History is more than just words on a page telling you what happened in the past.
History illustrates how things became what they are today. The more visuals, the better we can understand that moment in time.
That’s the aim of the White River Valley Museum in Auburn, Washington. Nestled between the Auburn Library and the Auburn Senior Activity Center, it’s one of Auburn’s not-so-hidden gems.
“I think when people go to a local history museum,” says Museum Director Patricia Cosgrove, “they always wonder, ‘what’s unique about that area?’” What we’ve tried to do is interpret and tell stories. I think it makes it relevant and interesting when you know people and you ponder the decisions they made in their life and how that outcome affects our current reality.”
To tell these stories, the museum has gone to great lengths to create exhibits that place visitors in the moment. From old-time storefront replicas to a train caboose resembling those from Auburn’s heyday as a railroad town, the staff of the White River Valley Museum have gone beyond words to bring information to life.
The museum also showcases connections to the Muckleshoot tribe with an immersive exhibit and a dedicated, multi-purpose space, the Muckleshoot Room.
Permanent exhibits feature an authentic Muckleshoot canoe filled with items a family would have taken as they went to pick hops. There is also an intricately detailed, miniature version of a longhouse that shows how tribal members expanded the home’s living area as families grew. While not currently on display, the museum also has more Muckleshoot artifacts in their collection.
“I love our basket collection,” Cosgrove said. “We have maybe 15 or 20 beautiful, beautiful historic baskets. They’re works of art. They’re works of specialists. And they’re works by women. Probably my favorite artifact we have, and it doesn’t come on display all the time, is a very, very rare mountain goat wool blanket. It weighs about 30 pounds.”
The Muckleshoot Room serves as a classroom and meeting space for the museum. It can also be rented out for the occasional birthday party or gathering. Adorning the top of the wall is an alphabet. Unlike any alphabet you’d find in most classrooms, this one is done entirely in Whulshootseed. A dialect of Lushootseed, it is the native language for the Muckleshoot Tribe. Accompanying artwork depicting native images and sounds was done by local fourth and fifth graders along with native artist, Roger Fernandes.
“I think the museum has a really great opportunity to be a little bit of an ambassador for the tribe,” says Cosgrove. “We meet every school child in the district several times during the years they go to school. And, some of their lessons here at the museum are actually about tribal history and tribal life. So that’s thousands of kids a year that learn something they may not have had the chance to hear otherwise.”
Continued Cosgrove, “With the success of the casino, a lot of the people think of the word ‘Muckleshoot’ as meaning casino. So, it’s nice to remind folks the word ‘Muckleshoot’ is actually the name of a band of people and a society with history, individuals and stories to tell.”
Kitty-corner to the Muckleshoot exhibit is a tableau depicting Japanese immigrant life in the region during the early 1900s. It showcases their lives as truck farmers and features a replica of a back porch kitchen, a child’s dresser, and a Buddhist home altar. It also uses large, original photographs made from glass-plate negatives to beautifully illustrate their pursuit of the American dream. Many of the stories told in the section are oral histories from the Japanese and Japanese-American communities. Of the over 140 oral histories the museum has done, Cosgrove believes nearly half have come from the local Japanese community.
Alongside the permanent displays, the White River Valley Museum also maintains a gallery for temporary exhibits. Generally, these limited-time displays last six months before being replaced. There is also a smaller, related case in the permanent exhibits which is used to feature a counter perspective.
Currently, “Suffer for Beauty: Women’s History Through Undergarments” occupies the gallery for temporary exhibits. Corsets, bustles, night gowns and even scandalous long bloomers reveal how women’s fashion – and, in many cases, their role in society – changed between the late 1800s and the 1970s.
“You may think that garments are just garments,” Cosgrove said, “but they’re actually telling us stories about societal changes, society norms, gender roles, what you do during your day, the kind of freedoms or lack freedoms you have in your life.”
Steps away, the complementary exhibit details the lengths men have gone through to stay fashionable. Both displays run through June 17 so mark your Auburn events calendar before time runs out.
The team at the White River Valley Museum is always looking for more Auburn history to add to their collections. Instructions for both monetary and artifact donations can be found on their website.
If you’re looking for things to do in Auburn, the White River Valley Museum should be at the top of your list. Find it at 918 H St. SE in Auburn, less than a five-minute drive from Muckleshoot Casino.
The White River Valley Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m., and every first Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. Every first Thursday and third Sunday is free.
On July 11, 2018, White River Valley Museum debuted a new exhibit entitled, “Sasquatch: Ancient Native Perspectives on the Mysterious beings of the Woods.” The exhibit ran through December 16, 2018.