The Local History

by Logan Camporeale

Spokanite

What do you call someone from Spokane? A Spokanite, of course.

Words like Spokanite and Seattleite are called demonyms. They are convenient descriptors that are often touted with a sense of pride. Spokanite has been widely used to identify residents of the city for over 130 years, since before Washington became a state and even before the “Falls” was dropped from the city’s name. A search of newspaper databases and Google Books returned an abundance of hits for Spokanite with the first coming from the 1880s. A couple of the earliest occurrences stood out.

The Washington Standard, November 26, 1886

The Washington Standard was one of the first newspapers to publish the word Spokanite. On November 26, 1886, the newspaper reported that the city of Spokane Falls had won back the county seat of Spokane County, after having it stolen away just six years earlier. The short, sixty-three word article recounts a defining moment in the history of the county and purposefully uses demonyms to differentiate the two parties involved: Cheneyites and Spokanites.

Patent Image of Boyle’s Saluting Device

The earliest occurrence of Spokanite on Google Books is from ten years later. The American Stationer, a magazine focused on the stationary and “fancy goods” businesses, used the word in March of 1896. The publication ran a feature about a peculiar invention from a Spokane man named James Boyle, whom they identified as a Spokanite. The invention, a “Saluting Device,” allowed a hat-wearer to automatically tip their hat in salute by simply bowing their head. At the turn of the century, it was expected for men to tip their hat as a sign of respect. According to the article, this device was “intended to relieve the wearer from the labor of lifting his hat.” Boyle received a patent for the invention but, unlike the word Spokanite, his Saluting Device did not catch on.

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The Carl Maxey Bridge

This was a letter to the editor of the Spokesman-Review on March 8, 2018. The letter was published on March 20, 2018.

 

Spokane is building a bridge that connects East Central with the University District. The names under consideration range from uncreative to downright boring, so I would like to offer another suggestion: Carl Maxey Bridge.

In the first half of the 20th century, when blacks moved to Spokane, they were steered to East Central—the black neighborhood.

Carl Maxey

It was Carl Maxey, more than any other single person, who desegregated Spokane. Despite growing up in an orphanage, Maxey attended Gonzaga where he graduated with a law degree. As Spokane’s first black attorney, Maxey was eager to defend those impacted by racist policies and to challenge the structures that perpetrated them.

He took on the school district for refusing to hire black teachers, and he won. He took on barber shops that would not serve black customers, and he won. He took on important social clubs that denied blacks membership, and he won. He took on racist housing policies that had segregated Spokane, and he won.

The New York Times credited Maxey with “virtually singlehandedly desegregating much of the inland Northwest.” Although he did not work alone, this claim is hardly an overstatement.

The new bridge should be named Carl Maxey Bridge.

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Thanksgiving in Spokane: A Tradition of Volunteerism

Volunteers will make 400 happy tomorrow

Tom’s Turkey Drive has been feeding Spokane’s less fortunate for the past seventeen Thanksgiving holidays. The food drive, a collaborative community effort, collected and distributed over 11,000 Thanksgiving meals in 2016. Countless business and individuals donated to the cause and over 7,000 volunteers gave their time. Participating in Tom’s Turkey Drive is a tradition for Spokanites, a tradition building on over 110 years of charity and volunteerism surrounding Turkey Day.  

Feeding the poor on Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition in Spokane since it’s early years. “The newsboys, messenger boys, poor women and children of the city, will eat turkey and cranberry sauce tomorrow,” The Spokane Press proclaimed in late November 1904. The Volunteers of America, a national organization with a Spokane chapter, took on the huge task of feeding the city’s needy. A large group of volunteers prepared endless stacks of meals, set tables and chairs in the banquet room of city hall, and fed nearly a thousand people a festive Thanksgiving dinner—and they did it every year.

Maud Booth, along with her husband, founded the Volunteers of America in 1896. The Spokane chapter, one of the first, opened that same year.

Much as it is today, the effort was a collaborative one. Local markets and stores donated meat, and the organizers encouraged community members to contribute. But not everyone was generous, and The Spokane Press, a worker’s newspaper, was critical of the greedy: “The cost of feeding 1000 poor will not exceed what one rich man of Spokane would expend in entertaining 50 of his friends at his house. Yet the rich man sits in his elegant home, bounteously provided for amid magnificent surroundings, and gives no thought to his less fortunate fellow man.”

