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History at Home

Although MOHAI is currently temporarily closed to visitors, we remain committed to our mission to collect and share the stories of our community. And the biggest story right now is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and our region’s response. As this story evolves, we are already witnessing that, in this place of innovation, we are coming together and collaborating across boundaries to ensure the well-being of this remarkable place we call home.

During this historic moment, we invite you to connect with MOHAI in a new digital way. You will find fun and unique ways to explore history at home with your friends, family, and the young people in your life. We encourage you to reach out to us with anything you would like to see more of and invite you to send suggestions.

 

MOHAI On Demand – Check out MOHAI’s popular programs including Community Conversations, History Café, the award-winning Rainy Day History Podcast, and more!

 

MOHAI Exhibit Flashback – Watch popular movies featured in MOHAI’s Celluloid Seattle exhibit and test your cooking skills with Edible City’s popular recipes.

 

Home School Tools – Examine MOHAI’s artifacts and enjoy crafts and storytime suggestions.

 

MOHAI Youth Advisors (MYA) Spotlight – Learn about MYA with special guest TK, one of the hosts of Rainy Day History Season One.

 

MOHAI Collection Close-Up: A Day in the Life of Washington – See how everyday ordinary moments have important historical significance in this amazing photograph collection.

 

MOHAI Perspectives – See MOHAI in the news and learn about the similarities between COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Seattle.

 

Reflections from MOHAI’s Executive Director – Look back 100 years to a time when Seattle faced the greatest health crises in modern history.

 

History at Home Weekly Email Archive – Catch up on past editions of the History at Home Weekly Email.

 

Collecting COVID-19 History – Review MOHAI’s artifact donation guidelines.

MOHAI On Demand

Explore these MOHAI programs and discover something new at your convenience!

Community Conversations

Our Community Conversation series fosters dialogue between civic leaders, historians and community members, coming together in a Town Hall setting to explore changes impacting our region. Watch past conversations that draw on lessons from history and explore possibilities for the future.

Community Conversation: Housing the Homeless

Addressing Hunger: A MOHAI Community Conversation

Community Conversation: Immigrant Life in Uncertain Times

Community Conversations: Gentrification and the Changing Identity of Seattle and King County?

Community Conversation: The Heroin Epidemic

History Café Audio Archive

Catch up on MOHAI’s monthly conversations that uncover unique Seattle stories relevant to our changing community. History Café talks focus on local history, both popular and obscure, and have something for everyone. Each conversation features a different topic, speaker, and program partner. History Café is co-presented with MOHAI and HistoryLink.org.

Rainy Day History Podcast

Now is the time to catch up on MOHAI’s original Rainy Day History podcast. The podcast is entirely researched, written, and produced by the MOHAI Youth Advisors (MYA), a dedicated and creative group of high school students who guide and provide teen perspectives for the museum.

Each episode invites you to discover the history of objects in the museum that are personal and political—childhood treasures abandoned in times of war, a memorable discotheque marquee, protest art, and more— and examine the legacies that the events surrounding them have left for this city. Listen to the series or single episodes directly from the Rainy Day History podcast page, or subscribe and listen on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudSpotify, and Stitcher.

Dig even deeper into the podcast stories with extended show notes on the Rainy Day History page, and explore episode sources, MOHAI exhibit connections, resources for further exploration, and transcripts for each episode.

MOHAI Minutes

Travel through history with MOHAI Minutes. This MOHAI produced video series invites viewers through a time-traveling journey to Seattle’s most fantastic historic spots. Explore the entire MOHAI Minute series on YouTube. Each episode is less than five minutes and filled with fun, historic facts!

MOHAI Minute: Garfield High

MOHAI Minute: Seattle's Early Cable Cars

MOHAI Minute: Tribute to Seattle's Teachers!

Pandemic! Seattle and the Spanish Flu of 1918 Webinar

Explore the historical parallels between COVID-19 and the Spanish flu of 1918 in Seattle with MOHAI’s Executive Director Leonard Garfield in this recording of a live webinar on Thursday, April 2.

2020 Denny Lecture: Learning from Earth Day 50 Years Later with Derek Hoshiko

With record breaking temperatures, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps, the 1970 call for an Earth Day of environmental action has never been more relevant. From science to policy to activism, how has our state grappled with these issues over the past 50 years and what do we do next?

Join local climate activist and community organizer Derek Hoshiko in this recording of a live webinar on Tuesday, April 14 to explore what we can learn from the history of environmentalism, and how we can face the present climate crisis.

History Café: Puget Sound’s Maritime Highway

From canoes, to the mosquito fleet, to our modern day ferry system, boats have long been a principal means of travel around Puget Sound. In this recording of a live webinar on Tuesday, April 21, David B. Williams highlights how people have spent the last 13,000 years boating this extraordinary waterway.

Behind the Seams: Zoom In on the Details

Join Curator of Collections Clara Berg for this special digital Behind the Seams! Take a visual journey through MOHAI’s vault and see Clara’s favorite details on garments from the museum’s textile collection. Get closer than you have ever been through the magic of photography, and discover the hidden elements that make each garment special.

History Café: Resilience Past and Present in the Chinatown International District

Seattle’s historic Chinatown-International District (CID) was hit early and hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, underscoring the history of redlining, racism, and speculative development that have made this diverse community vulnerable to displacement and anti-Asian hate. However, the CID also has a long legacy of resistance and resilience. Hear from local CID Coalition/#HumbowsNotHotels activists Cynthia Brothers (also of Vanishing Seattle) and Marlon Dylan Herrera, who share reflections on past and present organizing in the CID—including how community members are responding to the inequalities laid bare by COVID-19 through mutual aid and advocacy, to leverage this moment of crisis in support of lasting, transformative change for the neighborhood

Battle for the Ballot: Women and the Vote

A hundred years ago, the hard-fought 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. Join moderator Dr. Shirley Yee for a digital panel exploring the complex history behind the fight for suffrage. Learn about the past and present struggles surrounding voting including racial discrimination and barriers created by lack of access to citizenship. Click here to download a PDF of suggested resources for additional learning compiled by the presenters.

Presented in collaboration with the Leagues of Women Voters of Washington and of Seattle-King County. Generous support provided by Washington State Women’s Commission’s Votes for Women Centennial Grant.

MOHAI Exhibit Flashback

The museum may be temporarily closed, but our signature exhibits live forever on our website. Rediscover your favorite exhibit or take a look at one you may have missed!

Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies

Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was a wide-ranging exhibit that explored two ideas: the image of Seattle captured in films made here, and a history of the way Seattleites have gone to the movies. Visit the Celluloid Seattle exhibit page for a list of films featuring the Emerald City, perfect for watching at home! Explore Celluloid Seattle Films

Edible City: A Delicious Journey

Our Edible City: A Delicious Journey special exhibit served up the story of how people eat in Seattle, and how urban palates have developed over the years. For nearly two centuries, Seattle has been a region whose culinary traditions, like its people, are distinguished by the confluence of cultures, the wise use of natural resources, and the willingness (and oftentimes necessity) to try something new. We invite you to try a new recipe from the selection that was featured in the exhibit. Explore Edible City Recipes

MOHAI Exhibit Video Flashbacks

Native Sovereignty

Native people in the Pacific Northwest traditionally relied on foods like shellfish, salmon, wild berries, mushrooms and gathered greens. Upon colonization, with their loss of land and access to traditional food systems, the diet of Native people shifted to follow that of the dominant western culture. In this film featured in Edible City: A Delicious Journey, Muckleshoot member and community nutritionist Valerie Segrest talks about tribal efforts to reinvent traditional foods. Segrest is a leading educator on the ideas and practices behind Native Food Sovereignty, which is defined by the First Nations Development Institute as “the right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances.”

Film by Kay D. Ray for MOHAI.

Sewn in Seattle: Prairie Underground

The fashion industry is a huge producer of waste and pollution. Local company Prairie Underground is one of many local brands which is passionate about making ethical and sustainable choices in their production process. They also design for long-term wearability, supporting the idea that clothes should be loved and worn year after year. Prairie Underground garments are included in MOHAI’s collection and the brand was featured in a “Sewn in Seattle” video in MOHAI’s 2019 exhibit Seattle Style: Fashion/Function.

Film by Aaron Bourget for MOHAI.

Home School Tools

Looking for a great way to learn about history with the young people in your home? By examining things people make and/or use we gain a better understanding of their lives and the past.  

Photograph, Document, and Artifact Analysis

MOHAI’s Education team works with over 30,000 students annually to encourage close looking and historical thinking by asking questions about what they see, think, and wonder about objects in our collection. MOHAI’s Introduction to Primary Source Analysis resources offer essential questions that help us find clues to the past.

Use the worksheets at home to explore MOHAI’s online collection or examine everyday objects in your homes.

Download a PDF of the History at Home Photograph Analysis Worksheet

Download a PDF of the History at Home Artifact Analysis Worksheet

Download a PDF of the History at Home Document Analysis Worksheet

Hand Washing Craft Activities and Storytime Suggestions

MOHAI’s Education team has selected stories and craft activities about germs, the importance of hand-washing, and what happens when you’re sick to help kids understand what is currently happening in our community and how we can do our part to prevent the spread of germs. Happy hand washing! Download a PDF of the Crafts and Storytime Suggestions Packet

Earth Day Home Activities

Earth Day celebrations promote environmental protection and stewardship through public education, political advocacy, and community organizing. Explore some of the history of current environmental issues and activism with MOHAI by exploring our online collection, creative activities, and partner resources with the young learners in your home. Don’t miss the special MOHAI Neighborhood Bingo walking activity!

Download a PDF of the Earth Day Home Activities Packet

Download a PDF of the MOHAI Neighborhood Bingo Activity

 

Pride Month Home Activity

This Pride Month home craft activity lets people express their identities and consider how our differences make make us unique. The “Chains of Community” activity demonstrates how we become stronger when we support one another and receive support ourselves!

Download a PDF of the Pride Month Home Activity

 

Explore Black History in Seattle Parks

History is all around us! Seattle Parks and Recreation compiled a list of several parks in the city named after Black historical figures, most of whom lived in Seattle and made significant contributions to the city. Explore the list on the Parkways blog (linked below), and pair it with the activities in the MOHAI Education team’s PDF packet.

If you are close enough to visit one of these parks in-person, make sure to follow Safe Start guidelines, wear a mask, maintain distance from others, and wash your hands afterwards.

Explore Seattle’s Black History with Seattle Parks and Recreation (Part 1)

Explore Seattle’s Black History with Seattle Parks and Recreation (Part 2)

Download a PDF of the Explore Black History in Seattle Parks Activities Packet

 

Quaranzine Craft

In April we shared instructions and prompts for making a simple one-page quarantine zine (“quaranzine”) to reflect on life during the coronavirus pandemic. Things have changed a lot since then! We’ve been going through this for a few months now, school is out, and the world outside feels different as summer arrives and businesses begin to partially re-open.

Here are some new prompts for a July quaranzine! All you need is a rectangular piece of paper, scissors, and drawing/writing/collaging supplies of your choice. More detailed instructions and the original prompts can be found at mohai.org/quaranzine.

Download July’s Quaranzine Prompts (PDF)

Download Detailed Quaranzine Instructions (PDF)

MOHAI Youth Advisors Spotlight

MOHAI Youth Advisors (MYA) make the museum more welcoming for their peers by finding fun and creative ways to connect teens with MOHAI and by providing input on the development of museum programming and exhibits. At the same time, the MYA program gives teens access to museum professionals, adult mentors, and helps them connect with their local history. MYA is also the creative force behind Rainy Day History, an award-winning podcast that explores Seattle’s past as it is mirrored in our city today.

MOHAI Youth Advisor Spotlight with TK

MYA is working hard to wrap up production on Season Two of Rainy Day History! In the meantime, meet TK, one of the hosts of Season One, and learn more about their experience with MYA. TK has been in MYA since 2017 and is part of the Steering Committee.

What is your favorite spot in MOHAI?

  • I love the constantly changing artifacts on display just to the right of the WTO protest case. A majority of the time they are a set of outfits from different people around the city. One time there was even this life-size Japanese doll dressed in an elaborate performance kimono.

What do you like about being in MYA?

  • I love learning more about what the museum does behind the scenes. Rainy Day History was truly one of my favorite passion projects, getting to dive deep into Seattle’s complex history. Winning the AKCHO Technology Award is a testament to the talent and hard work all of MYA put together to showcase history that schoolbooks don’t cover. I’m grateful to have been a part of the experience.

What has MYA taught you?

  • That anything is possible when you put a handful of thoughtful teens and professionals together, plus how to be a leader.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • One of my long-term goals is to train in the sciences to be able to serve marginalized, oppressed communities. To learn how to make someone’s life better, even just a little bit by providing a service for them through medicine has always been my lifetime goal. So either a scientist or a physician.

MOHAI Collection Close-Up: A Day in the Life of Washington

On September 23, 1983, photographers from the National Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Magazine Photographers, and freelancers participated in a 24-hour shoot to document “A Day in the Life of Washington.” 

MOHAI, Washington Day Shoot Collection, 1984.118.236

Children Playing Computer Game, Lynnwood (September 23, 1983)

This amazing documentary collection highlights how ordinary moments in our everyday lives can have important historical significance. See a few of these photos above and in our online collection.

Forty years from now, what do you think photos during the pandemic will depict? Are you capturing any photographs during this time? If so, we invite you to share them with us on Facebook and Instagram by tagging @MOHAI!

MOHAI, Washington Day Shoot Collection, 1984.118.376

Man Working at Foss Shipyard, Seattle (September 23, 1983)

This amazing documentary collection highlights how ordinary moments in our everyday lives can have important historical significance. See a few of these photos above and in our online collection.

