A Barn Razing

For 100 years, this barn looked over a field in Kent, Washington.

The barn.jpg

It was a proud barn, a working barn, for much of its life. Before its retirement, it was home to two horses, lovingly referred to as “Mr. Ed” and “Mr. Red”, along with a crazy four-horned Jacob Sheep (“Jake”), a small goat named “Billy”, and an aggressive goat called “Beavis” (because “Butt-Head” seemed too rude.) The barn kept them warm, and sheltered them from storms.

Jake.jpg

And then, one day, just like that, the farmer and his animals went away. The land was sold to the city with the stipulation that it remain an undeveloped public park, and the barn stood alone and abandoned for the next 9 years. But its neighbors still loved it, despite the meter-high mounds of pigeon poop that had accumulated inside over time.

Inside barn.jpg

The city was not nearly as in love with the barn as its residents. They feared squatters and arsonists. They feared liability if anyone were to break in and get hurt. So they scheduled it for demolition.

As the clock wound down toward its demise, someone removed the upper barn door. For many months the barn looked as if it was cold, wounded and crying out. Save me. I don’t want to go.

Barn Door Missing.jpg

Winter barn with no door

Soon, some of the wood on the side was stolen, and graffiti artists moved in. It was an undignified end for such a grand structure. Some people have no respect, and no sense of history.

Barn graffiti

And then, on the thirteenth day of March, 2019, it happened. The barn was torn down, piece by piece. Here’s a time lapse of it.

20190313_224711-ANIMATION.gif

It was a sad day. It was strange to see how quickly it all ended after such a long-standing legacy. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

The one bright light in all of this is that the wood and the rusty metal roof were salvaged and will be used to build yet another barn somewhere in Eastern Washington. So in a way, our beloved barn lives on. There will be animals for it to shelter once again.

Some day, years from now, people will walk their dogs across this field and not even realize what came before. But some of us will always see this as the place where a beautiful barn once proudly stood. And, oh, it will be missed.

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Goodbye Seattle Viaduct

On Saturday I bid adieu to Seattle’s iconic Alaskan Way Viaduct, along with the Battery Street Tunnel. Both of them were not considered up to current seismic standards, and are being replaced by the new State Road 99 Tunnel, which is scheduled to open today. Read more about it here.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone in wanting to say goodbye. It’s estimated that 100,000 other people walked the tunnel and viaduct this weekend. I’m sure many of them felt a lot more nostalgic than this relative newcomer did. The viaduct had been around since the 50’s, after all.

I was enjoying taking in the view for the last time, and marveling over the massive construction project. I had also expected a different kind of celebration. I was disappointed.

I was expecting food trucks and vendors and souvenirs. There were more port-a-potties than there were food trucks, and there wasn’t a single souvenir to be had. There were a few musicians here and there, and a smattering of antique cars. That’s about it.

I did enjoy checking out the graffiti in the tunnel. I think the city missed a great historic opportunity there. The tunnel is eventually going to be filled in with the debris from the viaduct and sealed off. They should have handed out sharpies and allowed people to write on the walls. Imagine what a treasure trove that would have been 500 years from now, what a time capsule, if we humans have managed not to completely destroy life as we know it. Archeologists would have been fascinated with what we found important enough to say, one day in time, back in 2019. So while others were feeling nostalgic, I was feeling kind of sad at historic opportunities missed.

And then I ran into a coworker. He was standing mid-tunnel, next to the office door. That’s a room most people don’t even know exists. I certainly had no idea. So he let us peek inside. How many people have come and gone in that office over the years? I wonder. I felt privileged to get a glimpse of this lonely little room.

But even better, my coworker had a sharpie. And I took advantage of it.

So, if you are reading my humble little blog post 500 years from now, first of all, nice to meet you. Second of all, if you’re excavating the Battery Street Tunnel, just outside the office door, you might still be able to see my graffiti. “Barb Abelhauser, Bridgetender, 2019”. That was me. I was there. In that tunnel. Saying goodbye.

Here are some pictures from the experience.

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Developmental Greed

I’m very grateful that most cities now have rules in place that require developers to have archeologists examine their land, especially in historically sensitive areas, before they’re allowed to build upon it. Most builders, of course, consider this a massive nuisance, and a waste of their time and money. But if these requirements didn’t exist, a lot of history would be lost to us, and we would miss out on opportunities to discover more about who we are and where we came from.

Those of you who think government already meddles too much in our business need to think again in this instance. Laws, rules, regulations, none of these things would be necessary if we could all be counted upon to do the right thing. Unfortunately, greed seems to be the primary motivator for most people.

