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Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Few Days in the Life of a Museum Volunteer…..

Arlyne and I are well integrated into our life as volunteers for the Coast Artillery Museum (CAM).  I consider Arlyne, in particular, as a senior museum volunteer (no pun intended).  She’s been reading about the history of Fort Worden and the surrounding forts.  She’s better at working with the public than me but I’m improving.  She talked to a visitor yesterday, explaining what a bargain the Museum is at $4 per adult and how the Museum is a non-profit organization.   After talking to her, he donated $10 to the Museum.

On our tour to the gun batteries on the hill overlooking the Puget Sound, we saw a beautiful eagle’s nest where a patient female (we presume) sat.  The Walker Battery was closed off to visitors to avoid distracting the eagle.  A few days later, however, we had a huge storm with very cold temperatures and a wind blew throughout the night that gusted over 40 mph.  The next morning State Park Rangers noticed that the top 20 feet of the eagle’s tree had broken off, destroying the nest.  A local native American tribal leader was notified, in case there were feathers or other important artifacts to be retrieved but there was nothing left except sticks.

A couple of days ago, Rangers spotted two young men attempting to make off with a large metal door that had washed onto the beach from an eroding cliff.  The door used to be part of one of the gun batteries.  This happens fairly often and usually beachgoers notify the State Rangers.  But metal scrap is pretty valuable stuff these days. 

We spotted two significant birds on our day off trip to Bainbridge, including an unexpected Townsend’s warbler and a mew gull (a life bird for us).  We thought mew gulls would be located much furtrher to the west near the ocean.  I did like the description in the bird book that says the mew gull is delicate, with a gentle expression.  Check out the photo below.

With our new DVR, I recorded and later watched the Master’s Golf Tournament in HD which was super fun.  I also played golf again at the Port Townsend Golf Course.  It’s a nine-hole track that you play twice from different tee boxes.  I haven’t done well at this course for a number of reasons; trees, thick rough, lack of practice, hills, standing water in many places and very (for me) cold, damp weather.  I’m still in the 90’s but better weather is coming.

I made snickerdoodle cookies a few days ago and shared some with the Museum curator.  Then I made a small cake and shared that with the Museum staff as well.

An older man and his daughter came in.  He lives in California and is visiting the daughter in Seattle.  He told me that he had been stationed with the Army at Fort Worden in the late 40’s.  He also served in Korea and was in the Inchon landings.  He and his daughter wanted to see the gun batteries on the hill but he was unable to make the hike.  I went to the State Parks Office next door and sweet-talked the State of Washington into giving him a car pass and a gate key so they could drive up to the batteries.  They were so happy.  Alfred, the CAM curator wanted to interview him so they came back.  The former soldier had several little stories about his time at Fort Worden.  Our Coast Artillery Museum has a woman who comes in a few times a month and works upstairs as an oral historian.  This old soldier was delighted to be able to participate by relating his personal stories.  He will connect with the oral historian and another piece of history is salvaged and preserved.

A couple of days ago, the alarm went off in the Harbor Entrance Command Post, one of the emplacements on the hill above the Fort.  Three of us raced up there to see what it was.  I can’t imagine what three old guys were supposed to do if a rowdy gang of kids were trying to break into one of the bunkers.  Turned out it was (probably) a tourist just wiggling the door to see if it was open.  The bar inside the bunker was not put in right by the last staff person.  At least that broke up the day.

We hear about the politics of the State Government, in this case, Washington State Parks.  Fort Worden is either on the chopping block or being taken over by a private entity (for management).  We don’t know what privatization will do to this Park.   The state just doesn’t have enough money.  Arlyne is so impressed with the huge batteries on the hill that she can’t understand how history like this  can be buried, destroyed, forgotten.  There are a few problems with Fort Worden, such as all the old buildings covered with lead paint, no compliance with ADA, etc.  Nevertheless, the public should be outraged by the prospect of losing such a beautiful park and its history.

We always take time (if it’s not raining) to go on a birding trip.  We went to Port Angeles, spotting two nice 2nd year bald eagles up close and a floating island.  I’ve also included unique photos from the museum archives.

Look at the photo with the old car next to two mortars.  What kind of car is it?  What year is the car?  Also, check out the guys with the wrenches.  I’m told they were used somewhere on the gun mounts.  And Arlyne fixing one of the displays.  And look at the old photo of Jack London who became a famous author (some people remember his books). 

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Bird Lover

 

The Gun Batteries of Ft. Worden, the Rain and Arlyne’s View

We’ve just had our first tour of the Ft. Worden State Park complex here in Port Townsend, Washington, including many of the old buildings and all of the gun batteries.  We were finally able to translate what we saw on a map to the real thing.  There are a million and a half tons of concrete here on the “campus”.  The pictures we’ve included can’t portray the magnitude and complexity of the defenses that were here.  The whole place is (kind of) spooky because of the dark, rainy conditions, the serious original mission of the gun emplacements and the fact that almost all of these weapon sites are over 100 years old.  We walked next to, on top of, inside of and all around the gun batteries.  We imagined the shouts of dozens of men, the thunder of giant guns and the patter of raindrops that have been falling here for thousands of years. It continues to rain on and off in the Olympic peninsula.  It’s raining as I write this at 10:00 am.  Even though this is what normal weather is like, we’re still holding out for warm sunny days.  It brings back memories of living in New Zealand where it rains ferociously at times. In fact, here’s a poem reportedly written by an anonymous tourist who visited the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where the annual rainfall averages 35 feet.  Sometimes it’s a good description of our location: It rained and rained and rained The average fall was well maintained And when the tracks were simply bogs It started raining cats and dogs After a drought of half an hour We had a most refreshing shower And then most curious thing of all A gentle rain began to fall Next day but one was fairly dry Save for one deluge from the sky Which wet the party to the skin And then at last the rain set in

