LGBTQ History in the Northwest Room

Black triangle logo with SNOMEC written inside using negative space. Yellow background. Text above the black triangle reads "Snohomish County Elections Committee for gays, lesbians, & transgendered."In honor of Pride Month, the Northwest Room has just launched its newest digital collection: the papers of the Snohomish County Elections Committee. The documents in this collection are part of a large donation that came into our care in 2015 via Charles Fay, one of the Committee’s co-founders.

Mr. Fay is a lifelong activist working within Snohomish County in the areas of LGBTQ rights and voter education.  In 1999 Mr. Fay and his colleagues Pat D’Willis and Jeff W. Phillips co-founded the Snohomish County Elections Committee (SNOMEC). This organization was inspired by a group in Seattle known similarly as the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC). The aim of both groups was to interview candidates participating in local elections in order to create ratings sheets that measured the level of knowledge each individual had regarding issues that affected their LGBTQ constituents (historical note: users of this collection will often see the acronym written as ‘GLBT’ because that was the most common format used during that time period).

While the scope of SNOMEC’s activities was tightly focused on the interviewing process and creation of ratings sheets, this work required an enormous amount of planning and oversight. The three co-founders worked equally as managers of an extensive network of passionate volunteers conducting training in the interviewing process, scheduling the candidates for interviews, and compiling and mailing out the review sheets. In addition to the mailings, these resources were made freely available to public libraries within Snohomish and Island Counties. For the most part both library systems readily displayed the rating sheets, though at a small number of individual branch locations SNOMEC met initial resistance and had to work with system management to have their materials distributed.

This SNOMEC collection provides readers with an interesting point-in-time view of a very transitional period of the LGBTQ rights movement. In the late 1990s the general public was becoming increasingly aware of the different issues facing their LGBTQ neighbors. In February of 1994, the Clinton Administration oversaw the implementation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy aimed at gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel sparking national conversation. The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which heavily impacted LGBTQ communities around the nation in the 1980s, had only recently begun to slow with the introduction of life-prolonging treatments. The 1990s also saw the steady growth of youth-oriented LGBTQ groups in schools, as well as gay-straight alliances such as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In April of 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out in a very public way on her sitcom, watched by an estimated 42 million viewers. Readers can see reflections of this gradual growth of public awareness in the range in candidate knowledge.

It is interesting to view these records with the knowledge we now have of the recent past. Some of the candidates included in these files are still politically active today, and one can see how their familiarity with certain topics has grown over time. In other cases one can see how some public figures have long been in touch with the needs of the LGBTQ community. In some cases we see individuals who were just starting to be exposed to some of the topics included in the survey and had not had a chance to form many opinions at all. Political experience also seems to play a part in the complexity and tone of the responses given in these interviews.

SNOMEC remained active until 2003, at which time a desire to hand over leadership of the Committee ran up against a lack of volunteers interested in leadership roles; the committee quietly finished its activities later that year. SEAMEC is still actively engaged in interviewing candidates and producing ratings sheets for voters. You can find an archive of their ratings and endorsements that dates back to 1977 on their website.

For more information about SNOMEC and the collections donated by Charles Fay, please contact the Northwest Room. We will be working on further processing this collection, as well as a separate collection of LGBTQ materials from another donor, in the following months.

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The Early 20th Century Japan Bazaar on Hewitt Avenue

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history—at the national, state, and local level. Asian Americans have a complex and difficult history in the Northwest since the mid-19th century, when waves of immigrants began arriving from China, Japan, and the Philippines.

Today, we are sharing one striking image from our Northwest History collection: a portrait of the Chinese Kan family inside their Hewitt Avenue business, the Japan Bazaar. This compelling image from the summer of 1907 offers a glimpse inside their lives and hints at the complexities and conflicts this community may have faced in early 20th century Everett.

Although we do not have a full history of the Kan family or their business, we are able to stitch together pieces of their story based on the image and other Everett Public Library resources such as: oral histories, Polk’s City Directories, Everett Herald archives, and genealogical and archival databases.

As the Northwest region’s Asian population grew, so too did anti-immigration hostilities and policies. Chinese immigrants in California and Washington faced discriminatory taxes, prohibitions against marrying white people, and owning land. In 1882, Congress passed a national Chinese Exclusion Act to restrict Chinese immigration entirely. Chinese populations were expelled from Seattle and Tacoma in 1885 and 1886.

