During our PHNW meetings, members “talk shop” and tell each other about projects we have worked on recently. (We’ll be sharing many of those projects with you in our next blog post.)
At a recent meeting, Trena Cleland talked about an initiative celebrating “family foodways” she was involved in several years ago. Trena has an inspiring history herself, including work as an assistant to a noted author for almost a quarter century, participation in a 3,500-mile peace walk across the United States in 1981, and a wide-ranging career as a personal historian.
Trena answered a call for submissions she saw in the Eugene Weekly, Eugene’s alternative paper. Intrigued, she made a reservation to use the bowl and share the history and significance of a beloved recipe.
As a registered participant, she picked up the Bowls Around Town materials from the museum on the designated date. In a beautifully handcrafted wooden box were contained a pale green ceramic bowl, a bound book of instructions, and a small disposable camera. The ceramic bowl was handmade by the artist Michael Strand. (Trena has included more information about Strand’s work at the end of this article.) Inside the book were instructions on how to share a recipe and its story, through photography and text.
Trena assembled the ingredients for her contribution, zucchini bread, the main ingredient for which grew in her vegetable garden.
Following the prescribed steps, Trena baked the bread, photographed herself with it in the bowl, and wrote her personal narrative of the recipe’s role in her life, which was logged into a binder that museum visitors flipped through during the exhibition. Food for thought, literally!
Please add us to your newsfeed as a reminder of the importance your own stories hold for our families and communities.
More about the Bowls Around Town exhibition from the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s website (2017):
The Museum of Natural and Cultural History invites people in the community to borrow a bowl, cook a dish and then share a story about the process. It’s for a project called “Bowls Around Town: Eugene, OR,” a collaboration between the museum and ceramic artist Michael J. Strand, an art professor at North Dakota State University.
[During the project] museum visitors can borrow a bowl along with a digital camera and a journal. In their home kitchens, participants are asked to use the bowls to serve a family dish and tell the story behind the food through photographs, musings and recipes.“‘Bowls Around Town’ invites people to share their family foodways,” said museum folklorist Lyle Murphy, who helped bring the project to Eugene. “Altogether, the recipes and stories become a collective account of our local food culture.”
What can I do that isn’t going to get done unless I do it, just because of who I am? Buckminster Fuller
On a beautiful summer day in 2016 my brother Neal, sister Gail, cousin Steve and I had our picture taken in front of our great grandfather Emil Schacht’s family summer cabin in Seaview, Washington. Named Sommerland in honor of his homeland in Germany, Emil had purchased the land in 1892, built the house in 1894 and deeded it over to his wife in 1896, making it the oldest building in the Pacific Northwest that Emil designed known to exist at this time. The house was in good shape with a fresh coat of paint, but had lost its original luster with the kitchen, side porch, front porch, and the back porch removed from termite damage and remodeling in 1959. Gail and Steve had flown into Portland so the four of us could drive together to Alberta Canada for a family reunion. We had one day to do something before starting the trip and Emil’s spirit seemed to be with us. After having our picture taken in front of Sommerland, we stopped at the Clatsop County Historical Museum, as it had also been designed by Emil as the Astoria City Hall in 1905.
When we entered the large expansive lobby, we talked with the young man sitting behind the desk. He didn’t know who Emil Schacht was when I said we were his great grandchildren. I pointed out the portrait of Emil hanging on the wall across from his desk. He encouraged us to go through the museum at our leisure. As soon as I saw the bar on the second floor, I immediately knew that this was a bar from the Louvre Hotel and Social Club Emil had designed. The smooth dark woodwork was beautifully finished and the plaster trim above the bar was simple and elegant, reminding me of finishes I had seen in Emil Schacht homes. McAndrew (Mac) Burns, Director of the Society, was covering the desk when we got back to the lobby. He became very excited when I told him we were Emil’s great grandchildren. With regret he said that he was filling in for a lunch break so he couldn’t give us a tour. I took his card and said I’d be in contact with him. We left the building, catching our breath on the steps outside the entry door. I was filled with joy having seen the Sommerland cabin and the bar from the Louvre Hotel. My day was complete, but no, there was to be more.