Here’s a prime example: The Miami Circle. Once upon a time, a developer planned to put a high rise on some very well-placed real estate in downtown Miami, which he had purchased for 8.5 million dollars. Unfortunately for him, some archeologists discovered what Wikipedia describes as “the only known evidence of a prehistoric permanent structure cut into the bedrock in the Eastern United States”

Much time and political wrangling occurred while everyone tried to figure out what to do about this situation. Needless to say, the developer was not pleased. And he was no doubt losing quite a bit of money while everyone was spinning their wheels.

Finally, the State of Florida decided to buy the land back from him. I agree that he deserved to be made whole. No doubt about it. And that would probably mean giving him more than 8.5 million, considering all the wasted time. But the guy asked the state for 50 million. Because he could.

I have no respect for this guy. I mean, yeah. I could see where he might want 15 million. But 50? Come on, dude. You’re holding the Florida taxpayers for ransom.

The state finally gave him 26.7 million for the site. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. We are still learning more about the Tequesta Indians, who were the original developers of this site. The wood found there may be 2000 years old. You can watch an interesting documentary about the site on Youtube here.

We would never had the chance to learn all the fascinating things we’ve learned from this discovery if one greedy developer had been allowed to have his selfish way.

miami-circle
The Miami Circle

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What Thanksgiving Was, Is, and Should Be

When I was little, they taught me in school that the first Thanksgiving was a feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Indians, and it was a celebration of peace and friendship. We would take construction paper and cut out Pilgrim hats and feathers, and turkeys and cornucopias, and feel all warm and fuzzy because of all this love and cooperation.

I hope they don’t perpetuate that myth in schools anymore. Even as a kid, that description struck me as a little weird. Which tribe? No one could or would ever say. And why would Native Americans be thankful that we invaded their land, spread disease, and basically took over? Would you be wanting to party if someone did that to you? Gimme a break.

In fact, as long as there has been farming, people have celebrated the end of a successful harvest in one form or another, all over the world. And these celebrations, by definition, came about sometime at the end of harvest time, which in this climate falls in the middle of autumn. In fact, until Abraham Lincoln decreed it, various states celebrated on different days each year. So no one really knows when the first Thanksgiving was.

Also, as long as people have had some type of spirituality, they’ve given thanks when things have gone their way. A fruitful harvest. The birth of a monarch. And sometimes these celebrations were more nefarious. For example, one such celebration occurred in 1588 after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. I’m sure the Spaniards weren’t feeling quite as thankful. Victory in battle was often a time of thanksgiving, losers be damned.

An obvious candidate for the precursor of our current holiday, and one that very few of us know about, is described in this article. There was a horrible slaughter of 700 members of the Pequot tribe in which men, women, and children were surrounded and brutally “subdued”. An annual day of Thanksgiving was then declared by the slaughterers, members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It’s no wonder that many Native Americans have a problem with this holiday.

Nowadays, I don’t think most non-native people look at Thanksgiving as some sort of historical event that we are commemorating. And the majority of us are too far removed from our food chain to actually be giving thanks for a successful harvest. We just look forward to the day off, the great big meal, and the football. We also either anticipate or dread the family visitors. Another more depressing trend these days is the glorification of the need some people feel to shop.

People may try to twist this day into some warped justification of genocide, or some attempt to feel patriotic about our occupation of this land, or the desire to take advantage of a really big sale, but the reality is, we’re celebrating the same way the ancient Egyptians did, and probably the same way even more ancient peoples did long before the Egyptians existed, because a good harvest has always meant the difference between life and death, and that’s definitely something to celebrate.

I must confess that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Good food, good company, no gift-giving pressure. Just a time to be grateful for love and abundance. That is how I choose to celebrate the day.

I refuse to take this time to glorify and perpetuate the misguided deeds that lead to this country’s founding. Regret for our brutal past is with me year ‘round, even though my family didn’t get here until the 1930’s. It doesn’t merit a feast.

If you choose to give thanks on this day or any other, Happy Thanksgiving.

Abundance

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Another Disappearing Drawbridge

As a bridgetender, I tend to take it personally when a drawbridge disappears. And it happens all too often. Lower drawbridges get replaced by much taller, fixed spans. People lose their livelihood. And the neighborhood loses a great deal of its character. Folks blast on past without even slowing down anymore. They don’t take in the view. It’s tragic.

So when I saw this article entitled How drawbridge is drowning, I had that first, visceral reaction. Oh no. Not another one. Then I discovered that this story isn’t about a drawbridge. (Well, actually, it is, and it isn’t. You’ll see.)

Drawbridge, California started off with a population of one. George Mundersheitz’s cabin was built there in 1876, so that he could operate the two railroad swing bridges in the area. They were about a half mile apart, and George would walk to each one and hand crank them as needed to let vessels through. That must have been a real pain in inclement weather. And it must have been a very lonely existence.

But it seems that George was an enterprising man, because by 1880, that part of San Francisco Bay had become a duck hunting mecca of sorts, now that there was railroad access, and George started charging people 50 cents a night to stay in his cabin.

