I keep learning more about the history of this wonderful city! Last night we drove through the rain to McMenamin’s Kennedy School, up on NW 33rd. We were there to listen to Tracy Prince and her 15 year old daughter, Zadie Schaffer, talk about their newest book, Notable Women of Portland.
Tracy has a Ph.D in history, is an affiliated professor at Portland State University, and has studied Portland history for years. When Zadie needed a bat mitzvah project, they decided to research the untold stories…. the women who were always referred to by their husbands’ names, the Native Americans who lived on the edges of the city but were a vital part of it, the female welders and doctors who have been forgotten in what Tracy refers to as “the Manifest Destiny version of history.”
The resulting book, a “photographic history”, covers white women and women of color, Native Americans, and of Chinese and Japanese ancestry, from the 1840s to the present. The publishers limited Tracy to 75 words per photo, so each person’s story is told briefly, almost as an illustrated outline of history.
I got to talk to Tracy before the presentation, and when I told her about my story project, she was gracious enough to give me her email and encourage me to contact her for more detailed information. I look forward to learning what she knows and using it to make my story better.
Yesterday was another really hot day. By 4:30, it was 101 degrees! Auntie Bridgett and I spent the hottest part of the afternoon in the nice cool Main Branch of the library, downtown. I found more books on Portland’s history and Auntie Bridgett found art books!
In the evening, we had a new adventure. Grandpa Nelson had read about an event called “History Pub”, held at the Kennedy School. There would be dinner and music. We love history, pubs, food, schools, and music, so we went!
The Kennedy School is an elementary school about three miles north of us, built in 1917. That was four years before my Momma was born! The school was named for the man who sold the land to the city of Portland, John D. Kennedy… not the president, as I had thought. The school had been abandoned in the 1990’s because there weren’t enough kids in the neighborhood anymore, and a restaurant company called McMenamin’s bought it.
McMenamin’s saw how this old building could be beautiful and useful again. They fixed the plumbing, heating, and electricity. They re-modeled the classrooms into hotel rooms (each with its own chalkboard!) and turned the cafeteria into a quirky restaurant. There is a small bar called Detention just down the hall from the Principal’s office.
There is also beautiful artwork everywhere. The halls have murals of children learning and helping each other. Mosaics made from old dishes and things pay tribute to teachers at the school. Fairies even follow you into the restroom….it is magical.
We had dinner, walked around the school a bit, then went into the auditorium. This has been re-fitted with cozy, velvet covered chairs and couches, with more artwork and murals on the walls. We learned about Obo Addy, a Ghanan drummer, from Susan Addy, Obo’s widow. Obo Addy came to Portland in 1978 with his four brothers, bringing real African music to this area for the first time. The group toured schools and gave concerts, teaching thousands of people about African drumming, singing and dancing.
Then came the best part of the already wonderful evening….music! Five musicians, a group called Okropong, came out in beautiful African costumes with bells and danced up and down the aisle. They set up different drums in the front and played, sang and danced. The energy was amazing, and the audience began dancing and clapping, too. The musicians went into the audience and took people’s hands, bringing them into the aisle to dance with them. People were having so much fun!
Every now and then, the leader would explain about the music. One piece was from Liberia, a country next to Ghana…he said, “Ghana went to Liberia, fell in love, and brought this one back.”
After almost an hour of exhausting performance, our musician friends did one final song and danced off stage. We gathered our things and headed for the parking lot, through the halls of the coolest school I have ever seen. We slept like rocks to be ready for the next adventure, whatever that might be.