Harbor Lights, 1936

On a late July night in 1936 photographer Turner Richards took this image of warships performing a searchlight drill on Commencement Bay. He was on the roof at the Winthrop Hotel and below most of the city witnessed the spectacle. Erie and wonderful at the same time the luminous display was part of Fleet Week, a civic celebration of patriotic parades, pageants and parties. Five years later some of these cruisers would be at Pearl Harbor when the Second World War began with their sinking.

spotlights 2

A wider view of the earlier image. The long exposure illuminates the streetscape and suggests an emptiness and calm beneath the flash of the searchlights and the suggestion of war in the waiting. To know it was 1936 and the dark clouds of world war were gathering makes this image and moment both memorable and darkly haunting.

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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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