September 20, 2011

In the Museum

"Ye Olde Walk-In Seattle"

Where Lake Washington meets the ship canal at Union Bay, that's where Seattle has tucked in its slight, but somewhat interesting, Museum of Science and Industry. I'd been putting off going there since I seldom hear of anything interesting that the museum is exhibiting. It's a bit like the city thought it needed such a museum in order to qualify as a first-rate city. There's a lot of that kind of stuff in this town. It usually disappoints. However, having little to do other than avoid the rain last week -- and being in the general area -- I pulled into the road to the parking lot.

I had to stop and wait while a bus from a local old-folks home slowly unloaded its compliment of day-tripping seniors. You've seen these groups. They're the people that we usually store out of sight in one of God's proliferating waiting rooms. You know those places too. Somewhere ahead there's one of them with your name printed on a temporary tag and slipped into a bracket next to the door.

For several minutes the wheelchair-accessible van disgorged eight people. Seven women and one man. The women were all in wheelchairs with attendants. The man didn't wait around and made his way into the museum using a walker. Finally unloaded, the van closed its doors and pulled ahead to park. I followed suit.

After pausing for a smoke and a coffee, I went into the museum and paid the fee. The seniors were already inside. The women in the wheelchairs were lined up like so many ducks in a shooting gallery, waiting their turns for the three attendants to roll them briskly past the carefully set up exhibits and dioramas. Glancing around I noticed that the old man in the walker had made his way unattended to the upper gallery.

I wiled away some minutes looking into the dioramas that seemed designed more towards underscoring the Museum's sensitivity to the "diversity" of Seattle than filling in the city's history in any detail. For every exhibit noting the contribution of whites to the founding of Seattle, the museum threw up a trivial item celebrating the contribution of Asians (came here, worked cheap, did laundry, got ahead), Native-Americans (they fought and they lost) and African-Americans (one man starts a restaurant and dies rich). The thin exhibits of cheap artifacts on display merely underscore all the shabby cliches of diversity that have come to signify "we care about caring more than we care about truth." "Diversity uber alles," is the phrase that pays for curators everywhere these days.

Behind me the old women were being pushed from room to room; their keepers trilling to them in the kind, cooing tones used to mollify infants. I'd forgotten about the old man.

After having enough of the Museum's Diversityland exhibits, I made my way to the upstairs gallery I'd seen the old man enter. Unlike the rest of the museum, it was a large room with large historic photographs on the wall. I like the harsh content of old photographs. There's often a truth to them that all the careful curating of our soppy era cannot obfuscate. Things are as they are, not as some wish they might have been. Lovers stare without smiles. The hands charred by hard work and harsh soil are seen sharp. The child in the coffin is dead. What you see is what they had. What you see is what we've lost.

I was alone in the room, except for the very old man in the walker. He was stopped along the wall on the left looking searchingly at a large photograph of a street scene. He glanced up and gave me a long look as if to say, "What the hell are you doing in my museum?" Then he seemed to think better of it and beckoned me over.

I'm not used to very old people being assertive. When I encounter it I am almost always taken off-guard. For the most part, our very old people, when exhumed from their storage facilities and placed out in public, seem embarrassed to be there in their decrepitude. It is almost as if we have told them to just go away and die very, very privately. That way we don't have to be confronted with our own mortality made manifest in their frail infirmities.

This old man was having none of that and gestured to me again, almost like the Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." In this case, though, I was cast as "the Wedding Guest." I went over to him.

"I wanted you to see this," he said gesturing at the street photograph. He was bent forward in the walker, but his spotted hands were firm on the handles. He wore a plaid shirt, pleated pants and thick-soled walking shoes. He was grizzled around the jaws, impossibly wrinkled in the face, but he still had a full head of hair. He was very old, and clearly not that stable on his pins, but his eyes were still clear and his voice steady.

"Pleased to meet you, sir," I said, the manners my mother taught me making an appearance.

"Don't worry about that," he said. "They'll be coming to get me soon and I just wanted to show somebody this picture."

