Not What They Appear

One of the weirder aspects of early 1900’s tourism and postcards mailed-home-from-the-west, was the slightly psychedelic phenomenon of “exaggeration photos”. One of the earliest fantasticators was a guy named William “Dad” Martin who ran a shady photo studio in Kansas but fabricated images set all over the west. The macabre image of giant dead rabbits is one of his from 1909 stamped with a caption “How we do it in Washington”. Another, more local image manipulator was Mortimer L. Oakes, who preferred to visually lie about the size of clams, fish, fruit and vegetables. Then there are the anonymous tricksters and image swindlers who created meetings that never happened and events that never occurred (i.e. Ezra never met Teddy Roosevelt next to his ox team outside the Executive Office Building in DC). Mostly it was all just fun, Jackalopes and scary big bugs and brook trout, but every time I go into an old house with high ceilings, low door knobs, big kitchen hooks or huge built in butcherblocks and a docent tells me things were just different back then I shutter just a bit. BTW one of these images is completely real and another includes and inside joke that you have to be a Northwest photography nerd to get.

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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.

1 comment

  1. Photographers may shutter.
    UW profs also might, but probably wouldn’t admit to it.
    The rest of us shudder at the mere thought.
    Love to read your engaging stories, Michael.


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