It was amidst this culture of anti-Chinese fears and policies that Charles Kan and his wife, Beam Owyong Kan, arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

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Everett Daily Herald, December 3, 1901

We know that the Charles and Beam Kan family arrived in Everett from China by way of Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle, but it is unclear when and why they first immigrated to the United States. Like many Chinese immigrants, they may have felt a combination of push and pull factors that caused them to seek a better life in the United States.

The earliest record of Charles Kan is from 1892, when he was identified as a merchant from Japan in the Washington state census. This description matched his listing in the 1892 Seattle city directory as a purveyor of Japanese goods. The Kans operated Everett’s “Japan Bazaar” on Hewitt Avenue, from 1901 to 1910.

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Seattle City Directory, 1892

Birth records indicate that the oldest Kan children, Samuel and Ruth, were born in Portland, Oregon, in 1897 and 1899. The youngest two children, Mary and John, were born in Everett, in 1904 and 1907. Unlike the 1892 census records, all other readily available public records indicate Chinese—not Japanese—ancestry.

The family moved back and forth between Oregon and Washington cities for many years before arriving in Everett. In some years, Charles Kan operated his own business. In others, he clerked for Andrew Kan, an importer primarily based in Seattle. While Charles Kan seems to have consistently marketed his business as Japanese, Andrew Kan’s businesses varied between Chinese, Japanese, and simply “Oriental.” This fluid ethnic identity may have been a simple marketing tactic designed to sell more goods. Or, perhaps, it was a response to heightened tensions facing Chinese immigrants.

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Everett Daily Herald, November 21, 1901

When the Kans arrived in Everett in 1901, the city was less than a decade old. Brimming with economic and industrial opportunities, it attracted an influx of immigrants and job-seekers during the first decade of the 20th century. On November 21, 1901, the Everett Daily Herald announced the opening of Charles Kan’s Japanese Bazaar on Hewitt Avenue. On the next page, the Herald ran a story entitled, “Says Keep the Heathen Out.” The article described President Roosevelt’s attitude toward the policy of Chinese exclusion: “The heathen has been slipping in…either by stealth or bribery of immigration officials…”

In this environment of prosperity, opportunity, and overt hostility, it is unsurprising that the Chinese family wanted to pass as Japanese, a more culturally and politically acceptable ethnicity at the time.

In December of 1907, a few months after our photo was taken, the Everett Daily Herald featured the store in an article on Christmas shopping. They author described the busy manager, Mr. Kan, peddling a colorful range of affordable, quality products for all ages, such as “humming tops and other amusing toys for children, delicate drawn work, embroider, brasses, ivories, paintings on silk, cigar cases, match safes and countless other artistic oddities…” The writer was enthusiastic about the store’s exotic Japanese atmosphere. He described a “fairyland to be sure in these purely Oriental windows” before enthusing: “one may almost see the cherry blossoms fall from imaginary trees and hear the soft tones of busy Japanese in far off Mikadoland…” The Herald writer seemed perfectly convinced of the Japan Bazaar’s authenticity.

In a 1975 oral history interview, Rita Yeo Richmond, an early Everett pioneer and the daughter of a local business owner, reminisced about visiting the Japan Bazaar as a child. According to Rita, the other business owners in town all knew—and accepted—that the Kan family was Chinese, not Japanese. She recalls:

“And then there was a Chinese store. Did anybody speak of that? That was nice. He stayed open until nine o’clock in the night, and my dad used to take us down there. And oh, he had so many Chinese things. Big store. He had a little girl named Ruth and a boy named Sam. My dad used to go down there real often, and was real friendly with them, you know. In Everett they wouldn’t allow a Chinese in at that time. But he kind of posed as something—as a Jap or something. But anyhow, my dad got talking to other merchants in town, and they all thought he was so wonderful that they should let him stay, you know. So they let him stay. They kept it hush.”

Sometime between 1910 and 1912, after a decade in Everett, the family moved back to Seattle, and then, eventually to Los Angeles, California. Although the Kan family’s story remains largely unknown, they nevertheless filled a unique role and left a mark on the business community of early Everett.

