The Stickler Years (1965-1971): Interpretation

 

Interpretation

With a new visitor center and museum, the devices for interpreting the Whitman story were better than ever. However, both Historian John Jensen and Assistant Regional Director James Myers suggested additional improvements. Both Jensen and Myers recommended an audiovisual slide-tape program about the Whitmans, [131] so Historian Jensen researched facts for the script in 1965. [132] Although this Whitman slide program remained a priority for several years, it was not completed until the next administration. In the meantime, the rangers made their own slide programs to show visitors. "Each one of us could do our own thing," said Larry Dodd. "We were interpreting the site as we saw it." [133]

Another interpretive priority was cataloging not only the specimens uncovered in the Waiilatpu dig, but also those found during the Fort Walla Walla excavation. In 1967, almost 900 hours were spent identifying, sorting, and cataloging the Fort Walla Walla artifacts by the staff, a group of Girl Scouts, and an archeological student, Gregory Cleveland, from Washington State University. [134] Stickler explained in 1968, "Through arrangements made by the Regional Archeologist, artifacts having no relation to the Whitman story were shipped to the University of Washington and Washington State University." [135] The Waiilatpu artifacts were catalogued from 1967-1969 by Historian Robert Olsen, assisted by Park Rangers Jack Winchell, Larry Dodd, and others. Dr. Roderick Sprague, University of Idaho, preserved the specimens while Regional Curator Edward Jahns supervised the project. Preserving and cataloging the artifacts not only protected them, but helped familiarize interpreters with the Whitman story.

Another improvement in the interpretive program included the construction of a display case for temporary exhibits. Designed to "interpret details and stories not covered in the permanent exhibits," [136] this case was first suggested in the 1964 master plan and built and installed by maintenance man Charles Dims in 1966. [137] Larry Dodd remembers displaying the Pair Collection, and items such as Narcissa Whitman's writing desk were loaned from the Oregon Historical Society for display in later years.

On April 28, 1968, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reported "A monument was placed at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site . . . by the Marcus Whitman Foundation honoring the grave of Alice Clarissa Whitman, daughter of Dr. and Narcissa Whitman." [138] This presentation followed Western Regional Archeologist Paul Schumacher's excavations possible grave sites in 1960-1961. Despite the marker, the exact location of the child's grave is unknown.

In June 1968, in an effort to protect geese endangered by the raising of the John Day reservoir, the Washington State Game Department released fifty pairs of geese in Walla Walla--many of them at the Whitman Mission. [139] Their wings were clipped to prevent them flying away; a fence was built to prevent them from walking away. This effort established Whitman Mission as a sanctuary geese return to each year.

In 1970, Historian Robert Olsen finished his comprehensive study, "Report on Whitman Mission China." That same year, Whitman enthusiast Ross Woodbridge concluded that the sketches he discovered in Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum in 1968 were of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. [140] While Historian Clifford Drury was convinced by the "strong circumstantial evidence," [141] neither Superintendent Stickler nor any other National Park Service personnel accepted the sketches as authentic. [142] Nevertheless, the sketches hang in the visitor center today as the most plausible likenesses of the Whitmans that exist.

Miscellaneous interpretive projects, including placing new signs, planting more rye grass, and maintaining the historic orchard continued throughout Stickler's administration. However, none of these aforementioned changes drastically changed the interpretative program at the park.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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