently I’ve noticed that television detectives’ detection skills have been replaced by technology. Between cell phones, email, tracking devices and the multitude of cameras that cover every nook and cranny of the earth, it’s nearly impossible for a modern TV criminal to operate in anonymity. This is a strange and drastic change from Dragnet days when phone dialing, ledger collation, footwork and thinking were involved in any arrest.

The YardThe Yard by Alex Grecian
What fascinates me is that, before modern techniques and technologies were created, police could catch criminals at all! In the novel The Yard author Alex Grecian portrays a squalid, horrifying London of 1890 where five-year-old children work dangerous jobs, living conditions for many are abysmal, and human life is held in little regard. Scotland Yard’s murder squad consists of 12 detectives who have roughly 400 murders per year to crack, and after the unsolved Jack the Ripper killings of 1888 public opinion of the police force’s skills is extremely low. Then the unthinkable occurs. A member of the murder squad, one of the men attempting to keep London safe, is brutally slaughtered. The team’s newest member is put in charge of the investigation, but there seems no hope in unearthing the crime’s perpetrator. Even after the Ripper murders, the idea of killing for pleasure is foreign to the detectives and they don’t know where to begin to find this new type of killer. But with the aid of Dr. Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist (and somewhat of a Sherlockian figure) the squad makes slow progress, although the murders do continue. This is crime solving at its most basic – follow paltry clues, cogitate, and find a killer.

keystone-kops-granger

These 1890’s were a time when it was relatively simple to be a successful murderer. Police had few tools-of-the-trade and criminals were able to easily disappear in obscurity. Here are a few titles that examine various aspects of the infancy of crime fighting.

Devil in the white cityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
While examining the amazing feats that went into constructing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Erik Larson also describes the activities of H.H. Holmes, a Chicago serial killer who used the draw of the World’s Fair to murder somewhere between 27 and 200 people in relative anonymity. In fact, it wasn’t until he left Chicago, continuing to commit homicides and other crimes, that Holmes was finally arrested in Boston a year later. His Chicago killings, however, remained unknown until the custodian of Holmes’s Chicago murder castle (you’ll have to read the book for those details) tipped off the police and Holmes’s murder victims were found. This true story shows how easy it was to operate as an invisible killer in the days before advanced technologies.

Great Pearl HeistThe Great Pearl Heist: London’s Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard’s Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Necklace by Molly Caldwell Crosby
This non-fiction account of an early 20th-century jewel heist details both the plans of the thieves and the methods used by Scotland Yard to catch them. In addition to being an engaging read, Crosby’s book highlights the importance of this case to the future of British crime fighting.

Poisoner's handbookThe Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
This entertaining book looks at the careers of New York’s first medical examiner and toxicologist. Surprisingly, these positions didn’t even exist until after World War I. Blum makes a potentially dull topic intriguing and understandable.

police corruption

As police forces moved into the 20th-century, corruption came to be accepted as a normal facet of law enforcement.

Breaking blueBreaking Blue by Timothy Egan
In 1935, during the dust bowl years, a spate of dairy robberies in the Spokane area resulted in the shooting death of Marshal George Conniff. Decades later, Sheriff Tony Bamonte of Pend Oreille County tried to shed light on the robberies and Conniff’s death. Author Timothy Egan paints a vivid picture of Spokane’s dirty underbelly and the role that law enforcement played in these crimes.

LA ConfidentialL.A. Confidential
This Oscar-winning movie portrays a shady LA police force that is rife with injustice and brutality. At a time when Hollywood was king, justice was elusive (put that on your movie poster!) and criminals often dwelt on both sides of the law.

victorian police

Certainly TV policing has little in common with reality, but then again, reality is far more interesting. So set aside your new-fangled DVDs and give an old-timey police investigatory book a try. At the very least, you’ll gain an appreciation for the accomplishments that were made with minimal means in less-than-hospitable conditions.

