Tag Archives: history

Looking for a good time

By: Tyler Kirk and Jamie Leigh Broten

On a tour given by The Bureau of Historical Investigation focusing on the history of prostitution in Bellingham, tour guide Marissa McGrath said the old city hall overlooked the bay and the redlight district. Photo by Taylor Nichols
On a tour given by The Bureau of Historical Investigation focusing on the history of prostitution in Bellingham, tour guide Marissa McGrath said the old city hall overlooked the bay and the redlight district. Photo by Taylor Nichols

The Bureau of Historical Investigation is a local Bellingham business owned and operated by long-time friends Marissa McGrath, 29, and Sara Holodnick, 31, better known as The Good Time Girls. They specialize in historical tours of downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven with a gift shop on West Holly Street serving as their headquarters.

McGrath said they had originally wanted to open a bar, but the pair encountered many challenges in opening a bar including finding a place to open.

After acquiring a space last November and opening for a small window during the Christmas season, McGrath and Holodnick officially opened the Bureau of Historical Investigation in Feb. 2014.

McGrath and Holodnick were eventually approached by local filmmakers Dan Hammell and Andrew Simpson in hopes of making a Good Time Girls documentary.

“Over the following months, over 100 hours of film was accrued, including footage of research throughout different areas of town, their attempts at opening a bar, McGrath and Holodnick in their daily lives, and the challenges they encountered while trying to expand their business.

“One of the things that he was hoping to capture from [our work] was trying to find parallels between what it’s like to be a business owner in [Bellingham] as a woman today and what it’s like to be a woman business owner as a woman at the turn of the century,” McGrath said. “He was surprised at some of the same challenges that we explore through our research… perceptions of us as people based on what we do for a living. There was an incident where we were denied a space because of what we do. Because we were perceived as glorifying prostitution as part of our business model.” McGrath was referring to one of the tours they guide, called the Sin and Gin tour, which focuses on the history of prostitution as an industry in Bellingham.

The film is now being edited to premier as a six-episode web series.

McGrath said that after the challenges they had faced in getting their business up and running, the friends decided to redirect their efforts towards opening a gift shop specializing in handmade and historical items, which eventually became the headquarters for their historical tours.

The bureau gift shop focuses on “two things, stuff that was made here, and stuff that evokes a sense of the past,” said McGrath. “There’s a real kind of desire and nostalgia for things that were well made by a person out of natural materials, and that is a big part of what we have here, and what we want to expand on.”

The bureau also hosts photo parties about once a month, where women get historical photos taken dressed in handmade corsets made by one of their employees, Jane Burleigh. Burleigh’s corsets focus on fitting every body type with an emphasis on historical accuracy, McGrath said, adding that they eventually plan to sell the corsets in the gift shop.

“I like to challenge myself, and I feel think it’s easy to get stuck and feel [that] just  because you’re curvy or built the way I am that it’s easy to hide, and I am kind of tired of hiding,” said Mary Burwell, who attended a photo party.

“We try to make it something that is a little more grown up and legitimate,” said McGrath

Aside from selling local and historical items in the gift shop, the Good Time Girls offer three tours of Bellingham. The General History tour gives an overview of local Bellingham history while the Sin and Gin tour focuses on the history of prostitution and the prohibition in Bellingham. The Gore and Lore tour looks at local legends, scary stories and ghost stories as well as real horrors from Bellingham’s past. This tour was written and researched in one month, McGrath said.

The Whatcom Horizon staff attended the Sin & Gin tour, which starts at the intersection of Holly and Prospect Streets in Bellingham and travels through the downtown area. The tour describes the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, more specifically, the industry of prostitution and its evolution through the time period.

To capture one sense of Bellingham in the early 1900’s the tour began at a mural painted on the side of 306 W Holly Street by local mural artist Lanny Little. McGrath said that the mural, while accurate in a sense, is still missing major pieces of Bellingham history relevant to the time period, such as the presence of ethnic diversity and cigar smoking.

After discussing the mural, the tour moved down Prospect Street to the old City Hall building overlooking Maritime Heritage Park. Behind the building, McGrath explained that the red light district was located near the bay, where many industrial buildings now stand. McGrath added that at the time, prostitution was legal and women working in the field were required to pay a monthly fee of roughly $16.50, which covered their health examinations and also provided a sizeable chunk of the city’s budget.