Recommended reading on early 20th Century Chinese and Japanese American experiences in the Northwest:

Reflections of Seattle’s Chinese Americans: the First 100 Years

Dreams of the West: a history of the Chinese in Oregon, 1850-1950

Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters with Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885-1928

To the Bright Edge of the World

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is as picturesque as the title suggests. This novel will trigger a desire to witness firsthand the rugged wilds of Alaska. It is a mesmerizing story of adventure, mystery, historical fact, and folklore. I didn’t want the book to end! The epic journey begins at Fort Vancouver in Washington Territory and ends in the uncharted territory of the Yukon. Ivey’s book is rife with detail depicting Native American culture, the era of fur traders, and the pioneers.

The year is 1885 and Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester of the U.S. Calvary is commissioned to lead an expedition exploring the uncharted land beyond the Wolverine River. The journey will nearly cost him his life. He leaves behind his young wife Sophia. Sophia had planned to join the men but discovered she was pregnant shortly before the company was set to sail out of Portland harbor. Unwillingly, she takes the doctor’s advice and will not make the journey until many years later. Vibrant, curious, and not given to convention, Sophia discovers an inner strength and talent for wild life photography.

Through a series of letters written as a journal between husband and wife, the most intimate expressions of the heart are revealed: fear, frustration, loss, and the deep longing to see each other.

Set in the present, another series of letters giving an account of the historical expedition are exchanged between Walter Forrester, whose great-uncle was the colonel, and a young museum curator named Joshua living in the remote town of Alpine, Alaska. Through their correspondence a relationship is formed and the details of past and present come to life with actual photographs included.

Ivey’s reimagining of the Forrester’s story, which began over a hundred years ago and briefly describes their short time together, is followed by a beautiful story of courage, endurance, and the power of love. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed being transported to a different time and an unforgettable place.

Love Rock Revolution

Love Rock

Generally I assert that all change is bad. However, change within art forms is an exception to this iron-clad rule. The most fascinating moments in the music world happen when techniques change, when new ideas are introduced. In popular music one of those moments occurred in the late 70s when mainstream rock/pop became so bloated and corporate-driven that the unwashed masses started a grassroots movement that became known as punk.

The heart of the punk rock movement was not found in a particular sound or lyric but in an idea: Anyone can make music! Thus, the do-it-yourself revolution came about. Punk bands exploded in the UK, to a lesser extent in the US, and other DIY subgenres such as no wave also reared up their ugly heads. Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgarten is a charming book that looks at one branch of the anyones who made and continue to make music in the spirit of the punk revolution.

Led by leather-jacketed anarchists, teens ignited London in a burst of figurative flames. Meanwhile, in a small fishing village on the coast of Washington state… Well, actually in the capital city of Olympia, a different kind of musical revolution began, one that many of us are not so familiar with. ‘Round about 1982 Calvin Johnson began releasing cassettes on his label, K Records, out of Olympia. As a teenager, Calvin was transformed by punk rock, but as a music maker his tastes went in a slightly different direction.

When Johnson put together his band Beat Happening in 1982, none of the members were experienced musicians. This typifies the punk/DIY mindset. But the music that they created, while simple and non-technical, had little in common with punk sonically. Lo-fi recording techniques, the band’s lack of instrumental skills, Johnson’s deep voice – all these factors contributed to a new sound which has been called lo-fi, twee pop and indie pop. Often described as childlike or sweet, Beat Happening’s music is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a deal.

As time passed, Johnson recorded other bands, began selling vinyl, distributed for yet other bands, and slowly increased the traffic of K Records. Meanwhile, through national and international connections, he also significantly contributed to the development of independent music, an influence that continues to be strong 35 years later.

To name but a few of the accomplishments that came out of K Records:

  • The inclusion of women in rock music: The riot grrrl movement, which later became associated with the Kill Rock Stars label, originated at K Records. Concerts put on by the label were inclusive of female performers.
  • All-age performances all of the time: Johnson would not perform in venues unless they were open to all ages, and he continued this philosophy when booking concert events for K bands.
  • Artists receive 50% of profits made from record sales: This was an unheard of split when the label started, but Johnson considered it imperative. Also, business is done on a handshake rather than with a written contract.

Love Rock Revolution is highly entertaining and informative, an enjoyable read on one aspect of the PNW music scene. If you’re looking for other related materials, try The Punk Singer, a documentary about Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrl movement, or The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. And be sure to check out our selection of Local CDs. Enjoy!

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The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Oregon Trail

Please don’t laugh at me, but The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck is currently my favorite book. It’s hard to explain, but let me try. The book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history. There are scenes that are so hair-raising that I had to keep checking to make sure the author really made it to Oregon.