Forty years from now, what do you think photos during the pandemic will depict? Are you capturing any photographs during this time? If so, we invite you to share them with us on Facebook and Instagram by tagging @MOHAI!

MOHAI, Washington Day Shoot Collection, 1984.118.147

Artist Working on Tattoo, Seattle (September 23, 1983)

This amazing documentary collection highlights how ordinary moments in our everyday lives can have important historical significance. See a few of these photos above and in our online collection.

Forty years from now, what do you think photos during the pandemic will depict? Are you capturing any photographs during this time? If so, we invite you to share them with us on Facebook and Instagram by tagging @MOHAI!

MOHAI Perspectives

Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director, has been discussing the similarities between COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Seattle. You may have seen him and photographs from the MOHAI Collection in the media this week. Catch up by clicking the images below. 

Reflections from MOHAI’s Executive Director Leonard Garfield

The parallels between the influenza of 1918 and today’s Coronavirus crises are striking, as are the lessons. Seattle’s early, strong and unified action, led by an emerging public health program, allowed the city to blunt the flu’s impact and shorten its reign over the region. Seattle fatalities were less than those of other urban areas where action was more muted or public response less cooperative.

MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield goes into the MOHAI collection and looks back 100 years to a time when Seattle was a booming city, emerging from World War I, and suddenly facing the greatest health crises in modern history.

Expand the boxes below to read the essays now, or click the links to download PDFs. 

Pandemic! Seattle and the Spanish Flu of 1918 – PDF

When Seattle Came Together – PDF

Medical Marvels from the MOHAI Collection – PDF

Celebrating Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary – PDF

COVID-19 and the Body Politic – PDF

On Memories and Mount St. Helens – PDF

Reflections on Democracy – PDF

Pandemic! Seattle and the Spanish Flu of 1918

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

Seattle’s newly appointed public health authorities had good reason to be concerned in the late summer and early fall of 1918.  The so-called Spanish Flu was ravaging lives and communities around the globe, claiming literally millions of victims—and had begun its rapid march across the United States. Flu, of course, was then as now an annual event in the lifecycle of cities and people. But this time it was different.

The influenza epidemic of 1918-19, known popularly as the Spanish Flu, would be the worst pandemic of modern times.  It was the first outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, effecting hundreds of millions of people before it ran its course—with perhaps as many as 10% of those infections becoming fatal, resulting in one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.

In addition to its unusual scale, the outbreak was different in another way: While most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly, or already weakened patients, the 1918 pandemic predominantly killed previously healthy young adults. Modern research, using virus taken from the bodies of frozen victims, has concluded that the virus killed through an overreaction of the body’s immune system. The influenza particularly affected those between the ages of 20 and 35 whose robust immune systems exhausted themselves in the fight against the disease. The resulting battleground ravaged the lungs, and for many led to secondary and often fatal infections from bacterial pneumonia.

No one is really sure, even now, how or where the flu started. Did sick pigs in Kansas somehow infect European- bound US troops in 1917?  Did avian flu affect soldiers in the European trenches? One recent historical theory is that infected labor contractors arriving in Western Canada in 1917 traveled from Vancouver across North America by rail, and thus launched the flu on its global pathway.

One place where it did not start? Spain. It was called Spanish flu only because neutral Spain escaped wartime censorship and gave it more publicity than other countries, including reports that King Alphonso XIII was gravely ill (while reports of President Wilson’s illness were largely hidden).

At any rate, a world at war—with mass movements across long distances, crowded living conditions, poor sanitation and stressed out health systems— created a global Petrie dish. An initial wave of flu in the spring and summer of 1918 sickened so many European soldiers that German Gen. Erich von Ludendorff blamed the disease for helping foil his last offensive, which stalled just 37 miles from Paris. Entire divisions were laid low by illness, and in confusion each side accused the other of germ warfare.

By the time a second, more lethal wave of the flu struck the world in August and September of 1918, American reinforcements were turning the tide of the war.  But these same troops would not escape the flu, and the ending of war only seemed to hasten the spread of the disease as troops headed back home, haunted by the battlefront and many infected as well.

The flu arrived full bore in the Unites States in Boston on August 31, 1918 with returning American soldiers, and quickly spread to major cities like Philadelphia, where it then booked passage to Puget Sound the following month on a trainload of sick Navy draftees.

Having had time to witness the spread of the epidemic across the United States in the fall of 1918, neither Seattle nor Washington State officials were under the delusion that the disease would miraculously skip the Northwest. The hope was rather to identify and isolate early cases quickly enough to prevent the rapid spread of the disease, thereby keeping influenza from becoming epidemic.

But the deck was stacked against Seattle—and those cards would be played very soon. The Spanish Flu likely slipped into Washington on Sept. 17, when those feverish Naval recruits from Philadelphia docked at Bremerton’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In Bremerton, Navy officials cancelled all dances and ordered the men to keep away from social gatherings of any kind, and shortly thereafter prohibited all visitors. But the flu was here—and already spreading.

Less than a week later, 173 people were reported stricken with what was described as severe influenza at Camp Lewis south of Tacoma—although at first Army officials refused to label it Spanish Flu and insisted on inviting some 10,000 civilians to the base that week to watch a review of the troops. But when the sick soldiers began to develop pneumonia, Army officials placed Camp Lewis under quarantine, prohibiting anyone from entering or leaving the base.

But that too was too little, too late. Within days, the disease appeared in Seattle—a densely populated, rapidly industrializing city of more than 300,000 souls, mobilized for war and filled with troops, war workers, crowded streets and close housing conditions.

From the start, city Health Commissioner McBride and his counterpart in the state Department of Health, Dr. Thomas Tuttle, watched the situation carefully– and with growing anxiety.  McBride had no real way of knowing the trajectory of the epidemic. But when 200 influenza cases were suddenly reported at the UW Naval Training center in Seattle on September 28, McBride’s worst fears had come true.

On October 4, city newspapers reported that one cadet had died of influenza and that 700 more were ill– 400 of them in the hospital under treatment and observation. Publicly, McBride maintained optimistically that there were no civilian cases, no cause for alarm, and that the outbreak among the cadets was only a routine form of flu.

But the optimism lasted less than a day, after two influenza-related civilian deaths were reported in the city that evening.  The next day, October 5, after meeting with Mayor Ole Hanson, McBride officially confirmed that the Spanish Flu had made its way into Seattle and that if not contained would soon flash through the city’s civilian population like wildfire.

The Mayor and Commissioner took immediate action. That very day, they shut Seattle’s schools, theaters, dance halls, gyms and churches. And they did not stop there. They simultaneously prohibited all private dances, declared that streetcars and stores had to be well ventilated, and ordered police to enforce the anti-spitting ordinance with utmost strictness.

Mayor Hanson even warned that more widespread closures of public places might be forthcoming if the disease were not quickly checked. As the Post-lntelligencer put it, city officials had been “aroused at last to the imminence of the danger facing Seattle.”

