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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

Frederick Law Olmsted and the Staten Island Farm

By the time John Charles Olmsted arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 1903, he was a seasoned landscape architect who had worked with Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. in his Brookline, Massachusetts, landscape architecture office at his 99 Warren Street home (now a National Park Service historic site). This chapter takes place in the 1850s and tells the story behind his first American home.

After Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) settled on scientific farming as his life’s work, and a decade before he won his first Central Park assignment, his father, a Hartford, Connecticut, resident, purchased a small coastal farm on an isolated peninsula near Guilford on Sachem’s Head. The year was 1847.

The farm was not far from Yale, where FLO’s brother (and best friend), John Hull, and other friends were still studying. Although they could visit on weekends, the rocky soil and isolation were great obstacles to success.

Earlier, while visiting Staten Island, FLO’s father had seen Tosomock Farm. Situated near the southern shore of the island, it was closer to New York City. In 1848, FLO’s father loaned his son $12,000 for the purchase. The 140-acre property had splendid views of the waterfront between the island and the Atlantic.

Surrounded by a more lively farming community and closer to his brother and friends, the new farm was more agreeable to FLO’s future plans than Guilford farm. Its old Dutch stone farmhouse and surroundings also suited the new farmer. With his brother John embarking on a medical career and many Yale friends still nearby, the Staten Island farm, Tosomock (also known as Southside), soon became a weekend gathering spot.

Neighbors also came to call or invited the new farmer to dinner. One was Dr. Cyrus Perkins, a retired medical professor, who gave FLO four grapevines from his Holly Farm. He also introduced his granddaughter, Mary Perkins, who had come to live with him after the death of her parents. A friendship soon blossomed between her and John Hull. She also became a bedrock of stability for FLO in the decades to follow.

By the early months of 1850spurred by the engagement of John Hull and Miss Perkinsthe families drew closer. Eager for one last overseas adventure before settling down, and hoping to improve his health, John Hull and his friend Charles Loring Brace planned a walking trip through England. Caught off guard, Frederick wrote his father for help in joining his brother abroad.

Father Olmsted of course agreed, and the three boys set sail for England on April 30, 1850. FLO brought his notebook, intending to write about his travels and learn from farmers abroad about the craft and crops of farming there. At sea, the three passed the time playing chess matches using improvised playing pieces made from cork, and reading aloud to one another. They eventually docked near Liverpool in late May—high springtime in England.

Learning as much from the preserved—or historically designed—country landscapes surrounding each farm and village as from his interviews with local farmers, FLO’s first visit to the English countryside proved a turning point. His successful 1852 book about that English adventure initiated his landscape (and publishing) future.

After the tour, John Hull returned to Staten Island, married Mary Perkins, and headed back to Europe for a honeymoon. In 1853 he, his bride, and their new baby, “Tot” or “Charley” (in time they settled on the name John Charles Olmsted), came home to live in the nine-bedroom Southside farmhouse.

The brothers soon set off together to explore the vast Texas territory—eventually on horseback. The New York editors of FLO’s newspaper column (written under the pen name “Yeoman”) awaited news from San Antonio. FLO had already published coastal South news and views of plantation owners on the topic of the day—slavery. Edited by John Hull, this last installment produced the final touches to the Olmsted literary endeavor, bringing much-needed publishing notoriety and setting the stage for FLO’s next achievement—Central Park.

A decade of living, farming, and writing for New York newspapers and publishing houses from his Staten Island farm was drawing to a close. The loss of his best friend and a chance conversation in a Connecticut Inn would dramatically change Frederick’s life.

Next month, we’ll explore FLO’s move from Southside Farm across the water to New York City and into the abandoned Mount St. Vincent Convent building in the city’s sprawling, recently-acquired Central Park property.

—Joan Hockaday

 

Line drawing of the Staten Island farmhouse

The Staten Island farmhouse, “Southside,” sketch attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted in 1848.

Photo of John Hull Olmsted

John Hull Olmsted (1825-1857). His medical career on hold, by the end of the decade his tuberculosis was causing concern. John and his family (including John Charles Olmsted) took one last trip to southern Europe to enjoy sunnier, warmer, winter weather. He never returned. With his wife and children nearby, he died in Nice, France, on November 24, 1857. FLO lost his best friend—”You, almost your only friend” his father wrote—and traveling companion.

(From Olmsted’s personal collection of photographs, The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Boston, Mass.)

