Small Journey-Big World. 1909

The most simple, easy photographs of the smallest places at the most common moments sometimes capture the most compelling stories. Here is a sunny day in 1909 on the siding at the Northern Pacific Railroad passenger station in Grandview Washington. These two young women, standing on either side of their determined, well hatted chaperone, are in their traveling clothes waiting for their futures. They are headed for Washington State Normal School in Ellensburg and there is a mustered confidence in their respective expressions and posture. This is the way bravery looks in the every day world. Each holds a small valise with their suitcases at their feet full of the things of their new lives to come. A distance of 60 miles, a 1909 journey of just a few hours with a stop in Yakima, lies ahead but first this moment of leaving home for the camera. The dependable directions for using a box Kodak are being followed with the sun behind the photographer and the less than perfect lens quality and masked frame suggest it was an amateur, maybe a family member, snapping the shutter. A hand written message on the verso reads, in part, “they will be boarding in the Normal dormitory as soon as it is finished.” Everything, it seems was about to begin, teetering on the edge of the platform waiting for time, like a steam engine to arrive and depart.

In the years soon to follow progressive ideas will change Pacific Northwest society. These young women will get to vote and assume meaningful responsibilities out side domestic households. The Alaskan Yukon World’s Fair was happening in Seattle in 1909 and the entire world seemed to be within reach. The steady fixed chaperone in the middle seems anchored there in the 19th century technology of the railroad while the young women float with impatience, gazing into big sky future only they see as reflected in the windowglass behind them. Small Journey-Big World 1909.


Ellensburg girls

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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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