I looked at it. Then I read the label to the left of the frame: View Along Pike Street from the Corner of Second Avenue, ca 1909

It was taken from a high vantage point, perhaps a third or fourth floor window in some building, and gave a sweeping view of Pike Street in the sharp and clean afternoon light you still get in Seattle when the sun comes out. In the way of these old photographs it was taken with a large box camera and, accordingly, a large negative. When things hold still for these negatives they soak up an amazing amount of detail. Click and you can count the wires woven above the street that afternoon in 1909.


Where things don't quite stand still, there's a slight blur to moving objects than always imparts some hint of the fleeting moment in which the negative was exposed. Click and the man who is late dashes for the passing trolly, his left foot a blur against the cobblestones for an instant on that afternoon in 1909.


"It's a great picture," I said, not really knowing what else to say.

"1909," he said. "I've lived here all my life. Was born in a house on Denny. I'm going to be 100 years old next month. 100 years."

"Congratulations," I replied. "I have to say that you seem to be doing great."

"Yep, 100 years old and here's this photograph taken the year after I was born about a half a mile from where I was born."

"That's true," I agreed.

"You know," he said. "Everybody you see in that picture is probably dead. Except one."


"Down there in the corner," he said pointing.

I looked down and saw, in the extreme lower left, an out-of-focus couple on the street, slightly blurred by the fact that they were walking when the exposure was made. Just blurs, just barely discernible as a man and a woman, as husband and wife. In front of them you could, just at the limits of visibility, see that the couple was pushing a stroller with a child in it.


"You see that?" he asked. "You see that? Everybody in that picture is dead, except maybe the kid they're pushing along. Do you think it could be me? I think it could be me. That feather in the woman's hat. My mother had a lot of hats with feathers."

You couldn't tell. There was no information beyond the blurs that vaguely resolved into a couple pushing a child along a street in Seattle sometime around 1909. "Don't know," I answered. "Can't tell. Nobody can tell."

"Time to get started back, Frank," said the attendant who stood at the door. "We need to get you people in the van for dinner."

Frank ignored him. "But it could be me and my parents. It could be us, couldn't it?"

"Yes," I allowed, "It could be."

He shuffled a bit and worked his walker around. He pointed it towards the door where the attendant was waiting and then started off.

" 'Could be's' all I need," he said. "Nice talking to you."

First Published May 5, 2008

Posted by Vanderleun at September 20, 2011 2:50 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.


Another wonderful story. I love old photographs - not to be confused with "the good old times" which were good for only a very lucky few....if that.

Thank you for this blog. I check it daily, indeed it is usually my first web stop, along with 5-6 other trusty allies. It is always a delight.


Posted by: Frank V. at May 5, 2008 5:19 PM

Eerie thing that conversation, to live that long and see the world as it was before all those big events of the 20th century. All those people whose own relatives probably only know them through a few old photos, yet in the display photograph they are busy getting about their lives just as we do.

I'm not ready to get old and I don't know where I will get the courage to face the difficulties of being elderly.

Posted by: Sacred Trust at May 5, 2008 5:52 PM

"Could be's all I need"...words of hope and wisdom from a tough old guy (sounds like the makings of a C&W hit there). Having worked in nursing homes, I've seen that outliving your contemporaries is often a mixed blessing.

Posted by: G. Weightman at May 5, 2008 6:01 PM

I worked in old folks' homes for a while--don't get me wrong, I'm not a Caring Person. I was installing computer networks to the nurses' stations.

Speaking of aggressive old guys--while I was coiling cable in the hall, I heard an old boy doing the plaintive and pointless institutional call:
"nurse... nurse... nurse... nurse..." &c....

The nurse, of course, woofs him off with:
"Just a second Alfred, I've gotta do something down the hall."

To which he responds:
"Hey! Fuck YOU! I'm wet!"

I liked that ol' boy.

The old gentleman in your story probably had a strange life: He was too young for WWI and too old for WWII, Korea, etc.

Seattle largely missed the Great Depression....

If he was healthy and women didn't give him too much trouble, he probably had a pretty good life, actually!

Posted by: Gray at May 5, 2008 6:46 PM

True enough. A good big life and a century long to boot. He didn't seem sad, I'll tell you that.

Posted by: vanderleun at May 5, 2008 7:25 PM

That world is long gone, just like this one will be long gone. What will the next hundred years bring? What wonders will a baby today live too see?

(If he survives crack-addled parents, overbearing government, economic and social collapse, and the ever-present Zombie Apocalypse, he might get a flying car and an aluminum foil suit... the one I was promised if I lived to see the glorious year 2000AD!)