Although the paper was critical of the overindulged, it also engaged in poor shaming. The paper referred to the poor as “street urchins,” a “hungry mob,” and the “lowliest walks of life.” The paper and it’s readership hated bosses and big business owners, but it also disdained folks surviving on the backs of donors.

The newspaper, however, is clear about its stance on those that volunteer:

“The Volunteers do it lovingly, cheerfully and without thanks in many cases. The busy world looks on, remarks it is a good thing, but lend no helping hand.
God Bless The Volunteers.
I wish that there were more of them.”


Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful volunteers with whom I have worked. You make the world a better place.

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#GreatFire1889

Spokane Daily Chronicle Tent After Great Fire

A few weeks ago a local history buff shared a fun idea. He proposed to live-tweet Spokane’s Great Fire of 1889. It was a brilliant thought, but unfortunately it surfaced just three days before the 128th anniversary of the tragic event. Knowing that time was working against us, I reached out to some potential partners and called for a meeting the next day to brainstorm and to do the work of writing the tweets. Fortunately, quite a few folks were compelled by the idea and a handful of us convened in the archives reading room at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, where I work as the Volunteer Coordinator. Creating the tweets was a blast and it was exciting to see the project come together on such short notice, so exciting that my former professor and fellow historian blogged about it.

Despite our rushed timeline to make the event happen, it was wildly successful. Before any of the tweets were even published, the event was featured on the front page, above-the-fold, in our local newspaper. (It must be expensive to advertise on the front page of the paper, eh?) The event only got more successful, drawing increased engagement and interest over the next 48 hours. (Including an additional newspaper article prompted by a #GreatFire1889 tweet.)

From an observational point of view, the #GreatFire1889 Tweet event was the most engaging social media interaction the museum has ever done. The tweets drew over thirty replies with a variety of different responses.

Some tweeters shared additional historical knowledge that they had on the fire. Some tweeters asked questions hoping to clarify historical details. And my favorite tweeters took on the persona of an individual living in early Spokane, and responded as if they were experiencing the Great Fire live.

These replies show the level and type of engagement that the event encouraged. It is important to recognize that people were experiencing a deeper level of interaction with these tweets. 

They weren’t just tapping like or retweet, or asking what time the galleries open, they were thinking critically about this historic event. Live-tweeting historic events reminds us that, when given the opportunity, the community has input to add to important discussions about the past.

But, most marketing folks and social media managers are interested in the numbers—like how many engagements were made and how many new followers gained? I have done my best to capture that data and I am happy to share it, with the the hope that it will inspire more institutions to live-tweet historic events—not only because it is fun and engaging, but because it drives interest to your institution, current exhibit, or collections. Below is a brief rundown of some of the numbers, and here is a spreadsheet with the data that twitter makes available.

Twitter data for all tweets posted by @NorthwestMuseum in 72 hours from 8/4/2017-8/7/2017:

  • Total impressions:  98,449
  • Total engagements:  4,026
  • Total replies: 38
  • Total likes: 686
  • Total retweets: 275
  • Total museum profile clicks from a Great Fire tweet: 453
  • Total new followers: Approximately 150
    (Twitter does not allow you to query how many new followers over a certain date range, so this was for August 1-8, 2017.)

For comparison, here are the numbers for all 41 tweets the museum tweeted during the entire month of July, 2017:

  • Total impressions: 43,501
  • Total engagements: 1,207
  • Total replies: 12
  • Total likes: 296
  • Total retweets: 95
  • Total museum profile clicks from all tweets: 58
  • Total new followers: 30

The @NorthwestMuseum is planning to live-tweet some other historic events, and I will continue to make observations and collect data that I look forward to sharing with you in the future. Shoutout and a big thank you to Tom McArthur, Anna Harbine, Jaymee Donelson, Katie Enders, Larry Cebula, and John Webster.