All of a sudden, Mac bursts out the doors and says that he found someone to cover for him at the desk and he could give us a private tour. I started weeping out of sheer happiness. He looked at me and then my brother. Neal said, “She’s OK, we’ll be right in.” I got my emotions collected and we went back inside. Taking us behind the public area and down into the basement he explained the layout of the Police Station. Interestingly, the “sporting” women were held in a small room off the police chief’s office and the men were locked up in individual cells in a different area. The building had been built on a hillside so there was direct access to the Police Station without going through the main entrance. When we went to the second floor, he confirmed that the bar and the furniture was all from the Louvre Hotel. I knew it. I could feel Emil’s presence in the beautiful design work.
Then he asked if we wanted to see the attic. They had just installed an elevator using the original construction drawings of the building, figuring out where a museum elevator would fit between the support structures. You bet we wanted to see the attic. We had been up in the attic in Emil’s home in Portland when we would go visit his daughter Margaret, who was living there while we were growing up. We all got into the huge museum elevator and slowly ascended to the attic. We stepped out of the elevator and it was like stepping into the attic we had been in at his home. The smell was exactly the same, a comfortable mustiness. The timbers were the same sized pieces, unfinished and beautiful. Gail recognized the same lighting from the high windows. As Mac started to explain how they’ve been able to store the items not on display, Gail started weeping. This time I went to her side to comfort her. Another startled look from Mac and Gail explained, “I am crying because it reminds me of the attic at the Vista house, where I would go up and read.” This attic was much taller and more expansive than the one at Emil’s home. It was perfectly sized to accommodate shelving for the items not currently being displayed. Mac escorted us around, pointing to items of interest. I felt gratitude for Mac sharing his enthusiasm for their collection. We thanked him when we got back down to the first floor and I promised to be back in touch with him.
As we drove back to Portland, I resolved in my mind to figure out how I could get a book published about Emil. I originally had looked for his houses in 1979 when my dad gave me a copy of the Therkelson Collection (listing of construction drawings) in the University of Oregon Architectural Library. The list only had the clients’ names and the year of their commission. Over a two-year period, I went to the Oregon Historical Society and looked up the person’s name in the City Directories near the time of the commission and wrote down the address where they were living. Then I went to the City Street conversion listing of 1933 and wrote down the new current address. After I had accumulated several of the addresses for the homes, I went down to Eugene and photocopied the front view of the drawings for as many of the buildings I could do in an afternoon and the next morning. Then I went back to Portland and drove to the addresses and compared the entries with the construction drawing copies. I did this over a two year period before setting the project aside due to my workload, quietly resolving to myself that when I was “old” I’d finish the project.
In 1990 I met Patty Sackett, an architectural student at the University of Oregon, who was writing her master’s thesis on “A Partial Inventory of Emil Schacht.” She had been pursuing the same list of buildings that I had, but in a more intense manner. I was still consumed by my career and couldn’t join her in her research, but she did invite me to her wedding! During the COVID-19 self-isolation of 2020, it has dawned on me that I am now “old enough” to go back to this project.
Getting counsel from several historians, I made a plan and am starting the research for a book to be published in a few years. As Emerson said, “We are born with a mortgage. That mortgage is a debt that we owe to the past and the future.” In these days of uncertainty, I want to fulfill the promise I made to myself in 1980 of gathering all I can find on how Emil Schacht spent his energy, time and talent to create beautiful structures that continue to support people in the Portland community and beyond. May he inspire us all to follow in his stead, each in our own way, to make Portland a great city to live in.
