Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August 29, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Floyd taken very sick this morning.  Spent the day tinkering at various things."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The "Basket Social"

Every year for the past 11 years, the Harbor History Museum's annual "Basket Social" fundraiser provides much needed funds to help run the museum. But, what exactly is a basket social?

Basket Socials, sometimes referred to as Box Socials, have a long history in providing an opportunity for men and women to spend time together. The socials also provided a way for communities to raise money for the church, grange, school, or other need.

Many times these events would lead to long-term courtships and eventually marriage.  Other times, it was just a way to spend an evening in the company of the opposite sex.

One of the early references to a basket social occurred in Dunkirk, New York's paper, the Evening Observer, on February 19, 1885. The article described something "new":  Each lady in attendance is to bring a basket containing a lunch for two. By lottery the baskets, and their fair owners as company to the feast, are disposed of to the gentlemen. This is a new departure in our social line and I trust will meet with success. Let there be a full house. All are cordially invited to attend.

An earlier reference to the basket social was found in the Rocky Mountain News, on December 6, 1882, and was phrased similar to the Dunkirk, New York, piece quoted above.

More recently, perhaps when you were younger you remember your grandparents or great-grandparents talking about how much fun they had at a box or basket social. Believe it or not, these socials were quite popular into the mid 1970s -- and even into the 1990s, sparking a recent resurgence in the practice.

Young readers would have learned about the box/basket social from reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Or, did you happen to see either the play or the movie Oklahoma? The second act is set at a box social. Or, how about the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, where Loretta Lynn’s pie is up for bidding?

In America, the tradition was that the women decorated a box or basket and filled it with a lunch or dinner for two. The men then bid on the women’s baskets in anticipation of eating alongside the person that prepared the basket. Sometimes the contents were just a cake, pie, cookies, or other homemade dessert.

So, where did it start? In Victorian England, the middle class young people had few avenues to socialize and meet new people, especially those of the opposite sex. A solution emerged of “box socials” held at various people’s houses, organized by the parents, where young people could mix freely.

The Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor has been celebrating the “spirit” of Basket Socials for the past decade with its annual fundraiser dinner/auction. In this case, the “baskets” are part of the Silent Auction, and can be filled with goodies, get-a-ways, toys, or whatever the donor provides. The Basket Social also features dinner, a signature cocktail, Golden Ticket drawing, dessert dash, and Live Auction, with special items ranging from travel to fine dining to unique Gig Harbor experiences. Proceeds from the Basket Social still go to a great cause – the museum – just like in the old days. This year’s Basket Social theme is “History Rocks” and pays tribute to the 1980s. Paul Skansi, 1980 Seattle Seahawks Alumni, serves as Honorary Chair.

The annual fundraiser will be held on September 22 at Tacoma Narrows Airport Aviation Hangar, Gig Harbor, Washington, beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available – visit to learn more about this fun evening or call 253-858-6722 x2. Please join us for a blast from the past at the Harbor History Museum’s 11th Annual “History Rocks” Basket Social.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Milan Mikich

Have you ever noticed how not all history is formed by the well-known names. And, aren’t you intrigued when you run across someone who has accomplished a tremendous variety of different things that made his or her life as well as the lives of their community better?

A young Milan Mikich
Well, I found one such individual while doing a little research at the Harbor History Museum. Milan Mikich is just one of those rare individuals.

I am going to allow a memory of Milan compiled by Margaret Jamieson Paul for the Gig Harbor Grange No.445 tell part of Milan’s story...

Gig Harbor’s Milan Mikich will be remembered by many of us as a man of many interests, which made him subsequently a most interesting person. Born in Benet, Yugoslavia in 1890, he lived a quiet life and was a modest, unassuming person. Yet he left his mark on this area and will be remembered by many citizens, young and old; he was many years ahead of his time in his observations about people and the world. He felt humans needed to be more responsible for their actions in order to achieve harmony with the rest of the world. He was a human concerned with humanity, curious about everything, and at ease with every generation. In his poverty-ridden environment, he had four years of formal schooling, wherein he learned the Cyrillic alphabet, the Serbian mother tongue; Hungarian, the state language, old Slavic, the church language, and geography, arithmetic and Serbian poetry.  He was quick physically as well as mentally.

