By Nancy Covert
South Sound-area History fans turned out in record numbers for a Historical Double-header on April 19.
Lakewood and Steilacoom-area residents heard about Lewis and Clark’s grand adventure, the Bad Boys of McNeil Island, and an update about the status of the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma.
Washington State History Museum director and author David Nicandri delivered good news on that topic, speaking at the Lakewood Historical Society’s monthly meeting.
Nicandri reassured his listeners about the museum’s future.
While some “hair cutting” was in order, he said that, “both versions of the proposed budget (in Olympia) were of enormous help, and it appears that we are “going to avoid the worst and not have to close the museums.”
Although there may be some future time when most museums’ collections are available digitally, as one listener commented, “there’s nothing like seeing that old stuff,” in real time.
The author of the recently published “River of Promise,” also shed light on little-known facts about the exploration of the Columbia River by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their 1803-06 expedition during his Lakewood Historical Society presentation on Tuesday evening.
“Why?” he asked, “didn’t the explorers record (in their journals) observations about the Missouri River?”
“Because the purpose of their expedition was to discover the headwaters of the Columbia” and fulfill President Jefferson’s goal of westward expansion.
Nicandri said that a visiting National Endowment for the Humanities historian rated the State museum as “one of the best museums in the country.”
He added that the Museum has more than half a million items in its collection: from Ezra Meeker’s wagon to Allen Mason’s mummy (currently on exhibit at WSHM).
Meanwhile, in Steilacoom Joan Curtis, Steilacoom Historian/Curator spoke at the Steilacoom History Museum about McNeil Island’s notorious prisoners, including Roy Gardner, Robert Stroud, aka the Birdman of Alcatraz, and others such as Charles Manson.
Audience participation in Curtis’ presentation, provided by former Island residents, covered other aspects about the prison’s 135-year history (from territorial days to its recent closure).
McNeil Island’s history will be displayed during Steilacoom’s Fourth of July Street Fair.
Other upcoming History-related events in the region include: the April 30-May 1 Civil War Reenactment at Ft. Steilacoom Park and at Historic Ft. Steilacoom. www.historicfortsteilacoom.com
Danny Marshall, Steilacoom Tribal Chairman/Storyteller will speak about the Tribe’s museum restoration efforts. The program begins at 7 p.m. on May 5 at Steilacoom Town Hall. www.steilacoomtribe.com