Posted by: Cynyr at May 5, 2008 7:49 PM


What wonders will a baby today live to see?

Robot bugs.

Posted by: rickl at May 5, 2008 8:18 PM

Actually, I had a "could be" moment recently.

For years I had a vague childhood memory of sitting in Crosley Field in CIncinnati with my parents and little sister. It was night, we were at a Reds baseball game, and New York had 10 runs on the scoreboard.

A few months ago I determined to try to see if I could find out the specific game I saw. By process of elimination, I decided that it couldn't have been the New York Giants, since they moved to San Francisco before I was born. The New York Yankees scored over 10 runs in a 1961 World Series game at Cincinnati, but that was a day game; and besides, I'm sure my father would have mentioned sometime in the 41 years before he died that he had taken me to a World Series game.

So it had to have been the New York Mets, and it must have been in 1962 or 1963. I have scorecards and/or programs for all the games I saw from 1964 onwards. I consulted the magnificent baseball statistics website Retrosheet and looked over the day-to-day scores for those seasons. I found only one game that met my criteria: On Friday, June 14, 1963, the Mets beat the Reds 10-3 in a night game at Cincinnati. I was five years old and was sitting next to my dad while my four-year-old sister slept in my mom's lap.

That must have been the game. I'm as sure as I can ever be short of finding a ticket stub buried in the attic somewhere.

Posted by: rickl at May 5, 2008 8:55 PM

I followed this link from somewhere. I got about a quarter of the way through before thinking, "Boy, this is well written," and about halfway through before thinking, "This has got to be by Gerard Vanderleun."

Posted by: Ars Sine Artificio at May 6, 2008 4:45 AM

I think the word "poignant" comes to mind.

"...sitting in Crosley Field in CIncinnati..."

Great old ballpark. I remember seeing it from the window of the car as my family drove down I-75 from Michigan to Florida. A couple of times, a night game was even in progress.
Gone the way of Tiger Stadium, I'm afraid, and long before. Like 1909 Seattle, part of a world that no longer exists.

Posted by: waltj at May 6, 2008 4:59 AM

Very touching. It made me cry.

Posted by: qwfwq at May 6, 2008 5:26 AM

Reminds me of Colonel Freeleigh in Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine."

Posted by: Porkov at May 6, 2008 5:43 AM

What a cool meeting! I love photos like that.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at May 6, 2008 5:47 AM

The museum post made my day. Possibly my week. In the running for month. Older Americans have a lot to tell us if we're patient enough to listen.

Posted by: Jack Riccardi at May 6, 2008 6:52 AM

The museum post made my day. Possibly my week. In the running for month. Older Americans have a lot to tell us if we're patient enough to listen.

Posted by: Jack Riccardi at May 6, 2008 6:53 AM

That meeting is one of the few golden moments. Truth, where do you find it on earth.

Posted by: Jeffersonranch at May 6, 2008 7:09 AM

Back in 1975, my grandmother was in the hospital for about 6 weeks.

During that time, she had a number of roommates. I got friendly with the husband of one of them and we started talking.

He was about 80 and it turned out that he had been a fighter pilot in the first world war.

For Germany.

This guy was part of the famed Flying Circus and flew with the Red Baron.

Being 15 at the time, I didn't appreciate the opportunity I had before me at let the matter drop.

I've kicked myself ever since.

Posted by: Rich at May 6, 2008 7:47 AM

Very interesting post. I love old photos. I wonder what more the old man might have told you had there only been more time?

Posted by: feeblemind at May 6, 2008 8:02 AM

Wonderful story, beautifully told. Thank you!

My aunt will be 96 in October - still living in her apartment in New York City. Her short term memory is pretty much gone, and she has an aide who helps her a bit, but otherwise she's alert and happy and loves to walk and talk with people. On the other hand, she did once observe, talking about aging..."Golden age, my ass..."

Posted by: Les at May 6, 2008 8:03 AM

What a tragedy to lose the old pictures, too. My parents moved to a retirement village in 2002, and the collection of photos of my dad's family were mostly put, accidently, in the trash pile. Stuff from London eastside Jewish ghetto, early stuff in northeastern Pennsylvania when they came to the land of all dreams, and so on. And now my dad's gone; so is my mother-in-law.

