Trying Out: Tacoma’s Historic Past (Week Fifty)
When my friend and I were attending the Jet City Show, we drove past a rather spiffy looking building. Tacoma is all well and good as cities go, but I had not planned to take in any architectural wonders. My friend and I are both history buffs. When we saw that the majestic building was also a history museum? We immediately made plans to return to Tacoma to visit the Washington State History Museum.
A month or two later and we returned. We had no expectations what was in store for us. We simply wanted to look at old things and learn a thing or two. We went on a quiet Wednesday around noon, planning to avoid any crowds. (Which we did. At no point were there more than two people in an exhibit with us. Hooray for weekdays.)
We were charged a reasonable enough fee at the admissions desk and we picked up a map of the place. That staff instructed us that there were exhibits open on the third and fifth floors. The rest was closed. The gift shop was closed, but would be open later.
That information struck me as a bit odd. Five floors, but only two are available? My experience in museums says you only have one section closed at a time. How does their gift shop make any money if it is closed? It was a bit curious.Then I glanced at their donor wall and it made a bit more sense. I think they were expecting a few more contributors to display on their wall.
I do not know what the intent behind the layout was. Perhaps they wanted crowds to disperse as they came in. I can tell you that the floor was quite non-linear. If one ventured straight ahead, they were taken to a plank house (circa early-1800s?). If they went to the right, they would be taken to the native and indigenous people section. If they went to the left, which we did, they were led to a room of people’s journeys. This person came from this country back in the 1800s. This person was famous for that and came in the 1900s. Wagon trails, scurvy, laws dictating which countries immigrants were banned; all sorts of “Welcome to Washington” information.
(That was my first lesson. I had thought we were going to something like a “Tacoma History Museum”. Nope. We were in the Washington State History Museum. The whole state was up for grabs. Surprise!)
The floor had the same highlights as other museums I had visited earlier. Learn about the topography. Learn about those that came first. Learn about the first settlers. Get log cabin. Set up shop. Mining and metal work come into play. Cut down trees and catch fish. Build a society. Women get the vote. World War II. The Bomb. Boeing. Microsoft.
At this part I was reminded of the downside of hitting all the museums in one year. The introductory information all feels the same. (Seattle Underground is the stand out. By far the best history experience if you want a slightly different, living-history journey.) My eyes started to glaze over, making it harder for me to look for new information. I had my prejudice; the, “I already know all this” voice in my head.
My shushed my bias. I wanted to learn, darn it. I kept reading and took in some of the stories. I was reminded how big a risk it had been for the first settlers. Immigrating across an ocean. Starting off with whatever you could fit in a suitcase with no hopes for resupplying. Taking children along. Risking one’s health. And that was all with the assumption that whatever your plan for farming or livelihood was would pay off. If it did not work out, you could not hop on a bus and go back to your old job.
The displays were fine. The information was interesting. But it would have grabbed me more if I had not gone through it all several times before. (I suppose history can only be presented so many ways.)
If possible, the fifth floor’s layout was even more scattered than the third. The map we had showed an area as open, but it was roped off. Folks coming simply for the train layout or the kid’s section had a lot of weaving and searching of hallways.
We looked at paintings that a Chinese man did while he was locked in an internment camp. After some wandering and a few missed turns, we found ourselves in the Russian/ Cold War area.
It was interesting to see one more display of nuclear bomb shelters and propaganda. However this display took it a little further. They had a case of Cold War games. Now kids could join in on the worrying and destruction. Bring your missiles with you, Timmy! That led into the cosmonauts section. It was nice to read about air programs helping each other. Seattle and Russia apparently got along better than U.S. and Russia. We have a signed cosmonaut helmet as proof.
That let to the Goodwill Games. I remembered those growing up as a kid. (You could get little plastic metals and medallions in your boxes of cereal. Collect them all! Oh cereal boxes; you used to be cool.) I recognized the team colors. The logos brought back memories. (Anybody else watch Ruskies growing up? Anyone?) It was nice, not only to take a trip down memory lane, but to remember when politics and athletics helped us all to play nice with each other.
And then, we found their signature draw. Way, way, way in the back was their permanent train set. I understood why it has such a reputation. It took up the entire wall and must have entailed thousands of hours of painting and gluing and wiring. I am not a train buff myself. I know quite a few though. This train set was built by those with a passion for this stuff. Why else would they take the time to set up a police scene? If folks like trains, this would have been the highlight of their trek.
Was it the greatest museum ever? Nope. Was it the highlight of my week? No. I had more fun talking to my friend in the car than going through the exhibits. That being said, I did learn a thing or two. I did not learn nearly as much as I had hoped. However, some information was gleaned. I am in no great hurry to return, but there is valuable knowledge to be had. It was, simply put, fine.
My two cents; do not visit all the history museums back to back. Give yourself a little time to forget the details so you can learn some things over again. Then some new details can sneak up on you.