As the great granddaughter of Emil Schacht, I feel a responsibility to share his story, an immigrant coming to Portland, in 1883, the same year as the transcontinental railroad connection was established in Portland. He was one of a few architects who introduced the Arts and Crafts style of homes, which have been able to provide good housing to generation after generation of Portlanders, thus contributing to the beauty of the neighborhoods in which his homes were built. He designed some public works buildings that are still standing as well as many commercial buildings that have stood the test of time. I want to make sure his contribution as an innovative architect will be assembled in a book so people will know his story.
More than a decade ago, while giving a tour to schoolchildren at the local museum, I saw a small folded placard stating that in 1847, Matilda Koontz lost her husband while crossing the Oregon Trail, leaving her a widow with small children.
My heart broke, imagining the pain and uncertainty of a mother left alone on the 2,000-mile journey west to an untamed wilderness. What would she do? How would she survive?
During a lull between personal history projects, I decided to find out.
Thus began a five-year journey delving into the life of a pioneer who birthed eight children and buried four, whose direct blood descendants died out, leaving nobody to share the story of this remarkable woman.
Through research at the Washington State Library and Oregon Historical Society, I discovered how she survived and thrived in the Pacific Northwest. I even stumbled across the last words her husband ever said to her as he ventured into the Snake River to untangle the horns of an oxen caught on a guide wire and she urged him to be careful.
“If I was born to be drowned, I won’t be hanged,” he said, “and if born to be hanged, I’ll never be drowned.”
Matilda and her four young sons then watched Nicholas Koontz drown in the Snake River near present-day Glenns Ferry, Idaho. In shock, Matilda plunged into premature labor and lost their unborn baby, a daughter buried beside the river that claimed her father.
Matilda and her boys stayed at the Whitman Mission for a short time so Matilda could recover her health. They left only weeks before Native Americans killed Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, and a dozen other men in what became known as the Whitman Massacre.
Too weak to portage around Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, Matilda lay in the bottom of a canoe and plunged over the series of dangerous cascades and waterfalls as the river dropped more than sixty feet over a dozen miles.
Arriving at Oregon City, a widow with four young sons, Matilda’s options were limited. A nephew offered to accompany her back to Missouri the following spring, but could she risk the lives of her boys retracing the treacherous journey?
Instead, in May 1848, she married John R. Jackson, an Englishman and naturalized American who met her during a visit to Oregon City for supplies. He had crossed the Oregon Trail in 1844 and built a cabin north of Fort Vancouver and the Cowlitz River.
Matilda’s sons helped build a cabin that served as Washington Territory’s first courthouse, a building the remains standing today near U.S. Highway 12 in Lewis County. She became known throughout the region—and even in the nation’s capital—for her gracious hospitality and good cooking. She entertained the territory’s first governor, Isaac Stevens, and his family as well as military solders who later became generals—and one a United States president—Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and George B. McClelland.
Julie Zander’s five-year labor of love culminated in October 2019 with the publication of Washington Territory’s Grand Lady: The Story of Matilda (Glover) Koontz Jackson, a 364-page book that was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award and the Will Rogers Medallion.
Generations from now Americans will look back and wonder what it was like being part of the momentous events swirling around us in 2020.
The Great Pandemic of 2020 resulted in millions of people getting sick with the COVID-19 virus and hundreds of thousands of deaths. What was it like trying to stay healthy and keeping your family safe?
Americans were making a critical decision about their President. Should they re-elect Donald Trump, or should they go with Joe Biden? The country was more divided than ever.
One way to curtail spread of the virus was to urge people to stay home from work. Millions of people lost their jobs; unemployment skyrocketed; and many household incomes plummeted.
On top of all that, Americans struggled with violence that accompanied protests against four centuries of racism in their country and the mistreatment and killing of Blacks by some police officers.
It was an ugly time.
In places around the country, historians are gathering the raw data for what will become interpretations of our momentous year. At Michigan’s Grand Valley State University the focus is on COVID-19. “History is happening now,” the university archivist wrote about its journaling project. “In the future, scholars will look back on this time to learn about individuals’ and societies’ responses to a worldwide pandemic. While archived news and internet sites will be essential primary sources, the day-to-day, mundane, social, and emotional experiences of individuals can get lost in the fray.”