Crosley Field memories I share, too. My first one was in 1961. I hated the move to Riverfront. You weren't involved in the game as much.

Posted by: Phil at May 6, 2008 8:27 AM

You know it is bad when they make a jazz museum. I went to visit the Kansas City Museum of Jazz on Vine Street, where my brother-in-law and pa still occasionally sit in at the Blue Note, which is attached to the museum. My father was inducted into the KC jazz Hall of Fame along with a host of other, mostly dead guys in 97, and it is even WEIRDER when they bring kids on field trips into the Blue Note, where they drink licker and suchlike. What is even worse about putting a living breathing art form into a museum dedicated to memorializing all that is dead, is how they wrote the history of jazz. I didn't know until recently that ISLAM played such a significant role in the development of jazz...but there you have it. The cradle of jazz is Mecca, and that ain't New York or Kansas City, anymore.

Posted by: Jewel Atkins at May 6, 2008 8:31 AM

rickl said: "Robot bugs!"

What could be better? Robots and spy technology in a glorious wedding... I like it!

I heard tell once that thousands of old photographic plates from the War of Secession were processed to extract the silver. Presumably, that practice was common a hundred years ago. While a picture is worth a thousand words, those words spoken by somebody who was there are priceless, too.

Posted by: Cynyr at May 6, 2008 9:11 AM

A few years back I was involved with a woman who's grandfather had been born in 1900 near Seattle. His name was Percy. He would complain about this name from time to time explaining that as he was the last of twelve children, and life was pretty busy for his parents running the family farm, he hadn't been formally named until he started school and Percy was all they could come up with on short notice. Apparently he was simply reffered to as "boy" up until this point. He always had a twinkle in his eye when he told this story like maybe he was stretching the truth a bit but the rest of his life as he told it seemed to check out so who's to say.

I used to sit with him and he would talk about having seen a modern city grow out of what was basically a logging and fishing town. He was quite an athlete in his day after having graduated from Seattle's only high school at the time, Broadway High on Capitol Hill. Sullivan Award winner, lettered in track and field at the UW in 1919 and 1920. After graduation he spent the rest of his working life, well into his eighties, preparing the next generations of gladiators for battle as an athletic trainer for his alma mater with a five year break during the depression working the waterfront docks as a longshoreman.
The last time I remember seeing him was on his 95th birthday. He was still a fit man and would rib me about my expanding waist line as I approached forty while pointing out that he still wore the same size pants as he had in 1920.

The things I will always remember about that birthday gathering were the stories exchanged, a literal verbal history of a city over birthday cake and shots of bourbon, and the fact that his friends, whether present or passed on, seemed to consist of such a diverse mix of people who in this age I couldn't imagine having a civil conversation much less being life long friends.
Cops and waterfront Wobblies who most likely had a few violent brushes with these same cops in their day. Athletes and professors. Men who had streets and buildings named in their honor and men who would walk down those streets and maybe think "I knew that guy when he was a kid and he was nothin special".
When I compare the discourse I observe between people of differing philosophies and backgrounds today with what I witnessed at this gathering of old friends from another era, I get the feeling that we have lost something vital. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly that something is but I know without thinking that it was something better.

Posted by: anybodyinpoulsbo at May 6, 2008 10:15 AM

Great story and good thinking, Thanks.

Posted by: vanderleun at May 6, 2008 10:20 AM

As the hill steepens, our pace slows, and we have to hold the candle of hope higher as we peer into the future fog toward the ultimate finish line. This centurion's candle is still burning and that's heartening.

I had a grandmother who lived to 100. The last five years she didn't recognize anyone in the family, so those were not good years. To be 100 and still have a degree of mental sharpness, that is something of a miracle in itself.

This touched a nerve because, while I'm not yet in the "home," I know it's not too far in the future. It isn't easy to gracefully surrender the things of our youth. I'm trying but, it_is_not_easy.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at May 6, 2008 10:55 AM

"The cradle of jazz is Mecca"


Thanks, I needed a laugh.