A Day in the Life: Local History Librarian

Last weekend the Northwest History Room celebrated its 37th anniversary. For those who are well acquainted with our local history department, this longevity comes as no surprise. The uninitiated, on the other hand, may be wondering what we’ve been doing with ourselves all this time. In order to giver you a clearer picture, I thought I’d take you through a day in my life as a local history librarian:

Picture of jar with image of the Everett courthouse on lid.Early in the day I received a call from a woman who had acquired a little porcelain jar. On the lid was a lovely painting of the 1897-8 Everett courthouse building, and on the bottom was an inscription related to ‘B. W. Fargo.’ My caller was interested to find out whatever she could about the building pictured, and if possible, her jar. I asked her if she could send me a photograph of the jar and told her I would see what I could find out.

Black and white photograph of courthouseMy first stop was to check our resource files. Our department keeps files of clippings and other documents in a row of file cabinets, but we also keep a large digital file of scanned documents and photos, as well as typed histories of people and places. These files serve as an excellent shortcut when we’re looking into notable people and places in the area, because a lot of the work has already been done in the past. Here I was able to find the exact dates of the courthouse, as well as some historic photographs to send the caller.

Photograph of the ruins of the courthouseThis particular courthouse was designed and built in 1897 by architect A. F. Heide at the corner of Wetmore and Pacific. It was operational until 1909, when it was ravaged by a fire. County operations moved into an adjacent annex while Heide oversaw restoration work. Little more than load-bearing walls were able to be salvaged, so a new Mission-style facade was constructed and opened in 1911.

Photograph of Polk City DirectoriesNext up was figuring out who or what ‘B. W. Fargo’ referred to. For this I turned to our collection of Polk City Directories. Polks, as we call them, are similar to today’s phone books, except they lacked phone numbers in the earlier years and generally gave more information out about the businesses and individuals listed. You can often use Polks to find out a person’s occupation, spouse’s name, address, and sometimes even annual salary. When looking up a business you can find out the address, owner, and type of business.

Scan of Polk directory pageBy looking in the Polks, I discovered that Bert W. Fargo and Elizabeth Goerig owned and operated a business at 1809 Hewitt Avenue (blocks from the courthouse) called Fargo B W & Co. This business was concerned with selling crockery, art goods, furniture, and other domestic products. According to our Polks, the company operated under that name from roughly 1901 to 1905.  While there are no records in our collection from this business, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that this company either produced or commissioned souvenir ceramics of the courthouse and possibly other Everett landmarks. From the dates in our Polks, we may be able to date the jar between 1901-1905.

I was able to find all of this information out using our resources in about two hours. We frequently do the same for visitors looking into the history of their families or buildings that they’re curious about. That’s just a small portion of the work that we do as local history specialists. If you’d like to learn more about our work, or if you have a local history question related to the Everett/Snohomish County area, please feel free to get in touch.

Grilled Salmon and DEET

Lisa with apple in front of mountains

Demonstrating advanced trail food preparation

When my husband and I moved here from Chicago, I thought that I was finally coming into my element. Mountains, ocean – all the things the Midwest couldn’t provide. We had mastered what the flatland could offer us in regards to camping, so we were ready to up our game. For those of you lucky enough to have been born and raised in this lovely region, you know that my attitude was like thinking I was ready to play in the MLB because I batted cleanup in t-ball. Thankfully my husband was more experienced in these matters, and managed to keep up safe, dry, happy, and entertained in the wild. He’s since joined the Mountaineers and has been scrambling on the tops of mountains, while I have contented myself with scrambling eggs at camp and taking photos of mountains from the relative safety of familiar flat land.

Needless to say, I have some learning to do. I think I’m finally over the hump of thinking I’m always on the verge of being eaten by bears. Seeing a bear retreat in horror from my loud approach last weekend helped me realize that they don’t want to deal with me either. Now I’m going through the enjoyable process of checking out the library’s resources on all things outdoors. I know this isn’t a shock, but there is a lot here to get through.