This work is a deeply moving and beautifully written memoir that tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. While making his journey, Buck relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules, the pitfalls of wagon purchasing from the Amish, the kindness of strangers in the American West, and why so many children are being raised by their grandparents in Nebraska. More than this, it is Rinker Buck’s description of his complicated and unresolved relationship with his driven father that serves as the emotional trail-heart of this book. I loved every page. This book is a great way to “see America slowly.”

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I recently drove the Oregon Trail (quickly!) while travelling from Washington State to Idaho and back. I snapped this photo of what you typically see while driving the old Oregon Trail these days: two straight lanes of highway dotted with semi trucks and passenger cars. It’s a relatively easy drive these days, unless you encounter foul weather over the Blue Mountains. I especially love driving in Idaho where the posted speed is 80 miles per hour. While in Idaho, we were lucky enough to watch the largest non-motorized parade in the west. There were young girls riding bare back and without bridles, and countless old wagons and buggies pulled by mules, horses, and ponies. I’ll include my video of the twenty mule team pulling no less than five wagons here:

Here are some other interesting materials on the Oregon Trail that can be found at the library. They will surely round out your knowledge of that complex and colossal migration.

indexThe Oregon Trail: An American Saga by David Day is the definitive one-volume and complete history of the Oregon Trail from its earliest beginnings to the present. It’s chock full of maps, photographs, diary excerpts and illustrations that give a very detailed picture of this American saga. As the book blurb says: “Above all, The Oregon Trail offers a panoramic look at the romance, colorful stories, hardships, and joys of the pioneers who made up this tremendous and historic migration.”

For an original recording made in Portland, Oregon in May of 1941 by Woody Guthrie, be sure to check out the Columbia River Collection. Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power administration to write music for a film about power and the Columbia River. Songs include: The Oregon Trail, Roll on Columbia, and Hard Travelin’. We unfortunately don’t have a photo of this CD in our library catalog, but the music is fantastic.

index (3)If you want to eat like the early pioneers, Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams is the book for you! This book puts you squarely on the Oregon Trail: baking bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire, searing buffalo meat, and trading for fresh vegetables and fish. Through emigrant diaries and recipes of the day, the author reconstructs meals that fed the emigrants as they crossed the Plains. To understand the contribution of trail women to the migration, simply try one of Williams’s ‘pinch and a handful’ recipes – and do it over an open fire in a rainstorm.

index (1)The Oregon Trail: A Photographic Journey is by Bill & Jan Moeller. The authors meticulously traced and captured on film the remnants of the Oregon Trail-surprisingly intact in many places.The resulting full-color photographs, accompanied by selected entries from emigrant diaries, evoke for the modern reader the frontier: strange, harsh, and beautiful-as the emigrants saw it.

index (2)Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark came highly recommended by a friend when he learned that I loved Buck’s Oregon Trail book. This story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms and the political ambition of Jefferson combined with the global trade scheme of Astor. It also features an overland journey with mountain passes, raging rivers, threat of native attack, and near starvation. In the end, the colony did change the trajectory of settlement on the west coast. It paved the way for the Oregon Trail, coming as it did just a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

To travel the Oregon Trail from the comfort of your own home, come on down to the library and check out these wonderful materials! See you there.

Go the Distance with Audiobooks

Yes Please coverFor those of you who don’t keep up with obscure monthly observances, June happens to be National Audiobook Month. This, in my opinion, is excellent timing. What better month to celebrate a form of reading that allows us to enjoy the best of summer? We can safely read while we run, garden, hike, or embark on long road trips. It should come as no surprise that our library employees are avid consumers of the audiobook in its many forms. In order to help you choose your next ear-read (I’m making that a word), we’ve asked our staff to review some of their favorite audiobooks. Place your holds now!

Leslie

Harold Fry coverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel  Joyce (CD and eAudio).  This novel is about a man who is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. I enjoyed listening to it partly because of the narrator’s British accent but mostly because of the well written and compelling story.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is also by Rachel Joyce (CD) and it is the story told from the perspective of the woman who Harold Fry is walking to visit. It features another charming British accent and there’s a surprise at the end.