When people awoke on October 6, 1918, the city felt different—and it was different in ways that perhaps have never been repeated until now. Church services were cancelled; theaters, poolrooms, libraries were closed; entertainment in cafes and restaurants was prohibited; and all businesses allowed to remain open were required to prevent crowding.

Public schools were also ordered closed, despite the fact that School Superintendent Frank Cooper believed that Mayor Hanson was acting hysterically over the situation, and besides which the Mayor should have asked the Superintendent’s opinion before closing schools, stating that in any event “it is a senseless thing to do.”

Superintendent Cooper wasn’t alone in his anger. The suddenness of the closure order came as a surprise to many. The Mayor’s office was flooded with calls from clergymen asking if they could hold services. The answer was a resolute NO: According to Mayor Hanson, “religion which won’t keep for two weeks is not worth having.”

Society women inquired whether planning for their charity events should continue. Theater owners protested they were not consulted; had they been allowed to remain open, they reasoned, they could have been the centerpiece of a citywide public health education campaign. Now all they could do was refund money to angry patrons.

And so it went. For days, newspapers and the public lambasted Hanson and McBride for issuing the closure order without advance warning. There were exceptions to the general outcry of course. Children were said to be cheering all across the city at the unexpected vacation. Gas station owners enjoyed something of a bonanza as well-off residents, with little else to do, took to their cars and motored along Seattle’s parkways and into the countryside. And in any event, it was smart to keep moving–the police chief created a special “Influenza Squad” to enforce the ban on social gatherings. “Some will kick,” Hanson said stoically, “but we would rather listen to a live kicker than bury him.”

Hanson and McBride were convinced the closure order would have an immediate and salutary effect, and as October wore on, and the bans stayed in effect, things did get better. Hanson, in particular, believed that the ordeal would be over shortly thanks to these measures. The Mayor also engaged in a little wishful thinking: he claimed that many who believed they had influenza really did not or simply have a less virulent strain. With adequate cooperation from the public and with enforcement of the orders by the police and the health department, Hanson was confident that the epidemic would be over within five days. And in an attempt to exercise what we might today call an “abundance of caution,” at the last minute he added weddings to the list of prohibited gatherings and limited funerals to 15 minutes.

Mayor Hanson was of course wrong. In no large city in the United States was the epidemic over in just a few weeks. As Seattle cases mounted, McBride told the public that the city would be better served if influenza patients came to a public hospital, where the work of the nurses could be carried out more efficiently than it would be in a private home. (In other cities, health officers frequently asked people with mild cases to remain at home under the care of a family member, thus freeing up hospital beds and nurses for those who were more severely ill.) Nurses—women for the most part—played a large and important role in treating the illness, as did the Red Cross, which coordinated necessary medical supplies and assembled the gauze masks that would soon be a ubiquitous sign of Seattle’s war on flu.

One factor that came into play in Seattle that distinguished it from other cities was that we had some time to plan, and that planning was largely conducted in the context of what we might now call the military-industrial complex. As home to the large Bremerton Shipyard and the massive private shipbuilding industry (which was largely occupied with government contracts), Mayor Hanson was determined to work closely with the industry to protect its work force—and its production and profits. After all, Seattle shipyard workers accounted for some 30,000 men, nearly 10% of the city’s population.

McBride knew that it would be difficult to keep this workforce healthy during the epidemic. “With an army of men as large as we have together in the shipyards it is very difficult to keep the disease from spreading should it gain a foothold there,” he told reporters early on, even before it arrived, clearly reflecting his concerns and the Mayor’s directives. The solution: fast action by the City’s health laboratory and Navy doctors to develop a flu vaccine that would be developed solely for the benefit of the shipbuilding work force.

To protect this “army of men,” McBride proposed the inoculation of each and every one of these workers with one of the several anti-influenza serums that were developed. “Let no question of money or men interfere with your work,” was Mayor Hanson’s order. By October 11, the city had produced enough doses of the anti-influenza serum to inoculate nearly every shipyard worker. Requests from all across the region came in for the vaccine but Seattle officials refused each of them (except for one from Fort Worden in Port Townsend).

McBride was open in his reasoning: “Seattle needs all the serum we can grow and we will share with nobody until our shipyard workers have been properly inoculated.” He was convinced of its effectiveness, citing its initial use at the Bremerton yard where only three mild influenza cases had developed among the 3,000 sailors who had been given the injection, and claiming that no one in the city who had been given the two doses of the serum as required had contracted influenza.

Despite that track record, the serum by itself did little to halt or even slow the spread of the epidemic among the general population in Seattle, and by mid- October nearly 3,500 cases had been reported.

Newspaper coverage was matter-of-fact and blind in its optimism. Deadly disease was more common than today, and war news pushed most flu stories to the inside pages. Health authorities were quoted day after day as hoping the pandemic had peaked, weeks before it actually did.

Yet news of apocalypse crept in and kept upsetting the predictions of the experts. McBride, with his high confidence in the serum and in the various anti-crowding measures, increasingly blamed private citizens for the frustrating continuance of the flu. “Influenza is still spreading through the carelessness of persons who insist upon violating the rules laid down to arrest its progress,” he said.

To drive home the point that the epidemic was serious business, McBride issued orders for stricter enforcement of public health laws. On October 18, with backing from the Mayor, McBride ordered the arrest of the proprietor of any soda fountain, ice cream parlor, or restaurant that failed to use hot water to wash dishes and utensils. Police blotters were full of names of those charged with spitting in public and congregating, including twenty-two men arrested for crowding in city pool halls and hotel lobbies. The Police Chief declared that repeat offenders would be dealt with severely.

On October 22, McBride announced that the peak of the epidemic had been reached, and that while the number of deaths would likely continue to rise for the next week or so, the number of new cases would decline. Unfortunately, once again the optimism was misplaced. The very next day new case reports showed an increase in the epidemic, and the numbers continued to grow ever larger in the following days. Exasperated, McBride threatened to close all businesses except pharmacies and food stores. Doctors and nurses at the emergency hospital were so over-worked and short-staffed that McBride himself volunteered.

But McBride insisted that stronger anti-crowding and isolation measures were necessary.  Even if the officials had to shut down Seattle completely. And that is exactly what he and Mayor Hanson threatened if residents did not do more to help bring an end to the disease.

Complaining that people were walking about downtown on the weekends when they should be at home avoiding crowds, he declared that if residents were to stay home for two days it would “do more to stop the epidemic than all the doctors in town.” Failure to check the disease immediately, McBride announced, would result in the same terrible outcome Eastern cities had faced earlier in the Fall. And he had no intention of letting that occur, he announced, even if it meant resorting to even more drastic measures.

McBride made good on his promise. On the morning of Monday, October 28, Mayor Hanson and Commissioner McBride issued a sweeping set of additional public health orders, the centerpiece of which was a mandatory flu mask order to go into effect the next day.