“The homes in his town had dirt floors, and the mothers cooked over rudimentary fireplaces; the work was endless and opportunities for advancement for young people almost non-existent. There was an unbelievable lack of money and worldly goods, a shortage of provisions and “sometimes even of food,” Milan stated.  

“Milan’s two older brothers had already come to America when Milan was fifteen, in 1905. He was grateful to them for their help in getting him started in America, after he bade farewell to his dear parents he knew he would likely never see again. He was impressed by the Statue of Liberty’s inscription and felt, as he ended his long voyage to the United States from Yugoslavia, that he had been guided by a kindly fate. His relatives helped him find work and attend a barber college to learn a career, and to learn the English language. Milan worked as a barber while learning the trade, and at anything else which would pay; he worked for the railway, factories, a soap company, and learned all along the way. In the meantime he was going to museums and art galleries and parks; anyplace free! –including the New York Public Library. He used their dictionary to learn new words. At the time, he didn’t realize he would be eventually speaking several languages well, and translating poetry from one into another! He became quite a learned person, as everywhere he went; he studied and learned from experience as well as from books. His writings took on a style formalized by discipline and graced with dignity. Music and dance had always been of interest to Milan, and national and international affairs and history as well. A devotee of Henry David Thoreau, he also discovered Aldo Leopold and later naturalists. Always close to nature, he began writing poetry to try to express his awe of her miracles and wonders all about him.

“Later he traveled to Detroit and joined the U. S. Army, serving 5 ½ years. Wounded several times in France he was later dismissed and again became a civilian. An old Army buddy, Norman Kimball coaxed him into coming to Gig Harbor to live, in 1925.

Milan at mic during Midsommarfest in Gig Harbor. The Serbian
heritage costume he is wearing in this photo is on display in the
permanent exhibit at the Harbor History Museum.
“Milan liked Gig Harbor so well he settled and worked here, first digging (by hand) holes for poles for Peninsula Light Company, and later working in a bakery and at other jobs locally. Best of all, he stated, he enjoyed being a brush-picker, a gatherer of evergreen huckleberry, salal and fern sprays for brush packers who sold these to the wholesale florists trade. In the beautiful woods around Puget Sound, he felt a oneness with nature and a peace that brought out the best in his poetic nature. He for a while owned his own evergreen business. For recreation, and to further his musical interests, Milan sang in choirs and was a charter member of the Peninsula Singers, and sang with the Tacoma Oratorio Society and the Sibelians. He sometimes had his poems printed in the Peninsula Gateway, and he joined a dance group, first square-dancing, then doing ethnic folk-dancing. He wore colorful costumes, authentic, and some direct from their native lands. Milan was active in Grange work and in 1977 was given the Golden Sheath Award for his fifty years of work in the Gig Harbor Grange.  He was active in Pierce County Library work also, where he served two terms of six years each on the Board. Milan helped organize the first Bookmobile on the Peninsula.

“He married in 1955 and he and his wife Jane lived several years in Mexico. She died in 1962 and Milan spent most of his last years alone in Gig Harbor. He leaves a legacy of good works and fine examples; Milan truly was an unforgettable person. We are better for knowing him, and sharing his lively and intelligent personality, his humor and his concern for all people, for all humanity and for nature in its entirety.”

Milan Mikich left behind numerous collections of his poetry and here is one that might intrigue you.


Like some ship of old laden with gold
            rounding her maiden lee,
Within her hold treasures untold,
            promise from land, from sea,
Her form is slim her deck is trim,
            smoothly her lines conform;
Rigging is free that she might be
            worthy in calm or storm.
She plies her course with a grand resource
            touching each friendly shore,
Where throngs appear from far and near
            seeking her precious store.
Forward and aft on board this craft
            volumes and charts abound,
Farmers and clerks, merchants and cooks
            the captain’s bridge surround.
Brief is her stay, she must away---
            her shining sails unfold,
Seekers that be, on shore, on key,
            to you she bringeth gold.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Brenniger's family came to the bay.  Employed my time doing emphatically nothing."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pioneer Days at Gig Harbor, Washington by Mabel Shyleen Ellis Written in 1938 Part 2

[Ed. note: This is the second part of an excerpt from Mabel Shyleen's diary, written between 1903 and 1905, in the collection of the Harbor History Museum. The Shyleen home and property were located at the corner of today's Grandview and Soundview Drives.]

