This Week Then: The Charting of Puget Sound

Plus: Walla Walla County turns 165
| Updated: April 25, 2019

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Sailing Around

During the last week of April 1792, British explorer Captain George Vancouver and American fur-trader Captain Robert Gray met near Cape Flattery before continuing on with their separate explorations. A few days later, Vancouver named Port Townsend in honor of the Marquis of Townshend, an English general. By mid-May he had begun the British survey of Puget Sound

Gray continued down the coast and happened upon a large harbor, which his crew named for their captain. Farther south, he entered the mouth of a huge river, which he named for his ship, the Columbia. While exploring upstream he also charted a bay and another river, both of which came to bear his name.

Vancouver's expedition also personalized some of the sites it visited. In June one of the officers circumnavigated a large island in Puget Sound, which Vancouver named Whidbey Island in his honor. A few months later, British Royal Navy Lieutenant William Broughton was exploring the Columbia River, and named Point Vancouver after his commander.  In 1825 the British-owned Hudson's Bay Company opened Fort Vancouver a few miles downstream, and the captain's name also was given to the city that later developed there.

Playing with Sound

On April 28, 1940, experimental-music pioneer John Cage debuted his "prepared piano" at Seattle's Repertory Playhouse. The instrument was augmented with screws, bolts, nuts, and leather strips that dampened the strings and produced a cacophony of sounds. And on May 1, 2015, the Seattle Symphony debuted another avant-garde musical performance with Seattle sound sculptor Trimpin's site-specific composition "Above, Below, and In Between" at Benaroya Hall. 

But probably the strangest musical experiment performed this week in Washington's past took place in Duvall on April 28, 1968, when thousands were on hand  to watch a piano drop from a helicopter and hear what it sounded like when it hit the ground (spoiler alert: Fooomp!). Anticlimactic as the sound was, the crowd of hippies, fringies, and freaks nevertheless grooved to the sounds of Country Joe and the Fish and some local bands as they played on into the night.

By the time it was all over, at least one person was heard to say, "Hey, let's do that again!" And so, from an unsound beginning sprang forth the idea for that summer's Sky River Rock Festival, one of the first outdoor, multi-day musical events of its kind anywhere. The following year Sky River II was held near Tenino, just two weeks after the epic Woodstock festival in New York. In 1970, a third Sky River Festival (run by different promoters) ended up being a money-loser, as was the troubled Satsop River Fair and Tin Cup Races the following year.


County Affairs

Walla Walla County got its start on April 25, 1854, when it was carved out of Skamania County. Indians and settlers had confrontations and conflicts, but within a few years local citizens had a major thoroughfare, a school, a newspaper, a bank, and a railroad. The first Washington Constitutional Convention convened in the town of Walla Walla, then the largest in the territory, in 1878.

Needing Repairs

On April 25, 1912, the steamship Alameda rammed Seattle's Colman Dock and toppled its clock tower into Elliott Bay. The accident led to an even greater tragedy three weeks later, when a gangplank failed during the dock's reconstruction, drowning two and injuring 58.

Bomb Threats and Scares

One hundred years ago this week, on April 28, 1919, Seattle mayor Ole Hanson received a bomb in the mail, part of a nationwide plot by anarchists to attack politicians and well-known businessmen. Fortunately, it did not explode. The same can't be said for an aerial bomb that fatally injured Spokane pioneer aviator Major John T. Fancher on April 29, 1928, after a flight demonstration in East Wenatchee. Fancher had been instrumental in bringing the 1927 National Air Derby and Air Races to Spokane's Felts Field.

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