The Pacific Northwest is first and foremost a stunning natural landscape, but its cities are awfully attractive too, and very smart. Seattle is an ideal place to educate yourself on the region, and here are four easy, intellectually accessible ways to begin.
The Seattle Central Library is a showstopper with its glassy façade and views over downtown. Some visitors are there just for the gift shop, café, city maps, and clean restrooms, but the catalog is pretty enormous with over a million books and media. Included therein is a sizable Seattle Collection, a bank of information about the city’s history, Native American community, and more, including maps, photographs, and oral histories. These days you can get practically anything on Amazon, but what ever happened to combing the stacks for a random book that grabs you?
The Great Migration may bring Oakland to mind before Seattle, but you can learn about Seattle’s important role at the Northwest African American Museum. This petite gallery has only been around since 2008, but there’s plenty to learn about how Seattle’s diversity developed through the 20th century. Currently they have a great exhibit called “Pitch Black” about how baseball teams became integrated, and coming up is “Afros: A Celebration of Natural Hair.” Visit their gift shop on your way out, and if you’re interested in some personal research, visit their Genealogy Center. Entry to the museum is $7 or free on the first Thursday of every month.
On the subject of migration, the Klondike Gold Rush Visitor’s Center (part of the National Park Service) will show you how Seattle blew up when Americans heard there was gold up in the Canadian Yukon. The Depression of 1893 had taken a huge toll, so people were already desperate for money, and when the gold rush kicked off around 1897, Seattle became a critical launching and stocking-up point for prospectors. Very few people actually got rich off that gold, but Seattle’s development had already been jump-started—by 1900 its population had nearly doubled to 80,000. Watch the Park Service’s video to learn about Frances Dorley, a single seamstress who made it her mission to travel up to the Yukon, by offering to cook for a bunch of gold-crazed men. By the time 1898 rolled around, more than one in ten Klondikers were women. Entry is free.
The Seattle Art Museum is another incredible resource, not just as a comprehensive art collection, but as a place to learn about Pacific Northwest and Native American art. Their collection includes some stunning Native masks, wood carvings, colorful robes, and paintings and multimedia works by contemporary artists in the region. Entry is $19.50 for special exhibits, but otherwise it’s only a suggested donation.
Where have you received education in Seattle and what did you learn?