Alexina’s Wake

Alexina's swimOn September 26th, 1926 the first organized competitive swim between Tahlequah on Vashon Island and Point Defiance was held across two miles of open water. Only 13 swimmers attempted the distance which roughly followed the ferry route used today. Without wetsuits, flippers or even goggles the 13 swimmers attempting the distance attracted an audience of 10,000 spectators and in a time of just over one hour Gerhard Bahr won the event. But the crowd did not disperse when the winner reached the dock on the Tacoma side. In fact they pushed closer together, nervously scanning the channel for the most unlikely competitor in the field- a 15 years old Stadium High School student named Alexina Slater. The only female in the competition, Alexina was more than a long shot. She was seen as a risk to the whole event. Too young, too reckless, too weak and too female for such a challenge the organizers sent a special boat along with the swimmers to trail the main group and pick the girl once she fell behind and before she drown.
On the front page of the Tacoma Tribune on September 27th a picture very similar to this one appeared above the fold and with it the news that Ms. Alexina Slater finished fourth in the race in a time under 1 hour 20 minutes. She climbed out of the water with an impish gleam in her eye and broke into a dance when she realized newsreel cameras were capturing her achievement. Fortunately for the nine swimmers that followed her there was an emergency boat available-far back in Alexina’s wake.Alexina's Wake

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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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