Friday, January 16, 2015

A white man's neighborhood

HH and I went to Manzanar National Historic Site last weekend. The Park Service has done an outstanding job here; it would have been worth the drive even without the spectacular scenery along the way.

*With many thanks to the Park Service for all of their interpretive information
being in the public domain. In other words, I freely plagiarized.*
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to  establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast was given just days to decide what to do with their homes, farms, businesses, and other possessions. They were allowed to take with them only what they could carry. By November 1942, 120,000 people were sent to one of ten relocation centers built in remote deserts, plains, and swamps scattered among seven states. About two-thirds of those interned at Manzanar were American citizens by birth. The remainder included many who had lived here for decades but were denied citizenship by law.

The entire site was 6,000 acres; the housing area was 500 acres surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers with searchlights and military police patrols. 

By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were housed in 504 barracks like this one. The barracks were organized into 36 blocks. Each of the blocks shared latrines and showers without dividers (privacy), a laundry room, an ironing room, an oil storage tank, and a mess hall. The barracks consisted of four 20x25 foot rooms, each inhabited by any combination (my emphasis) of eight people. Each barracks - not each room - had one hanging light bulb, an oil stove, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw. I saw a photo in the museum that showed internees filling their own mattresses. There was no running water. Walls between the four rooms did not reach the ceiling. The barracks had been hastily built with green wood and blowing sand and intense heat and cold were constant companions.

This is one of the "improved" barracks that came about over time, because it has wall board. Knot holes in the floors were covered with tin can lids until linoleum was installed to keep the sand from blowing in between the floorboards.

This sign marks the original entrance.

All internees passed by the military police sentry and internal police posts at the entrance. They were built by an internee-stonemason in 1942. On the left of the road were the administration buildings. None of them remain.

The former auditorium housed a gymnasium and was used for plays and ceremonies, concerts and lectures. They had dances, talent shows, and movies. It's now the Site's interpretive center with an excellent museum.

Merritt Park was created by internees - a landscape designer, a floriculturist, and workers, in 1943. It had disappeared under several feet of sand over the years but in 2008 it was excavated. The water and plants are no longer there; the stones creating the waterways remain.

The stone is a memorial to those who passed through the gates of Manzanar.

This space was called the 3-4 Garden. It was a mess hall garden, easing the monotony of long mealtime lines. There were more gardens in Blocks 9, 12, and 22, each of which acted as a source of block identity and pride.

The 3-4 Garden was excavated in 1999, along with a mess hall root cellar. The fence, next photo down, was reconstructed.


The obelisk in the cemetery has memorialized not only the 150 internees who died at Manzanar, but also the more than 120,000 confined everywhere during the war. This side of the memorial reads Soul Consoling Tower. Hundreds of artifacts have been left here by those who come for the annual pilgrimage and by other visitors. Small stones are visible on the ledges at the base of the obelisk.

The reverse of the tower reads Erected by the Manzanar Japanese, August 1943.

150 died at Manzanar; 15 were buried here, the rest cremated. Six burials remain today.

The museum is fascinating. I learned a lot, including this horrible history:
Under pressure from the U.S., sixteen Latin American countries interned 8,500 residents of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. Over 3,000 others were deported to the U.S., where they were to be exchanged for U.S. citizens held as prisoners of war. The deportees' passports were confiscated and, upon arriving in the U.S., they were declared illegal immigrants and placed in Department of Justice camps in Texas. The majority of the deportees of Japanese ancestry were eventually sent to Japan either as part of the exchange program or as repatriates after the war.

Of the 2,264 Japanese nationals who were deported from Latin America, eighty percent were from Peru. When the war ended, Peru refused many of those remaining in the U.S. reentry and the U.S. denied their residency requests. In 1952 364 Japanese Peruvians were declared 'permanent legally admitted immigrants' and became eligible for American citizenship.

Manzanar is far away, in terms of distance, but also in terms of the even marginally heightened awareness and sensitivity we say we have today. I'd like to say it couldn't happen again, not on this scale, but I'd be a fool to say it does not still exist in more subtle, insidious ways.

Thought of the day:

When you were a little girl, Madam.....was this the woman you dreamed of becoming? - Andrew Sean Greer, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

Monday, January 12, 2015

I *could* tell you where we hiked

but there's way too much of a fine involved: $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

I heard about a signup for an employee hike at the last minute and was able to secure a spot. It was led by a ranger into a canyon that's normally closed because of sensitive artifacts, but a couple of times a year it's open for guided hikes for employees and a couple of times for the public. There are three signs of increasing warning on the way into the canyon. The first warns that the area is closed due to the sensitive materials. The second says it's closed by the Superintendent's order, and lists whatever law applies. And the third tells of the punishment that awaits violators. One of my fellow hikers said he's not much of a rule follower but the fine and/or jail time would make him inclined to change his ways. Because of the risk of vandalism and theft, they really don't want photos of the artifacts posted on social media, so I will show just the spectacular scenery along the way.

