LEFT: Madison Middle School students Amy Do, Miles Daniel, Dursa Mohamed, Cam Tanyi, Valarian Gardner (top row, front to back), Loren Peterson, Andy Chin and teacher Amy O'Donaghue (bottom row, front to back) took part in the Telling Our Westside Stories oral history project. RIGHT: 99-year-old Stan Christensen was interviewed and came to check out the traveling exhibit at Madison on June 8.
Southwest Seattle youth and elders connect for oral history project
West Seattle teens from Madison Middle School and the Delridge and South Park Community Centers helped document the history of the Duwamish Peninsula this spring by taking part in the Southwest Seattle Historical Society’s “Telling Our Westside Stories” oral history project.
The teens interviewed a wide variety of southwest Seattle elders and longtime residents covering the topics of land, work and home. The results of their work will be on permanent display at the Log House Museum starting this summer, and a traveling exhibit with photos, transcribed stories and headphones to listen to interviews will jump around to area schools, community centers and libraries.
The project is expected to continue for the next several years, allowing the firsthand stories of early southwest Seattle to be forever captured.
“We wanted to tell stories and the history of the area beyond just the landing at Alki, for which the Log House Museum is probably best known since it is the birthplace of Seattle, but history continues into the present day, so we wanted to update the story,” Judy Bentley with the museum said. “Also, a component of this was the youth interviewing elders, and elders talking to youth too … to start a conversation about what it’s like living here and building a sense of community through the history.”
7th graders at Madison invited the interviewees to their school for half hour interviews, and the process became a class project for humanities teacher Amy O’Donaghue’s students.
“I think it is a great intergenerational type of situation,” O’Donaghue said. “The students were able to thematically approach the history of a neighborhood, we led them to develop the themes, and then they created the questions.”
On June 8 the Madison students, their interviewees, and the general public were invited to the school for a sneak preview of their work and how the traveling exhibit would work.
Bellies full of congratulatory pizza, Madison students Miles Daniel, Cam Tanyi, Dursa Mohamed, Andy Chin, Valarian Gardner, Loren Peterson and Amy Do reflected on the process.
“They told us about home, land and water and what living in Southwest Seattle was like and how it has changed over time,” Daniel said.
Peterson said the memory that stuck out most to him was how different California Ave. was in the past.
“They talked a little bit about using a trolley on California and when there were really bad snow storms and stuff like that, which are rare in Seattle, but when they happened it was really hard for the trollies,” he said.
“I really enjoyed it,” Tanyi chimed in. “It was pretty cool learning about what it used to be like before our time.”
99-year-old Stan Christensen, who was interviewed for the project and told of his time growing up on Alki and learning to swim at Luna Park, came to Madison on the 8th to see how things turned out. He said he was pleased to take part and share his memories.
Here is a description of the Telling Our Westside Stories from the Southwest Seattle Historical Society:
Telling stories is an important part of sharing history. We do it every day, without thinking about it. Our memories are recorded in different ways – in journals or diaries, in movies and books, in photographs and artwork. Some stories are never written down and live on through storytelling. Many of the stories in this exhibit were gathered as oral histories. Teens and elders interviewed each other about land, work, and home on the Duwamish Peninsula.
Landmarks were once prominent geographic features used by travelers to find their way through an area. In southwest Seattle, early travelers navigated through Puget Sound to Elliot Bay and up the Duwamish River, three waterways that define the Duwamish Peninsula. Today, many more landmarks, natural and built, guide residents to their favorite places. Their names belong to local lore: Alki Beach, Lincoln Park, Puget Ridge, Duwamish Head, Longfellow Creek, High Point, the Junction. These landmarks denote common places where people come together. We asked neighbors how the landmarks of southwest Seattle have affected their lives.