Posted by: Je at May 6, 2008 10:58 AM

What a tragedy to lose the old pictures, too. My parents moved to a retirement village in 2002, and the collection of photos of my dad's family were mostly put, accidently, in the trash pile. Stuff from London eastside Jewish ghetto, early stuff in northeastern Pennsylvania when they came to the land of all dreams, and so on. And now my dad's gone; so is my mother-in-law.

The lesson there for those who still have such pictures is GET THEE TO A SCANNER FORTHWITH. Storage being as cheap as it is today, there is no reason why we shouldn't all have our family history in images, as far back as possible, backed up into a family database.

My cousin has photos dating back to the late 19th century of my grandfather and great-grandfather; it's fascinating to spot the little things, like set of lips and shape of nose, which show up in my nieces and nephews today. I plan to get those digitally archived upon my next visit home.

Posted by: Seerak at May 6, 2008 11:47 AM

Ditto Seerak's advice.

Posted by: Deborah at May 6, 2008 12:29 PM

Mr. Vanderleun,

A beautiful story, usual. How much wisdom is lost when we do not engage our elders?

I had a grandmother who lived to 100. On rare occasions she would recount her journey from Poland as a young girl of 12. Her dad was already in America and had sent for her and her mother. It was agreed they would depart from the old country in the Spring after helping the remaining family with the seasonal planting. A late Spring delayed the planting and their trip...a voyage on RMS Titanic.

Posted by: Phils57 at May 6, 2008 2:17 PM

What a wonderful story; thank you.

"Could be." You betcha.

Posted by: Denny, Alaska at May 6, 2008 4:39 PM


Great old ballpark. I remember seeing it from the window of the car as my family drove down I-75 from Michigan to Florida. A couple of times, a night game was even in progress.
Gone the way of Tiger Stadium, I'm afraid, and long before. Like 1909 Seattle, part of a world that no longer exists.

I was born in 1958, but I'm lucky enough to have seen baseball games in Crosley Field in Cincinnati (1963-66), Tiger Stadium in Detroit (1968), Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (1969), and Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia (1969-70). I also saw a game in Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1986, before the lights were installed. That one was a side trip while I was following the Grateful Dead during a Midwest tour.

Still haven't made it to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, though.

Posted by: rickl at May 6, 2008 6:40 PM

Speaking of elegies to old ball parks, the best I’ve read is Bruce Kuklick’s homage to Shibe Park, “To Every Thing A Season.” Shibe Park (later called Connie Mack Stadium) was built in 1909, the same year in which the Seattle photograph was taken.

Kuklick ends his book with the words:

"There used to be a ball field at Twenty-First and Lehigh, but Shibe Park had its time, and then its time was over. In some more time it will be forgotten. It is good to remember it as long as we can; but we cannot expect to remember forever.”

Posted by: at May 6, 2008 7:08 PM


A late Spring delayed the planting and their trip...a voyage on RMS Titanic.

Late spring, indeed. Even at the time, it was considered highly unusual for icebergs to be that far south in the shipping lanes at that time of year.

Posted by: rickl at May 6, 2008 7:36 PM

Posted by at May 6, 2008 7:08 PM

Thanks! I'll have to look into that book. The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society is close to where I live. I'll bet they have it.

Posted by: rickl at May 6, 2008 7:40 PM

When I was a kid, (in the 1950's) There was an old man that lived down the street. I never knew his real name, we all called him 'Uncle Sam' because he had a flagpole in his front yard with a red, white and blue Uncle Sam figure at the base.

He was a veteran of the Spanish-American war and his house was a veritable museum. He would invite the neighborhood kids in and give us cookies. The he would let us look at the pictures, uniform items, firearms and other military stuff that covered the walls.

He was a nice old guy and his kids never visited him, probably got tired of all the stories. But there were several of us in the neighborhood that didn't. For a while..then like all kids we lost interest and quit visiting. Then we noticed one day that the flag was gone and the house was for sale.

I've always felt kind of bad about that.

Posted by: John D at May 7, 2008 1:05 AM


"I was born in 1958, but I'm lucky enough to have seen baseball games in Crosley Field in Cincinnati (1963-66), Tiger Stadium in Detroit (1968), Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (1969), and Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia (1969-70). I also saw a game in Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1986, before the lights were installed. That one was a side trip while I was following the Grateful Dead during a Midwest tour."

