Murray C. Morgan
Murray Morgan on Murray Morgan
Northwest Room Home
Copyright, 1960, Murray Morgan
All Rights Reserved
This information may not be reprinted in any manner without
the written permission of the author.
Murray Morgan on Murray
C. Morgan was born in Tacoma in 1916, the year the Smelter was
rebuilt and Pierce County began commandeering land to present to
Uncle Sam in return for the Camp Lewis payroll. The room in which
I was born looks out over the gulch that Allen Mason bridged to
open the North End to residential development. From that room one
sees the bay, the Cascades, the Mountain.
enclosed world of the ravine with its singing stream (now buried
as part of a storm sewer project), the expanse of salt water
leading off to every seaport in the world, the ethereal bulk of
the Mountain sometimes manifest on the eastern horizon still mean,
to me, living in Tacoma.
of my first memories is of being held up to look over the railing
of the balcony on the second floor of the house to watch a long
line of great gray warships steam down the East Passage, round the
point where George Vancouver dined with the Puyallup, and anchor
in the bay Charles Wilkes named Commencement.
war to end wars - the first war of my lifetime - was over, though
children still sang, "Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a
look at France; Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his
pants." The visit of the Pacific fleet marked victory.
Marked, too, Tacoma's linkage with the military, a growth industry
more reliable than railroads.
our house on North Thirty-first Street on quiet nights one could
hear the trains clanking along the waterfront on track laid by the
old tunnel builder, Nelson Bennett; hear, too, the long whistles,
mournful and romantic. We used to play by the tracks, though we
were not supposed to, and the great game was to put a penny on the
rail, then retrieve it after the train had passed.
penny would be paper thin, misshapen, and almost too hot to touch.
The money from the railroads was thinning out too. Tacoma's
romance with rails was fading.
1920 the Northern Pacific moved its traffic department to Seattle;
soon afterward the rest of the western headquarters went north.
The Tacoma Lumbermen's Club telegraphed a complaint that this was
"like throwing over an old love for a new." But the NP
left its shops and their payroll in Tacoma as a sort of alimony,
and the city acquired the graceful old Headquarters Building at
Seventh and Pacific Avenue as an auxiliary police station.
affair with the Union Pacific had ended in a breach of promise. As
for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul, it had found little
profit in reaching the Pacific. The railroad managed to go broke
during the great twenties boom. Sold at courthouse auction it
passed into the hands of Wall Street receivers who had no sympathy
Osaka Shoshen Kaisha, the Japanese shipping line which gave the
Milwaukee Line considerable business, shifted its terminus to
Seattle, the Milwaukee's western headquarters went too. Tacoma, a
railroad creation, was left as a way station. Only the Union Depot
and streets bearing the names of NP officials - Wright, Villard,
Oakes, Ainsworth, Wilkeson, and Sprague - recall the days when
Tacoma had a special relationship with its rails.
children we didn't care about the loss of the termini. What
bothered us was the loss of our Mountain. Tacoma had never
acquiesced in the decision by the United States Geographic Board
that the great peak was Mount Rainier. We called it Mount Tacoma
and wanted the world to do likewise.
the twenties, Tacoma created another justice to the Mountain
Committee to get the bureaucrats to give us back our Mountain.
committee marshaled considerable support. Theodore Roosevelt,
Ambassador James Bryce, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Amelita
Galli-Curci, and Will Rogers were among those who favored Mount
Tacoma. Tacomans combed the records for proof that Theodore
Winthrop knew what he was writing about when he said the Indian
name was Tacoma.
researched Peter Rainier and announced triumphantly that he was
fat, myopic, funny-looking, foreign, and had fought against the
United States in the Revolutionary War. Tacomans persuaded a
national convention of Indian leaders "to pray to the Great
Spirit Kitchemanitou to restore to the Indians Tacoma, meaning
Nourishing Breast." School children wrote essays, local
historians wrote letters to editors, and everybody wrote poems.
father wrote one of many poems called "The Mountain That Was
God," the title deriving from a highly suspect "Indian"
legend, and my mother, part Indian, wrote "The Mountain That
Was Ours." And they lost again. The Geographic Board clung to
then petitioned Congress for relief from the intolerable burden.
The Senate, in its wisdom, passed a bill on April 21, 1924,
declaring Mount Rainier to be, henceforth and forevermore, Mount
Tacoma. But the Public Lands Committee of the House of
Representatives failed to report the bill to the floor. So Mount
Rainier it remains, except in Tacoma, where we usually refer to
the ethereal presence simply as The Mountain.
hasn't even had good fortune with nicknames. Back in the 1880s the
eccentric eastern promoter, George Francis Train, saddled the
community with the sobriquet "City of Destiny." That one
went sour during the Panic of Ninety-three. When the Milwaukee
Road and the Union Pacific rekindled civic expectations early in
the twentieth century, the Chamber of Commerce came up with the
slogan "Watch Tacoma Grow."
