Tag Archive | Japanese Internment

West 2016: Heart Mountain WRC

Day 7, August 11, 2016

As I am sure you all know, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and changed the course of World War II for the United States.  Shortly after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to create zones from which “any or all persons may be excluded.”  Western Washington and Oregon, southern Arizona, and all of California were designated as Exclusion Zones in March 1942. The Executive Order defined Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and German Americans as peoples to be excluded from these areas. Interestingly enough, I am unaware that we ever actually relocated Italian or German Americans… Remember this readers, there will be a quiz…

After we toured the Eagle Butte coal mine, we headed west on our drive from Gillette to Cody, Wyoming.  We drove over the pass on Highway 14 Alternate, which was for me a beautiful, windy, curvy road with some steep grades on the way up and back down.  For my mom it was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience where she was afraid to look at the scenery and often sucked in her breath when she felt like I was driving too fast (which was basically the whole time)…  It’s all a matter of perspective…

The scenery on our Highway 14Alternate drive

 

You can’t beat that view!

Getting back to Roosevelt and Executive Order 9066 – we had a destination in mind before we reached Cody.  The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, in Powell, Wyoming – although it was probably better known as the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp.  We arrived at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center about an hour before they closed, which ended up being plenty of time.  It is a modern museum, opened in 2011, with a great movie, showing interviews of many of the internees speaking about their experiences.  The oldest internee interviewed for the movie was 21 at the time; the youngest was 11.  So while it doesn’t offer the perspective of those who were older when they were interned, it does provide a lot of good (and often sad) information about the prisoner experience.

The actual Heart Mountain that the camp was named for – I don’t see it…

There are also exhibits depicting what a room in the camp, shared by an entirely family, would have looked like.  There were exhibits on work life, recreation, school for children, activities the internees participated in to protest their captivity, and service in the armed forces by the Nisei (Japanese American citizens who were born in the U.S. to Japanese immigrants), who felt that volunteering for service would be a way to prove they were loyal to the U.S.

A depiction of a family’s room in the barracks

We explored the museum, and I discovered that, rather surprisingly, the exhibit continued into the restroom.  I’m never one to turn away from an interesting bathroom!  The curators here designed bathroom stalls with mirrors on all sides – to simulate the lack of privacy that the internees experienced, sharing a restroom with hundreds of others without so much as a stall partition. Not my idea of a good time…

The mirrored bathroom stall

After taking our time at the Interpretive Center, we drove a short way to the site.  There isn’t a whole lot there now, but there are some hospital buildings and a guard tower remaining, and walkways and foundations of other buildings.  There is one area of the site where signs show visitors where various buildings once stood – the school, barracks, even a crudely dug swimming hole.  Wandering around Heart Mountain feels extremely lonely and desolate now, and it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like when thousands of Japanese were incarcerated there.  Many of these families lost everything during their internment; their property was sold on the cheap, their belongings were stolen, and their lives were completely uprooted.

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Heart Mountain isn’t for everybody; the site does require you to use your imagination to see what it “used to be” rather than what it is now, which is a large field with a few remaining buildings and a lot of concrete building foundations.  It is important to understand though, what we did to a whole group of our citizens under the guise of National Security.  It is perhaps more relevant lately than it has been in a long while.

After leaving Heart Mountain, we continued the rest of the way to Cody, where we had dinner at Bubba’s BBQ, sharing a meal of beef brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, potato salad, new potatoes and the veggie mix.  Yum!

 

Costs and Fees: $7 per person at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center.

Distance for the Day: Gillette, WY – Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Powell, WY – Cody, WY (4 hrs, 22 min, 248 miles)

Hotel for the night: Rodeway Inn – Cody, WY

 

 

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Yakima Valley Historical Museum

The Yakima Valley Museum lies in the heart of The Palm Springs of Washington – for you non-Washingtonians, that’s Yakima. If you are from Washington, you have probably heard of the nickname, or seen the now faded sign that greets you as you enter Yakima. It got its nickname from the more than 300 days of sunshine that Yakima receives – see? Not all of Washington is rainy… People either love the sign or hate it; there is no in between. I love it.

Anyway… The Yakima Valley Museum was founded in 1952, and is a great example of a small town historical museum. They have exhibits ranging from turn-of-the-20th-century furniture to neon signs, rocks and semi-precious gems, different species of fossilized trees, Native American clothing and bead work, and a huge collection of horse drawn vehicles. Phaetons, carriages, wagons and even a horse-drawn hearse. Other items in the collection include a whole bunch of taxidermied birds and animals, wooden boats, and paper Valentines.

While we were there, there was a special traveling exhibit on Sasquatch – does it exist? The museum curators don’t really weigh in, but the collection was obviously put together by believers. With no firm evidence. There are some foot casts (easily faked), some articles about hair samples, and a cute yet disturbing diorama of a Sasquatch killing a deer. I totally would have done better at diorama making if Sasquatch dioramas had been an option in elementary school…

And of course, no Sasquatch exhibit would be complete without a copy of the Patterson-Gimlin film. You know the one in 1967 showing a female Sasquatch (though I’m not sure how they decided it was a girl) walking away from the camera? I know you have seen it. Well, apparently it hasn’t been debunked (according to these museum curators anyway…) and the one guy that was there (the other guy has since died) still insists that he wasn’t involved in any sort of a hoax.

Let’s just say that the exhibit didn’t make me a believer; I’m still fairly far over to the “Sasquatch doesn’t exist” side. That said, I do recognize that the forests in the Pacific Northwest are still very wild places. A couple times a year here, someone disappears, usually just off of an established trail, and no trace is ever found.  So, in theory, there could be a large animal hidden there. And no, I’m not saying I believe the people who have disappeared have been eaten by Sasquatches – I’m just saying there are a lot of still remote, wild places here.

The museum also had an interesting exhibit on the internment of Japanese during World War II.  Yakima had a sizable population of Japanese before the war, and the forced removal had a big impact on the community.  Many white citizens were sympathetic to the Japanese, agreeing to store the belongings that could not be taken to the camps.  Some Japanese did not return after the war, and were never found.  The display includes items that were never reclaimed from storage by these internees.

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We wrapped up at the museum just in time for a late lunch, so we checked out the 50’s style diner that is attached to the museum. It was built using salvaged pieces of actual 50’s style diners, and the interior really does look like it’s been there since then.

I loved the vintage look of the Soda Fountain

I loved the vintage look of the Soda Fountain

I got a huckleberry milkshake – so delicious!, and a pulled pork sandwich. Jon got a turkey sandwich. Both were served with coleslaw and chips. The food was good, but not amazing; it was the milkshake that was the real star here. It was made by hand with hard ice cream.

My milkshake at the Museum Soda Fountain

My milkshake at the Museum Soda Fountain

After lunch we were ready to taste some wine! I had some places on my list that I wanted to visit, based on checking out their websites.  I’ll post about those next!