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.
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.
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.