Have you ever picked up an old cabinet photo portrait or beautifully composed silver nitrate photograph with no names or description written on the back. Found in a box of random images at a garage sale or bought as a thing of curiosity from an antique dealer, these pictures, separated from their stories, float on our imaginations. They are memories not forgotten but unlinked from a chain of family genealogy or a stream of shared experiences. They bring us face to face with the way recollection works but with clues missing, triggers stuck, time disguised around the edges of a camera’s moment.

Beautiful images like thisĀ are impenetrable mysteries completely resistant to our questions. Who are these people? Where is this Place? What became of them? Were they happy? Did their lives work out?

Here is all the curators at WSHS left us to go with this striking 1901 portrait:
“Black and white image of a couple next to a house in Tacoma, Pierce County, WA. The couple is dressed formally, the man in a dark suit with white bow tie and stand up collar, the woman in a full length dress decorated with lace applique and a high lace collar”.



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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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