The day before the hike was sunny and in the low 70s but, nature being what it is, it was cloudy and freezing cold, like in the 50s!!! when we set out.

This was a rare sight for me, to see precipitation over these mountains, yet Sunday was something even more unexpected: the mountains almost obscured by fog - in the desert -  and clouds hovering at about 100 feet, but no photos of that.

Below is part of our group taking off for the canyon across the alluvial fan. There used to be a road here so the way has been smoothed somewhat; otherwise it's tough, tough hiking. Look at the photo above, beyond the salt flat of the valley but before recognizable mountains begin. The gentle-looking slopes are the fans. Don't they look like black-sand beaches? Smooth and firm? A walk in the park? They are liars. The rocks you see on either side of the path below comprise the general walking conditions if you want to get into canyons around here. I never heard of alluvial fans before, but after being here for less than a month and going on three hikes now, I have a new slogan: I ain't no fan of alluvial fans.

The distance from road to the beginning of the canyons at this part of Death Valley is a mile. I've seen descriptions of other hikes that boil down to three-fourths of the distance being over the fan because it seems there aren't many options for entering canyons that don't involve crossing fans. We were lucky that this hike was only about one-third alluvial fan. All this stuff has eroded and washed down from the mountains and across the valley, to the extent that there is (are?) 9,000 feet of alluvium deposited in the basin of Death Valley.

The geology is astonishing here. On this side of the mountain range, the rocks are a couple million years old (which to me, after being at 225-million-year-old Petrified Forest, rates not much more than a blink) but the mountains immediately behind it are 5 million years old. How can that be? Colliding and shifting tectonic plates.

Someone said that once you get off the fan, it's much easier going. Another liar. Where there aren't ankle-turning rocks there is loose sand or slippery gravel. It really was a hard slog, three and a half miles in with a 1500-foot elevation gain. Of course, the 20- and 30-somethings in the group were skipping along, not even breathing hard, but I'm happy to say that even though I was this far back in the pack I was still in the middle. I do have some pride.

But the views! I wouldn't miss this for five four miles of fan.

These are real colors. How can this be? Same answer. Colliding and shifting plates, with the addition of periods of being underwater, being spewed out by volcanoes, going underwater again, and more being smashed around. I've never seen a sight like this in my life.

This is some of the same small range with the youngsters leading the way to secret places.

Here's my favorite photo of the day. Isn't that something, that abundant life where no one would expect to see living green?

 This one might also be my favorite.

Nothing to do with Death Valley, but for my friend Libby, Oscar Wilde's tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. She was enamored of Victor Noir's well-polished effigy, shown in the Scotty's Castle post but, really, it's nothing compared to all of these lipstick kisses. For you, my friend.

Thought of the day, in reference to fines and jail time:

A crook with a lucrative profession appeared before a judge for sentencing. The judge ordered him to pay a fine of $5,000, whereupon the crook scoffed and said, "That's pocket change!" Without missing a beat the judge told him, "Well, then, reach down into your other pocket and give me 30 days."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Paying the rent

New park, new work. Everywhere I go it's a little different and I'm grateful for that because I have a short attention span.

Before I came here, while I was still at Tumacácori in fact, I was told that I had to have a background check, complete with digital fingerprints recorded, before I could get an RV space assigned and have an ID card issued. This is the first time this has been required and I'm still stumped and somewhat ticked off by it.

The ID card is a smart card that allows access to the NPS network. And where did I have to go to complete the requirement? To Tucson, which was 30 minutes away? Oh, no. I had to go to Sierra Vista, Arizona, 90 minutes away, for a 15-minute appointment. I did this in mid-October and shortly after learned that I would have to go back to Sierra Vista to pick up the card. When I said, are you kidding me?, I was told the card would be sent to my park, meaning Death Valley. Going on three months later, I still don't have my card.

All of this whining is leading up to saying that what I was supposed to do here has changed because I don't have the card. The curator planned for me to finish cataloging a map collection, for which I needed to work on a laptop connected to the network. What he has me working on instead is purely paper-based work: processing a collection of abandoned mine lands records, more traditional archives work than I've done since I left my last paying job in 2010.

A little history: In 1933 President Hoover declared 2 million acres in southern California a National Monument. The push was on to make the area a National Park but because of the extensive mining going on, declaring it a park was a hard sell to Congress. Declaring the place a National Monument did put a temporary halt to prospecting and the filing of new claims, but under a prior agreement, the moratorium lasted for only four months and the monument was again opened to business as usual.

