A&E Pick of the Week
Welcome to the first Arts & Entertainment Pick of the Week, in which our writers write about a particularly interesting event, show or something else that caught their eye.
Every possession tells a quiet story. In search of some stories — and of respite from the heat — I went to the Museum of History & Industry last week, wandering through its permanent exhibit “True Northwest: The Seattle Journey.” Here are five objects I found poignant; five things touched by someone long ago, seeming to retain just a bit of that person’s being — five tiny worlds.
The oldest daughter of Chief Seattle, known as Princess Angeline, was born in the 1820s and died in 1896. Though many Indigenous people of Seattle were at that time forced to leave their homes and exiled to reservations, Princess Angeline stayed in her tiny house at the foot of Pike Street until the end of her life. (Her name lives on, in Seattle’s South Angeline Street and in the local YWCA’s program Angeline’s Day Center for Women.) A piece of her walking stick survives her; its shiny, worn-smooth handle indicates a resolute grip. It’s just the upper part of the stick — the bottom half seems to have snapped off, as if it suddenly had too much to bear.
It’s just a tiny (maybe 6 inches tall), slightly rusty cast-iron pot, used by woodworker John Back to heat glue. But on a spring afternoon in 1889, the pot — heated over a gasoline fire — boiled over, catching flame and spilling onto the wood shavings and turpentine on the floor. Quickly out of control, the fire spread to the entire block, then farther. By the following morning, Seattle’s downtown was gone, but somehow the glue pot and its story remained. I remember, as a child visiting MOHAI (in its old Montlake location), gazing at the pot and wondering how something so little could cause something so big; the feeling was, for a small person, pleasantly overwhelming.
It looks like a fine handkerchief with ribbons attached at each corner, but it’s actually a century-old version of a very common object in this pandemic era: a mask, worn by a Seattleite in 1918, intended to prevent the spread of the flu epidemic. Somebody made this mask by hand — its stitches are sure but uneven — and the extreme lightness of the fabric (you can see right through it) indicates that it probably didn’t do much good. But looking at it, you can imagine a city of people, smiles and frowns made ghostly by white gauze, carefully going about their days, trying to protect themselves and others as best they could; a handshake, or an elbow-bump, across a century.
K. Iwasaki, who owned a nursery near Auburn before World War II, was held in an incarceration camp for Japanese Americans for three years during the war; before his release, he made a wooden trunk in which to ship his belongings home. It’s a simple, roughhewn box, with his name and address (Rt. 2, Box 1182, Auburn, Wash.) in block letters on the front and a hasp lock holding it shut. I thought about what it might have held (clothes? books? photographs? mementos?), about the idea of “home” after three long years, and about how locks aren’t always enough to shut out darkness.
The original Starbucks opened in 1971, in a now-demolished building on Western Avenue (not the Pike Place Market location often referred to as the first Starbucks store); its owners — two teachers and a writer — named their business after a character in “Moby Dick.” MOHAI has its original sidewalk sign on display: “Starbucks is OPEN / Coffee — Spices — Tea,” it says, in hand-painted red letters on white, looking like it might have been carefully made in somebody’s garage (the curves in the S’s aren’t quite right; the red is uneven). Once again: something huge, coming from something so humble; if you stand still near it long enough, you’ll probably get a faint whiff of coffee.