Scout's Backpacking Cookbook

Not surprisingly, my first foray into outdoor ed. was the cooking section. It looks like I may be able to salvage that ill-conceived food dehydrator purchase from the kitchen gadget bone-yard after all. There are a ton of books in this area, so I quickly eliminated anything to do with RV or car camping (we’ve got that down). My favorite was The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook, by Tim and Christine Conners. This book was packed with useful information about equipment, cooking techniques, meal planning, safety, ‘Leave No Trace’ cooking and camping, and recipes. There were also wonderful appendices that provided measurement advice, additional reading, and helpful websites.

Other picks:

The Trailside Cookbook by Don Philpott

Camp Cooking in the Wild by Mark Scriver

Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington CascadesWith the food taken care of, choosing a destination was my next priority. When we camp, we choose our destination based on a few different things. Weather is the most obvious determining factor; last weekend we went over the mountains to find the sun. On other trips we’ve selected sites because they were off pleasant drives, or offered a selection of excellent hikes. The Mountaineers Books has a fantastic series of Day Hiking titles that cover different regions of Washington and Oregon. My favorite book that I found about exploring Washignton was the Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington Cascades, by Allan May. May created a guide to geography, history (human and natural), and recreation in the Washington Cascades, all wrapped into a very enjoyable read.

Note: Sometimes published info about campgrounds, trails, and roads can be outdated. To be certain that you can actually get to where you’d like to go, call ahead to the ranger station in the area you’re planning to visit to make sure that everything is open.

The Backpacker's ManualLast, and certainly not least, I looked into info on safety and preparation. This is perhaps the largest section of outdoor materials we have because there is much to be said on the topic. For a beginner’s overview to all things backpacking, The Smart Guide to Hiking and Backpacking is a good place to start. More advanced advice on trip planning, cooking equipment, and more can be found in The Backpacker’s Field Manual, by Rick Curtis. I found some really helpful illustrations and ‘how to’s’ in Basic Illustrated Wilderness First Aid, but I strongly recommend attending some courses on the topic if you are serious about venturing into remote areas. If not, be sure to trek with someone who has.

Other titles that I found helpful tips in:

Hiking with Dogs by Linda B. Mullally

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland

Making Camp: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, Paddlers & Skiers by Steve Howe, et al.

So there you have it – my newbie backpacker reading list. Come in and browse the shelves; there’s a lot more here for those who are more advanced than I am. As for me? I have a date with the food dehydrator – who doesn’t want to try powdered cheese?

Lisa

Timothy Egan and Nancy Pearl at the Library!

EganPearl

I hope you know that you’re invited to a free public literary event with Timothy Egan and Nancy Pearl on Saturday, April 6th at 7 PM at the Everett Performing Arts Center. This should be a great evening for lovers of both history and literature. Timothy Egan will read from his latest book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, and then will be interviewed by legendary librarian Nancy Pearl, who is herself the author of Book Lust and its sequels and is a regular NPR commentator on books. There will be books and also wine available for purchase.  Sounds perfect!

Timothy Egan writes for the New York Times and we are lucky to have him in our backyard and yes, I do consider Seattle to be Everett’s backyard. In addition to his journalism, he has written a slew of non-fiction books which are mostly set in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a quick rundown.

indexLet’s go chronologically through Egan’s books and start with The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest.  Atop Mount Rainier, Egan checked the map to see which glacier would best feed his grandfather’s ashes down into streams where the man loved to fish. A minor glacier called Winthrop looked best, and that’s where the ashes went. Egan’s research led to the writings of Theodore Winthrop who spent three months exploring Oregon and Washington in 1853. Egan retraced Winthrop’s route and we get fascinating comparisons between what the two men saw roughly 150 years apart. It is a great travel history of the Pacific Northwest and I highly recommend it as fascinating reading.