Over time, though, mining technology evolved, allowing large-scale, open pit and strip mining, some of it in highly popular, scenic areas. According to the Park's website, "Gone were the days of the 'single-blanket, jackass prospector' long associated with the romantic west." This eventually led to the Mining in the Parks Act, passed by Congress in 1976, which prohibited the filing of new mining claims, banned open-pit mining, and required the National Park Service to examine the validity of thousands of pre-1976 mining claims. This is where I come in.

This is collections storage, a locked area in the building where I work. Not only are the archives here, but also other collections, some of which I show farther down.  On the left below are boxes of documents; on the right are artifacts from the mines and settlements that were scattered throughout the valley and mountains.

This is looking in the opposite direction. Artwork is stored on wire racks on the left. This area is a fairly recent addition to the archives because a fact of life is that collections grow and space is nearly always an issue.

And here is what I do to pay the rent. The boxes below hold the abandoned mine records: litigation records, where the Park Service took claim holders to court to require them to prove that their claims actually had marketable material; acquisition records, where the Park Service started buying out properties to expand the size of the park; and records of monitoring mine sites to enforce the rules of road- and structure building, mine safety, and rehabilitation of the land after closures

There was a lot of litigation. Right before the Mining in the Parks Act was passed in 1976, there was a flood of claim-staking and many people did it to have a weekend place, basically for free. Requiring everyone to prove the mineral wealth of their property resulted in the loss of their claims, but it took years and caused a lot of bad feelings, as can be imagined. Legitimate claim holders, many of them small mom and pop outfits, also had to go through the expensive process of acquiring expert opinions and legal representation.

This is what I totally hate to see when I open a box. I do a lot of sighing.

My job is to go folder by folder, removing staples and other fasteners, copy whatever writing is on the old folders onto new acid-free ones, photocopy acid-y items onto acid-free paper, rehouse photos, etc. One day I worked my way through folder after folder where every document was two pages that had been stapled together. The next day I didn't have the strength in the hand that wielded the Special Archives Staple Remover to lift a folder out of a box. That was the day I became ambidextrous. Below is a box I'd half finished. It all sounds dead boring, doesn't it? Sometimes. But there's always something that redeems the boredom, somewhere in the box.

Plus, I'm making my way through lots of audio books at the same time I'm accumulating piles of debris. This is one day's take.

At some point, someone will go through the boxes again, using the notes I'm taking on the contents, and write a finding aid, an inventory, that will give the history and background of the collection and list the contents, folder by folder.

Here are some of the fun or interesting things that are in collections storage.

An original 20-Mule team borax poster.

A basket from one of the early native peoples in the area.

One of several models of a mule team pulling wagons loaded with borax.

A wagon wheel. Duh.

Pack saddles.

And again.

I don't know where this came from - a wagon?

More stuff.

Death Valley's curator is also curator for Manzanar, the World War II Japanese internment site. These are items from Manzanar.

A tiny vanity, no more than a couple of feet high.

HH and I are planning a trip to Manzanar this weekend. Stay tuned.

Thought of the day 1:

It comes from a trial transcript about the value of the minerals of a particular mine. John, the witness, is a foreman and a lifetime miner.

Q. Do you of your own knowledge know whether any ore was shipped out of these claims?
A. I pulled that stuff out with a jackass and hand trammed that stuff out of there, 40, 45, 50 cars every day for all summer.
Q. John, I realize that you some times use colorful language, but we are in a court of law.
A. Burro or jackass. If it's a bad name, they better get them out of the Park.

The same witness was asked about the yield.
Q. What type of trucks did they have, John?
A. Gee, mainly Kenworth diesel.
Q. And how big a load could they carry out?
A. How much tonnage?
Q. Yes.
A. You would be surprised if you weigh one there. I think about 90 percent of them get a ticket.
Q. What would an average load be, John, while you were mining the talc?
A. Well, legally carry 25 ton I am pretty sure.

Thought of the day 2:

I'd give my left arm to be ambidextrous. - an old, old cartoon.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Scotty's Castle, except it wasn't

Walter E. Scott was born in Kentucky but made his way west as a young 'un, working as a cowboy as a child, as a helper on the 20-mule team hauling borax from the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley, and as a trick rider in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. For twelve years he toured Europe and America, gaining experience as a showman, a talent he parlayed into a lucrative career as a teller-of-tall-tales.

