Down Below

Maritime Victorians watched the end of the age of sailing ships from harbors like Tacoma. What mostly went unseen from dockside were the interiors of the great wooden ships- the hand crafted mahogany paneling and sawn oak floors, lit by whale oil lamps and furnished in stylish upholstered chairs, Eastlake rockers and smooth inlaid tables. Rooms with porcelain tile fireplaces, oriental rugs, phonographs and stereopticons and fine paintings on the wall. Not every masters cabin was elegant but those that were went well beyond just comfortable. A photo editing project I’ve been doing for a friend has reacquainted me with the magical glass plate images made by the maritime photographer Welhelm Hester who on more than one occasion took his camera below to capture the warm light of living quarters during the last days of the great sailing vessels. Here’s a selection of sailing ship interiors from around 1900, some of which were home to not just captain and crew but wives and families who sailed together around the world.

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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