On October 29, 1918, six-ply gauze masks became mandatory in Seattle. The next day they were required throughout the state. Anyone shopping at a store, boarding a streetcar, or in any situation where one he or she could come into contact with another person in public was required to wear a mask. Streetcar conductors were told to admit no passenger who was not wearing a mask. When told that conductors hesitated to discriminate against passengers based on clothing, Hanson bluntly told commuters that they best get a hold of one of the Red Cross’s 250,000 masks as soon as possible “or tomorrow morning they will walk to work.”

The city did not stop with masks. Making good on earlier threats, McBride closed all ice cream parlors and soda fountains in the city until further notice and forced at least the two-day closure of all shops and stores for the weekend of November 2-3. After that, all stores and offices were prohibited from opening before 10:00 am or closing after 3:00 pm, in order to prevent crowding on streetcars during the rush hour commute for shipyard workers.  Although the stalls of the city’s Pike Place Market were allowed to remain open, McBride warned residents not to crowd the area. “We have given notice that we don’t want the people downtown… and no matter whom it may inconvenience it will be necessary to use the police to keep crowds moving,” he announced. If people needed to buy groceries, they could do so at their local, neighborhood store, he added.

Draconian? Yes. Unpopular certainly. But at last it seemed to work—cases did begin to modulate in early November and Seattle’s flu situation slowly improved. Nevertheless, despite extraordinary pressure, McBride and Hanson were reluctant to remove the closure order, let businesses return to their normal hours, or allow residents to remove their masks for fear that the epidemic would take a sudden turn for the worse. “There seems to be no doubt that the situation has materially improved,” Hanson told the public on November 10, but added that he “was not prepared to say just when we can relieve the city of the restrictions.”

But like the best laid plans, life interfered and public health discipline fell apart completely when the Armistice was announced the very next day, November 11, 1918. Thousands of joyous people in this classic Homefront City celebrated in the streets, with, the papers reported, “not a mask in sight.” Indeed, the mask rule was lifted the very next day and theaters and public places reopened at once.

With the war ended and the closures lifted, there was a lot to celebrate and throngs of people packed downtown for days (and nights), filling theaters to see performances such as “My Soldier Girl” at the Metropolitan and “The Race of Love” at Pantages. The Ford sisters, called “the greatest dancing pair on the Orpheum Circuit,” were performing at the Moore. The owner of the Oak Theater had taken time during the closure to renovate his theater, and now re-opened with a musical comedy. Crowds of patrons waited in line at the movies and by noon most movie houses had to warn patrons that theaters were at standing room only. As the Post-lntelligencer put it, “the public threw its masks in the stove, piled the breakfast dishes in the sink and hit for town on the first available street car.”

These large-scale celebrations and the crowding of downtown streets and businesses did not seem to have much of an effect on the flu figures, and the numbers of new cases continued to dwindle during the remaining days of November. By early-December, however, the disease seemed to be making a comeback.  This time, McBride wasted no time.  He warned the public to remain vigilant and to take precautions. The medical inspector for Seattle’s public schools ordered all pupils thoroughly examined, prohibited the assemblage of students, and instructed staff to send any child home who was ill.

Worried that a second wave of the epidemic was hitting Seattle, on December 2, Hanson and McBride took yet another step that they feared might be viewed as too severe but felt necessary—and drafted a resolution requiring the quarantine of all suspected cases of influenza.

The change in attitude reflected McBride’s opinion that the disease was making its way back into the community via outsiders arriving by boat and train. He believed that if these suspected carriers could be quarantined, Seattle might be spared another round without having to resort to a new set of closures. Presenting his case before an emergency session of the City Council on December 5, McBride told members of how fifteen men from cheap lodging houses were recently removed to hospitals. All had been severely ill for several days, but no one had contacted a physician. Under the new rule, the lodging house owners would be required to contact the Board of Health in such cases. The City Council passed the quarantine resolution.

Health inspectors were soon busy quarantining homes. By noon the day after the City Council passed the resolution, more than 100 placards had been posted. The health department was quickly flooded with phone calls from physicians and private citizens reporting cases. By December 10, nearly 1,000 placards had been posted on Seattle homes.

Residents, perhaps worried that the gathering bans and public closures they had come to detest might be enacted again, seemed eager and willing to do anything to help the Health Department rout the disease once and for all. In the public schools, attendance was more than fifty-percent below normal enrollment, in part due to illness but largely because worried parents kept their healthy children home. School officials considered closing the schools completely as a result of the low attendance.

Ultimately, this proved unnecessary, as the second wave passed by late December. Only small numbers of new cases and deaths were reported through the winter of 1919, and only ten patients were recuperating in the city’s emergency hospital on February 28. In March 1919 no deaths from influenza were reported. As suddenly as it appeared, Seattle was now suddenly largely free of the flu (although in late 1919 a milder wave of illness briefly revisited the city in one last bounce).

When the world returned to normal that spring, people awoke as if from a bad dream, perhaps unaware that they had lived through the single greatest American health disaster since European disease nearly wiped out Native American populations in the 19th century. By late spring of 1919, when the numbers finally were tallied, more than 1,500 people had died in Seattle alone, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Statewide, more than 6,500 people were counted dead– more than the state lost in World War I, more than the state lost in WWII, and more than the toll of the Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center attacks combined. The number of dead in the United State in that period exceeded 700,000—perhaps as many as 50 million worldwide.

Simply put, the Spanish Flu pandemic killed more people in a shorter time than any disease in world history. It reached into every corner of the globe, annihilating villages in Alaska and killing one out of five people in Western Samoa. Before it was over, it is estimated, 3-5% of the world’s population was lost.  Compared to that devastating toll, Seattle fared relatively well. Seattle suffered a death rate from the disease approximately half that of San Francisco and a third that of Philadelphia and Baltimore.

On December 31, 1918, in the first official assessment of the tragedy, the city health department blamed the spread of the epidemic on several sources. “Handicapped by routine red tape at first, later by the careful physician (careful not to report his cases), the ‘Doubting Thomas’ of the laity, and in many instances by gross neglect on the part of persons having the disease in a mild form— because of all this the loss of life, health and happiness has been appalling.”

The cause of flu was unknown in those years — the virus itself wasn’t isolated for decades—and as a result, most of the measures Seattle took to fight the plague were largely conjectural. Dramatically, the city concocted its own flu vaccine, based on bacteria found in the dead and inoculated thousands. Yet the serum did nothing to ward off or lessen the disease in the larger population. Gauze masks were equally unlikely to contain or intercept viruses far smaller than the weave, although they may have contained some cough spittle.

But fast and decisive action did make a difference.   What may have helped most was the Mayor’s decision to close public gathering places, particularly schools and theatres, despite its political unpopularity. Seattle did have a lower rate of infection than cities where crowds persisted too long. And the use of strict quarantine was likely important even though the state health authorities refused to exercise the same order on a statewide basis.

Over the years the Spanish Flu episode has been called the forgotten epidemic. A pandemic that would cause round-the-clock media coverage today received surprisingly subdued press attention in 1918-1919. Its impact on lives was personal and profound. But rather than monuments or reflections in literature, the flu became a mostly hidden personal story, while the larger public story was largely forgotten. Future novelist Mary McCarthy, for example, was 6 when her flu-stricken Seattle family boarded the train on Oct. 30, 1918, to visit Minneapolis.

