Travel Books

Washington’s Old Paperwork Gets a Book

Your coffee table could use some history.

By Allison Williams November 9, 2011

A 1930 leaflet argues for a tunnel through the Cascades. (Boring a tunnel: It’s the Washington way!)

Are you a geography junkie? (Or maybe you prefer the term maphead?) If so, there’s a lot to love about Lorraine McConaghy’s new book, New Land North of the Columbia: Historic Documents that Tell the Story of Washington State from Territory to Today.

You never knew just how exciting Washington’s old paperwork could be. McConaghy, a UW prof and Museum of History and Industry historian, dug up some cool stuff. Like, for example, a century-old, hand-drawn chart of the Olympia area using Native American place names. Creator James Tobin even translated some spots; what looks like Vashon Island is translated as "Hard beating wind." She calls it stark evidence of how Native lands and culture were trampled during early statehood.

McConaghy also dug up a Spokane marriage license from 1913 that weds King Corn to Queen Alfalfa. Yep, that’s one crop wed to another, in an agriculture stunt tied to the Interstate Fair. Apparently they adhered to traditional gender roles: His occupation is listed as "Building up the community," and hers is "Helping King Corn." Some finds are a little more serious; an article from 1924 details a 55,000-person Ku Klux Klan rally held in Issaquah.

The author will be appearing locally this Friday at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, then next Thursday at the downtown public library. Besides talking about all the papercuts she got during the research process, she’ll give a slide show presentation about the state’s weirdest documents.

McConaghy reads at Third Place Books at 6:30pm on Friday and at Seattle Public Library’s Central branch on 6pm on Thursday, November 17.

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