The Ancient

This muddy, undramatic early photo taken from on top of the Northern Pacific Headquarters Building was recently posted by the Washington State Historical Society. Here’s why it is amazing. Down there, sinking into the soup of sand and sluice being used to fill in the rail yards is our earliest material connection with the ancients. This 1888 image captures the landfilling around a massive boulder which bears a petroglyph incised by the hand of an artist 12,000 years ago.
No one alive today has looked into the stone carved face of Tacoma’s most storied connection to the ancient “people who came before”. Here’s what Herbert Hunt wrote in 1916…”Prized among the Indians was a great rock, some seven or eight feet in height, which lay on the beach now covered by the Half Moon yards, and which carelessly was covered when the railroad company made the fill there. Its surface bore the figure of a man, not clear in places, to be sure, but distinct enough for the Indians to declare that it was the work of the “Changer”-the mystical almighty who sometime in the far past, had worked among the inanimate, as well as the animate, things, wonderful miracles. Men had been turned into birds and trees and stones. A human being had been converted into Mount Tacoma. The stone on the beach had been a man.”
There is no reason to believe that the petroglyph is not there still, perhaps even protected and preserved by the murky fill moving down the hillside pipes in this photo.


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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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