You got around pretty well to the older ballparks. I've got a few years on you, and Tiger Stadium was my home park. Saw Reggie Jackson hit his massive home run off the light tower there in the '71 All-Star Game. Never saw a ball go so far. Also saw games at the Coliseum in LA (where the Dodgers played when they first moved from Brooklyn), old Comiskey Park, Candlestick (froze my tuchas off, too), Fenway (also froze, both times), and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, as well as some of those horrid 1970s all-purpose donut stadiums that mericifully are reaching the end of their lifespans. Haven't made it to Yankee Stadium yet. Someday.

Posted by: waltj at May 7, 2008 5:30 AM

The thought that came to my mind when the old man speculated that he was the only one still alive in the picture, was the poem, 'The Last Leaf on the Tree'(?) It was a poem we learned in the 5th or 6th grade. It was about an old revolutionary war vet still alive in the 1820s, I think. Anyway, he was the last of his generation. The last leaf on the tree. The poem obviously left an impression on me. I have wondered what it would be like to be the last leaf on the tree. The sole survivor. How would I feel about that? Happy? Sad? Self-satisified? Smug? Lonely? All of the above?

Posted by: feeblemind at May 7, 2008 9:16 AM

Thanks Gerard,
Another great post leading to reflection on life and age and death. I was a kid in the mid sixties. I had recently heard or seen a show about the Titanic and I was moved by it; I asked my grandmother about the Titanic and tears came to her eyes. She was a little girl in kindergarten at the time Granite Falls, WA. One of her classmates, a little girl had drowned on the Titanic. My grandmother said her whole class was traumatized by the sinking and the loss of their classmate and 'they cried and cried about it.' Wow, talk about history coming alive for a kid...

Posted by: Doug at May 8, 2008 1:18 PM
Seattle largely missed the Great Depression....
That would surprise some of the residents at the time.

My grandfather worked a six month trial period (at no pay) to hire on to the railroad as a gandydancer down at the roundhouse in Timber, outside of Portland during the Depression. Kind of a tough go with a wife and child. He ended up being the senior most engineer in the Klamath division of Southern Pacific when he retired.

His grandfather led a wagon train north out of California to settle in Eugene, but that's another story altogether.

Posted by: EW1(SG) at May 8, 2008 5:51 PM

feeblemind said "... , was the poem, 'The Last Leaf on the Tree'(?) It was a poem we learned in the 5th or 6th grade. It was about an old revolutionary war vet still alive in the 1820s, I think."

The poem was The Last Leaf by Oliver Wendell Holmes. An online copy can be found at The subject of the poem was Major Thomas Melville who had been a member of the Boston Tea Party...

Posted by: Another Old Navy Chief at May 31, 2009 6:39 AM

Thanks for that pointer, Chief. A very interesting poem by Holmes. Especially in his note on the composition.

Posted by: vanderleun at May 31, 2009 6:59 AM

I remember that 1961 World Series game between the Reds and the Yankees at Crosley Field, because I watched it from an unusual location... the Goodyear blimp.

I think that was one of the first times it was used at a major event, and as I recall there was no television camera on board - it was just being used as a flying billboard.

My dad just sent me a picture of me in the blimp the other day - I was about 14 years old and excitied as hell. My aunt worked at the hangar at Lunken airport where the blimp was moored, and one of the pilots asked her out on a date. She said okay, but only if he got her nephew a ride in the blimp! Now that's an aunt!

So my dad and I spent the evening in the blimp, and we had a battery-powered portable radio (my aunt's!) with us so we could follow the game, but it was so noisy in the control car that you could hardly hear anything, and besides, watching the pilot fly the thing was fascinating. You could stand right behind him and look over his shoulder. No seatbelts either. The seats were simple benches remarkably like those in my schoolbus.

The really exciting part was when we returned to the airport. There was a small amusement park to the east of it and the hangar was near that end, away from the main terminal, so we came in right over the park, which was still open.

Everyone was looking up and yelling and waving, when all of a sudden, the nose of the blimp dropped way down, and the pilot was cranking on the elevator wheel like crazy to try to get it up. Then there was a pop and the nose shot up - we had to go around and try again.

What had happened was that the mooring rope hanging down from the nose had snagged on the barbed-wire fence that separated the airfield from the amusement park! The rope, which was how the ground crew captured the blimp on landing, actually tore apart near the nose, so there was nothing hanging down for them to grab on the second approach!