How an exploited Nez Perce collection finally came home

Photo of Nez Perce woman's dress

In 1847, missionary Henry Spalding shipped two barrels of “Indian curiosities” to his friend Dr. Dudley Allen in Kinsman, Ohio. Inside were exquisite Nez Perce shirts, dresses, baskets, horse regalia, and more—some decorated with porcupine quills and others with precious dentalium shells and rare elk teeth. Twenty-five years ago, after more than a century away, they returned to the Nez Perce. The extraordinary pieces are intimately connected to their home region, and their close proximity helps preserve cultural traditions. Homecoming commemoration events included a lecture series and a June 26, 2021 collection renaming celebration. The newest title from Washington State University (WSU) Press, Coming Home to Nez Perce Country: The Niimíipuu Campaign to Repatriate Their Exploited Heritage, draws on interviews with Nez Perce experts and extensive archival research to delve into the collection’s fascinating story. In addition, the book examines the ethics of acquiring, bartering, owning, and selling Native cultural history, and can serve as a case study for those seeking to restore their own ancestral heritage.

Donated to Oberlin College in 1893 and transferred to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) in 1942, the Spalding-Allen Collection, now renamed wetxuuwíitin’ (“returned after period of captivity”) languished in storage until Nez Perce National Historic Park curators rediscovered it in 1976. The OHS loaned most of the artifacts to the National Park Service, where they received conservation treatment and were displayed in climate-controlled cases. Josiah Pinkham, Nez Perce cultural specialist, notes that they embody “the earliest and greatest centralization of ethnographic objects for the Nez Perce people. You don’t have a collection of this size, this age, anywhere else in the world.”

Twelve years later, the OHS abruptly recalled the collection, but after public pressure and extended negotiations, agreed to sell the articles to the Nez Perce at their full appraised value of $608,100. Given a scant six-month deadline, the tribe formed the Nez Perce Heritage Quest Alliance and mounted a brilliant grassroots fundraising campaign and sponsorship drive. Musicians created an MTV video. Schoolchildren, National Public Radio, and artists contributed.

Author Trevor James Bond participated in the commemoration as a Nez Perce National Historical Park Lecture Series panelist. He is co-director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation and associate dean for digital initiatives and special collections at the WSU Libraries. He recently was named director of WSU’s Center for Arts and Humanities. He holds a Ph.D. in history.

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True crime tale tells bizarre story of flamboyant false prophet

Psychiana leader Frank Robisnon on stage speaking before a large audience

Shortly after the 1929 stock market crash, a flamboyant false prophet and mass-marketing genius decided to reinvent himself. Utilizing $2,500 from investors, he printed 1,000 sets of Psychiana lessons (the first and only religion with a money-back guarantee), 10,000 sales letters, and placed a $400 ad in Psychology Magazine. Soon rural Moscow, Idaho, became home to one of the era’s most successful New Thought religions. Award-winning author Brandon R. Schrand’s newest book, published by Washington State University Press and titled, Psychiana Man: A Mail-Order Prophet, His Followers, and the Power of Belief in Hard Times, tells the story of Frank Bruce Robinson, his correspondence gospel promising health, wealth, and happiness to anyone who believed in the “God Power,” and his unwavering followers—from a desperate dust bowl farmer to a former heavyweight boxing champion. Despite their faith, he was not who he claimed to be. Officials investigated Robinson for mail fraud and immigration violations, eventually indicting him for falsifying information on his U.S. passport application. As Latah County’s largest private employer, his small-town trial packed the courtroom and made national headlines.

Schrand first learned about Robinson and Psychiana entirely by chance from a brief entry in a local history book. “The story was so bizarre and baffling that it seemed like bad fiction. But it wasn’t. It was all too real. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became,” he explains. To tell the story, Schrand drew from Robinson’s prolific writing, the Psychiana papers housed at the University of Idaho, Latah County Historical Society materials, and other primary sources. Surprisingly, in combing the archives—including more than a thousand pages of letters from and to Robinson’s students—he found no instances of anyone requesting a refund, and almost no negative feedback. Indeed, when Postal Inspector Stephen Howard Morse dispatched a form letter to Psychiana students asking for negative experiences, he received only praise and stalwart defenses of the religion and its leader.

Brandon R. Schrand is the author of The Enders Hotel: A Memoir, a 2008 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers summer selection, and Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior. His nonfiction has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Utne Reader, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and numerous other publications. A winner of the Pushcart Prize, he has also been a resident at Yaddo. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Nonfiction, from the University of Idaho, and an MS in American Studies from Utah State University.

