Best of Times

Its July 1940, in the heart of Japantown and it seems like everyone is involved in the celebration of the opening of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. There are festive parades, concerts and speeches and a shared community pride and sense of marvel at the elegant new suspension bridge. So much would change so soon. Nearly all the people in this photo would journey out to the narrows on a windy day towitness the bizarre galloping of Tacoma’s bridge before it fell. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor the next year they would board a train at Union Station and be interned at a government relocation camp for most of the war. Strictly enforced immigration laws championed by Tacoma’s Congressman Albert Johnson had already hindered property ownership for most of the Japanese American families living downtown so almost none returned. But on this fine sunny July day, none of that mattered yet. I like the saddle shoes and high school hair styles. So unmistakably American.

Japantown parade


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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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