Little Witness

A mile into Carbonado’s Pacific Coast coal mine, some 1500 feet below the surface, miners were working the Douty seam on the early evening of Saturday April 12, 1930. At the signal 17 men from the afternoon shift retreated from chute #5 and took cover to let a set explosive charge go off. Crouched in the dark they could not have realized that the entire shaft had filled with coal gas. In the instant that followed one of the worst mining disasters in Pacific Northwest history unfolded in a blinding flash taking every life. By the time rescuers with gas masks were able to reach the scene it was a hellish underworld of dust, smoke, coal cinder and ash and little else.
The next day, Sunday April 13, Chief State Mine Inspector William R. Reese and a group of authorities entered the mine to begin an investigation and then emerged to answer reporter’s questions and pose for news photographers. One of those photographers noticed five year old Phyllis Bates skipping rope in front of her nearby home. Her father, 31 year old John Bates was one of the causalities of the explosion and it was her uncle Harry Bates that recovered his brother’s body. Standing there in front of a picket fence looking at the grim seriousness of these men with lanterns and headlamps, she probably wondered what they were looking for down in the blackness and then went back to her little flights. Hard times.

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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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