Hidden History

‘This week’s reading in Holly George’s “Show Town” continues early Spokane’s battle of the classes and the theaters. The Auditorium, the ‘legit’ theater of the time was doing well. Upper and middle class patrons enjoyed the elegance and sophistication that came with watching shows that preformed there. However, the working class, full of single young men, preferred to attend the ‘variety theaters’ which seemed to be popping up everywhere. These theaters were just what they sounded like, full of variety. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, you name it, it all happened at the variety theaters and it all made the people who ran the show money.

The ‘sophisticated’ theater-goers preferred that these types of theaters not exist in their up-and-coming town as “the ‘wild west hurrah business’—made their town look like the untamed setting of a dime novel.” (59) However, others responded that “those who could afford the Auditorium had no right to deny working people what little amusement they could find.” (59) This issue of ‘legitimate’ versus ‘wild’ theaters came up time and time again, especially around any election time. As the book outlines, Horatio N. Belt became mayor of Spokane in 1894, and he tried his hardest to “kill the variety theater.” (61) He failed, however, and the variety theater would live on, to once again be debated in the next election for mayor.

Theater comique
Theater Comique, most notorious variety theater in Spokane at the end of the 19th century. Source

The next chapter of “Show Town” delves into gender and the theater, particularly barmaids that worked at the variety theaters and “encouraged” men to buy more and more drinks. Barmaids had to be young, and pretty, and willing to do almost anything in order to entertain. They wore “a costume [consisting of] tights, knee-length skirts, and sleeveless bodices—designed to titillate.” (81) Between showings the women would hug, wink, and flirt in order to try and get the male patrons to buy over-priced drinks and temp them to come around again. This setting seemed to be a “recipe for social chaos and misery.” (81)

During the 1890s middle-class men, protestant ministers, and good-government politicians started up the fight against these places once more, in a stance for morality. Their argument was that variety theater ‘lured’ both men and women through their doors and away from wholesome influences, men as customers and women as employees. During this push in 1907-1908 the variety theaters were finally shut down. Not everyone was happy with this outcome, as Dutch Jake put it, “prohibiting the rowdy, sensual variety theaters denied the reality (not to mention the history) of Spokane’s western location and could only diminish the city’s economic importance.” (106) What would happen to the entertainment business in Spokane? That is the question the readers are left with as they finish the third chapter.

Chapter six of “Nearby History” discussed oral history, its own history, how to do it, and its importance were all covered in this chapter. I felt like this chapter was the most complete one yet, the only thing wrong with it was one grammar/spelling mistake (see “is nearly”, 2nd paragraph page 4). The Bullets and the numbering that took up the majority of the text actually made perfect sense here. They were demonstrating and listing exactly what to do/no to do while planning to conduct an oral history interview. Maybe it’s because I haven’t looked into oral history all that much while I have done many research papers, like the previous chapters have covered, but this chapter definitely seemed the most original and insightful to me yet.

Pictures are snapshots in time, as such, they are historical documents. Source, page 142.

Chapter seven dealt with visual images as historical documents. This list included photographs of all kinds and how they acted as a ‘raw testament’ to the time when they were snapped. The chapter also went over terminology and how to take pictures and document them. The chapter also goes over some surprising information like old-timey Photoshop! This was clearly written well before the time of camera phones. So, as stated about some earlier chapters, this chapter definitely needs an upgrade to ‘get with the times.’ Also, an expansion on the video section would probably be helpful, as people tend to document almost everything nowadays, again on their phones, whether it be Snapchats, Vines, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Someone is always watching, ready to record, and preserve a moment forever.

The article assigned for this week’s readings, “Whites-only covenants still exist in many mid-century Spokane neighborhoods”, recognizes how ‘white only’ covenants still exist as a part of deeds for numerous houses in Spokane.

Example of a covenant that still exists with some deeds. Source

These covenants are unenforceable and illegal, yet they still remain a part of these deeds. The article goes on to describe the history of these covenants, that Spokane was racist, it wasn’t only the South. Many Spokanites didn’t want people of color living in their town let alone their neighborhoods (as can also be see on this interactive map of neighborhood surveys), so they did what they could to stop that. That history exists, unfortunately, the question being asked though, is why the covenants still exist. Well, at this point there is a long, arduous process to get rid of them, so for now, they remain. Hopefully, in the future they will be off the house deeds, although, the records should still remain, because “history is what happened. There were terrible things that happened in the past, and we shouldn’t hide from them. We should face them.”

Cow Tunnels” is a podcast that describes the story of the cow tunnels. Supposedly in Manhattan near the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries there were so many cows being moved through the city to their slaughter that the streets were being jammed up. So, someone came up with the idea of cow tunnels, passageways underground for the cows to travel in to avoid traffic jams. Intrigued, researcher Nicola Twilley set out to see if the story was true. Whenever Twilley found a story about the tunnels it would not line up with other stories she had found, it seemed that the tale was a never-ending game of telephone and “with every telling of the cow tunnels story, the facts seem to bend.”

Cow Tunnel
The last cow tunnel. Source

Finally, she found proof of plans to build a tunnel, then she found a map, and more maps, all with the same tunnel, the story was true! Today, one cow tunnel remains, but no one would even know it is there, or what it used to be if it weren’t for a plaque commemorating it… Who knows how many more stories of the past are out there like the cow tunnels and the whites only covenants that shed light about our past that are waiting to be rediscovered by a curious researcher?


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