Strangely Beautiful

There is an eerie mythology associated with the massive ice caves that once haunted the shoulders of our mountain. Probably the most told native legend about Mount Tahoma, was a cautious parable about a miser who’s greed lured him to an ice chamber at the summit where he stole away with immense wealth only to be chased down by giant totem creatures, supernatural storms and the magic of time and sudden aging. In a way, the story was a warning about the luminous allure of the ice caves and their unworldly blue light but it didn’t stop later adventurers, mountaineers and particularly photographers from venturing into the frozen caverns beginning in the 1870’s.

When the name of the Mountain became a major matter of contention between Tacoma and Seattle a little over 100 years ago, the local advocates thought they had the matter settled by lining up John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and then no less that god himself on the side of naming the Mountain Tacoma. In 1911 author John Williams wrote and Putnam & Sons published several editions, (one in butter soft leather with gold embossing and edging) of a rather weird but strangely beautiful illustrated volume titled “The Mountain That Was God”. In it Williams told the story of the Miser, subtly suggesting that Seattle campaign for keeping the name Rainier was something less than altruistic. But he also rambled through a curious, slightly nutty assortment of historical tidbits, folklore, travelogue and poetry connected to the mountain. The little book was an extravagant eccentricity from the late Victorian era when ill fated expeditions were being sent to the frozen poles and last unmapped jungles of the world.  Today the book is collected mostly for its wonderful graphics and photographs. The most copied and reproduced photo is an almost psychedelic hand tinted image taken from inside the most massive Paradise glacier ice cave. Miles long, carved by centuries of glacial rivers, the USGS formally recorded the ice caves as vanished in 1981.




Cutis at summit

Mt Tacoma 1886

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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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