index

Breaking Blue is the true-crime story of a Sheriff who worked through 54 years of police cover-ups and solved the oldest open murder case in the country. It is the chilling story of the abuses of the Spokane police department during the Great Depression. Egan unravels the story in engrossing detail, illuminating a host of horrible acts committed by the cops in that city, including robbery, murder and extorting sex from Dust Bowl refugees.

index

Wild Seattle: A Celebration of the Natural Areas In and Around the City is a celebration of the wild lands, parks, preserves, and wildlife of the greater Seattle area and features more than 130 superb color images by renowned nature photographers. Egan wrote the engaging text for this beautiful coffee table book.

indexLasso the Wind is a look at the eleven states “on the sunset side of the 100th meridian” that Egan regards as the true West. Fishing rod and notebook in hand, he travels by car and foot, horseback and raft, through a region struggling to find its future direction under both the weight of the “Old West” and the commercial threats of the present. He covers the story of what he calls the New West in essays that choose a localized story. The stories are often about a controversy or a change that is happening in the area. Skip around and read an essay or two as time allows and you’ll be rewarded with funny and incisive writing.

indexMy first introduction to Egan’s writing came when I read the popular The Worst Hard Time which chronicles the hardships of those who endured the horrible dust storms of the Great Plains during the depression. Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region as they went from sod huts to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. Read this book to understand the devestation that these massive dust storms had on the high plains.

index

We actually listened to The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America while we were driving to Idaho, the site of the largest forest fire in America. It is an outstanding, highly readable history of the Great Fire of 1910 that burned 3.2 million acres in and around the Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho and Montana. Egan moves deftly between the immediacy of the fire and the experiences of people caught up in it, and the powerful business and political interests whose actions both contributed to, and were affected by, the disaster. In the end this book serves as a history not only of the biggest U.S. fire of the 20th century, but also as an examination of the national politics of the first dozen years of the century, and of the origins of the U.S. Forest Service.

And now we come to Egan’s most recent book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. This biography of the famous photographer starts in Seattle and follows him through his obsessive quest to document all of the tribes of North America that were still intact. Curtis’ 20 volume The North American Indian was published between 1907 and 1930. We are all familiar with Curtis’ famous photographs. This book chronicles all of the sacrifices that Curtis made for his obsession. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave up his marriage, family and successful career in Seattle to pursue his great project. At once an incredible adventure and a fascinating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’ photographs, following him throughout Indian country from desert to rainforest as he struggled to document the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes.

index

Even with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, it took tremendous effort (six years alone to convince the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony). The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. He would die penniless and unknown in Hollywood just a few years after publishing the last of his twenty volumes. But the charming rogue with the grade-school education had fulfilled his promise—his great adventure succeeded in creating one of America’s most stunning cultural achievements. I downloaded this book from the library and listened to it while painting our basement over the course of a rainy week-end. I always think of Curtis when passing through the basement. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to hang a few (reproduced) Curtis photos there?

I hope to see you April 6th when the Everett Public Library brings this accomplished author to town!

Leslie

I Ain’t Got No Home

A group of young men posing with bedrolls. Picture scanned from the Everett Public Library Archives

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-roamin’ ’round,
Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
-Woody Guthrie – I Ain’t Got No Home

Like the cowboy, the lumberjack, and the old prospector, the hobo is a figure from the American past that seems to have slipped into the realm of cartoons and folk heroes. What generally comes to mind when hobos are mentioned are sad clown paintings with patchy clothing, people cooking boot stew, and Charlie Chaplin playing a lovable tramp. Beneath the stereotypes and folklore is a more interesting story of a group of Americans who were vital to the expansion of non-Native settlement West, and the feeding of a young nation.

But first, a little lesson in classification. Hobo, tramp, and bum were originally not meant to be interchangeable terms; when the terms first became common, they had very different connotations. Hobos were people who generally lacked a permanent residence and traveled from town to town to work odd jobs. Tramps were individuals who lived on the road out of preference, and panhandled or stole to pay their way. Bums were folks who did not work, and stayed in one location. Today all three are generally referred to more politely as ‘homeless,’  though this term obscures the differences between the three social groups. If you are interested in learning some Depression-era hobo slang, Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent glossary.