Short Nights coverShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (CD and eAudio) is the story of photographer Edward S. Curtis and his passionate project of documenting the remaining Native American tribes in stunning photographs. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’s iconic photographs. You obviously don’t see the photos while listening to this book, but the images created by this author are still vivid in my memory. I associate it with painting our basement as that’s what I did while ‘reading’ this fabulous story. Now if I could just have a Curtis photograph for my basement walls…

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen (CD) will amaze you with the whole story of Jack and Jackie’s final year together. This book is a glimpse into the twilight days of Camelot.


One Summer coverYes, Please! By Amy Poehler (CD) is simply hilarious and made even better by being read by the author herself. Listen to this one if you need a good laugh, and who doesn’t? (Lisa here – I have to second this choice – it’s fantastic!)


One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson (CD and Playaway) is about just that: America in the summer of 1927. This is a big story about the big personalities of the day: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson and more. Do yourself a favor and let someone else read it to you! It’s fascinating.

Alan

Grapes of Wrath coverThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (CD)
I had always meant to read this and once I had a long commute, I was able to find the time. The book about the plight of American farmers who were forced off their farms by drought and foreclosure during the 1930’s is everything you’d expect. But the narration adds so much to the story. When you finish the audiobook, cue up Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, which the library also owns.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak (CD and eAudio)
Very funny, well worth hearing B. J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Mindy Kaling, and many, many others perform the occasionally brilliant, sometimes underdeveloped, always funny pieces on the audiobook version of this short story collection from a writer of the American version of “The Office.”

Fighting Chance coverA Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (CD and eAudio)
Elizabeth Warren’s story of her bumpy rise to fame and political power not only sets the stage for (likely) a higher office, but serves to inspire and make her as relatable as she appears in interviews and speeches. Read by the author/politician, Warren has a wonderfully rich voice, elevating the telling nicely.

Joyce

Born Standing Up coverBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, written and read by Steve Martin (CD). Listening to the long-time writer/producer/actor/musician/comic’s audiobook gave me a jolt of intimacy and pleasure that his book—no matter how well written—could not have delivered on. Born Standing Up had me marveling at not just the words, but his voice: the tone and timbre, and timing, and Martin’s is impeccable. Martin’s memoir about growing up in southern California, working and learning magic at Disneyland, playing banjo in coffeehouses, his unusual, breakthrough comedy routines and becoming hugely popular on Saturday Night Live was a funny, enthralling life story.

Eileen

I have become an audiobook fanatic since acquiring an MP3 player several years ago. I listen when I’m gardening, walking, cooking (sometimes this is not a good thing), ironing—in other words whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

I have several favorites. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (CD and Playaway) is one I heard early in my career as a book listener, and it still comes back to haunt me. The reader’s voice was perfect for conveying Didion’s sense of loss and hopelessness as first her husband then her daughter die in the same year.

Bringing Up the Bodies coverI listened to both of Hilary Mantel’s books about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his association with Henry VIII.  Several people had told me that they found it difficult to track who was who when they attempted to read Wolf Hall (CD and eAudio), the first book in what is expected to be a trilogy. Listening to it there was no such difficulty. The right reader is critical to my enjoyment of an audiobook, and Simon Slater was the perfect choice for my ears. But then I also enjoyed hearing Simon Vance read Bring up the Bodies (CD and eAudio), Mantel’s sequel.

Dance with Dragons coverLastly I thoroughly enjoyed all of the George R. R. Martin series, Song of Ice and Fire (CD and eAudio).  I didn’t expect this to be true because I don’t normally read fantasy or science fiction, but I was hearing rave reviews from library patrons, and thought listening to the audio version would be easier than reading all 694 pages of A Game of Thrones. Many hours later—and I mean many hours since each of the books in the series so far run more than 30 hours—I came to the end of the fifth book,  A Dance with Dragons, and all I could think of was when would he finish writing the next book so I could find out what happened!

Julie

Misty imageMy all-time favorite audio book has to be Misty of Chincoteague read by Edward Hermann (Playaway). His voice is so great and friendly, making me feel like a grandpa is reading it. I also like that it is a playaway so I can walk around with it. My commute is only 1.5 miles, so a book on disc would take me ages!

Me

I blogged a little while back about some excellent non-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed; you can find that post here. More recent favorites include:

The Road coverThe Road by Cormac McCarthy (CD). Imagine the Walking Dead, sans walkers. The world as we know it has been obliterated by an unspecified disaster. Father and son find themselves on a furtive journey to the sea. What they hope to find there is unclear, but it has to be better than where they’ve come from. Doesn’t it? Haunting, anxiety-ridden, but strangely beautiful at times.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (CD). Young love is rough and often prone to failure. What happens if it never truly dies? Love in the Time of Cholera is a fairly humorous and slightly dark look at one man’s 1/2-a-century struggle to overcome his first heartbreak. It may leave you asking: does love ever truly die?

