TV project will teach us a thing or two on history of Olympia

jdodge@theolympian.comJanuary 14, 2014 

A C-SPAN production team of three is in Olympia through Friday visiting historic South Sound sites and interviewing some of the region’s nonfiction authors to tell the story of Olympia to the rest of the nation in a whirlwind kind of way.

They’ll drill down into five historic stories that help define the city, and they plan to talk with five Olympia-based literary figures whose written work covers vast spans of historical nonfiction.

The end product will be a weekend of coverage Feb. 1-2 on their Book TV/C-SPAN 2 (Comcast Channel 25) and American History TV/C-SPAN 3 (Comcast Channel 150). Feb. 2 also happens to be the day of the Super Bowl, so C-SPAN is likely to have some pretty stiff competition for viewers that day.

It’s all part of C-SPAN’s 2014 Cities Tour, which visits one smallish to midsize city on the West and East coasts each month, than shares what it learns with viewers of the private, nonprofit American cable television network created in 1979 as a public service offering of the cable TV industry. The acronym stands for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

Looking for unedited, gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress? C-SPAN’s third television channel (Comcast Channel 24 and HD Channel 645) is the place for you.

I asked C-SPAN producer Ashley Hill in Olympia on Monday how her team, equipped with three Ford hybrid vans emblazoned with C-SPAN logos, landed in Olympia.

“It’s a city with a great history and love of literature,” she said. “Plus it gives us a chance to work with Comcast — they brought us here.”


About 35 local history buffs gathered Monday afternoon at the State Capital Museum to welcome the C-SPAN crew to town.

“Think of Olympia as a grand conversion of water, land and politics,” Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum suggested. “It’s not too big and not too small — a great place to grow up, live and visit.”

“We hope to show you something about your history that you don’t already know,” Hill said, acknowledging that this may be tough with the history-minded audience that welcomed C-SPAN to town.

The five American history stories C-SPAN plans to explore include:

 • The obligatory interview with Gov. Jay Inslee and a tour of the Capitol, which will be crawling with legislators and lobbyists drawn to town this week for the start of the 2014 Legislature.

 • An interview with Billy Frank Jr., the Nisqually Indian icon who will share with the C-SPAN folks his own colorful take on the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854 and the 1974 Boldt Decision that reaffirmed the rights of treaty tribes to 50 percent of the annual salmon harvest.

 • A tour of a Secretary of State’s Office exhibit of what amounts to more state history than local history, including the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam and the birth of Grunge music. I think this is where they will also glean the story of the Olympia oyster.

 • A piece on the Bigelow House, Olympia’s oldest pioneer home, which was visited by national women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony in 1871.

 • A tour of State Capital Museum exhibits on Pacific Northwest explorer/botanist David Douglas and legendary news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. Too bad Murrow is from Mount Vernon, not Olympia.


The Olympia-area authors to be featured on C-SPAN’s book channel include Maria Mudd Ruth, whose book “Rare Bird” tells the story of the robin-sized marbled murrelet, a Pacific Northwest sea bird that nests in old-growth forests and is fighting for survival.

Maritime historian Chuck Fowler will regale the C-SPAN crew with stories from his “Tall Ships” and Rudy Martin Jr., a former teacher and administrator at The Evergreen State College, will share from his “On the Move,” the story of a black family’s move from East Texas to the West Coast.


The C-SPAN itinerary includes a visit to the Washington State Library’s special collections, which includes books brought to Olympia by Isaac Stevens, the Washington Territory’s first governor. The C-SPAN team will also talk to Trova Hefferman, director of the state’s Legacy Project, about “An Election for the Ages,” which recounts Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire’s razor-thin margin of victory over Republican Dino Rossi in 2004.

Obviously, the C-SPAN coverage of Olympia’s community and literary history won’t be all-inclusive. But I bet we do learn something new about our history and some of our nonfiction authors.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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