“Madams were one of the very few female business owners in early Bellingham,” said McGrath, adding that there was a law at the time protecting “fallen women” from being taken in by men who wanted to make a profit off of them. She said men accused of profiting from sex work, like pimping, were not tolerated.

The tour continued to Railroad Avenue, where McGrath explained that most buildings in the area with more than one floor were once brothels.

She said that when professional baseball player, evangelist, and political figure Billy Sunday traveled to the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s, he was followed by many supporters. Sunday influenced a change in local laws that led to the closure of the official red light district and banning of prostitution in Bellingham. After its closure, much of the industry relocated to Railroad Avenue to form a subtle but thriving new version of the previous district.

McGrath said that continuous raids and threat of legal punishment by local law enforcement required women workers to take alternate precautions, such as using the Horse Shoe Cafe in downtown Bellingham as an unofficial bank for money made throughout the week.

The tour concluded back at its starting point, Lanny Little’s mural. McGrath then explained that one last thing was missing from the mural: the red light district in the distance on the waterfront. She said that in the time period depicted in the mural, the red lights would have been unquestionably visible in the distance near the bay and, like the racial diversity and tobacco use of the time, was likely left out of the painting to show a version of Bellingham that was a bit more wholesome.

During the interview, McGrath described that while the focus of their work at the bureau is historical accuracy and connecting the public with an earlier time, the Good Time Girls place a priority on providing a realistic and empowering female perspective of Bellingham’s history.  

“The bureau is also special to me because I think it›s important to explore the history of this place, and we want to make that process as accessible and fun as possible,” Holodnick said.

With swells in tourism throughout the year, McGrath said that the bureau’s private tours run year-round with public tour season running from early summer through fall.

“The 1890s are really hip right now,” said McGrath.

With regard to the future Holodnick said, “I’d like to see us be a Bellingham staple where people tell new residents or visitors that ours is the place they must visit to get oriented to our town and its history.”

Tours, photo shoots and other Good Time Girls events can be scheduled in person or online at www.thebureaubellingham.com.


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Historian Ian Stacy: A fresh face on campus

By: Max Singer

History professor Ian Stacy, 38, began teaching at Whatcom this fall quarter. Prior to that he taught at Central Washington University. Photo by Max Singer.

Whatcom Community College welcomed new history instructor Ian Stacy last fall quarter. Stacy, who teaches Western Civilization and U.S. History, said he is primarily an environmental historian, which means he studies the way humans have interacted with the environment throughout history.

Stacy said it is imperative to “take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way. For success in the academics you have to apply for every scholarship, every fellowship, and all other program opportunities.”

Stacy, 38, got his master’s degree in history at Central Washington University in 2008. Eager to keep up with the latest information and research, Stacy said he studies as a student in his free time, and has taken classes at Skagit Valley College and Olympic College over the past two years. Last year he earned his Ph.D. in History at the University of Montana.

Western Civilization and U.S. History which are broken into six separate classes. Stacy is currently teaching Western Civilization I and II as well as US History III this spring quarter. Stacy said he enjoys the freedom Whatcom allows to construct a more personalized curriculum.

“I am a historian of bureaucracy,” he said. “Presidents come and go, politicians and policy-makers move through office, but bureaucrats stick around for a long time.”

Stacy said he found he was interested in teaching due to his early instructor experience while he was in the U.S. Navy. During his time there he said he realized he wanted to become a teacher. After becoming an instructor, he later went on to serve as a nuclear power plant operator, he said. During his training as a technician he was stationed in New York City.

He said he has been married for 16 years to his wife, Laurie Stacy. He said his wife has been a tremendous help to him, through the bigger challenges and “raising our son when I was out at sea or doing research.”

Whatcom’s Western Civilization sequence consists of three succeeding classes, which span from 3,000 B.C.E. to the modern day world. The second type of course is the U.S. History sequence which is another three part class that starts from Native American times extending to the present day. Stacy said roughly one-third to one-half of his class periods are spent on group work, typically in a four person cluster.

Stacy has been teaching for a total of four years now, previously instructing as an adjunct history professor at Central Washington University. Commenting on experiences at CWU, Stacy said the student body is roughly the same.

He said the main difference is “there’s no history major here” at Whatcom. In fact, he continued, “90% of students will take only a solitary history course during their entire college experience.” The history classes have a lower amount of returning students compared to other curriculum courses, he said.