Part 2:

When there was enough land cleared to put up a dwelling, my mother and sisters and brother moved out from Tacoma. The house was surrounded by many giant fir trees, some of which were burned down and others cut down with a crosscut saw. One day we were called out of the house, as one of the huge trees they were felling seemed ready to fall across our home. We were ordered  to stand close to the tree while the sawing went on. Finally the shout, "There she goes!" made us all look skyward to the tip of that massive giant as it swished through the air with a rush and came crashing down to earth and settled with a tremble. Then silence. We were thankful that the house was spared.

The first church was held in the cabin of the steamer Isabel, anchored in the middle of the harbor. Those attending the services went in a rowboat, ascending and descending on a rope ladder. Fenimore Young, son of postmaster A. W. Young, was the first minister. As soon as a schoolhouse was built, services were held there.

The first schoolhouse at Gig Harbor was an Indian hut near the water's edge, close to an Indian village. The beat of tomtoms could be heard to drive away the evil spirits hovering over their afflicted ones. There were ten pupils taught by Miss Anna Goodman, and some of those ten were her own brothers and sisters. Later, school was held for a time in the old mill cookhouse, and I also attended school at one time in Joe Dorotich's saloon. The swinging doors were replaced, but the bar still remained. The mud was ankle deep at times just outside the door. I wore rubber boots to and from school, which were replaced by slippers in the schoolhouse.
The first school in Gig Harbor was taught by Anna Goodman in a small Indian hut
(located in the photo just to the right at the base of the smokestack, the light
colored roof)

We had no picture shows to go to, but we rode horseback, took long walks in the woods, visited, went rowing, fishing, played pump-pump-pullaway, run-sheep-run, crack-the-whip, and other vigorous games.  We put on our own shows in Dr. Burnham's hall, and those were the days of real melodrama.

In the spring, the woods were filled with trilliums, johnny jump ups, Solomon Seal, Lady Slippers, and Indian paintbrush. It was always fun to go picking wild blackberries and to come home with five and ten pound buckets filled with the luscious fruit. The berries went into jars and were stored away in a dirt cellar for pies, sauce, and jelly. Salmon berries were plentiful too, and in the fall, the bushes were black with wild huckleberries.

It was only a short walk to the beach, where at low tide the clams were plentiful, and trolling in the Sound or at the Narrows brought plenty of big, red salmon. It was really something to land one; they would fight so hard that they almost upset the boat. They sold in Tacoma for 10 cents apiece. In the fall, the Siwash Indians came in their canoes to harvest the crop of hops in the Puyallup Valley. It was quite a sight to see all their tents pitched along the railroad track. The squaws were decked out in gaily colored shawls, with their long, black braids tied in red, green, and pink ribbons.  

[To read more of Mabel's diary, visit the Resource Room at the Harbor History Museum, Thursdays from 10 am to noon.]

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 15, 1880

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Spent the day loafing and eating raspberries.  No excitement whatsoever."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pioneer Days in Gig Harbor, by Mabel Shyleen Ellis written in 1938

[Ed. note: Excerpt from Mabel Shyleen's diary, written between 1903 and 1905, in the collection of the Harbor History Museum. The Shyleen home and property were located at the corner of today's Grandview and Soundview Drives. Her father was Nils Shyleen, prominent in early Gig Harbor activities.]

Maybel Shyleen

When I was about ready to enter school, [1892] my father's health was so bad he was ordered to give up his business and move to an out-of-door life in the country. He procured 20 acres of rough timberland at Gig Harbor, Washington. A rude one-room cabin served as home until a house could be built. As I too was of delicate health, I was permitted to come with him while my mother and sisters and brother remained in Tacoma to close up the business. 

It is needless to say that we both found robust health in the simple hard life of the pioneer. He just passed on at 86, eight months after my mother went. He was shingling the roof two days before. They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary about six years ago. He was a member of the school board for over 35 years, organized and was leader of the boy scouts there, and was active in many other club activities.
The Shyleen home along today's Soundview Drive

The underbrush was so thick where the house now stands that it was impossible to walk. He burned, cleared, cultivated, and beautified that land, and grew to love every inch of it. Cedar, fir, spruce, and alder were plentiful, and supplied fuel to the little stove in the corner of the log cabin. Madrona trees grew along the shore of the little harbor. The chipmunks came in through the cracks and scampered over the table for crumbs. The ferns grew in profusion, and in some places were over six feet tall and threatened to completely smother out our first crops of garden vegetables. We had plenty of weeding to do.

