MOHAI History at Home 

When Seattle Came Together
From MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield

Historians call it the Seattle Spirit—moments when the Seattle community, seemingly against all odds, has come together to get things done in dire times. The  COVID-19 crisis of today and the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of a century ago both reflect moments when unexpected tragedy precipitated a strong civic response. While no events in our region’s history compare to those pandemics, there are moments in our past when extraordinary challenges upended the city’s routine, and brought the community together in a demonstration of that famous Seattle Spirit. Here are just three stories from our collection that reflect moments that historians often cite as examples of the Seattle Spirit. What moments would you add?
Often, the “Seattle Spirit” has described the community’s response to economic or political dislocations as opposed to the health crises of 1918 and today.  In fact, the first reference to the Seattle Spirit is believed to be July 14, 1873, when Seattleites awoke to the somber news that the nation’s early transcontinental railroad would bypass the Queen City, heading instead to the new city of Tacoma where it would build its terminus on the shores of Commencement Bay. For a town that had built itself in anticipation of the railroad’s arrival, the news came as a deep shock. Until it became an incentive to get the job done in a new way. On the very day that the bad news arrived, city leaders exhorted their fellow citizens
a quarter of whom had gathered at Yesler's Millto grab their picks and shovels, load their wagons, and build their own rail line heading eastward across the county. The community responded, and got to work immediately. And while the work ultimately took four years and hundreds of Chinese and other workers to make real progressthe newly born Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad reached the coal fields of eastern King County, precipitating an economic boom of its own. And that dark day at Yesler's Mill would be seen as a major milestone in its own righta sign that Seattle was a city that could battle through disappointment to long term success.
Seattle's first locomotive, the A.A. Denny, hauling an excursion train to the racetrack at Georgetown. Photo Credit: MOHAI Collection, ca. 1880. 
Nearly 20 years later, the city experienced the most devastating physical disaster in its history. The sudden fury of the Great Seattle Fire completely destroyed most of the city’s waterfront business district on June 6, 1889. Volunteer firefighters from throughout the region raced to battle the flames, and though their valiant efforts were largely futile, the fight launched the city’s rebirth.  The ashes were still smoldering when the city mobilized to re-house businesses in tents, establish stronger building codes, create a new public water system, assemble a professional fire department, and, ultimately, rebuild the business district into a far larger and more permanent city center than had existed just months before. A common symbol of Seattle at that moment? A mythical Phoenix, boldly rising above the devastation.
Members of Seattle's Fire Department pose at Third Avenue and University Street, in front of one of the five new firehouses built after the previous firehouses were destroyed in the Great Fire. Photo Credit: MOHAI Collection, November 1889.
Fast forward 70 years to a global crisis. World War II was a deeply challenging time for Seattle as it was for the entire nation. The community rapidly transformed into a classic homefront city, with massive manufacturers ramping up production to build the planes, ships and tanks that helped win the war. But it was also a community deeply harmed by the incarceration of Japanese American residents, torn from their homes and businesses and forced to remote camps for the duration of the war. Yet through the dislocation, the community came together in supporting the troops, many of whom were sent overseas from Seattle. Large-scale rallies to promote the sale of war bonds, hosted in a downtown plaza known through the war years as Victory Square, attracted thousands and raised millions of dollars to support the war effort. In this image, Lana Turner, a Hollywood star of the World War II generation, visited Seattle to help in the effort. Rallies like these, and the wartime efforts of thousands of workers, service personnel, and their families, confirmed Seattle’s role as a center of America’s “arsenal of democracy” and helped boost the spirit of a wartime nation.

Building a railroad, fighting a fire, waging a war, or battling a pandemic. Whatever we call times like these, when Seattle joins together to find common purpose and innovative solutions, you can see the Seattle Spirit at work. Be sure to let us know what the Seattle Spirit means to you and we’ll share some of your thoughts in the weeks to come.
Lana Turner, one of Hollywood's most popular stars, visited Seattle on June 15, 1942, to help sell war bonds.  Photo Credit: MOHAI Collection, June 15, 1942. 

Travel Through History with MOHAI Minutes 

This MOHAI produced video series invites viewers through a time-traveling journey to Seattle's most fantastic historic spots.

