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How Do We Honor the History of the Tacoma Totem Pole?
The Tacoma Totem Pole that stands in Fireman’s Park has decayed to the point that it is no longer structurally sound. After 110 years exposed to the elements, the pole is showing its age with rotted wood that could give way in an earthquake or a strong wind. While the City explores different options for dealing with the pole, it has been fenced off so it doesn’t fall on anyone’s head.
There are several options being discussed.
The City could invest in structural reinforcements to brace and strengthen the pole. There’s no cost estimate on that yet, but we’ve seen reports that $10,000 has already been spent on short-term stabilization and inspection. Engineers are exploring more permanent bracing solutions that would keep the pole upright for another 20 years or more.
The pole could be cut up and displayed in several smaller pieces, which would address the danger of the taller structure falling, but would not halt its decay. It also would not preserve the pole’s 100-foot height that beat out Seattle’s 60-foot totem pole.
The pole could be lowered and moved indoors to a museum or other location for display. The totem pole is unusual in that it is both a historic landmark and a piece in Tacoma’s municipal art collection. We read in the TNT that the artwork has been determined not to be of “museum quality,” but it might still be of historic interest.
Or the totem pole could be laid to rest. Literally. One option is to take the pole down from where it stands in Fireman’s Park, and place it somewhere on its side where it would be allowed to continue the natural process of decay. All explained for passersby on a nice interpretive plaque. This would be similar to what many tribes that carve totem poles traditionally do: they let the pole fall where it stands, and return to nature.
For a piece of Tacoma that’s been relatively ignored for at least the recent decades of the last century, the Tacoma Totem Pole seems to be stirring quite the conversation. We’ve seen its history dug up, including connections to Teddy Roosevelt’s visit to Tacoma 110 years ago yesterday. Our friends over at Post Defiance shared their insights into the pole’s history and current predicament, along with some pretty cool historic pictures. And if that’s not enough for you, Peter Callaghan over at The News Tribune has weighed in, putting his thumb on the scale on the side of preservation.
Interestingly the debate over the Tacoma Totem Pole has turned out to be less about the Native American carvers (it’s not a local tradition), and more about Tacoma’s identity over the past century and more. If that’s the question, what’s the best way to honor the chapter of our past embodied in the totem pole?
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