Psychiana Man is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 414 pages, and lists for $24.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

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First-hand accounts highlight value of University of Idaho’s Upward Bound Program

Teaching Native Pride cover

Based on interviews with students and staff, Teaching Native Pride: Upward Bound and the Legacy of Isabel Bond by Tony Tekaroniake Evans, offers first-hand accounts by Native people and highlights how one person can make a difference. In it, Native and non-Native voices tell the story of the federally sponsored Upward Bound program at the University of Idaho, intertwining personal anecdotes and memories with accounts of the program’s inception and goals, as well as regional Native American history and Isabel Bond’s Idaho family history. Dedicated to helping low-income and at-risk students attend college, its unique curriculum celebrated that heritage, helping Native students break cycles of poverty, isolation, and disenfranchisement, and non-Indians gain a new respect for Idaho’s first peoples.

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Thank you!

We thank you all for your support during this challenging year, and wish you wonderful holidays! We’ll be in the office through Wednesday this week, and then the university will be closed until Monday, January 4, 2021. We hope you can find extra time to read and enjoy being with friends and family!

Seattle and a Past Pandemic

Uniformed policemen wearing gauze face masks stand in lines on a Seattle street.

Maybe we are a morose bunch, but current events aroused our curiosity about a past pandemic that visited Seattle in 1918. For those of you with similar tendencies, here is Chapter 16 from our 2003 book, Eccentric Seattle, by J. Kingston Pierce. We hope you all stay safe and healthy!

Above: Seattle policemen in December 1918, wearing masks made by the Red Cross.

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An Unexpected Connection to World War II Japanese Incarceration

photo of envelope with censorship tape and hree page letter handwritten in Japanese

One of the most exciting aspects of publishing history books is discovering unexpected connections. Not long ago, we had one right in our office. Our staff members were assigning covers and discussing our new season’s titles when one of our designers offered a surprising revelation. Our list included a book about the Minidoka War Relocation Center called, An Eye for Injustice. Some time ago, he had purchased a lot from a Spokane estate sale, and inside one box he came across a set of old letters that detailed facets of a poignant story—one very similar to experiences the book portrayed.

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Surrounded by books, yet we still want more

Stack of old books including Scarlet Petticoat by Nard Jones, Island in the Sound by Hazel Heckman, Mister B. by Irving Petite, The Light on the Island by Helene Glidden, and Northwest Gateway buy Archie Binns

It is likely no surprise that we have piles and shelves of WSU Press books all over our offices. So why this stack of clearly older titles we didn’t publish?

It all started with a manuscript submission from Wenatchee Valley College English professor Peter Donahue, just published as Salmon Eaters to Sagebrushers: Washington’s Lost Literary Legacy. A hybrid of literary criticism, history, and biography, the volume examines Washington State novels, memoirs, and poetry from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s, pairing reappraisals of more than forty works with short excerpts and author profiles.

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Sound Transit’s Survival Story

An oerhead view inside a Sound Transit station with people waiting to board the train

Residents of Seattle and Central Puget Sound are familiar with Sound Transit as the agency behind their multi-billion dollar light rail train network. Without commuter trains, the growing region of more than three million would suffocate under congestion. Yet in its beginning phase, the public transportation organization confronted one controversy after another and teetered on the verge of collapse. Back on Track: Sound Transit’s Fight to Save Light Rail, recently published by Washington State University (WSU) Press, is an inside look at those early days and how WSU graduate and new CEO Joni Earl, despite having no transit experience, pulled them from the brink of closure.

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Washington State University Press Announces New Editor-in-Chief

Closeup of text in open book

Washington State University (WSU) Press has named Linda Bathgate as editor-in-chief starting September 3, 2019. Replacing Robert A. Clark, who retired in January, 2019, Bathgate comes to WSU Press after working for the University Press of Florida (UPF) in Gainesville, Florida, where she was Deputy Director and Editor-in-Chief. She has extensive editorial experience, including book and journal acquisitions, development, writing, technical editing, and project coordination. At UPF, she acquired and developed trade and academic resources, including scholarly monographs in space history, gardening, and natural history. She also managed an acquisitions team with annual revenues of over $2 million and facilitated the expansion of their journals program from two to ten. Prior to her time at UPF, she served on the editorial staff at several publishing companies, including Routledge/Taylor & Francis, LLC, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Bathgate holds an MS in Publishing from New York’s Pace University, where she was also an Adjunct Professor, and a BA in Literature from the University of California at San Diego. WSU Press Director Edward Sala is pleased with the search results. “Linda’s outstanding accomplishments and experience in growing scholarly and trade publishing programs will be a tremendous asset to WSU Press as we continue to build on our established list of award-winning books and journals,” he said. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.