He said the hardest part about completing his master’s degree at CWU was trying to balance his family life with his education. Sometimes Stacy said he finds himself “hyper focused” on a historical problem no one cares about but him.

“My Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (G.I.) Bill paid for all of my graduate school,” he said, adding that he knew he wouldn’t have been able to finish his higher education as quickly without it. Stacy said the whole experience really helped his time management skills, especially with long-term planning, whether it’s “six quarters from now, or a decade.”

Stacy said he enjoys interacting with students on a personal level, to try and “spark” something in them. He said it leads to more intriguing conversations when the student is committed.

In his off time, Stacy said he enjoys bicycling around town which in turn also helps him keep fit. Previously a seasonal ranger at the Olympics National Park in Port Angeles, WA he said he enjoys hiking just about anywhere—especially during summer. More often than not, Stacy said he can be found working on his cars in the garage during weekends; his current project includes restoring an older 936 Geo Metro which he wants to tune up to get 50/mpg.

Stacy’s favorite book of late is Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” and he said he enjoys listening to comedy standup that incorporates a degree of intelligence such as comedians Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld.

Stacy said he motivates students by understanding there simply is no singular way to motivate them. He said that he realizes there are many factors that can contribute to a student’s success or lack thereof, including “how I teach, or personal issues, even just [being] overwhelmed.” Knowing their professor cares may be all they need he said, and then it is simply a matter of identifying students that need adjustments.

What is truly important is “is understanding how the world works,” he said. “I see sometimes in graduate school people who are unsure of that ‘next step,’ they end up spending time in the work force before realizing they want to do something else.” Stacy said that is not something he wants for himself or the students he teaches.

He said if you keep on waiting for that dream job, you will not be as successful. “I found most of my success came from something I wasn’t aiming for initially,” he said, adding that doors can be opened that people did not even know existed.

Stacy said he is excited to see the possible inclusion of a History of Africa course program during the fall of next school year.


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The rockin’ role of music in society

By Zach Barlow

Ed Chatterton said he knew he wanted to teach a class about “drugs, sex and rock and roll” when he was 18 after attending the 1970 Atlantic Pop Festival. Photo by Zach Barlow.

Edward Chatterton, 62, got his master’s degree in history at Western Washington University and is now a history instructor at Whatcom Community College. What separates Chatterton from most other teachers, however, are not the steps he took to get to where he is. Chatterton’s uniqueness lies in what he has done since then. Chatterton is the creator and instructor of the second-year honors history class titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll: The Role of Popular Music in Societal Change in The U.S. 1954-2013,” or History 295.

“My goal is that students will not take their music at face value but start looking at the deeper meaning, not just in music but how they experience it,” Chatterton said.

The class explores rock music in the 50s and the effect it had on American society and young Americans, as well as how rock music has changed over time and the rock music industry today.

History 295 isn’t like many 100 or survey-level classes that are held on campus, Chatterton said. “It’s a 295 level class which means there’s a certain type of student that’s targeted. We try to explore topics in greater depth and I strongly encourage more interactions between students both in and out of classroom,” Chatterton said.

The concept of an honors class may seem daunting to some, Chatterton said, but if students are interested in the class and are not honor students, or students with a GPA of 3.50 or above, Chatterton will still consider them for the course.

Jen Shore, 25, is a Whatcom student enrolled in the class.

“I was underneath the required GPA level but had taken a class with Mr. Chatterton before. He asked me if I would be interested in taking history 295. I wanted to be a part of the class but told him I didn’t think it was possible. Ed got me in anyway,” Shore said. “I think he’s just looking for people who can make meaningful contributions to his class.”

When Chatterton was 18 years old he attended the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival in Byron, Ga. The festival held performances by artist such as B.B. King, The Allman Brothers Band, and Jimi Hendrix.

The festival proved to be a monumental moment in Chatterton’s life, he said, and years later he would end up writing his master’s thesis on those experiences.

“Our relationship with music shapes who we are as a society. [Music] shapes interactions between cultural groups; music changes culture and culture changes music,” Chatterton said. “It’s only as I get older and start to look back at that cultural event [the Atlanta Pop Festival] that I start to wonder why most other historians have never heard of it,” Chatterton said.

Chatterton runs the class like an “honors seminar,” he said, where he lets the students themselves be a large part of the driving force behind the curriculum.