Shortly after arrival, both parents were dead, a bereavement that sent her to two different homes of relatives and forever shaped her experiences and her life as a writer. There were a million American stories like McCarthy’s, yet most went publicly unrecorded.  There is no Angels in America and few classic works that reflects the experiences of what might be called the Spanish Flu generation—the young adults who bore the brunt of the worst plague in American history.

Most likely the Great War itself, the Bolshevik revolution and the tumult and economic dislocations of the post war years became indistinguishable from the flu as contributing factors to the great global upheaval that shook the world to its very foundations a century ago. But as with so much history, the relevance for today is unmistakable—and essential for us to understand.

As we are experiencing now with Coronavirus, in an increasingly connected world, facing the effects of global warming, deforestation that puts humans in contact with new animal diseases, urbanization, population growth, air travel and shipping of food supplies around the world, great global health challenges will be part of our future.  The real question is will we have learned from these past experiences, including our current crisis, to address the next challenge in the most effective and humane way possible. And that history of has yet to be written.

When Seattle Came Together

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

Historians call it the Seattle Spirit—moments when the Seattle community, seemingly against all odds, has come together to get things done in dire times. The COVID-19 crisis of today and the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of a century ago both reflect moments when unexpected tragedy precipitated a strong civic response. While no events in our region’s history compare to those pandemics, there are moments in our past when extraordinary challenges upended the city’s routine and brought the community together in a demonstration of that famous Seattle Spirit. Here are just three stories from our collection that reflect moments that historians often cite as examples of the Seattle Spirit. What moments would you add?

Often, the “Seattle Spirit” has described the community’s response to economic or political dislocations as opposed to the health crises of 1918 and today.  In fact, the first reference to the Seattle Spirit is believed to be July 14, 1873, when Seattleites awoke to the somber news that the nation’s early transcontinental railroad would bypass the Queen City, heading instead to the new city of Tacoma where it would build its terminus on the shores of Commencement Bay. For a town that had built itself in anticipation of the railroad’s arrival, the news came as a deep shock. Until it became an incentive to get the job done in a new way. On the very day that the bad news arrived, city leaders exhorted their fellow citizens—a quarter of whom had gathered at Yesler’s Mill—to grab their picks and shovels, load their wagons, and build their own rail line heading eastward across the county. The community responded and got to work immediately. And while the work ultimately took four years and hundreds of Chinese and other workers to make real progress—the newly born Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad reached the coal fields of eastern King County, precipitating an economic boom of its own. And that dark day at Yesler’s Mill would be seen as a major milestone in its own right—a sign that Seattle was a city that could battle through disappointment to long term success.

Nearly 20 years later, the city experienced the most devastating physical disaster in its history. The sudden fury of the Great Seattle Fire completely destroyed most of the city’s waterfront business district on June 6, 1889. Volunteer firefighters from throughout the region raced to battle the flames, and though their valiant efforts were largely futile, the fight launched the city’s rebirth.  The ashes were still smoldering when the city mobilized to re-house businesses in tents, establish stronger building codes, create a new public water system, assemble a professional fire department, and, ultimately, rebuild the business district into a far larger and more permanent city center than had existed just months before. A common symbol of Seattle at that moment? A mythical Phoenix, boldly rising above the devastation.

Fast forward 70 years to a global crisis. World War II was a deeply challenging time for Seattle as it was for the entire nation. The community rapidly transformed into a classic homefront city, with massive manufacturers ramping up production to build the planes, ships and tanks that helped win the war. But it was also a community deeply harmed by the incarceration of Japanese American residents, torn from their homes and businesses and forced to remote camps for the duration of the war. Yet through the dislocation, the community came together in supporting the troops, many of whom were sent overseas from Seattle. Large-scale rallies to promote the sale of war bonds, hosted in a downtown plaza known through the war years as Victory Square, attracted thousands and raised millions of dollars to support the war effort. In this image, Lana Turner, a Hollywood star of the World War II generation, visited Seattle to help in the effort. Rallies like these, and the wartime efforts of thousands of workers, service personnel, and their families, confirmed Seattle’s role as a center of America’s “arsenal of democracy” and helped boost the spirit of a wartime nation.

Building a railroad, fighting a fire, waging a war, or battling a pandemic. Whatever we call times like these, when Seattle joins together to find common purpose and innovative solutions, you can see the Seattle Spirit at work. Be sure to let us know what the Seattle Spirit means to you and we’ll share some of your thoughts in the weeks to come.

Medical Marvels from the MOHAI Collection

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

It is one of the smallest artifacts in MOHAI’s True Northwest: The Seattle Journey exhibit. Yet the story it tells is one of the most powerful. The humble cotton gauze mask, made by women volunteers of the Red Cross and worn during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, is a deceptively simple reflection of a public heath crisis unparalleled in Seattle history. It is a sign of the emerging science of epidemiology, and the awareness that the most casual social contact could turn into a deadly encounter. The mask also reflects the newly-found power of municipal government during the Progressive era, and the willingness of politicians to enforce measures that required individual sacrifice for the common good, in this case requiring every Seattle resident to wear a mask when in public in the late fall of 1918. This plain piece of cotton is a totem of a world under siege, and a city mobilized to save itself. It is also a message from a century ago of lessons learned during an age of pandemic.

The mask is just one of the rare objects in MOHAI’s collection that reflects the history of health care in our region dating as far back as the 1850s. Seattle’s first man of medicine—David Maynard—was trained at medical school in Vermont, had a successful career as a doctor in Ohio, and served patients along the trail on his way west to Puget Sound in 1850. But “Doc” Maynard was much more than a physician. He was Seattle’s most enthusiastic promoter, its first merchant, and an important liaison to the Native community. Yet Maynard never left his medical training far behind, establishing the community’s first hospital in Pioneer Square. His medical bag, dating to that period and now a part of MOHAI’s collection, includes such 19th century obstetrical instruments like forceps, a sign that the man some say “invented” Seattle also had a role bringing newly born Seattleites into the world.

Other medical artifacts at MOHAI range from an “iron lung” used by patients at the University of Washington Medical Center in 1948, which provided mechanical respiration to patients stricken with polio in the years before a vaccine helped eradicate the disease, to the famed LIFEPAK 5 defibrillator (now on display in True Northwest), the lightweight device developed in 1972 that allowed first responders to revive victims of sudden cardiac arrest.

Additional MOHAI artifacts illustrate innovations that resulted from the collaboration of inventors and doctors. Albert Swenson manufactured soft-serve ice cream machines in his Ballard workshop before he partnered with the University of Washington’s Dr. Belding Scribner in 1962 to develop a groundbreaking home dialysis machine, now on display in True Northwest. And the early ultrasound machine in the exhibit was developed by a group of engineers working on marine electronic systems who partnered with the UW in the 1970s to develop a diagnostic device that used high frequency sound waves to create images of soft tissues, organs, blood flow and fetal anatomy.

