Current Exhibit: Tacoma in 1918

1918: A Year of Destiny

WHEN: Free Exhibit Opening Reception: Thursday, June 28, 2018, 5-7 pm

WHERE: Tacoma Historical Society Museum, 919 Pacific Avenue in the historic Provident Building

DURATION: The exhibit will be continue through December 1, 2018.  Museum hours are 11 am to 4 pm, Wednesday through Saturday, or by appointment. Admission is free and donations are welcomed.


Development of this exhibit began with the realization that several Tacoma organizations would be celebrating their centennial anniversaries in 2018 – the Port of Tacoma, the Pantages and Rialto Theaters, and the Tacoma News Tribune. As researchers dug into century-old newspapers and directories the list kept growing – Tacoma Little Theater, Tacoma Kiwanis, VFW Wild West Post #91, Tacoma Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 31, and more. 1918 brought the buildup of what was then Camp Lewis, and saw Tacoma grow to become the center of shipbuilding in the Northwest. Wartime patriotic fervor was evident in music, local Red Cross activities and sales of Liberty Bonds. And finally, the entire nation celebrated the Armistice.

The events of 1918 left a legacy that echoes down to life in Tacoma and Pierce County a century later. The location of the smelter stack that started operating in 1918 is now the site of the Point Ruston development. We still have a thriving port, nearby military installations, and an incredible pair of historic downtown theaters.

The exhibit will include some items loaned from community members – WWI journals, vintage sheet music, and selections from Alice Miller’s noted uniform collection. American Legion “Doughboy” Post #138 contributed military items including a bayonet and a gas mask. Brendan Balaam, Tacoma Historical Society curator, noted that “We are also able to highlight artifacts from our collection, including personal correspondence from a diverse group of soldiers.” 

Noah Ahlstrom, a research fellow whose work contributed to the exhibit, says “I am impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of Americans of the era: defiant in the face of world war and invested with a new vitality despite hardship of theretofore unimagined magnitude. Olive McCabe exemplifies the heroic efforts of the day. As a chief crisis coordinator for the Tacoma chapter of the American Red Cross, Ms. McCabe assuaged family members desperate for information on the health of their beloved service men under quarantine at Camp Lewis amid the Influenza pandemic of 1918. She and her compatriots comforted a deluge of wives, mothers and families with solace for body and soul thereby proving that the home front is as often a place of equal turmoil in wartime, and the end of the war is merely the beginning of a new conflagration.” Noah Ahlstrom is a fellow with the Veteran’s charity The Mission Continues. Upon completion of his fellowship in July of 2018 he plans on continuing to serve with Tacoma Historical Society as a volunteer.

The five-month exhibit is one phase of a larger project funded by a 2018 City of Tacoma Heritage Project grant. The second phase includes an active community outreach campaign, taking Society volunteers out in the community to street fairs and festivals as part of a membership drive, inspired by the WWI Liberty Bond campaigns. Join Tacoma Historical Society and ring the bell!

A highlight of the fall program schedule will be the Society’s annual Destiny Dinner on October 20th. Sponsored by the Port of Tacoma, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, and Point Ruston, the dinner will be held at the historic Tacoma Armory. Exhibit outreach activities will conclude with a centennial Armistice observance at Tacoma’s War Memorial Park.

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