“There are no exams all quarter, the majority of your grade comes from your final research paper,” Chatterton said.

The class is focused largely on narrowing down a topic for the students’ research papers and class discussions or “think pieces,” he said.

“My objective with the research papers is to have no one on this campus know more about your topic than you do,” Chatterton said.

He said one of his favorite “think pieces” he does is playing his students the song “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd and asking them what they think the song is about. “It’s really cool to hear what people have to say,” he said.

Shore said after taking the class her musical experience has drastically changed.

“I never really grasped the concept that music was so reflective of society. I mean, I had an idea, but a lot of people take it for granted,” Shore said.

As for research papers this quarter, Chatterton said he was excited about the number of directions his students have chosen to go.

“One student is looking at the phenomenon that is ‘American Idol’ and how it’s changed pop culture, while another student is exploring the links between classical music and metal,” Chatterton said. There’s also a student exploring Grunge Rock in the early 90s in Seattle and another looking at the relationship between musicianship and IQ.

Along with research papers and “think pieces” the class discusses in depth the effects of rock music on racist and sexist cultural norms, he said.

“Part of what I’m seeing is how rock music explodes these racist ideas, and to some degree gender roles too,” Chatterton said. “Look at Chuck Berry, who was a middle-aged, lecherous black dude writing music for 15-year-old white girls.”

The class will also look throughout the quarter at the conflict that arises between rock music as an art form and rock music as an enterprise.

“One example is ‘Tutti Frutti’ sang by Little Richard; here you have this makeup-wearing, loud, screaming, scare-the-hell-out-of-white-people African American dude. Then you have Pat Boone, who is this lily-white dude. Who, later, re-recorded exactly the same song, same words, and same beat,” Chatterton said. “Pat Boone ‘sanitized’ ‘Tutti Frutti.’ The conflict is between sincere music that comes from the heart and music the industry is just trying to make money with.”

Another example Chatterton used is the song “Spend the Night Together” by the Rolling Stones. By the time that song got on the radio they had to change their lyrics to “I want to spend some time together.”

“They had to change their lyrics, but we all know what they meant,” Chatterton said.

Chatterton also compares and contrasts the marketability or “corporation control” of music from the mid-to late-1900s to now, he said.

“Right now something major is happening within the music industry. It’s being democratized through things like YouTube and Pandora,” Chatterton said. “Allen Stone and Macklemore have no record deal. They’re not packaged like some bands and I think that’s a great thing. It takes me back to the 60s when musicians were experimenting all over the place.”

However, Chatterton said he still doesn’t deny the power of marketability and the corporate grasp on some areas of modern music.

“If Katy Perry weighed 300 pounds and had buck teeth she probably wouldn’t be where she is today. Corporations will always try to package music to make a profit,” he said. But due to the internet, record companies can’t say, “‘this is what you’re going to buy’ anymore,” he added.

Another major topic the class covers is the British Invasion, or the popularization of British bands in America.

“The simple answer to what the British Invasion was is The Beatles,” Chatterton explained. “By the 60s our rock was very ‘sugar coated,’ whereas The Beatles had been influenced by our music in the 50s. So in a sense, The Beatles brought American music back to America through a British filter,” Chatterton said.

Chatterton admits that when The Beatles first gained popularity he wasn’t the biggest fan, but later in life he discovered the cultural significance of their music.

“When ‘Sgt. Pepper’ came out I was still into Hendrix, I thought that was ‘wimpo’ music,” Chatterton said. “Later, I did a research paper while I was studying for my masters and I got footage of kids from all around the world talking about what they thought about The Beatles. They all said the same thing, they loved it. The music transcended language. It transcended communism and capitalism,” Chatterton said. “I don’t think we’ll have cultural impact in music like that again.”

Chatterton said he was concerned with today’s music growing into more of an individualistic experience.

“In the 1900s music was more social,” Chatterton said. “Today you have 37 kids getting off a bus and each one of them have a set of ear buds in. There’s no common musical experience with that.” At rock festivals Chatterton said there are a number of bands playing on 4 or 5 different stages. People are then forced to pick and choose who they want to see, dividing themselves. It’s not the same as “if you’re one band and have 400,000 people digging you,” he said.

“The soundtrack to our lives is heard solo. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know, but I do think that something is lost,” Chatterton said.

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