Arlyne’s View

We arrived on March 20 and were not supposed to start work until April 1.  Unfortunately, the lady who is our boss had a family emergency (her husband had major surgery) and she needed to train us before leaving for Tacoma.  No problem, the job is easy, I love interacting with the public, and Bob loves to work with the Curator, examining, looking and filing old photographs. For my job at the front “office” of the museum, I’ve written my own little blurb that I use to explain the “timeline” of Fort Worden and major historical events.  Here’s some of the stuff I’ve learned and what I tell visitors: Fort Worden was commissioned in 1904, with the first guns arriving by barge in 1900.  The guns were ready to fire in 1902.  The buildings were operational in 1904, and construction of the Fort continued until 1915.  The museum is housed in what used to be a “barracks” and it didn’t have electricity until 1908.  Living conditions were quite primitive during these early times. The big guns were never fired in anger and were already approaching obsolescence by WWI (1914 to 1918).  With improvements in warships and their armament, shore based guns were not considered powerful enough.  Even at the beginning of WWII, fixed artillery was dead. Fort Worden was decommissioned in 1953.  The history of the Fort did not end there though.  Shortly thereafter, the grounds and buildings became a Treatment Center for troubled kids.  The Center was operational until 1971.  Many Port Townsend residents put pressure on the State government to buy the property and keep it as a state park. (The power of the PEOPLE won over “There is no money.”) The same thing happened with the Museum.  Individuals that had served at Fort Worden believed that history had to be preserved and applied for a non-profit organization status.  Even though the Museum is housed within the Ft. Worden State Park, it is a separate entity that supports itself with private and public donations. I sometimes tell visitors about a Japanese ship that made it inside Puget Sound.  The gun crews wanted to fire the guns.  The U.S. Commander said “No one fires the guns; they’re just looking for them.”  The ship turned around and left.   This story was confirmed by the Japanese Captain. I also love the story of Alexander’s Castle, the only non-military building inside the Fort.  It was built by a Scottish minister for his sweetheart who stayed in Scotland.  He sailed back to his home town to bring back his future wife only to find out that she had already married someone else.  He lived in the castle on and off, but never for long.  The Castle is maintained by the Historical Society of Port Townsend and has been restored to its original grandeur.  It’s a very popular place to stay for wedding nights and weekends. Enjoy your visit and make sure your kids and grandkids know about the history of the Fort and country.

Pictures

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Here are a few more old photos from the archives:

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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Bird Lover

 

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Ft. Worden and the Coast Artillery Museum

Arlyne and I have started our volunteer assignment at the Coast Artillery Museum and we’ve been learning the ropes and studying the history of Ft. Worden State Park, where the museum is located.  Because our museum building, like others on the campus, is quite old (around 1902), the appearance and features of the museum are quirky.  The material inside, however, is quite valuable.  Some donated materials are in a special dehumidified room.  I was wrong in my first naïve thoughts about coast artillery.  I thought there were a few guns put up in early WWII to defend against possible invading Japanese.  This is all wrong.  “A few guns” is wrong.  They were over 100 at one time.  “WWII” is wrong.  The building of Ft. Worden started in the 1880s.  “Invading Japanese” is wrong.  The forts (actually there are several here, including Ft. Casey, Ft. Flagler and others)  were built to defend us from everyone!  The Germans, the Japanese, the Canadians…….everybody.  By the time WWII started, the guns and the overall installation were already outmoded. Most of the guns were removed by 1943.

Our little volunteer “home” is situated above the Ft. Worden campus, overlooking Admiralty Inlet.  Our commute is about 200 yards.  We can see a snowy row of mountains and watch the ferry come and go.  We go down to Port Townsend often and walk through the cute little town, checking out small shops and restaurants, and watching for birds on the edge of the water.  Arlyne had never seen a glaucous-winged gull and there are hundreds here.

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Arlyne has mostly been working the front entrance and I have found myself doing odd jobs (repairing old display cabinets, helping open and close the place) and working in the photo archives, checking for missing photos, misfiled photos and generally checking the condition of the files and the photos.  I have seen many, many photos from the 1890’s and the early 1900’s through the 40’s.  There are pictures of officers proudly mounted on horseback, uniformed young men standing next to massive 12 and 14-inch guns and troops on the parade grounds in U.S. uniforms that don’t even resemble today’s outfits.  As Robin Williams said in a movie once, these men all have one thing in common – “they’re all pushing up daisies”.  Most of these men look like my grandfather….I keep looking for him in the old pictures.  There is even a folder marked as “dogs”, with photos of all kinds of dogs.  I found photos of parachute landings on Corregidor, soldiers living in the Phillipines, the concrete battleship (which was built on an offshore island) and lots of photos of soldiers.  Some are even from the Civil War.  The forts are named after men who typically died in combat in the Civil War and even the Spanish-American war.  The Civil War actually ended only about 15 year before the forts were commissioned – more recent than we are from the Vietnam War.

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The other volunteers, the curator and the occasional museum board member that stops by are all pretty quirky themselves.  The museum is on a shoestring budget and if you can re-bend a paper clip, you’d better give it a try.  Next week we’ll probably get our own tour of the gun emplacements, tunnels, searchlight mounts and all the other artifacts that still exist up on the hill overlooking the bay.  Sorry about the phone pictures.  More interesting stuff coming up, I’m sure.

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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Bird Lover