As I reflect on the range of these artifacts in the MOHAI collection, and the stories they illustrate, I am reminded that successfully tackling medical challenges requires a team approach, bringing together the skills of researchers, inventors, doctors, frontline medical personnel, and a community—and its leaders—united in their commitment to the health and well-being of every person.

Celebrating Earth Day's 50th Anniversary

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

I often reflect that much of American history has been made by young people. People in their 20s and 30s (even teens) who are able to see the world in new ways, take risks that others won’t, forging connections that might seem improbable to their elders. Certainly  that was the case 50 years ago when a young man organized the first-ever Earth Day, a nationwide mobilization of students, activists, and average citizens calling attention to our endangered environment. The young man who transformed a good idea into a milestone moment for the world was Denis Hayes, a native Washingtonian whose story is featured in MOHAl’s True Northwest: The Seattle Journey and Bezos Center for Innovation exhibits.

In interviews with MOHAI and others, Denis has spoken of how he came to that moment after years of study, travel and reflection, when he realized the interconnectedness of the natural environment and human communities. As national Earth Day coordinator in 1970, he took that awareness into the realm of action, masterminding complex logistical and strategic problem-solving with the energy and persistence that defines innovators. The stunning success of the first Earth Day-reputedly a tenth of the nation’s population participated in some way, including thousands of students on hundreds of college campuses-launched a broad-based political movement that  helped  spur  passage  of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, the enduring framework of the nation’s environmental law.

From those early days, a long line of Seattle activists and leaders has helped propel the movement, from Bill Ruckelshaus, appointed by the President Richard Nixon to serve as first director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (yet another outgrowth of Earth Day momentum) to Jason Mclarren, who founded the Living Building Challenge a few years ago. As Executive Director of Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation, Denis Hayes himself continues to be an environmental advocate of international stature. And Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkin and Washington Governor Jay lnslee are among the nation’s political leaders most associated with climate action.

But on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is also instructive to look at today’s emerging leaders-activists like Derek Hoshiko, who presented MOHAl’s Denny Lecture this month, as well as the many young climate activists of our region whose advocacy is distinguished by their passion and persistence. Like Denis Hayes before them, they are forging pathways the rest of us will follow. Young people leading the way-it is how history gets made.

COVID-19 and the Body Politic

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

When future historians look back to assess the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, they will tally the number of infections and the tragic toll of deaths. But they will also examine repercussions to our civic life and the health of our democracy. If the example of history’s greatest pandemic offers lessons, it is likely that the impact could be lasting. A century ago, the Spanish Flu’s devastating spread coincided with the final fight for women’s suffrage. That milestone moment came at a time when American women were on the frontlines of the pandemic battle, caring for the ill, sewing masks, raising funds for hospitals. They were heroes whose service was rightly seen as essential to the nation’s recovery, and the success of the suffrage battle was in part attributable to sacrifices made by women during the health crisis. It is no surprise that Bertha Knight Landes, Seattle’s first woman mayor—and the first woman mayor of any large American city—gained invaluable experience as a Red Cross volunteer fighting the 1918 flu.

This year, on the centennial of the ratification of the women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, MOHAI will take a closer look at democracy in our region, with an exhibit and set of programs that explore the democratic experience and the evolving tools of self governance. (MOHAI will be announcing a revised schedule for the exhibit and programs in the weeks ahead.) Though especially timely in this election year, the sudden appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic adds greater urgency to our exploration.

We know that times of national crisis have precipitated profound changes to the democratic system. The Civil War led to a fundamental expansion of American democracy and a new understanding of the nation’s founding ideals. The Great Depression paved the way toward popular acceptance of a strong federal government, as Americans embraced an alphabet soup of government programs that would build the social and physical infrastructure of the 20th century. The aftermath of World War II set in motion government initiatives that would strengthen an expanded middle class but also lead to the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 60s. Even the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in an infrastructure of federal intelligence gathering that continues to raise questions about the balance between national security and personal privacy in our democracy. No crisis leaves the system unchanged.

What impacts will COVID-19 have on our democratic experiment?  It is impossible to say with certainty, of course, but we can begin to see clues. For example, Washington’s early adoption of voting-by-mail, introduced as an efficient way to expand participation, has gained new relevance in an election season when in-person voters might be exposed to illness. And more questions emerge: How many of us can now identify governors and mayors whose names were unfamiliar just a few months before? Will we continue to monitor public discourse and political process so closely even after the crisis has passed? Will the massive government programs of the last few weeks –programs that echo measures from the Great Depression and Great Recession—once more change the relationship between government and the individual, between public investment and private initiative? And in a broader social context, will we continue to salute the heroes of the pandemic—scientists and public servants, doctors and delivery drivers—whose work may have been under-appreciated in more “normal” times? If our frontline workers gain stature as history makers during the crisis, in the aftermath will we still honor them for their invaluable role in American life?

The questions about the pandemic’s impact on our democracy will continue to emerge, and the answers will only become clear with the passage of time. What is certain, however, is that when the stay-at-home orders are lifted and the social distance rules relaxed, we as American citizens and voters will remain on the frontlines of civic life, responsible for protecting the ongoing health of our democratic system. I look forward to exploring these ideas with you this election year as MOHAI takes a closer look at our democracy.

On Memories and Mount St. Helens

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

“History” rarely happens in a single day. But it often seems that way. That was the case on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens erupted in what would be the deadliest volcanic eruption in US history. It was history long in the making, of course, part of a series of eruptive periods that would shape and reshape the mountain and surrounding landscape over millennia. The mountain, and its volcanic activity, also shaped the lives of the human inhabitants of the region. Known as Lawetlat’la to the Cowlitz people, and Loowit or Louwala-Clough to the Klickitat, the erupting mountain held an important role in Native culture, and volcanic activity was recorded by Hudson’s Bay traders as early as 1835. But for those alive forty years ago, the history of Mount St. Helens happened one bright Sunday morning.

History is sometimes described as change over time. Change that can be measured in a single moment or, as with Mount St. Helens, in geological epochs. (Mount St. Helens formed within the past 40,000 years, but the pre-1980 summit cone began rising about 2,200 years ago during the Holocene epoch). As a history museum, we at MOHAI help people explore the past on both the personal level and from the perspective of a much longer timeline. Understanding both contexts is critical to understanding our world, and finding the patterns, both granular and grand, that give meaning to our experiences and help us make informed decisions for the future.

On that spring day in 1980, life in our region was upended. Beyond the unparalleled devastation and death, the eruption impacted people in ways that may seem fleeting now but remain as a kind of immutable truth in our memories: Face masks and showers of ash, school cancellations and closed highways are some of the totems that have stayed with us these past four decades.

On the anniversary of the eruption, I asked a few of my MOHAI colleagues to share their recollections of the day, and the sights and sounds that remain with them. Here is some of what they shared:

I was a lifeguard at Medina Beach in the summer of 1980 and would ride my bike back and forth to work, wearing a mask to protect myself from the ash in the air.