Where Were You? The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

It may be surprising to note that we’ve reached the 35th anniversary of the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. On May 18, 1980, a beautiful Sunday morning was shattered by a 5.1 earthquake near Spirit Lake, starting a chain reaction that resulted in the explosion of the active volcano we have come to fear and respect. As stated on the USDA’s Mount St. Helens website:

The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.

Everything I just told you is fact. And while I’d love to share some facts from my life surrounding this epic event, I was not yet born. Therefore I have pestered my colleagues into sharing their personal stories and memories of this momentous day.

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Mount St. Helens had been active for quite a while when I made a trip past it on the way to visit a friend in Washougal, WA. Near Longview, I dropped off a hitchhiker who said he intended to sneak into the red zone set up around the mountain. Two days later, back home in Bellingham on Sunday morning, a noise loud enough to cause waves in my water bed woke me up. My home was near enough to a railroad switching yard that I assumed it was connecting train cars that had jarred me out of sleep. Because I didn’t have a television, and didn’t listen to the radio that morning, it wasn’t until afternoon that I discovered that the noise that shook me out of bed was Mount St. Helens blowing up! I often wondered if that hitchhiker managed to sneak into the red zone and if so, did he make it out alive? After a hike in the North Cascades later in the year was cut short by ash fall, my hiking buddy gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t come to Washington, Washington will come to you. Mount St. Helens.” I had it on my car for years until someone pointed out that the lettering had faded so that all that remained was “Don’t come to Washington.”
Theresa

When Mount St. Helens erupted, I was in Victoria, B.C. with my high school marching band, getting ready to perform in the Victoria Days parade. I think we didn’t find out about the event until returning home, which was in Des Moines (WA, not IA). There wasn’t much evidence of the explosion in my neighborhood, but the following September I headed to Walla Walla for my first year of college, and ash was still quite prevalent in that area. And to bring things full circle, we put together a very small marching band for our soccer homecoming game, and the other trumpet player (to be silly) wore a surgical mask (which were recommended after the blow up) while marching.
Ron

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. My mother and I were in church at Saint Mary Magdalene’s. Because it was such a warm lovely day, the church doors were propped open. Suddenly there was a loud Ka-Boom! We thought it was probably a sonic boom.  When we returned home we discovered that Mount St. Helens had exploded. I don’t know why we didn’t think it was the volcano right away when we heard the explosion. The bulge in the mountain was on the news every night, as well as the many interviews with Harry Truman at Spirit Lake Lodge.
Fran

st.helensYou might think the explosion of a volcano would leave a large impression on a young man, but sadly the eruption of Mount St. Helens was just a news headline for me in 1980 as I prepared to enter junior high school in the wilds of Wisconsin. Bouncing around in my self-absorbed pre-adolescent mind were songs like “Cars” by Gary Numen or “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with little room left for significant geological and national news events. Oddly though, I do remember a rather dreadful direct-to-cable movie that came out a year or two after the event titled, St. Helens. It was your classic, and cheesy, disaster movie starring Art Carney as Harry Randall Truman, the lodge owner who refused to leave despite ample warning that the mountain was going to blow.
Richard

I remember that it was a Sunday and my fiancée (now husband of almost 25 years) and I were headed into an opera at the Seattle Center. It was Wagner, I believe. We saw an ash plume when we emerged. What’s that? It took a while to find out since in those days we didn’t have a mobile phone, of course. We had to go home and wait for the 5 o’clock news to find out that a volcano had erupted.
Leslie

My memory of that day is similar to thousands of others…I was working in the backyard in my north Everett home, and my 5-month-old baby was napping in the house. Suddenly I heard what I thought was the loudest sonic boom I’d ever heard! (I just knew that’s what it was because I’d grown up in Eastern Washington, where we heard these things all the time.) It rattled the windows and really shook me up. I thought those military planes weren’t supposed to fly that low! Boy, was I stunned over the next few days; every time we turned on the TV we saw more our state being choked with ash – ash that eventually made its way around the world. It was so sad, mostly for cities to the northeast of the mountain, and for mountain resident Harry Truman, who’d been interviewed repeatedly since the mountain started rumbling, and who refused to leave his home.
Chris

