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Puyallup tribal lore gives special meaning to that rare Mount Rainier shadow that appeared this morning

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Dec. 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm with 4 Comments »
December 31, 2012 3:40 pm

In honor of the rare atmospherics that displayed the shadow of Mount Rainier on the clouds over Western Washington, I am reprinting a 2004 column I wrote about its role in Puyallup tribal legend. (And by rare, I mean a clear enough day to see the Mountain and a high cloud cover to provide a canvas for the shadow).

The city council did preserve the view of the bridge and mountain from the Fireman’s Park viewpoint.

Historians plead case for Tacoma’s ‘little Stonehenge’

You can’t see
forever on a clear day when standing in Fireman’s Park in downtown
Tacoma. But you can see a lot, including one of the most stunning views
of Mount Rainier available from the city.

A view of today's shadow of Mount Rainier

Framed almost perfectly by the towers and struts of the Murray Morgan
Bridge, the mountain floats above McKinley Hill. It’s a viewpoint that
is ancient, sacred and endangered. Two historians are making a strong
case that Fireman’s Park – itself with more than 100 years of history –
was an important Puyallup tribal site. Tahtoosul was a signal station where
canoes entering the bay could be beckoned and bid goodbye with signal fires.

It also might have been the place where American Indians from around
the South Sound watched a natural phenomenon that had great spiritual
significance for thousands of years – the sunrise on the morning of the
winter solstice that erupts directly from the summit of the mountain.
According to historians Chuck Larsen and Doug McDonnell, the Puyallups thought that the moment the sun emerges over the crest of the mountain a pathway to the spirit world briefly opened.

“If you got to see it once, it was a special blessing, ” McDonnell said. Added Larsen, an American Indian but not a Puyallup tribal member who has studied the folklore and history of the tribe: “This is sort of our little Stonehenge.”

It was special not only for Puyallups
and other South Sound tribes. Solstice parties were held in the early
decades of the last century on the veranda of the old Tacoma Hotel where
the Russell Building now stands. Dozens of Tacomans still gather in
Fireman’s Park in hopes of a rare glimpse of the summit sunrise on the
morning of the winter solstice.

“The weather doesn’t always
cooperate, but when it does it is a stunning display of nature, ”
McDonnell, a retired schoolteacher, told the design review committee
of the Foss Waterway Development Authority last month.

But the
view of the mountain from that spot is in danger of disappearing, or at
least in danger of being sold to those who can afford condos in a
series of towers being proposed for the Foss Waterway.

Developers Herb Simon and Ted Johnson, along with The Scott Group of
Seattle, have argued that their plan preserves views. Rather than build
100-foot-tall buildings from the old Municipal Dock site to the Puget
Sound Freight Building as the current code allows, they want to be able
to space four 180-foot towers across the shoreline. They assert that
the narrow towers preserve views of the waterway, the Tideflats and the
mountain that shorter and broader buildings would take away.

But if the first tower is placed too far south on the first parcel being
developed by Simon-Johnson it will block the view of the mountain from
the park. And if anything taller than about 80 feet is put on the site
where the Municipal Dock once stood, it will block views of both the
bridge and the mountain.

“You’re giving that view to private
individuals and taking it away from the public, ” Larsen told the design
review committee members. “If you block it with a big building, that’s

Scott Surdyke, development manager of Foss Harbor, said
he thinks the first tower can be built in a way to save the mountain
view from the park.

“There are ways to mitigate the shape of
the tower, the angle of the tower, ” Surdyke said. “It’s a
1,000-foot-long site. “We’ve got lots of room to play with.”

Both sites are owned by the people of Tacoma – the Muni Dock property by
the City of Tacoma and the parcel just north of there by the
development authority. The issue of Foss height limits and views is now
before the Tacoma Planning Commission.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. todayisthegreatestday2003 says:

    What a great site to see! Its sad that the Puyallup Nation is so divided just like our Nation. Some want to be capitalist and collect the nice monthly check while others want to maintain the original state of life. Wanting your view of The Mountain in Tacoma is a joke. If you want to see it, move to the Foothills where people actually rely on The Mountain and its resources. You live in the City, get over it if your view is obstructed, people in the Foothills don’t litigate over views of the3 Sound. If you livein the City, you can’t have the best of bot worlds, sorry just the way it is.

  2. dust in the wind

  3. scottsch111 says:

    Old photo of mine showing that view of Mt. Rainier at sunrise, framed by the Murray Morgan Bridge. Great skies in my photo, but I’d kill to have been there during the sunrise Peter photographed!

  4. skylane5sp says:

    I snapped a similar pic back in the early ’70’s out by McChord. It wasn’t at solstice but you could see the same shadows from Rainier, Adams and St. Helens. This is a beautiful place to live!

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