June 20, 2013

The End of the Oregon Trail


We’re all about the Oregon Trail out in this part of the country. Or at least, we used to be. Within two miles of Washington’s state capitol there are nine separate monuments, large and small, to the Oregon Trail or the hardy pioneers who came west in covered wagons.

There are statues and street names, tablets and markers, a bronze bas relief of a wagon train, even a concrete Art Deco bridge that commemorates, among other things, the “First American Pioneer Settlement in Washington.” In the 1940s and ’50s the restaurant at one end of that bridge was known as the Oregon Trail Café, though today it’s a Tahitian-theme biker bar with karaoke on Saturdays. We aren’t as sure now as we were back then how we feel about those brave pioneers and that Manifest Destiny stuff. (more…)

June 4, 2013

Old Glory


Smack between Memorial Day and the fireworks of the Fourth of July comes the patriotic American non-holiday of Flag Day. We are not, as a rule, flag wavers here in the coastal Pacific Northwest. As a national symbol the U.S. flag makes us a little uncomfortable—carrying, as it often does now, the whiff of stubborn, conservative, My-Country-Right-or-Wrong sentiment. Sometimes Blue Staters can’t help feeling the Red States have captured our flag.

But I’m a fool for Old Glory. The original Old Glory, I mean, the hand-sewn American standard that flew from a New England sailing ship, survived the U.S. Civil War, traipsed out west to Nevada, and ended up at the Smithsonian in 1922. The exact details of its history are a little difficult to pin down, as is so often the case with family stories and national folklore. But the main facts remain undisputed, and even the weak bits are good. (more…)