Hey Tacoma, It’s Time to Capture Your Pandemic Stories for Posterity

“Stories of Tacoma’s Earliest Days: Straight From Those Who Lived It” is the title of one of my favorite articles in our print magazine.

It’s based around an oral history project that the Tacoma Public Library conducted in the 1970s. Most of the interviewees were in their late 70s or 80s, meaning their recollections went all the way back to what Tacoma was like in 1900.

“I was born on the corner of North 8th and Prospect on July 10, 1895,” Mildred Pollom Wehmhoff shared, for example.

“I remember that in 1907 the Fire Engine House No. 9 at North 7th and Pine was built. We children liked to be near there at 8 in the morning, noon, or 8 at night to hear the fire gong. When the doors would open the horses came racing out to get under their halters for practice. The firemen would come sliding down from the big brass pole from above, to get on to the fire engine and hitch up the horses.”

Or there’s Stanley Johnson sharing this memory of South Tacoma:

“The Realart Theater was there for many years. Of course, they were silent pictures and Mrs. Pratsch used to play an instrument—it had strings hanging down and it was a piano and a calliope and the bells, everything fit into the picture. Say, for the ‘The Perils of Pauline’ she’d do the whistling for the train and everything.”

We, of course, also love the library’s Northwest Room collection. There we’ve found stories and images of big events in our city’s history, but also the small things that now inform our perception of what life in Tacoma was like in different eras.

The cable car tracks, with the cable car slot visible between the tracks, took center focus in this circa 1907 image, labelled “Looking up 11th Street.”
Tired of waiting for the official Daffodil Parade, these kids from the Buckingham Apartments, 1001 No. Yakima Ave., decided to stage their own parade on April 8th, 1937.
Three teenage boys on bicycles watch construction of the first Narrows Bridge from a hill to the southeast of the east approach. (~1940.)
This was the crowded Little J.E.M Dining & Dancing Cafe parking lot on July 16, 1958. Every Wednesday night from 8-12 was “Teen-age Hop” night with admission at 75 cents. The place was packed that Wednesday, crammed with kids anxious to listen and rock to the sounds of the Bluenotes, one of first rock bands in the area.
Yugoslavian immigrant, Ivo Berosh, sells candy to Washington Elementary students from the truck of his car [in 1978]. Mr. Berosh, now a naturalized citizen, brings his traveling candy store to Washington Elementary, Mason Junior High (now Middle School) and Stadium High School as well as to construction sites and the Tideflats. The 51-year-old had been let go from his job at a local plywood mill and unable to obtain welfare and unemployment, decided to open a small candy store consisting of a cardboard box and rack of gumball machines which he wheeled into position outside his home every day. 

Now it’s time for us to gather as many stories as possible about living in Tacoma during the COVID-19 pandemic—and don’t you dare try and leap to the conclusion your story isn’t important or interesting enough. Mildred wasn’t the only child waiting to see the horses at Engine House 9, but it’s possible she’s the only one that spoke about in a way that would be preserved. And if it weren’t for Stanley taking the time to share his story we, in 2020, might not get to envision Mrs. Pratsch bringing the gift of sound to silent films.

Tell us about the stores you went to looking for toilet paper, or about how you felt when your neighbors and their friends had a big birthday party during self-isolation. Snap a selfie the next time you’re out and tell us how it feels to be wearing a mask—or tell us about how it feels to be one of the people not wearing one.

We jumped into story collecting a few weeks ago with a social media post. Some of the messages that were shared will be featured in our upcoming print issue (due out in late June). Here’s a sampling:

Even though I know we are all in this together it doesn’t help much. I’m afraid for my family and myself. My asthma started getting bad right before the outbreak. Having breathing issues in the age of COVID is not ideal. Fear has tainted everything. Almost wish I could just get COVID and find out if I’m going to live or die already. Some days it feels like anything would be better than to live in this fear.

Working in a grocery store at this time is a challenge, especially with anxiety. It’s also very surreal, you see people with masks and gloves, buying things they might not normally buy… So you’re constantly reminded of what’s going on. I am very fortunate that my customers are not rude and are very thankful we are open and come to work every day. This time is tough, I never thought I’d see this kind of thing… I never thought my kids would have to go through something like this. But, I guess you have to adjust to the new norm for the time so you can feel some sort of sanity.

I cried in the shower the other day because I miss life and my family. I’m so blessed. I love Tacoma. I love the community here. But I think each of us can’t help but feel so alone at moments. I just can’t wait to wake up and the first thought not be “ok, remember hand wash….don’t touch….wear mask when….6ft….don’t pet other dogs….what to do today…etc.” then I scroll FB and become depressed/angered/annoyed over the latest headline. Take shower. Have coffee. Feed my dogs. Repeat.

We are now teaming up with Tacoma Public Library to gather more experiences so that future generations can get a sense of what happened.

Please help us reach our initial goal of collecting 200 stories by telling us what COVID-19 has been like for you. Take a photo, make some art, write a poem. The good, the bad, and the boring—we want it all.

Go here to submit your story, and read more about the project.

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