Wild animals, including skunks, abounded. One night, just at dark, a friendly Indian from Wollochet Bay came walking up the path to the cabin to see how we were faring. While he and my father were talking, a piercing scream came through the woods. We listened intently. Again came that blood-curdling scream. My father turned to the Indian excitedly. "There must be a child or a woman in distress. We had better hurry!"  The Indian's smile broadened into a grin and then a hearty laugh. He explained to us tenderfeet that the cries came from a cougar in a nearby tree. In later years my mother was one night walking across the yard watering her flower garden. It was a bright, moonlit night and she saw a huge cougar move stealthily across her path directly in front of her. It didn't take her long to get into the house! The next morning we discovered the tracks in the soft dirt, showing the great size of the beast.

Once when my father had some bacon hanging up in the cabin, he was awakened in the night by soft footsteps circling the place outside. At the spot where the bacon was hanging, the footsteps stopped. On looking through the one window, my father saw a big, black bear. When it came to the door, it hesitated and sniffed.  My father held his breath, realizing the door was fastened only by a small cord, and he had no gun.  Finally, after waiting what seemed to him a long time, he heard the bear go rumbling down a ravine through the underbrush. As soon as he could get to town, my father bought a six-shooter and a bolt for the door.


© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 8, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmet Hunt wrote in his diary "Went out sporting but found only one grouse.  Got back tired enough.  Soon I could sleep and rest." 

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alfred Erickson, Blacksmith and Farmer

Alfred Erickson and friend

I happened to run across a 1943 newspaper clipping at the Harbor History Museum about Alfred Erickson. The article described his skill as a blacksmith. Here was a man whose talent was larger than horseshoes and farm tools. It made me interested in learning a little bit more about him.  I hope you enjoy what I discovered.

The newspaper article explained how Alfred Erickson was watching a ship's carpenter labouriously boring a hole through a plank on the bilge of a ship under construction. As Alfred watched, he thought there must be a better way to do this particular type of boring job much faster and just as well, or better.

Alfred returned to his home up Pioneer Way where he had his blacksmith shop behind the house and experimented making a bit that turned the trick. Once he fine-tuned the drill bit it was time to market it. This specialized bit devised by a Gig Harbor blacksmith was, in 1943, used from Vancouver, British Columbia to California in construction endeavors. Especially in construction for the war effort.

The boring bit that Alfred designed consisted of the ordinary long shank drill with a wire cutter on and back from the drill point. In addition, he added a counter sinking device. He made these bits in three different sizes and to fit any special job. They were operated by any electric drill mechanism.

A Seattle contractor contacted Alfred needing a drill bit that could handle 1,200,000 holes of a certain size.  Alfred furnished the contractor with a bit that, within a given time period, did five times the work usually done by the old method.

A Tacoma ship builder asked Alfred if he could make an auger to drill a special type of hole for hatch covers. Alfred could and he did. 

These tools were all made from raw iron to the finished drill bit in Alfred's own shop. And, the tools were  labor saving devices during World War II.

As mentioned earlier, the Erickson home and blacksmith shop were located on the corner of what now is Pioneer Way and Edwards Drive and included 2.5 acres of farm land. The farmhouse was restored in 1996 by Rodrick Nilsson and served as the centerpiece for Nilsson's Chapel Hill Townhomes development.

When Nilsson discovered that it was part of the original farm of the Erickson family he decided to give the farmhouse back its original character. The house was solid with no structural defects despite being 100 years old. Nilsson found hand-made blacksmith tools, an old forge and the foundations of the smithy. Also, there were plenty of those horseshoes.

Nilsson had long conversations with Rutn Ryan, Alfred's daughter and widow of Gig Harbor's first mayor, Harold Ryan. It was her memories and their shared Swedish history that gave the house back its life.

Unfortunately the old carriage house and smithy couldn't be saved and a new garage was built in their place...but the house itself is now a 116 year old "new" house.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 1, 1880, Sunday

On this day Emmett Hunt wrote in his diary "Nice day so walked down and engaged school in District No. 19.  After which came back and filled with raspberries."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.