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The Path of Totality: Pulling Meeting Minutes Out of the Shadows

On Monday, August 21st, 2017 the moon will pass between the sun and the earth casting a wide shadow over parts of the contiguous United States for the first time in nearly four decades. This unusual event, a total solar eclipse, will only be visible from the path of totality—a seventy-mile wide strip of earth that arcs across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

Skywatchers and armchair astronomers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond will flock to central Oregon in hopes that mother nature will offer a clear sky to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Nearly all reservable lodging options within the path of totality, including campsites and home rentals, have been booked. Cities and towns have been planning for the influx of people, holding town meetings and brainstorming ideas to generate revenue from the visitors. Stores are planning to stock up on the necessities and farmers are considering turning fallow fields into fertile campgrounds that they hope to rent for hundreds, or possibly thousands of dollars per site.

This is not the first time that the Pacific Northwest has fallen in the path of totality. In 1979, a total solar eclipse swept across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota before proceeding into Canada. The event, billed as the country’s final total eclipse of the century, generated a “solar mania” comparable to today’s excitement. Taverns in the path created specialty drinks like the “Total Eclipse.” And the Seattle Science Center chartered a plane to fly above the Columbia Gorge for a champagne-enhanced view of the eclipse with no chance of pesky clouds getting in the way.

Keyword searchable newspapers are a useful source to understand how Pacific Northwesterners engaged with the last total solar eclipse, but they can be hard to come by. In fact, there does not seem to be any freely-accessible keyword-searchable Washington State newspapers from 1979. Not even a subscription service at Newspapers.com has anything. (Although it did provide some local details, the clipping above came from the Associated Press in a newspaper out of San Bernardino, California.) Fortunately there is another keyword-searchable collection that can help use to fill in the gaps and provide a more nuanced local perspective when newspapers are not doing the job.

The Minutes and Meeting Records Collection at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives is made up of official accounts of meetings conducted by over two hundred local government agencies from the 1850s to the present. They are a running record of the most important business conducted by an agency. The records are completely keyword searchable and they provide a different window into the challenges of the eclipse in 1979. Instead of city councils and boards of commissioners laboring over how to accommodate an influx of visitors, as might have been expected, a keyword search for just the word “eclipse,” and then a handy date sort, shows that it was school districts that were talking about the event.

Unlike this year’s eclipse, the one in 1979 occurred in February well before children got out of school for the summer, and in the middle of winter when camping trips and others vacations were not as appealing. Instead of concerns about inundated cities and public lands, the records show that at least five school districts in Washington State had educators and administrators that were worried about the possibility of students damaging their eyes while trying to watch the solar eclipse on their way to school. The concerns were raised in public meetings, and in Vancouver School District an ophthalmologist was consulted to guide an action plan. Most school districts instructed teachers to educate their students about the risks of looking at the sun and agreed upon different start times to ensure that students were not walking to school when the event occurred—a practical local-level response to the eclipse, but not the one that was expected.

This is not an earth-shattering discovery shedding light on the long duree history of human responses to eclipses, but it is an interesting bit that fills in our understanding of how communities reacted to previous eclipse events. It also shows us how a simple change in the circumstances of these two events—the time of year—vastly changed the local response.

Using keyword searches of the Minutes and Meeting Records are an effective way to unpack local perspectives on national issues, and they certainly are not limited to the eclipse. For example, while trying to understand local impacts of forced relocation, searching the collection for the word “Japanese,” and then sorting it by date, revealed an organized effort to prevent displaced Japanese from resettling in their communities during World War II. The Grant County Commissioners were even in favor of the construction of a “concentration camp” within the county to imprison those who were relocated.

Similarly, a researcher interested in the AIDS epidemic in Washington State would be handedly rewarded from a simple keyword search for the word “homosexual.” The query revealed that in the 1980s agencies like the Snohomish County Health District were actively engaged with the challenges their community faced with the spread of HIV. It was such a pressing issue that an “AIDS Update” was a recurring agenda item at their meetings.

As pajama-bound historians we often rely too heavily on keyword-searchable newspapers to understand local impacts of national events, even when keyword-searchable minutes and meeting records from local government agencies are readily available. As more states and local governments put their minutes online and make them keyword searchable, a deep chest of immensely valuable local history sources will become easily accessible to historians trying to understand local impacts of national events. Let the keyword searches begin.

 

Eclipse image courtesy of Temple University Libraries.

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