proved to be about as exciting as watching coral accrete. Tacoma
grew by only 16,000 between 1910 and 1920, achieving a population
of 96,965. Seattle during the same ten years gained 127,000
then styled itself the Lumber Capital of the World. So,
for a time, it was. Logging trains continued to roll in from the
mountains, bearing to the saws the carcasses of giant trees. The
ships of the world came to the wharves below the bluff to pick up
lumber from mills that lay like beached sea mammals at the
tideline. By night one could trace the curve of the harbor by the
ruby glow of the screens atop the waste burners.
questioned the practice of discharging industrial waste into the
sky for all to share. Particulate matter from the mills, like the
chemical exhaust of the Smelter, smelled like dollars in a
community anxious for payrolls. Nevertheless the old-fashioned
sawmill was an endangered species.
rose as lumbermen chased the virgin forests deeper into the
surrounding mountains. Distances were greater, the slopes steeper.
The cream had been skimmed. There was decreasing profit in the
simple geometry of transforming round logs into rectangular
planks. A new technology arose, more sophisticated and more
capital intensive. Logs were not merely sawed; they were broken up
by machines and chemicals to be reassembled as plywood,
fiberboard, cardboard, and newsprint. St. Regis Paper Company
bought the land where the great pile driving war had been waged in
the 1880s between John Burns and the Tacoma Land Company.
built the Kraft mill which has helped to stabilize the economy
while making its contribution, too, to what is known as the aroma
of Tacoma. West Tacoma Newsprint was built at the mouth of
Chambers Creek not far from the site of Andrew Byrd's grist mill,
where Job Carr found occasional employment while waiting for the
city of his dreams to materialize.
by one the waterfront sawmills I knew as a boy disappeared,
usually in a burst of flame, a rain of cinders, and an
investigation by the insurance company. Tacoma's publicly owned
power system, part of the heritage of the Angelo Fawcett period,
lured electrochemical industries such as Penn Salt (now Pennwalt),
Hooker Chemical, and Ohio Ferro Alloy to the tideflats to replace
the lost payrolls. They were most welcome. But they made Tacoma,
increasingly, a community in which the basic economic decisions
were made in distant board rooms.
struggle long since had become not to surpass Seattle but to
survive as something other than suburb or satellite to the
metropolis, to remain a community with a distinct economic base
and personality. During the Depression, survival was all. Any
activity that kept people in town was welcomed. Banks might fail
and mills might close but the oldest profession flourished in
Tacoma with a vigor unsurpassed since Harry Morgan was
blindfolding the police department with dollar bills.
the Thirties, Tacoma received more national headlines than at any
time since the great boom of the Eighties - most of them
inadvertent and unfavorable. It was the city's misfortune to be
the scene of two kidnappings at a time when the murder of Charles
and Anne Lindbergh's son made kidnapping the most newsworthy
crime. Charles Matson, the young son of a prominent Tacoma
physician, was taken from his North End home by a gunman, sexually
assaulted, and murdered. The manhunt went on for years. The FBI
file on the case remains open but the killer was never caught, or
Weyerhaeuser, scion of the timber family (and now president of the
Weyerhaeuser Company), was pulled into a car as he walked home
from grammar school. He was released unharmed after several days,
and his kidnappers were captured and convicted; but though the
story had a happy ending, it helped fix on Tacoma the reputation
of being kidnap capital of the West.
successes went quickly sour. In 1940 Tacoma realized an old dream
of direct connection with the Kitsap Peninsula. The Narrows Bridge
was opened to traffic fifty-one years after George Eaton, a clerk
in the NP Land Department, proposed a Tacoma to Port Orchard
railroad to link the terminus of the transcontinental with the
proposed Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Galloping Gertie, as the slender, swaying suspension bridge was
nicknamed, went into the Sound almost before the echoes of
dedicatory speeches died down, the victim of design changes
brought about by demands for economy in government including
bridge construction. It was not to be rebuilt until 1950.
New Deal, American rearmament which followed the rise of Nazi
Germany, and World War Two lifted Tacoma out of economic
stagnation. During the war, everything Tacoma produced was in
demand, especially soldiers. Fort Lewis, Madigan Army Hospital,
and McChord Air Field, which had been acquired by the War
Department in 1938, expanded hugely, while the tideflats sprouted
shipyards. Not since the days of Stampede Tunnel construction had
Tacoma shared so fully the heady excitement of common purpose and
overtime pay. But with the outbreak of peace it was back to the
same old problems in the same old city.
generation that had been off to the wars returned to a town
strangely unchanged. Tacoma had won its fight for survival, but
Downtown was a relic of the nineteenth century. It was like a
pressed flower, a memory of when Tacoma had been invited to the
government, too, was something out of the past. Tacoma voters
adopted the commission form of government in 1910, when that was
the latest municipal style, like the grid pattern on streets. For
a time the system of elected department heads who sat as a council
to make policy energized municipal affairs. The combination of
legislative and administrative authority allowed able men, like
Ira Davisson, the utilities commissioner, to sell their plans to
the public and carry them out.
light and water departments provided electricity and water to the
citizenry and industries at rates as low as could be found in the
nation. The public works department, too, was innovative and
efficient. But inevitably innovation settled into routine.
