Issaquah History Museums unveils oral history treasure trove

August 28, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

For decades, old cassette tapes sat squirreled away in the Issaquah History Museums’ expansive collection.

The cassettes, long relegated to gathering dust, contained oral histories from early residents and intimate details about a bygone era — Issaquah in the early 20th century, as a coal- and timber-fueled boom started to wane and decades before explosive growth transformed the area into subdivisions and shopping centers.

The cassettes in the oral history collection ranged in date from 1958 to 1993, but little information accompanied the tapes, so museum staffers and volunteers could only speculate about the contents.

Until now.

Using a $5,000 grant from the King County cultural services agency, 4Culture, staffers at the museums hired a transcriptionist to delve into the recordings. Then, the museums transferred the recordings from cassettes to CDs, and posted transcripts from the recordings online.

Museums Executive Director Erica Maniez said the recordings remained unheard for so long because locals worried about the cassettes’ condition.

On the Web

Read transcripts from the Issaquah History Museums’ oral history collection at www.issaquahhistory.org/learn/oral-history-directory. Contact the museums at 392-3500 or info@issaquahhistory.org for more information about the oral history archives.

“Our fear was, if they had started to go around the bend, that if we played them, the magnetic coating on the tape would peel off,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that if they were played again, it was because they were being put on a more modern medium.”

The museums unveiled the latest oral history collection Aug. 3. The grant from 4Culture covered the transcriptionist and the recordings’ conversion from cassettes to CDs.

The recordings rank among the museums’ most significant collections. Maniez likened the experience of reading the transcripts to opening a time capsule.

“These are the stories of the oldest of the old-timers in the 1960s and ’70s,” she said.

In the long process to convert the recordings from cassettes to CDs, experts also uncovered some secrets.

“A couple of them found stories that we’d never heard before and people we’ve never heard of before,” Maniez said.

The grant-funded effort is the latest oral history program for the museums. The nonprofit organization collected 28 recordings from the 1958 to 1993 era and made another 26 during a 2006 oral history project.

The oldest subject, Jake Jones Jr., interviewed for the collection was born in 1880 and interviewed in 1958, after he received a cancer diagnosis.

The information contained in the recordings offer details to embroider the facts about life in Issaquah as the 20th century unfolded.

Willard Krigbaum Jr., Jones’ grandson, started recording Jones’ memories and stories for his family, and later donated the original reel-to-reel tapes to the then-Issaquah Historical Society. Jones’ interview opens with recollections of a Seattle visit in 1885.

Except for Jones, the subjects were born between 1890 and 1916.

Other oral histories came to the museums from Issaquah historians Edwards and Harriet Fish. The husband-and-wife team collected oral histories in the late 1960s through the early 1970s.

In the ’70s and ’80s, students in Issaquah High School history teacher Joe Peterson’s class collected more oral histories for the museums.

Maniez said the policy is not to post material from a subject’s oral history if he or she is still alive, because information collected in the process is personal and sometimes private.

Mary Colton Lucas

A teacher at Upper Squak School in the Issaquah area during the 1917-18 school year, describes the hectic first day of school:

Mary Colton Lucas

“It was strangely quiet until the door burst open and in pushed a half-dozen children of different sizes and types, all rather poorly clad but healthy-looking. They scrambled for the seats they each thought best, and settled down to stare at me. Now, the mothers of the beginners were coming in, and I was busy greeting them and trying to look delighted, although this made the proportion of little tots in the total count of only about 16 pupils in all. How could I find time to break six tiny humans into the mysteries of the four Rs when there sat 10 larger ones scattered over the other seven grades?”

Jake Jones Jr.

Born in the Squak Valley in 1880 and  interviewed in 1958, describes medical  care from Dr. William Gibson, a physician  and mayor in early Issaquah history:

“Doc Gibson was the first doctor that came here to Issaquah. He came in about 1888. And he had, oh, he had a big district. He had Carnation, and he had Fall City, and he had the upper valley, and down to the lake, down Inglewood, and North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City.

And he had two chestnut sorrel horses that he used to ride. He went night and day, any time. He had all that district to take care of. One time, there was a bunch of shingle weavers, and they cut pretty regular. They’d cut their hands and cut their fingers. Sometimes, they lost their arm.

And Doc had a chair that he used. He put them in that chair — and when he looked around, he didn’t have much tools to work with. He’d look around out on the street to get some young fellows to come and help him. And so some of them couldn’t stand the sight of blood or anything, and they’d run.

But he’d get about four of us that he used to get a hold of — sometimes some of those fellows was pretty husky and strong, you know — and he’d strap them in that chair, strap their legs and strap their arms, and he’d start to work on them.”

Ernie Neuman

A longtime educator and assistant  superintendent in the Issaquah School District, describes how the area’s schools expanded:

“When I came here, we had one, two, three elementaries — four elementaries — one high school and one junior high. Subsequently, we ended up with two high schools — when I retired — three junior highs, eight elementaries. That’s what happened.

Of those elementaries — Issaquah Valley, Apollo, Maple Hills — those were the three elementaries that I was responsible for buying the land and building the schools.

I bought the land for Maywood Junior High. I bought the land for Pine Lake Junior High. Was found and bought the land for the school board, of course, for Liberty High School.”

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