I sailed out of Lopez Island enjoying a beautiful weekend, and early Sunday morning was awoken by an odd noise, like drumming on empty freighters in the harbor. But it wasn’t until we were docking at Anacortes, and discovered that the highway was closed, that I realized that what we heard was Mount St. Helens exploding.

I remember being eleven and seeing a giant cloud of ash in the sky, and my six year old brother being very frightened and getting a respirator from some construction workers. And I remember the ash on the cars, and all the souvenirs made with Mt. St. Helens ash, including endless glass Christmas ornaments and feeling how cool it was to have the vials (and then how gimmicky it seemed as I grew older).

We lived on Tiger Mountain and could see the sky change from Issaquah. I was just a kid but the news of the huge flows of mud and lava are forever imprinted on my mind. I purchased a little souvenir bottle of ash right after that, and have kept it all this time.

From the distance of four decades, it is easy now to look at the big numbers, and the broad patterns of the Mount St. Helens story, the lessons from scientists and seismologists, and forget that the broad sweep of history also contains a multitude of small stories like those my colleagues shared, intimate moments of lives that changed in ways subtle and at times quietly profound.

Today, as we adjust to a very different historic moment, and once again make sense of the changes we face in our daily lives, memories are just now forming of the details of life during this historic period, recollections that will stay with us for years. While unlikely to find their way into history books, or be showcased in museums, these memories will weave themselves into the fabric of the personal stories that collectively, over time, shape the broad patterns of life in the Northwest. And as history-keepers, MOHAI will be there to record and share that changing story. Thank you for being a part of helping us tell that story.

Reflections on Democracy

Essay by Leonard Garfield, MOHAI Executive Director

As we enter this summer of pandemic, protest and presidential politics, I find myself reflecting more than ever on American history and the broad patterns and deep roots that bind us, confound us, and confront us, challenging us to ask what we can learn from our past and how those lessons can help move us forward. July is an especially appropriate time to reflect on the price and promise of American democracy.  From its adoption in the summer of 1776, the  words of the Declaration of Independence profoundly shaped global history, even as the authors themselves fell far short of fulfilling their own ideals, institutionalizing both slavery and the forced removal of Native Americans at the very moment they were proclaiming their own independence. But those words also marked the beginning of something new in history-the belief that individuals, working together, have the power to create the world they want to see.

The possibility of the new-it would be the constant promise of American history, that despite all the progress and failings of American life, the hope of renewal was fundamental to the nature of American democracy (and to our own personal aspirations). According to the Declaration, whenever a government neglected to uphold the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the individual, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Upon those radical terms, the American experiment took its first tentative steps.

Eighty-seven years later, in November 1863, Abraham Lincoln recalled those founding ideals but was inspired to construct upon them a new history, starting in his own day, that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. “For many historians, Lincoln’s simple address at Gettysburg was indeed a rebirth-a new start-for a nation that had failed to achieve its original aspirational ideals, but whose vision still had the power to move hearts and minds.

Fast forward a century, to August 1963, when in the shadow of Lincoln’s monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned yet another re-start to American history, describing a “dream deeply rooted in the American dream… that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: that all men are created equal.” King evoked those founding words but called for a recommitment to making their meaning real.

There have been other critical moments of rebirth, when the nation seemed at once to be breaking apart and breaking new ground. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society were all attempts to restart the American experiment at moments of great stress, using crisis to draw a starting line in the sand. Likewise with the movements for civil rights, women’s suffrage and Black Lives Matter , millions of Americans have fought bravely and boldly to realize a new, better America.

In June 2015, toward the end of his presidency, Barack Obama went to Charleston, South Carolina, to mourn those who died in the horrific murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church that month. Like so many Americans of earlier eras, facing seemingly intractable problems but sensing a better future, Obama seized what Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now,” and called for yet another new era, building on the unfilled promises of the past but breaking free of its faults and failures. Obama specifically  spoke of how history can propel us  to  that new world: “History can’t be a sword to  justify injustice, or a shield against progress,” he said that day, “but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past – how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world.” History as a prelude to the new.

Later this Fall, MOHAI looks more closely at the “roadway” of democracy in Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project, an exhibit which explores how we can create the change we want to see. And in exploring tools for change, we will be finding a continuum with the spirit of July 1776, when for the first time in history a nascent government declared that a new world is indeed within our power to achieve.

History at Home Weekly Email Archive

History at Home Issue #1 | History at Home | 3.20.2020

History at Home Issue #2 | Seattle’s First Pandemic | 3.25.2020

History at Home Issue #3 | When Seattle Came Together | 4.1.2020

History at Home Issue #4 | Medical Marvels from the MOHAI Collection | 4.8.2020

History at Home Issue #5 | Together, We Make History | 4.15.2020

History at Home Issue #6 | Celebrating Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary | 4.22.2020

History at Home Issue #7 | COVID-19 and the Body Politic | 4.29.2020

History at Home Issue #8 | Be a MOHAI Champion | 5.6.2020

History at Home Issue #9 | Forever Foreigners | 5.13.2020

History at Home Issue #10 | On Memories and Mount St. Helens | 5.20.2020

History at Home Issue #11 | Revisiting the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition | 5.27.2020

History at Home Issue #12 | Great Seattle Fire Anniversary | 6.3.2020

History at Home Issue #13 | Black Lives Matter | 6.10.2020

History at Home Issue #14 | Happy Pride Month | 6.17.2020

History at Home Issue #15 | MOHAI Summer is Here | 6.24.2020

History at Home Issue #16 | Explore Seattle’s Fourth of July History | 7.1.2020

History at Home Issue #17 | Reflections on Democracy | 7.8.2020

History at Home Issue #18 | 30th Anniversary of the Goodwill Games | 7.15.2020

History at Home Issue #19 | Announcing MOHAI Rainy Day History Season Two | 7.22.2020

History at Home Issue #20 | Summer Reflections | 7.29.2020

History at Home Issue #21 | Nominate an Every Day Hero | 8.5.2020

History at Home Issue #22 | August 1945: Looking Back 75 Years | 8.12.2020

History at Home Issue #23 | Commemorating the Women’s Suffrage Centennial | 8.19.2020

History at Home Issue #24 | 11th Annual Innovation Exchange | 8.26.2020

History at Home Issue #25 | Celebrating Labor Day with the Art of Work | 9.2.2020

History at Home Issue #26 | Democracy Dialogues: Vote-by-Mail | 9.9.2020

History at Home Issue #27 | Remembering Bill Gates Sr. | 9.16.2020

Collecting COVID-19 History

These are extraordinary times for our community. As an epicenter of infection and a focal point for innovative responses, our region’s experience during the COVID 19 crisis is a defining moment in our history. MOHAI’s role and responsibility is to ensure that an enduring record of this period is preserved for future generations, and we are working on a collection plan to guide our work on this important story. While we are not able to accept artifacts at this time while the museum is closed, we will be sharing further information at a later date about our collection initiative and how you might donate.

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