Arena of Death

On the midway at the Puyallup fair during the Depression, the carnies who ran booths, games and rides were joined by daredevils and novelty risk takers who sold tickets to wide eyed spectators anxious to watch somebody else flirt with fate. In 1937 the Arena of Death appeared midway down the midway, more an oversized wooden barrel than an arena. There among the sideshows, the attraction sent up the resonant circling buzz of a motorcycle several times an hour as audiences ringed the lip of the barrel watching centrifugal force and well practiced daring create the improbable spectacle of a bike rider on a vertical wall. At other fairs the idea was expanded by using automobiles and even sidecars occupied by circus animals(that is a full maned lion in the photo). In time the novelty wore off and the Arena of Death passed away. Somehow still photos are poor evidence of a very hard way to make a living.

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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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