Due to COVID-19, many with young people at home are finding themselves in the new role of teacher. The videos below salute Seattle's teachers and take us inside one of the city's most historic high schools. Learn something new by watching the videos below or explore the entire MOHAI Minute series online. Each episode is less than five minutes and filled with fun, historic facts!
MOHAI Minute:
Tribute to Seattle's Teachers

Learn about Seattle's earliest schools and the amazing teachers who have made a difference in our community. 
Watch now
MOHAI Minute:
Garfield High School

Visit Garfield High School in Seattle's Central District in this episode. Discover the high school's diverse history and learn more about the role of the school in our community's development. Watch now

Digital Free First Thursday

Pandemic! Seattle and the Spanish Flu of 1918

Thursday, April 2, 5 pm

Explore the historical ties between COVID-19 and the Spanish flu of 1918 in Seattle with MOHAI's Executive Director Leonard Garfield in this free live webinar. 

Join the webinar here or follow this link:

To listen by phone, dial by your location using this Webinar ID: 685 557 987
+1 253 215 8782 US
+1 301 715 8592 US
International numbers available:

Word of the Week
Artifact | ar·​te·​fact |  ahr-tuh-fakt

1. Noun. An object that is made by a person, such as a tool or a decoration, especially one that is of historical interest. 

2. Noun. An object, such as a tool, that was made in the past.

These are extraordinary times for our community. As an epicenter of infection and a focal point for innovative responses, our region’s experience during the COVID 19 crisis is a defining moment in our history. MOHAI’s role and responsibility is to ensure that an enduring record of this period is preserved for future generations, and we are working on a collection plan to guide our work on this important story. While we are not able to accept artifacts at this time while the museum is closed, we will be sharing further information at a later date about our collection initiative and how you might donate. 

2020 Cambridge Dictionary

Home School Tools: Artifact Analysis

Looking for a great way to learn about history with the young people in your home? By examining things people make and/or use we gain a better understanding of their lives and the past. 

MOHAI's Education team works with over 30,000 students annually to encourage close looking and historical thinking by asking questions about what they see, think, and wonder about objects in our collection. 

The Artifact Analysis Worksheet, part of the MOHAI's Introduction to Primary Source Analysis resources, offers essential questions that help us find clues to the past. Use the worksheet and supplement at home to explore MOHAI's online collection or examine everyday objects in your homes. Learn more and explore tools to guide you through artifact analysis at home. 

MOHAI Exhibit Flashback

The museum may be temporarily closed, but our signature exhibits live forever on our website. Rediscover your favorite exhibit or take a look at one you may have missed.

This week we highlight two exhibits that offer unique perspectives on very important themes, movies and food. Revisit Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies and Edible City: A Delicious Journey with suggested films and recipes to consider while you are staying safe at home. 
Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was a wide-ranging exhibit that explored two ideas: the image of Seattle captured in films made here, and a history of the way Seattleites have gone to the movies.

At the turn of the 1990s, Seattle suddenly became hip. Or at least it did in the eyes of Hollywood, which saw that coffee, grunge, and the high-tech world were trendy enough to make Seattle a location for an unprecedented number of projects. The list below offers a glimpse of films that were included The Sleepless City section of the exhibit that highlighted films made during this era and are perfect to watch at home. Visit our website for a full list of film clips included in the exhibit. 

Say Anything…
Life or Something Like It
Sleepless in Seattle
The Ring
Mad Love
The Vanishing
10 Things I Hate About You
Love Happens
Austin Powers, the spy who shagged me
Our Edible City: A Delicious Journey special exhibit served up the story of how people eat in Seattle, and how urban palates have developed over the years.

For nearly two centuries, Seattle has been a region whose culinary traditions, like its people, are distinguished by the confluence of cultures, the wise use of natural resources, and the willingness (and oftentimes necessity) to try something new.

We invite you to try a new recipe from the selection that was featured in the exhibit. Find your next recipe here. 

MOHAI Perspectives

Catch up with MOHAI in in the news! This week, MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield was featured on Transmission, KNKX's podcast about life at the heart of an epidemic. Listen as he provides a refresher on the Spanish Flu of 1918. Margaret Heldring, Past MOHAI Trustee and current Co-Chair of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, was featured in an article celebrating Women's History Month. Select the images below to learn more. 

Transmission Episode 4: Lessons Learned

KNKX | March 24, 2020
You won't find these women in text books. But in their families, they made history. 
The Lily | March 28, 2020

MOHAI Close-Up 

This week's MOHAI Close-Up view is of the museum staff in our first-ever virtual monthly staff meeting. Just like many of you are adapting to new ways of working remotely, the MOHAI team is collaborating virtually to keep you connected and to bring you the stories behind what makes our community great. We miss you and are counting the days until we are able to welcome you back to the museum!

Your continued support during the museum closure is critical.

If you are able to make a gift to the museum during this time, we deeply appreciate your contribution. Gifts made now will help continue MOHAI's service and sustain the museum during the inevitable financial loss we face due to the COVID-19 closure. 
Make a Gift
History is always changing
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