The Everett Public Library’s collections have a lot of great resources that talk about the history and culture of American hobos. To learn more about this very fascinating chapter in American history, look up a couple of these titles:

Hoboing in the 1970’s: The Compleat Freighthopper’s Manual for North America by Daniel Leen
Hoboing in the 1970′s is an interesting combination of practical advice, photography, poetry, and ‘it ain’t like it used to be’ musings about the author’s experiences as a hobo. Anyone interested in trying to adopt the hobo lifestyle would be advised to read the author’s disclaimer entitled ‘Railroad Darwinism.’ A common theme in hobo memoirs is the recognition that conditions have drastically changed since the heyday of hobo living, and that traveling by hopping trains is no longer safe to attempt (not that it ever was, as you will see).

Yankee Hobo in the Orient by John Patric
This account details the travels of the sometimes controversial late Snohomish County eccentric John Patric as he moved through pre-World-War-II Japan. During his time in Japan Patric lived on a few cents a day, sleeping in his car and supporting his travels by selling rubber stamps and doing odd jobs. Patric also left a nearly complete manuscript of his time living as a hobo in the United States, called the Hobo Years, which can be viewed in the Northwest History Room.

Once a Hobo: The Autobiography of Monte holm by Monte Holm and Dennis L. Clay
Once a Hobo is the life story of a Moses Lake man who lived as a hobo to survive the Great Depression. This story follows Holm from birth, through his hobo years, and on to his reemergence into mainstream society. This book opens with a full-page disclaimer not to ride trains, explaining that conditions are drastically different from what they were in the early years of freighthopping.

Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West by Mark Wyman
If you were to read one book about the history of the American hobo, this would probably be your best pick. Wyman has done an exhaustive amount of research into the history of the American hobo and how he or she (men, women, and children lived as hobos during the Depression) had an important function in American society. Initially the territory of Americans of European origin, the hobo scene quickly became multicultural. During the early years of Western farming, hobos were vital to successfully bringing in the harvest because large farms were isolated operations that didn’t have enough manpower to bring in the crop before it spoiled. Despite the West’s reliance on hobo labor at harvest time, these itinerant workers were run out of town for being an ‘undesirable element’ as soon as the work was done. Far from being a romantic portrait of a drifter lifestyle, Hoboes details the brutality and hardship that hobos encountered as they moved from job to job.

Wanted: Men to Fill the Jails of Spokane! Fighting for Free Speech with the Hobo Agitators of the I.W.W. edited by John Duda
This book was compiled from firsthand accounts, speeches, and newspaper stories. Wanted isn’t strictly about hobos, but it includes the stories of people who lived a hobo lifestyle to travel from battleground to battleground in the I.W.W. free speech fight.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild is the biography of a man named Christopher Johnson McCandless. In 1990 McCandless disappeared shortly after graduating from college. Years later his body, journal, and some undeveloped film were found in an abandoned bus in rural Alaska. Over time it was pieced together that he had traveled across the United States living and working as a hobo, and eventually made his way to Alaska to attempt to live off the land. This book was also recently made into a motion picture.

Four on a Flatcar by G.D. Jacobson
Set in the 1940′s, Four on a Flatcar tells the true story of four Seattle boys who choose to hop freight trains to travel across the country in search of a missing father.

Hard Traveling: A Portrait of Work Life in the New Northwest by Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes
While Hard Traveling isn’t exclusively about hobos  there is a lot of really interesting information about itinerant workers and how they traveled in the early days of Northwestern industrialization. Readers can get an idea of the kinds of jobs that hobos worked as they traveled through the region, and have the chance to look at some great historic pictures.

Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck
In 1936, Steinbeck was commissioned by the San Francisco News to write a series of articles about farmers that had been forced into a life of itinerant labor by the Dust Bowl. Steinbeck’s research laid the groundwork for his landmark work of fiction, The Grapes of Wrath, which also discusses the hardships of living and working as a hobo.

Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac
Lonesome Traveler is part autobiographical sketch, part lament for the death of the American hobo lifestyle as it was in the Great Depression. Kerouac tells a series of stories about periods of his life that inspired his more famous works, and ends with a piece that discusses how changes in the American economy and culture have transformed the hobo from migrant laborer to homeless criminal.

The Road by Jack London
London wrote The Road about a period of his life, in the 1890′s, when he lived as a hobo. This is a collection of short stories, sketches really, about what life as a hobo was like before the Dust Bowl turned being a hobo from a choice to a necessity.

Riding the Rails 
Riding the Rails
is a PBS documentary that tells the story of teenage hobos during the Great Depression. 

The Great Machines: Poems and Songs of the American Railroad edited by Robert Hedin
The Great Machines has a small collection of songs and poems written about hobo life. While some of these paint a more pop-culture ‘charming tramp’ picture of the lifestyle, others describe the brutality and struggle involved with a life lived on the rails.

Various Bits and Pieces of Hobo Culture

Haunt Locally

I grew up in what’s known as one of the most haunted small towns in America. Alton, IL is home to haunted mansions, schools, and churches. Ghost sightings and spooky histories are more abundant than actual people to tell the tales. There was never a shortage of material for the ghost stories we told around bonfires on chilly autumn evenings.

And guess what? The greater Seattle area is full of similar spots and stories, just waiting for you to explore and discover. Even better? The library has several books to help you find ghostly hot spots and haunted locales.

The easiest way to see as many haunted locations as possible is to follow the driving routes in Washington’s Haunted Hotspots by Linda Moffitt. There are 17 separate road trips, taking you from one end of the Evergreen State to the other. Everett falls in chapter 7 and includes some familiar local buildings. The Rucker Mansion, for instance, is said to be haunted by Bethel Rucker’s mother-in-law Jane, who died in the home of natural causes. Jane must have been a virtuoso in her day, because now she can be heard playing the piano when no one else is at home. Everett High School is also mentioned as being haunted by a man wandering the halls. A construction worker fell to his death when the school was being built—could this be the same man?

Spooked in Seattle by Ross Allison is another book packed with local ghostly lore. Each chapter centers on a different Seattle neighborhood. Most locals are familiar with ghost stories surrounding some of these spooky hotspots, like the Seattle Underground, Smith Tower, and Pike Place Market. But the Museum of Flight, Fremont Troll, and even the Rite-Aid in West Seattle are also apparently visited by spirits from the great beyond. Familiarize yourself with some of the more obscure tales and impress out-of-town guests the next time you head down to the Big City.

While it has the fewest photos, the best written book of the bunch is Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound by Jeff Dwyer. Don’t be put off by the sections of serious ghost hunting information in this book. Sure, I giggled at the thought of Dr. Venkman and Dr. Spengler running around Capitol Hill on the trail of Slimer. But I urge you to look past that to the wealth of ghost stories that are sandwiched in between ghost hunting tips and ghost sighting report forms. From Manresa Castle in Port Townsend to the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham, this book covers much more than just the Emerald City. You may be particularly interested in the story about the haunting at the Historic Everett Theatre on Colby:

For nearly thirty years, patrons, theater staff members, and renovators have reported encounters with an elderly male presence. Many have gotten the impression that this ghost is a devoted patron or a former employee. Psychic investigations of the site have confirmed the presence of a spirit. The entity has been located in the balcony, the aisles of the main floor, backstage, and in the lobby near the four white columns.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, I guarantee you’ll find at least one story to interest you in these tomes. In fact, if you’re planning a bonfire and an evening of storytelling, be sure to pick up a copy of one (or all) of these books. When you read some of these stories out loud, you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.