So the pilot said "Watch this!" and set the blimp down on its one wheel on the grass and motored toward the ground crew, who ran up and grabbed the handrail around the base of the control car! Can you think of anything better than being 14 years old, in an airship, and hearing the pilot say "Watch this!"??

By the way, "take-off" consisted of about 10 burly guys holding onto that railing, lifting the blimp over their heads, and then bouncing it down on its fat tire and letting go! Only two or three of the ground crew were actually with Goodyear - the rest were locals, and the Goodyear guys took the positions near the propellers, which were completely unguarded!

What a thrill this all was, except that nobody at school ever believed I wasn't just making it all up!

Posted by: sherlock at May 31, 2009 8:08 AM

Great story and greater memory.

"the Goodyear guys took the positions near the propellers, which were completely unguarded!"

Ah, the "unguarded" life. Much more worth living than our present "safe" existence.

Posted by: vanderleun at May 31, 2009 8:29 AM

G. Vanderleun,

That picture looks identical to something I saw in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It has been rather a long time since I saw that exhibit although I was at the Museum for a party given to the U. Chicago Graduating Class of 2007. I got there courtesy of my #2 son who Graduated with Honors in Russian Literature. He now has a job as a quant. for a market research consulting firm. Rather far from Russian Literature.

BTW I got here from your link at Belmont Club re: Faith.

Posted by: M. Simon at May 31, 2009 5:54 PM

If that courageous, tough old guy had only stayed away from Nursing Home 'storage units' and being ignored by strangers claiming to be nurses, he'd be better off and happier. Nursing homes cost so much and give you such a poor quality of life. He seems to still have his wits about him. If he would just locate a couple more old guys or women with similarly unimpaired faculties, they could band together and have a little house to themselves. They could hire daytime help and someone to cook for them and have peace and quiet for the end of their days.

I've been planning this since I turned 70. I'm now 81, my husband is 84, and if we can just stay out of the hands of Obama's Universal Health Care Rationing, and hire private physicians we may survive, a little longer and a lot happier.

Marianne Matthews

Posted by: Marianne Matthews at May 31, 2009 7:46 PM

Actually from the pictures I just found, the props are still completely unguarded. Whatever, point well taken.

BTW, my Aunt also used to bring me copies of Aviation Week magazine that finally got too coffee-stained for the table in the pilots' lounge at her hangar. What a treasure those were!

And then there was the Summer day she came home at noon (she lived with us), and her mascara was all running down her face and for once she didn't seem to give a damn how she looked. Her best friends had just died in a crash of one of the DC-3's that operated out of her hangar.

Years later, I was home for my Mom's funeral, and after a few days sitting around feeling morbid, I suggested that I should take my Dad up for a glider flight. My Aunt having just lost her sister, and no doubt thinking back all those years (she left aviation soon after the crash), begged me not to.

I pointed out that while her friends of so long ago were flying around in machines full of gasoline and electricity, I would take Dad up in something that flew the way God intended - a glider. She actually seemed comforted, and of course nothing untoward happened.

That evening she told me that she always knew I was destined to fly, and fly well. It meant a lot.

Posted by: sherlock at May 31, 2009 8:15 PM

I was reading the comments and unexpectedly came upon mine that I had left a little over a year ago under my old handle of anybodyinpoulsbo. It made me smile to read your post again and to remember old Percy who had witnessed so much of Seattle's history.
Thanks for your stories.

Posted by: westsoundmodern at June 1, 2009 6:57 PM

Your fine story and the comments remind me of the old saying, "Those places are still on the map, but they don't exist anymore".

And another thing, look how well-turned out everyone is in those old photos. Just like the manners your mother taught you, once upon a time people dressed for town if they were going to town.

Posted by: Boots at June 2, 2009 3:12 PM

So glad you reposted this. I had missed the original and initial reposts. It means more to me now with my father passing 3 years ago leaving few of his generation in our family.

I remember as a young man when he mentioned an uncle of his, who I did not really know, has passed and then said, "Now it's our turn." His time came. Now, at 63, I know, "It will be my generation's turn."

Great story. Thanks more than you can know.

Posted by: RileyD, nwJ at September 20, 2011 9:08 AM