Historical society strives to keep our history alive
October 1, 2020
My life is steeped in stories. I feel like I’ve always been collecting them, one way or another. My boss tells me there is a story in every set of notes. He’s not wrong. And really, what is each of our lives, but a story? What is a community, but a collection of stories?
How could I forget there is a treasure trove of them waiting to be told, all about the lives of people who came before, lived in our homes, gathered in our churches, met on Main Street, fished the Columbia River, went to war, and suffered through other plagues.
All one has to do is to step into the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum on River Street, and find Curator Kari Kandoll in her home away from home.
She has stories, and she likes to share them.
Unfortunately, I easily echo so many who grew up here, I forget about the museum. It seems ironic, considering the very nature of a museum is to never forget about its community.
Kandoll, along with David Olson, and other volunteer members of the society, because they are all volunteers, are hoping we will remember them.
Olson in particular is bringing a new energy and vision to their work there.
The first order of business is to remain open, Olson says. They were one of the only museums in southwest Washington to open their doors despite the pandemic. But they were also prepared, with sneeze guards installed, and masks, hand sanitizing stations, and gloves at the ready. Alas, their doors closed this last Saturday for the season.
“You have to get people in,” Olson said. “You’ve got to get people coming in so they learn and appreciate the history here. It’s very important.”
Olson, who is also a member of the Cathlamet Town Council, will be approaching that board, as well as the Wahkiakum County Commissioners to ask for operating money. He’s hoping both entities will commit to a portion of approximately $12,500.
“It’s okay to ask for some operating money of the county and the town, and not only to professionalize here but to build toward community meeting space,” Olson said. “That means to me, support. You’re getting people in here, you’re meeting here, you’re having rotating exhibits and speakers. It’s time to support what we have, the way we keep our streets, our businesses, our sidewalks, we keep our parks. Let's keep our heritage.”
He would like to see a day come when the museum has seasonal exhibits, holds meetings, and hosts lectures and talks about a myriad of subjects: arts, music, politics, governance, or history.
“You keep things fresh,” Olson said.
But all those things need funding, and volunteers, two things of which the museum has little.
“We need to have some compensation structure for the staff here,” Olson said. “It’s not fair or equitable. The county has benefitted for a zero overhead for that for 10 or 15 years.
He spoke of the society’s current president, Linda Wright, who owns the old hardware store in Cathlamet.
“She know what it’s like to deal with a historic place that has a lot of resonance for people,” he said. “People love these places. I’ve not spoken with anybody that doesn’t love this museum.
“People love it here,” Olson said of Wahkiakum County, “and they appreciate what a unique place this is. They appreciate it even more when they get out in it, into places like this.”
The society partnered with the Town of Cathlamet, and Cemetery District 1 to apply for a grant that would allow them to pour a little love in the Birnie Pioneer Cemetery. They’ve learned they are on a short list, but await the final decision.
Thy museum needs the community’s support, whether it’s as a volunteer, becoming a member, or perhaps making a donation. They are in need of a new riding lawnmower, and to have asbestos removed from their floors.
For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and check out their newsletter to read a story about John Whalliki, who was born in the Queen Charlotte Islands, a member of the Haida people. He was enslaved at a young age, and acquired by James and Charlotte Birnie, which is how he came to Cathlamet. In 1900, long a free man, he joined four other men at the Republican Convention in Ellensburg as part of a Wahkiakum County delegation. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Cathlamet.