Carol

It Mighta Happened This Way

If one were to peruse a chronological list of the books I’ve read since my teen years, one would witness a noticeable genre shift from science fiction only to a mix of sci-fi and mystery, exploration of general fiction, and later yet excursions into non-fiction travel literature.  Nowadays I’ll read just about anything, although I draw the line at graphic novels featuring Richard Simmons in brightly colored leotards.

One of my favorite genres of the moment is historical fiction. Having been schooled under the “history is a list of dates” flag, I’m flabbergasted that the past can actually be fascinating when it’s not shrouded in dreaded textbook parlance but rather encased in sublime, delicate prose. Here are two spectacular reads set in the Pacific Northwest of about 100 years ago.  Enjoy!

Deep Creek by Dana Hand

In 1887, more than 30 Chinese gold miners were massacred in a remote spot on the border between Idaho and Oregon. Judge Joe Vincent, the first person to find one of the mutilated bodies, is hired by the Sam Yup Company to unearth the killers. Joining him in the search is Lee Loi, a representative of the Company, and Grace Sundown, a local Metis guide who shares a nebulous history with Vincent.

The author paints amazing pictures of the region’s topography and geology as the trackers traverse the wild countryside. In this isolated corner of the territory hiding places are plentiful and clues are lacking, so the search is a difficult one with danger lurking around every bend in the river.

The excitement is redirected once the alleged killers are caught and put on trial. Sadly, we see a time and place where white mass murderers are more respected than innocent Chinese immigrants. Even Vincent, who is not particularly sympathetic towards the Chinese, is disgusted with the lack of justice.

This novel is based on a true story, and at the end the author lets us know which parts are fact and which are speculation. With primary source material sketchy at best, Hand does a masterful job of creating a believable and entertaining tale of Wild West justice. Prepare to journey with Vincent, to witness awe-inspiring scenery, to live on the cusp of danger, and finally to be frustrated by a system of justice which is not just for all.

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg

 The year is 1896 and the Estby family is about to lose their farm near Spokane, Washington. Helga Estby, the possibly manic-depressive matriarch of the family, devises a variety of harebrained schemes to raise money. Finally, she comes up with the notion of walking from Spokane to New York City, not only to raise money for the farm but also to raise public awareness of the women’s suffrage movement. After finding a sponsor in New York who offers $10,000 if Helga and her 17-year-old daughter Clara complete the journey in seven months, their trip begins.

Although mother and daughter have exciting adventures along the way, a 4,000 mile journey can be quite tedious. Shoes fall apart, water jugs run dry, tempers flare. Dagg (whose daughter, in an adventurous journey of her own, nearly drove me to Portland accidentally ) does an excellent job of mixing electrifying exploits with the mundane daily grind. The women clash with a roguish highwayman, survive a flash flood and teach Native Americans the fine art of hair curling, but the real story is the evolving relationship of a resentful, practical daughter with her stubborn, capricious mother.

The events in this novel are based on a true story which was lived by Dagg’s ancestors, and once again the author tells us which bits really happened and which are artistic license. The end product is a compelling adventure filled with hardship, discovery, and disappointment. As you undertake this journey with the Estby women you will see wondrous and unusual sights through Clara’s eyes, feel her pains and joys, and ultimately know the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a staggeringly overwhelming endeavor.

Other historical titles with local settings include Madison House by Peter Donahue, a novel set during the Denny regrade of the early 1900’s, and Reading Seattle: The City in Prose edited by Donahue and John Trombold, an anthology of prose set in Seattle.

Ron    

Jackson Street After Hours

Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, writes about a Seattle that his grandparents knew; an Emerald City overflowing with booze, gambling and jazz; a place where on any given night musicians such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington might ply their trade. Local author Paul de Barros takes an in-depth look at the jazz scene of this same Seattle in his book Jackson Street After Hours.

“Imagine a time when Seattle, which now rolls up its streets at
10 o’clock, was full of people walking up and down the sidewalk after midnight. When you could buy a newspaper at the corner of 14th and Yesler from a man called Neversleep – at three in the morning.”