Eventually the unincorporated town was named by the railroad, as was often the case, and this place became known as Drawbridge. At its height in 1928, it had 90 cabins and 2 hotels, and hundreds of ducks were shot in the area every single day.

The town never had a city council or a school or law enforcement of any kind. And even with that small population, there were divisions. On the south side of town, people were Catholic. The Protestants dominated the north side. The two groups rarely mixed.

Unfortunately, Drawbridge was not sustainable. The duck population predictably declined, and the marshland began to sink as area metropolises undermined the watershed. The navigable waters began to silt up, and there was no longer a need for a drawbridge. The tides did not clear away the sewage like they used to, and the place began to stink. Needless to say, swimming and fishing drastically declined. And people got tired of having to raise their cabins as their foundations sank with the marsh. Trains no longer stopped in Drawbridge by 1955.

As residency declined, looters came in with annoying frequency. The last resident, Charles Luce, became known for driving people away with a shotgun. He left in 1979 when he was bought out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Now no one goes to Drawbridge. It’s surrounded by salt lakes, and most of the buildings have been burned by looters or have rotted into the ground. As the waters rise due to climate change, the island itself will disappear entirely, and only those of us who are fascinated by history will even know that there was once a thriving community in this unforgiving place.

Rest in peace, Drawbridge. Rest in peace.

The ghost town of Drawbridge
Drawbridge, California’s first building: The bridgetender’s cabin.

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My Recent Time Travel

The other night I got to hop off a bus and walk right into the year 1857. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d have the opportunity to write. And yet, there I was, in a world of candlelight and campfires, square dancing and samplers, blacksmiths and bartering.

Even more fascinating, I got to be a mere specter in this place. The people of 1857 did not see me. They didn’t even sense me. In fact, I had to move out of the way a few times to avoid being trampled by them. And I had been warned that they were going to live their lives as they always did. If they had to throw a bucket of slop out the door and I happened to be in the way, well… too bad for me.

And so, there I was, an invisible fly on the wall at Fort Nisqually. Eavesdropping and observing. What a fascinating night that was.

I happened to walk in during the preparations for the wedding of Letitia Work and fort clerk Edward Huggins. People came from miles around. Gentlemen and their wives, settlers, trappers, laborers, and cooks. All had a role in this event, whether it be a supporting one or a participating one. For many of them, their work continued on, but they were at least treated to a nice plate of food from the reception. Others came especially for the ceremony, wearing all their finery, and took the opportunity to discuss the news of the day with people they rarely had the opportunity to see. I was fascinated to note that politics were divisive and stressful even back then.

I got to wander through the forge, the factor’s house, the sale shop and the kitchen, and in and around the fort grounds, listening to over a hundred people who were going about their 1857 business in a world where there are no cell phones or electricity or social media. What an amazing experience.

The good news is, this time travel opportunity is available to you, too, as Fort Nisqually hosts these candlelight tours in early October each year. If you are in the Tacoma area, I highly recommend that you mark your calendars for next year, as the destination is 1859. You might even see me there, in ghost form.

Two Gentlemen of Fort Nisqually

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What’s in a Name?

Has this ever happened to you? You run into a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. You’re happy to see him because you have fond memories of laughter and camaraderie. You’ve always enjoyed his company. You have no idea why you grew apart in the first place. But you can’t introduce him to your significant other because… his name is on the tip of your tongue… what is it again?

Awkward.

We place so much value on the naming of people, places and things. It’s as if we must be able to pin things down, validate them, make them a part of our world by calling them something. The right thing. The proper thing. It’s important to name things to prove you know what or who they are. Why?

Is the accurate description of a thing what causes it to be real? Like Schrödinger’s cat, can a thing’s state of existence only be locked in when it’s observed? Is calling you by name the only way to prove that you are truly alive?

When land is colonized, the place names often get changed. For example, Mount St. Helens used to be called Suek by the Native Americans who lived there. Names are powerful things. Renaming says, “Your sense of the reality of this mountain isn’t valid. We take ownership of this place and its history is now our history. Nothing else counts.” It’s the ultimate violation.

And yet, the mountain itself is still the mountain. But even calling it “the mountain” is a sort of naming, is it not? That tall mound of… oh, bother. Everything is a description. You could keep an image of it in your head, but you’d have no way of discussing it with others without some commonly agreed upon name.

If a name is what defines something, shouldn’t people choose their own names? I have never felt like a Barbara. No one could ever know me as well as I know myself. And yet, the name I would choose for myself now is probably not the name I would have chosen 20 years ago. I am constantly changing. But my name stays the same. I kind of feel as though I should be able to shed it like old skin. But there’s no cultural mechanism in place for that.

Words have value. They help us connect with each other, and with the wider world. But maybe we need to find a way to work on our interior sense of who or what constitutes the true essence of things, before we lose the ability to do so.

Suek
Suek

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