News of 1889 Seattle fire sparks student learning at Museum of History and Industry
April 28, 2010
By Laura Geggel
NEW — 12:30 p.m. April 28, 2010
This November, the state of Washington will be 121 years old. Much history fills those dozen decades, and after a field trip to the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, Cascade View Elementary School’s fourth-graders have a new understanding of Washington’s historical highlights.
Students explored the museum during a scavenger hunt — learning about salmon canneries and missionaries, among other topics.
Fourth-grader Heather MacMillan filled in a scavenger clue about how the Duwamish people would catch, dry, smoke and cook the fish for the canneries, but she said she enjoyed learning about hydroplanes the most.
During another activity, students learned about Washington artifacts and the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. On June 6, a worker in a cabinet woodshop located on First Avenue and Madison Avenue was heating glue over a gasoline fire.
A chuck of glue spilled over the pot and ignited the wood chips and turpentine on the floor.
The fire burned 32 city blocks, but the city’s inhabitants didn’t sit in the ashes for long.
“That was really cool how they rebuilt it,” fourth-grader Calie Rose said.
Museum volunteer Jim Siscel, a retired schoolteacher, peppered the students with questions about Seattle’s past.
Did they know the meaning of a boomtown? Who lived in early Seattle and how did they get here?
Students rapidly answered: a boomtown sprung up almost overnight, immigrants and American Indians lived here and many settlers came via the Oregon Trail or ships before the advent of the railroad.
A few girls bristled when they looked at a black-and-white photograph of First Avenue and Yesler Way and realized that it only pictured men, not women.
Siscel explained that the women probably had few reasons to go to town, unless they were buying supplies.
“That kind of bugs me because we have the same rights as men,” Rose said.
Times have changed, but the students still enjoyed learning about Seattle’s past. Siscel gave students artifacts and incorporated it into a narrative about Seattle’s growth and people.
Fourth-grader Morgan O’Keefe learned her artifact, a bundle of cedar bark, could be made into baskets and clothes by American Indians. Alysa Vermeulen learned the beaded necklace she was carrying was a highly valued bartering tool, especially after settlers learned that American Indians favored blue beads.
Some of the beads traders used were made of Venetian glass from Italy, Siscel said.
Students were also impressed with the two-handed saw.
“They had saws that were 10 feet long,” Siscel said. “Sometimes, it would take the men a day or two days to cut a tree down.”
Students learned about early photography that required people to sit still for about half a minute, or longer, depending on how much light was present.
The fieldtrip, paid for by Cascade View Elementary’s PTSA, cost about $800 for the admission and transportation of the 125 fourth-graders and their chaperones.
Fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Gintz said the museum brought history to life.
Her class had just finished studying the Japanese internment during World War II, and she said the museum helped her students understand how it fit into the timeline of Washington’s history.
Her colleague, teacher Elizabeth Johnson agreed.
“It helps everything we do in the classroom come alive,” Johnson said.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221, or email@example.com.