By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Most cities have local civic boosters that promote features unique – or at least memorable – in their hometown.
Tacoma has those, of course, but what Tacoma also has is an unofficial, and completely unauthorized (in most cases) cadre of local history nerds.
Tacoma’s history, perhaps like every community, is dense with eccentric, enterprising and even quasi-mythical characters.
Unlike most communities, Tacoma’s history also includes not-quite-human players across our civic stage.
From our resident bear (https://www.wertacoma.com/jack-bear-defiance/) to the most Sasquatch sightings in the country to the very first UFO (flying saucer) sightings way back in 1947, Tacoma has always had stories, characters and schemes that defy standard categories of business and community identity.
To put it simply, Tacoma is not like everywhere else.
What other burg, for example, can count Frank Herbert, Kurt Cobain, Bing Crosby, Neko Case and Buck Owens as former residents.
Tacoma also hosted, for a time, the family of Charles Manson.
Tacoma also inspired icons and stories that have become semi-permanent features of our cultural landscape from Jules Verne’s best selling novel “Around the world in 80 days” to the cinematic motif of the “men in black”.
If you want to document any of these, or would like to find some undiscovered aspect of the convoluted history of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room is ready to help.
Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room recently launched a new digital discovery database called the Northwest Online Records and Collections Access (AKA, Northwest ORCA). Users can access documents, photos, videos, and other artifacts from the Community Archives Center, the Richards Photography Studio collection, newly acquired photos from The News Tribune and records from the City of Tacoma Office of the City Clerk.
For those interested in the minutiae of civic processes, you can access Tacoma City Council Meeting Minutes from 1884 to present (https://northwestroom.tacomalibrary.org/index.php/city-council-meeting-minutes).
These records come with full-text search, viewing, and download options.
Other highlights from the Northwest ORCA database include:
The News Tribune (TNT) archives (https://northwestroom.tacomalibrary.org/index.php/tacoma-news-tribune-photograph-files)
City Council Meeting Minutes, courtesy of the City Clerk’s Office
The Communities subject tag compiles materials related to various broad communities grouped by cultural commonalities: Black Community, Asian and Pacific Islander Community, Indigenous Community, Unhoused Community, LGBTQ2SA+ Community, and others. (https://northwestroom.tacomalibrary.org/index.php/communities)
And, for an unmatched collection of vintage Tacoma area photos, don’t neglect the Richards Studio Photographic Slides (https://northwestroom.tacomalibrary.org/index.php/richards-photographic-slide-collection).
If you are ready to step into the unpredictable world of local history, you can use the Northwest ORCA database by exploring these resources and starting here:
Beginner’s Guide to Northwest ORCA video tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXhzppXu9ww.
Or you could sign up for a Northwest ORCA virtual workshop on Wednesday, May 4 (https://tacoma.bibliocommons.com/events/625a0c2e0bf5b937005423fc).
And, for better or worse, every day we are adding to the history of this place we call home.
In many ways our city is still struggling to be born.