This vivacious Seattle, alive with depraved music and good-time girls, with culture slapping the sidewalk at all hours of the night, seems as foreign now as the remote jungles of Borneo. Out of this boiling cauldron of jazz arose legends-in-the-making Quincy Jones and Ray Charles. As these larger-than-life performers cometted from oblivion to international renown, their lives became the stuff from which legends are forged.

 Quincy Jones, producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, commenced his brilliant career in late-1940s Seattle playing trumpet in the Bumps Blackwell Junior Band, sharing the stage with jazz luminaries Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Louis Jordan when they came to town.

 In his journeys Quincy met one Ray Charles Robinson, better known to you and me as R. C., Papa Ray or Ray Charles. At age 16 Charles came to Seattle from Florida, knowing only one person in town, fellow musician Garcia McKee, and having no idea of how to find him. 

“Always the survivor, Charles called the police department and
several radio stations, asking them to broadcast McKee’s name,
and to say that his friend R. C. had arrived.”

 McKee did find Ray quickly, and the pair ended up playing a gig at the Black and Tan on Charles’ first night in town.

Ray and Quincy went on to forge a friendship that endured until Charles’ death in 2004. Jones fondly remembers their first days together in Seattle.

“Ray seemed o-o-o-old. He was so mature. And he was only two years older than I was! He was sixteen and I was fourteen. He had his own apartment, his own suits, and everything. Oh boy, did I look up to him. He was just so wise.”

Jackson Street After Hours weaves together these and many other stories of local musicians destined for fame, also-rans, and outstanding musicians of old who made stops in Seattle. The nightclubs and the nightlife come alive with tales of police corruption, racial tension and flagrant disregard for the law. De Barros’ book is an exciting read filled with encyclopedic detail and captivating adventures.

 The names and faces have changed, but the Seattle jazz scene remains vibrant, largely thanks to Earshot Jazz, a local organization which Paul de Barros helped create. On any night of the week one can hear a local or national artist tinkling the ivories (or brass, or cat gut) in a variety of greater Seattle area clubs such as Bake’s Place. And Tacoma radio station KPLU offers its own steady diet of the bebop boogie-woogie doo-be-doo jive. Of course, one can also choose to explore local jazz artists at Everett Public Library.

    Ron

Happy Birthday, SnoCo!

Snohomish County is celebrating its 150th birthday this month!

On January 14, 1861, the Washington Territorial Legislature created Snohomish County out of Island County. There will be sesquicentennial events throughout 2011.

Early Snohomish County Settlers

"Early Snohomish County Settlers" by King & Baskerville 1892

For a brief overview of how our county came to be, check out the HistoryLink.org essay by retired Everett Public Library historian Margaret Riddle.

The library and the Northwest Room have plenty of books and resources for you to celebrate our great county. Here are a few suggestions to get the birthday party started.

The Great Outdoors
Hiking Snohomish County by Ken Wilcox
An illustrated guide to 110 walks and hikes throughout the county, from mountain to coast.

Birding in Snohomish County by Philip H. Zalesky
A guide to bird watching from the Pilchuck Audobon Society.

Snohomish, My Beloved County: An Angler’s Anthology
by Bob Heirman
A fisherman’s reflections on the county.

History, Memories & Miscellany
Snohomish County: An Illustrated History
by David Cameron, Charles LeWarne, Allan May, Jack O’Donnell, and Lawrence O’Donnell
A comprehensive, illustrated history of the county written by a team of top-notch local historians.

The Best of Local Angle: A Selection of Anecdotes from the Popular Weekly Column Appearing in Everett, Monroe, and Snohomish Tribunes by Bruce Greeley
A collection of witty, quirky stories from around the county.

Dark Deeds: True Tales of Territorial Treachery and Terror! by David Dilgard
The grim and gruesome stories of three 19th century crimes.

Snohomish County Toponymy by Doug Cardle
Ever wonder how Machias, Maltby, Bandana Lake and other locales got their names? Read on.

Mindy