“It has rained nearly every day since I have been here and yet I like it,” Anaximander Tutton wrote to his family in South Dakota shortly after his arrival in Washington. His story and those of many others are part of Washington, My Home, the all-new exhibit opening in the Great Hall of Washington History this summer. Through oral histories and artifacts, this permanent exhibit explores migration and immigration through the experiences of diverse individuals who, over time, have come to live in Washington.
Visitors will first glimpse the Arrival Windows, illuminating images of people who call Washington home. Next to the windows are stories of arrival, belonging, and dramatic journeys. These accounts range from the 1840s with the first African American family to arrive in Washington Territory to 2015 when the first family of Syrian refugees settled in Seattle, with many others in between.
Artifacts help tell the stories, from utilitarian to nostalgic. Visitors will see a 1920s sewing machine brought to Tacoma by a Jewish immigrant from Canada; a stone chisel from the 1920s used by a Scotsman to work on the Capitol building in Olympia; a pair of 1940s earrings carried across Europe during World War II by a Latvian immigrant; a decorative Pysanka egg from 2010 crafted by a newcomer as a connection to her Ukrainian homeland; a simple 1960s thermos that often held congee (rice porridge), lovingly fed by a father to his daughter when she was sick in Hong Kong and later carried to Washington; and more.
Step into My Shoes displays multiple shoes on risers. Visitors are invited to select a shoe and hear a corresponding personal story about the impacts immigration has had on an individual or his/her ancestors. Alutiiq/Alaska native Ingrid Hansen references childhood events as she talks about seeing Washington for the first time during the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Mustafa Mohammed discusses what it was like to have to leave his home country of Iraq as a refugee.
Coming to Washington wasn’t always easy, and the exciting, interactive Story Chests represent that challenge. The Story Chests offer visitors hands-on engagement with Washington history. A series of luggage carts hold travel trunks and suitcases that delve into topics in unusual ways. On one cart, a bentwood box holds Native American stories of how tribal members came to be in this place. On another, a hope chest shows small objects that represent the hopes and dreams immigrants brought with them. The Oregon Trail chest illustrates some of the dangers involved in the journey. Another chest shows objects that represent the discrimination immigrants have faced over time.
Want to share your own story? Visit the Migration Station, and note your answers to questions about immigration. You can type a response for the world to see, and you can place a disk on the world map to show where your family came from.
Many people have called Washington home. Through this poetic exhibition, the Washington State History Museum helps us all to learn about diverse journeys to our state, and to share our own.