Timeservers became policy makers. Vision perished. Municipal
politics became largely a question of who ran the police
department, because that's where the money was.
mayor might be titular head of Tacoma but he had direct control
only of the garbage department while the commissioner of public
safety appointed the chief of police. The mayoral race drew two or
three candidates at most; the lineup in the public safety
commissioner primary usually looked like the start of the Boston
had an open town tradition. There had been a "crazy house"
on the hill above Old Town before the village was incorporated.
New Tacoma was not far behind in providing commercial sex as an
amenity. Harry Morgan gave gambling a good name.
brought the speakeasy. Night life in Tacoma meant bookie joints,
slot machine and pinball routes, unlicensed drinking spots, and an
abundance of brothels, most of them in Opera Alley, between
Broadway and Market Street. They offered all the glamour of a
fastfood franchise, but the operators paid high rent. Reform
advocates were assured that Seattle was worse and more prosperous.
of night life in Tacoma centered on two local organizations that
grew up during Prohibition. Sometimes they shared, more often they
competed. There was little rough stuff, just politics and
corruption. Each side financed one or more candidates in the
quadrennial election of safety commissioner. The side that won the
election got to run things without raids while its rival planned
better precinct organization.
came, surprisingly enough, from within the police force. Some
idealistic young men returning from military service objected to
selective enforcement of the vice laws. Styling themselves a
Vigilance Committee they raided some joints that had paid their
dues. The safety commissioner was embarrassed. His embarrassment
increased when other cops with ties to the out of power
organization began making raids too.
commissioner suspended several policemen for excessive diligence.
The Civil Service Board, after a prolonged hearing, ruled that a
policeman could not be suspended for enforcing the law, no matter
on whose behalf he was enforcing it.
the ensuing uproar a reform candidate for safety commissioner,
backed by church groups, won election. Unfortunately between the
night of victory and the day of inauguration he made a tour of
inspection of the places he was pledged to close and was
tape-recorded in intimate conversation with a charmer of no
discernible virtue. His reform administration thereafter labored
enforcement became onerous to the forces of the night somebody
would phone the commissioner, play the tape-recording and suggest
the virtues of moderation in all things. Moderation became so
rampant that the military threatened to put the town off limits.
The American Social Hygiene Association sounded the alarm on
venereal disease. National magazines ran articles deploring "Seattle's
Dirty Back Yard." A legislative committee headed by State
Senator Albert D. Rosellini held the town spellbound with a
televised investigation of Tacoma vice that made city officials
took, if not wicked, awfully silly.
had had enough. A charter proposing a council/manager system of
municipal government was drawn up by a freeholders committee. It
won adoption at the general election of November 1952 - the, one
in which General Eisenhower was elected president. Tacomans went
on to elect an elitist city council, perhaps the best-educated
city council in the history of American governance.
nine members averaged six years of college education. In their
collective wisdom they hired a city manager of rigorous honesty,
who appointed an old shoe chief of police competent and content to
live on his salary. The climate changed. Tacoma won a Municipal
League rating as an All American City, night life disappeared as a
serious political issue (and almost disappeared altogether), and
the populace had time to address more important problems, such as
Tacoma's role as second city and worry about law enforcement in
surrounding Pierce County.
City of Destiny remains unsure of what its destiny should be. The
land is much changed from that which George Vancouver called "the
most lovely country that can be imagined" where "the
labour of its inhabitants would be amply rewarded in the bounties
which nature seems ready to bestow on cultivation." Few would
care to depend on cultivation of the land today.
will Tacoma ever be the metropolis of the Pacific that Job Carr
envisioned that Christmas Day when he stood in his canoe and
shouted "Eureka." It is unlikely to become, as Allen
Mason hoped when his earlier dreams of greatness had faded, a
Philadelphia to Seattle's New York, though the possibility remains
that it will be, as R. F. Radebaugh of the Ledger once predicted,
a Liverpool to Seattle's London.
Tacoma of today, 187 years after Vancouver's visit, 128 years
after Delin started his mill among the skunk cabbages, 115 years
after Job Carr exulted in his first sight of the Sheltered Place,
106 years after the Northern Pacific chose Commencement Bay as its
terminus, 81 years after Nelson Bennett undercut the Cascades, 76
years after the crash stilled the great boom, remains a city set
in beauty, a city small enough for people to say hello on the
downtown streets, a city where it is safe to walk at night and a
morning's drive takes you to mountain or ocean, a city of easy
access to parks and playgrounds, and to the more metropolitan
delights of Seattle: in short, a pleasant place to live.
anonymous visitor to the Pacific Northwest, quoted in the January
12, 1894, issue of Harper's Weekly, had it right: "Well,
gentlemen, if I were a man of wealth seeking a home and
investments on Puget Sound, I would live in Tacoma and invest in
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