Sunday, November 10, 2019

Today's Story about Lake Labish Derailment Suggests a Detour on Celery

There's a long piece in the Sunday paper today on Lake Labish and a tragic train derailment there.

On the "Lake Labish Horror": In the Sunday paper today
Even though there might be specialized or academic histories of the area, in our popular imagination, Lake Labish does not get enough attention as a distinct place. But it is bounded enough to have a particular environmental, economic, and ethnic history, and deserves more specific treatment.

You might recall the obituary for Henry Yoshikai that mentioned growing up in Lake Labish, the forced removal and detention during World War II, and subsequent return. Now there is a school here with the family name memorialized, specifically named for his wife, Alyce, an important educator.
Henry Yoshikai's obituary from last April
Last year around Pearl Harbor observations, there was another piece from the perspective of local clergymen who intervened to stave off threats of mob violence against a Japanese church and its members in Lake Labish.

Front page in December of last year

October 22, 1919
Though Roy Fukuda and the celery industry of Lake Labish has been written about before, the topic does not yet seem to be a tired one and is worth revisiting.*

The first big mention of the Japanese celery farmers I've run across was 100 years ago this fall. In a piece that centers on Quinaby rather than Lake Labish, Roy Fukuda is a supporting character, mentioned way down in the piece.

In just a few months, by January of 1920, he is center stage.
The pioneer celery grower on a commercial scale in the Salem district is Roy K. Fukuda.
Interestingly, the "Golden Plume" variety is not mentioned.
Mr. Fukuda raises only the Golden Heart variety. It is the same as Prof. Bouquet calls the Golden Self Bleaching in his article printed in this issue.

He says the White Plume variety is easier to grow, and it is the only variety wanted in the Seattle market; but in all other markets reached from here the Golden Heart (or Golden Self Bleaching) is preferred. So ti is the kind for our growers to plan.
At the very least, there is a history of the name that is interesting, and perhaps there is more to the origin story of the Golden Plume cultivar. "Golden Plume" keeps getting repeated in stories about Fukuda, and maybe there's a misunderstanding or even some myth-making here. It is striking that this first big story in 1920 doesn't mention it.

At the same time, all the pieces are shot through with a kind of joking, supposedly genial racism, and we should be careful about interpreting them as if they were a strict recitation of fact.

In 1920 and every year thereafter for much of the decade, in January profiles of local industry - the whole package a kind of advertorial, I suppose, as it was both newsy and  also oriented towards boosterism and attracting additional investment, featuring boilerplate lightly revised year after year - the celery industry in Lake Labish received a full page treatment.

Full page, Fukuda named as "pioneer grower"
on January 29th, 1920
After a few years, the brand "Tokuto" appeared on its own.

Fukuda, President of the Celery Union
Quarter-page ad, with half-page article above it
 February 28th, 1924
A later piece says that Tokuto is the name of a place and community, not merely the name of a brand of celery, and it seems we have lost this place name.

January 26th, 1928
The same piece is not quite so optimistic about Golden Plume. This is from 1928 and the first local mention of it I found was in 1925. Though it could be because of racially-motivated erasure, they do not mention Fukuda as linked to the variety.

January 26th, 1928
The google turns up references to Michigan area claims that a "Golden Plume" celery was developed there circa 1890 - 1900.

Restaurant menus and grocery store ads from around 1920 mention "Lake Labish Celery," but not "Golden Plume" celery. Maybe the cultivar name was implied, but the significant detail seems to be "Lake Labish," the place name not variety name.

Thanksgiving menu with Lake Labish Celery
November 26th, 1919
So I think there's probably more of a history of the Golden Plume to be written!

"stumping powder" March 3rd, 1922
You might also recall that early bike dealer and racer Watt Shipp had diversified into blasting powder around 1913. Though the primary technology might have been scooping and dredging, there are some references to explosives and ditch-digging in draining the Lake Labish area.

Big piece on drainage project
December 20th, 1913
The technology of drainage and land clearing, the environmental history of that transformation (especially loss to beavers and the ecosystem depending on them), and the economic relations of banks and others who financed it, is likely also something that deserves more attention. The piece from 1913 suggests significant out-of-state money was involved, and that celery farming was planned for.
A multi-millionaire is going to make one of Oregon's most historical spots one of vast fame. That man of wealth is no other than J. O. Hayes, of San Jose, California, and the spot in question is known throughout the entire state as "Lake Labish," or the "Lake of Elk."

For the past six months a great work has been going on in the Lake Labish district. This enormous tract of land is not exactly covered by water, but is better known as the largest beaver-dam section in Oregon. At the expense of over $150,000 Mr. Hayes is having this land, or at least his share, some 1000 acres, drained, and upon the completion of this work, he will [develop and advertise it]....

As a celery farm, this land will be worth not less than $1000 an acre....
So there are many dimensions for a history of Lake Labish, and it is always interesting to see ways that it's not just a local story, but has relations of national and international scope in it. There were also waves of displacement, first Kalapuyans and then Japanese, and perhaps others. It's very layered.


* See articles at Salem Leadership Foundation, the Mill, a longer piece on Japanese Americans in the Oregon Encyclopedia, and Fukuda's own obituary.

Without trying to be comprehensive, here are some additional notes on earlier history:  Anthropologist David Lewis writes on Kalapuyans and Lake Labish, and the Mill has notes on Joseph Gervais and the French-Canadian (re)naming of Lake Labish, and scattered references to a 1996 memo to Keizer City Council, "Labish Ditch Workshop--History of Lake Labish." Maybe you will know of others.

Today's story also illustrates a weaknesses in our current journalism conventions. This piece in the paper today almost certainly depends on notes at the State Library's blog and the Clackamas County Historical Society, and perhaps other even earlier notes. While the piece references photos in the Clackamas collection, it does not reference the blog post and interpretive material itself. Since there is no real room for footnoting, and even less formal kinds of citation are awkward in contemporary journalistic practice, this dependency and a sense of conversation with other historians and researchers is variously erased or minimized. (Here's a discussion of a related thing at the New York Times.)

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