The initial investor in Scotty's gold mine in Death Valley was Julian Gerard. In 1902 he bought one-third interest for $1500 after he assayed ore samples that Scotty provided but, alas, the ore came from a Colorado mine where Scotty had once worked. I don't know what happened when Gerard discovered the truth, but whatever it was, it didn't slow Scotty down; he promoted himself on grubstake money, stayed at the best hotels from Los Angeles to New York, left gigantic tips after buying rounds of drinks, and bragged about his mine: "My mine is where the devil himself can't find it. It's in Death Valley in the mountains where no man can ever go - no man but Wallie Scott... I'm worth $1 million to $20 million and it's all there in the mine." Then he would disappear back into the desert.

Three years later Scotty hired a three-car Santa Fe Railroad train that he called the Coyote Special and made the trip from LA to Chicago in just under 45 hours. He said, "We got there so fast nobody had time to sober up." The public loved him (presumably the public that had not invested money), awarding him folk hero status. This trip led to a meeting with an earlier investor, Albert Johnson.

Johnson was the polar opposite of Death Valley Scotty: a quiet, religious man who did not smoke, swear, or drink. He grew up in a wealthy family and made another fortune in the insurance business in Chicago. The meeting in 1905 led to a further investment in Scotty's mine. Johnson visited Scotty in 1906 and 1909 but never managed to see the mine. Even after realizing he's been duped, he continued to provide shelter and food for Scotty, saying, "Whether he has any mine or not I shall have a delightful outing and know I shall come out in much better health for Scotty is a prince of good fellows and a delightful companion." 

Johnson and his wife Bessie decided to build a place to stay. If I understood the tour guide correctly, the castle was built on land that Johnson did not own. It was government land but Johnson thought it was nicer than his own property and construction began. When the "error" was discovered, construction halted until he and the government worked out a swap and this is what became their home in the desert:

It's actually quite nice. Some people loosely compare it to Hearst Castle but it's nowhere near as opulent or over the top.

The house has a central courtyard, maybe designed for cars to be able to drive to the front door, midway down the wing on the left.

Inside the lovely gate, looking to the west, toward the bell tower.

On the wall on the right is this sundial. HH and I overheard a guide tell his group, as he shepherded them into the courtyard, that it works. 

I'm not sure what the significance of Janus is to a sundial.

It's said the devil is in the details, but I think it's beauty, imagination, and whimsy that's in the details. Just look!



here, on the second floor, so the screen over the little window is not for security. As my mother would have said, it's "decoration."

And here. The gate is at some distance from the castle; maybe a service entrance?

The great room of the house has a fireplace on one end and a water wall on the other. The water, unfortunately, was not running. Imagine the sound it would make.

This is a broader view of the same room. I'm not a big fan of overly high ceilings, but I like the gallery and the light, and think that otherwise this is an easy room to be in.

In one of the photos above I pointed out the bell tower. Bessie Johnson learned the musical preferences of her guests and programmed the bells from this machine to play that music as her guests arrived.

Albert Johnson envisioned the room below as his library. You can see that his vision didn't mesh with Bessie's. 

Scotty hired the men who worked on the ranch to be in the basement when he had dinner parties, with the instruction to make the kind of noise that one would associate with digging in a gold mine. Then he would tell his guests that the noise was miners, digging gold even as the guests were having their dinner upstairs.

This upstairs room has a gigantic player organ on one side. As it plays, wide louvers that cover the entire wall behind it open and close in time with the music. A feast for the senses.

This concludes the upstairs portion of our tour.

Meanwhile, in the basement, which includes a quarter mile of tunnels, there are thousands, probably tens of thousands, of tiles that were intended for the swimming pool that never got built. The excavation was made and some bridges and such were built, but the pool never came into being.

Scotty never did own the Castle but it seems Johnson didn't care that he footed the bill for years. As one of the signs in the Visitor Center says, "Johnson was intrigued by the romance of the Wild West and the reality of the desert landscape. In Scotty, he found a colorful Old West character and companion. In the desert he found relief from his back injuries [from a train wreck] and asthma. In Grapevine Canyon, he found an isolated place to build a home away from home, a castle in the desert." 

Shortly before Johnson died in 1948, he set up the Gospel Foundation specifically to care for his properties and fund charitable work. Scotty continued to live there and when he died in 1954 he was buried on a hill overlooking the property; the Park Service bought the property from the Foundation in 1970 for $850,000. After the purchase there was no money to also buy the furnishings, so the Gospel Foundation donated them. 

I made the steep hike to see Death Valley Scotty's grave and his shiny nose, which immediately brought to mind.......

.....the grave of Victor Noir, in Pere Lechaise Cemetery in Paris. I don't make the news, folks, I just report it.

Thought of the day:

There's a sucker born every minute. - attributed to P.T. Barnum, but it's not his quote.