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May 12, 2015 – May 18, 2015

Gray Skies

Since March more than 130 small quakes have been detected at Mount St. Helens -- an indicator that the volcano is recharging its magma. This geologic behavior is considered normal and does not indicate an impending eruption, but this week HistoryLink looks back at when the mountain really did blow its top, on May 18, 1980.

In April 1968 scientists predicted that Mount St. Helens could erupt at any time, but it wasn't until 12 years later that visual signs began to appear. A steam explosion occurred in March 1980 and over the next few weeks small bursts of hot air and ash issued forth. By the end of the next month a bulge appeared on the peak's northern slope that grew larger and larger, finally bursting open with explosive force.

The lateral blast was so powerful that trees and vegetation in a six-mile radius to the north were vaporized. The shock wave moved farther out, stripping trees of bark and branches and toppling their trunks like toothpicks. An avalanche of rocks, debris, snow, and ice surged down the mountain, and within minutes covered a 24-square-mile area and was hundreds of feet deep. Fifty-seven people lost their lives.

The blast upward was just as intense. Fifteen minutes after the eruption the ash plume reached 15 miles into the sky, where it was blown eastward. In just more than an hour, Yakima was plunged into darkness. The cloud continued moving east, dumping ash everywhere. Travelers were forced off the highways, which caused tremendous problems in Ritzville, more than 200 miles from the volcano. The ash cloud took three days to reach the East Coast and 15 days to circle the globe.

Gray Size

On May 15, 1922, Sedro Woolley residents were stunned to find an elephant rampaging through their small Skagit County community. While on tour with a traveling circus, Tusko the elephant got loose, causing all sorts of mayhem before his capture. Years later when a sideshow huckster brought Tusko to Seattle, Mayor John Dore was outraged at the animal's treatment and confiscated him. The pachyderm spent a few peaceful months at Woodland Park Zoo before passing away in 1933.

Tusko's misadventures in Sedro Woolley wasn't the only time that Washington has dealt with elephants on the loose. In 1909 Queenie the elephant ran amok in White City, a short-lived amusement park located in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood. And in May 1958 a trailer bearing four of the creatures overturned on its way from Woodland Park Zoo, sending the pachyderms on a romp through the Phinney neighborhood.

The thought of rogue elephants running around Washington may seem odd to us now, but their distant cousins actually roamed the region eons ago. Mastodon tusks have been unearthed in Sequim, and the remains of Ice Age mammoths have been discovered near Spokane and Yakima. These behemoths may be bygone, but in 1998 the extinct Columbian Mammoth was named the official state fossil.

News Then, History Now

Steptoe Command: On May 18, 1858, Eastern Washington tribes won a Pyrrhic victory against troops led by U. S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe. This triggered harsh retribution led by Colonel George Wright a few months later.

Lay of the Land: In 1890 Aberdeen and Shelton incorporated just days apart, on May 12 and May 17, respectively. And on May 14, 1915, the town of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island incorporated. A month later, local residents celebrated with a livestock parade, a baking exhibition, and a talent show.

Going as Planned: On May 17, 1907, the University of Washington Board of Regents approved John C. Olmsted's plan for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Six years after the fair ended, the board expanded on Olmsted's layout and approved a full campus plan that was formally adopted on May 18, 1915.

Story Pole: On May 14, 1940, an 85-foot story pole was officially dedicated on the Washington State Capitol grounds. Created by Tulalip cultural leader William Shelton, the pole symbolizes ongoing peace between our region's Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

Dock Patrol: To steer clear of another shutdown of the Black Ball ferry line, Vashon Island residents started their own ferry system in 1948. On May 15 of that year defenders of the upstart carrier wielded ax handles and pool cues to prevent the Black Ball ferry Illahee from landing at their dock. The vigilantes won, and Vashonites operated their own ferries until June 1, 1951.

Rising Above: On May 18, 1952, Paul Robeson performed at an outdoor concert for more than 25,000 people at Peace Arch Park in Blaine. His passport had been confiscated due to his leftist political views, which prevented his entry into Canada. Two days later Robeson was almost barred from speaking and performing in Seattle, but he overcame Cold War hysteria to make his voice heard.

What Lies Below: On May 15, 1962, the state of Washington broke ground for a fallout shelter underneath a freeway overpass in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood. Since the completion of Interstate 5 on May 14, 1969, millions have driven over it, most unaware that it even exists. The shelter sits vacant today.

Quote of the Week

The Earth is God's pinball machine and each quake, tidal wave, flash flood and volcanic eruption is the result of a TILT that occurs when God, cheating, tries to win free games.

                                        --Tom Robbins

Image of the Week

The first Seattle International Film Festival opened 40 years ago this week on May 14, 1976.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Seattle's Orpheum Theatre opens at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street on May 15, 1911.

Michael Earles opens an elegant resort at Sol Duc Hot Springs near the Olympic Mountains on May 15, 1912.

Tusko the elephant rampages through Sedro-Woolley on May 15, 1922.

First irrigation water reaches Pasco on May 15, 1948.

Vashon vigilantes repel the ferry Illahee on May 15, 1948.

State of Washington breaks ground for a fallout shelter under the Seattle Freeway (Interstate 5) in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood on May 15, 1962.

Police shoot and kill Larry Eugene Ward while he sets a bomb in Seattle's Central Area on May 15, 1970.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

One Day in Federal Court: Tacoma, Thursday, February 19, 1959 -- from Murray Morgan's Broadcast Script

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