Students, staff and community members are being asked to write journals containing their personal recollections. The same thing is being done in Wisconsin. “It is your documentation of your experience living during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine that will allow the Society to share history with people living 100 years from now,” the society’s chief executive wrote.
As noted above, the pandemic is only one of the seismic forces that converged on American life this year. A person interested in preserving his or her observations about the year’s events could begin with a journal or oral recording. There is a certain advantage to being the one using the keyboard or the microphone instead of relying on others to record their thoughts. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
How concerned are you about the coronavirus outbreak?
How is it affecting your life?
How are you staying healthy and fit?
How can we help one another during the outbreak?
What weaknesses and strengths about our world are being exposed by this pandemic?
What have you learned about yourself during the lockdown?
Is the coronavirus pandemic bringing you and your family closer together?
How do you feel about going back to your workplace or your school? Is it stressful or are you happy to get out of the house?
What did you miss most about your school or workplace?
When the pandemic is over, what is something you’ll miss about telecommuting?
How will you remember the coronavirus pandemic?
On the presidential election:
What makes a great leader?
How do you decide what news to believe, what to question and what to dismiss?
Why is it important for people with different political beliefs to talk to each other?
Do you think that online conspiracy theories can be dangerous? Why?
What are your reactions to the impeachment inquiry and trial of President Trump?
What is your reaction to the outcome of the presidential primaries around the country?
Should we all be able to vote by mail?
What do you think about the two major party candidates for President?
What issues in the 2020 presidential race are most important to you?
On the American economy:
How has your family fared financially during 2020? Has anyone lost a job? If so, what financial help have you received?
Whom do you turn to during a crisis?
Is it immoral for stores to increase the price of goods during a crisis?
How do you decide what news to believe, what to question and what to dismiss?
What are some ways to travel without traveling during the pandemic?
On racism and killings of Blacks:
Is there systemic racism in your hometown? If so, is it evident in the way police act toward civilians?
How have you learned about slavery?
How much racism do you face in your daily life?
Have you ever encountered racist or extremist content online?
What grievances do you have with your local community?
What acts of kindness have you heard about or participated in during the pandemic?
Protests over racism and police tactics have preceded violence in some U.S. cities, including Portland and Seattle. Some say this is an ugly repudiation of the non-violence preached by peaceful protestors like the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Rep. John Lewis? What do you think?
If you decide to write a journal or record your observations on these and other questions, you may find that they are welcome at historical societies, as in Wisconsin. The Willamette Heritage Center in Salem is interested in the idea, but no commitment has been made.
You also may seek help from members of Personal Historians NW in writing books and making recordings of these histories. Just click on the Find Your Personal Historian link to get started.
Three members of Personal Historians NW appeared in the Portland Tribune and several other Pamplin Media outlets in the Portland Metro area on June 11, 2020.
“Capturing Your Life Stories” personal historian Connie Shipley submitted a story idea to Pamplin, a tip that was picked up by local journalist Jason Vandersmith. The reporter reached out to the group to talk about the work being done by personal historians. Connie said in her blog The “COVID-19 stay-at-home experience gives people time to get their stories organized for their grandchildren like wouldn’t happen in the old reality that we lived in.”
Members who were interviewed for the article included Connie Shipley of Portland, AuraLee Loveland of Oregon City and Gloria Nussbaum of Beaverton, three of the more than 20 members of the organization. They represent a swath of the work being done throughout the Northwest (and the world) by group members.
The members provide services including presentations on personal histories, photo digitization, memoir writing, interviewing, oral and video biographies and a myriad of other personal history related activities.
“The collection of people, through contract or for fun and goodwill, document human history — one family, one individual, one group, one company at a time. They live and work anywhere from Centralia, Washington, to Eugene”. They “have told stories for people around the country — many of them elder folks who want to share details of a life well-lived.”
More than 500 stories have been told, recorded and published in a variety of formats by the members of the organization.