It was a Sunday, middle of the afternoon and my mother was driving us kids back home to Colfax from Spokane. The sky got really dark, like it was going to storm…and boy did it rain down this silvery white ash like snow. Our car, a little Corvair, choked on all the ash in the air filter and broke down. Luckily, the high school principal was just a few cars back and gave us a ride back to town in his big Suburban. When we got home, we had students from WSU camped out in our living room because they couldn’t get back to school. We ended up with over a foot of ash…we cleared it off the roof and sidewalks with snow shovels. I was in eighth grade at the time and the spring quarter ended then, on that day…Yippee, early summer vacation! The town where I grew up was in the Palouse, famous for our wheat fields and other agricultural products. Everyone was worried what the ash would do to the crops; in the end, it didn’t hurt them, and may have even fertilized them some. I remember we all had to wear these ash masks when we went outside. At first they were afraid that the fallout might hurt us (possible radiation or contamination), but when it didn’t, they let us kids play in the muck just like we played in snow. It was scary at the time but fascinating to watch on television.
Gloria

The weekend Mount St. Helens erupted my best friend had come up from Longview to visit me in Seattle. She got a phone call from her parents telling her the mountain had erupted and she should come right home before the road was cut off.  All predictions were expecting the I-5 Bridge to go once the massive flow of debris on the Toutle River met the Cowlitz River.  I was immediately frightened for my Grandma; she lived in Kelso just five blocks from the Cowlitz River and her neighborhood was right at river level.  The quick action of evacuation efforts got them out of potential harm’s way.  I had a number of other friends and relatives in that area, and in the path of the heaviest ash fallout; thankfully the only harm suffered was to their vehicles. I had been on an outing to Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake just a few years before. I had a vivid memory of what it looked like before the eruption, making it even more amazing to compare to the devastating images I was seeing on TV.
Anita

We were planning to go on a hike to the ice caves. It was before I was married to my now-husband Rob. We also were planning to go with two friends of ours. Rob called and asked if I had heard that Mount St. Helens had blown up (I didn’t have a TV, but it was on the radio). It didn’t seem real at the time. I know that sounds clichéd but at the time it seemed like the news media was exaggerating everything. That couldn’t be really happening, could it? So we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to go hiking that day, but we still went outside anyway—3 of us ended up over at my apartment. They weren’t saying right away that people should stay inside. Later that evening, it seemed, they were warning people to avoid going out in the ash. Anyway, we still went outside to investigate. You could see it in the sky that afternoon and for days afterward you had to go around wiping ash off of every surface. You could see it everywhere.
Kathy

Almost every summer, my father taught a summer session at UW on volcanoes and we traveled up from Colorado. Part of our summer trip up here was a stay near Mount St. Helens at Spirit Lake. It was a favorite childhood place of mine, and we continued to travel there as a family throughout my college years. I had been following the Mount St. Helens rumblings on TV. We were living in Panama and I was following this on CNN because of my childhood memories of going there. I was fascinated, glued to CNN and very upset whenever the armed forces TV service would cut away to something else. When I found out it blew up I learned it had forever changed Spirit Lake. My mother had said it was the most beautiful, perfect volcano in the world. It was all very, very sad.
Pat B.

I was a young wife and new mother living in the town of Carnation. I had just given birth to our eldest child Carla, born April 20th 1980. The thought that the world was coming to an end crossed my mind fueled by an excess of postpartum hormones. I don’t even think we had TV at the time nor did I need one to see the monumental plume. I was able to step out into our yard and see the ash dust. I would later be given a small vile of the dust that I held onto for years. We hope to visit Mount St. Helens this summer and see how life has returned in the aftermath.
Margo

I was only 3 at the time, but my mom said she went outside. We didn’t get a whole ton of ash on the ground at first, but she said it was really dark out. She said it seemed like the beginning of a snowfall, and that it was so freaky to see the sky that way. It was in the middle of a nice day and then the sky just got dark so very suddenly. She was always on the move so she didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. So it came as a shock to see it happening in the middle of her day. She wasn’t scared, but was confused and wanted to see what was going on.
Jennifer H.

I honestly don’t remember the Mount St. Helens eruption. I just remember that massive tire fire that started a few years later. I went to North Middle and we couldn’t go to school after the tire fire since the ventilation system at the school sucked in all the fumes.
Kevin