Keeping voices: Magnolia history project completes Book II

Countless hours of work, a multiplicity of voices and the guiding hand of project leader Monica Wooton have conspired to create the second volume in the Magnolia history series, entitled "Making More Memories."

The book, which brings together a wide variety of Magnolia writers delving into an array of topics, covers a span of time from the 1930s through the 1950s and includes such subjects as the immigrant experience, World War II recollections, personal memories and the historic West Point archaeological dig.

According to longtime Magnolia resident Wooton, the idea was to present a history book that broke down genre categories. "We didn't want it to be a normal history," she said, adding that "we wanted it to go along in time." She said she knew she wanted it to be bigger and more complex than the first volume, and for that she gathered a staggering total of 34 writers and four paid staff members, including former Queen Anne & Magnolia News editor Maggie Larrick, who served as an editor and mentor to writers.

"Actually editing a book is really different," Larrick said, comparing her work on the history volume to newspaper work. "Keeping voices was always something I thought was really important." In order to keep what Larrick called "variety and texture," she worked closely with writers, sometimes talking to them on the phone for hours to hammer out a perfect text.

One of those writers is Dale Forbus Hogle, who wrote a chapter on the 1993 archaeological excavation at West Point, where a Native American midden was discovered during construction of the waste treatment plant. Hogle, who had no previous experience with historical research or archaeology, said she became completely absorbed in her research. "It was very complex to write this story," she said. "I had no idea what I was getting into." Hogle said that, in retrospect, she gained an immense appreciation for time, history and the fragility of human occupation of a space. "It really gave me perspective," she said of her writing, adding that contemporary culture is "just this thin veneer" on the landscape that, in turn, someone else may uncover someday.

Hal Will, who wrote the chapter "Early Railroad Days: Interbay," said he's always had an interest in Smith Cover - specifically, since 1942, when he was a paperboy in the neighborhood. Wills research dug into the history of the Great Northern Railroad. Also, he provided a photo essay, which includes pictures he took while a photography student on the G.I. Bill in 1942. His shots are of the last steam locomotives in the region, taken with a 4-by-5 Graphic camera.

Barbara Gates provided the book with a touching, first-person account of being a teenage soda jerk at the Magnolia Pharmacy in the Village (where the Tully's now stands). On the job one day, young Barbara dropped a cherished piece of jewelry into a pot of clam chowder, and all day long patrons, hearing the story, stopped by to tell her they'd eaten the chowder and now heard "a strange ticking" in their stomachs. "Everybody knew everybody," Gates says of Magnolia in the early days, adding that all the patrons really were "lovely people."

Clint White, a former history teacher who says he loved the first history volume, provides a memoir of growing up in Magnolia as a young boy during and after World War II. According to Wooton, White lards his recollections with great detail, creating a touching and intricate portrait of childhood. "He has a phenomenal memory," Wooton says.

Shirley Will, wife of history writer Hal Will, provided proofing for the latest volume and, Wooton jokes, kept her husband in line. It was Shirley who, while Hal and Monica worked late into the night, cooked food and in general offered a helping hand.

Robert Dela-Cruz, whose parents grew up in the Philippines before settling in Magnolia, gives to the volume what Wooton calls it's "most literate" account, a deep history of his parents' journey from homeland to America. Dela-Cruz says it was impossible his parent ever could have met in the Philippines: his father was part of the lower class, and his mother, whose farther was a judge, belonged to that country's aristocracy; it was only when they arrived in the United States, and despite the interferences of an outraged aunt, that they finally met and fell in love. Dela-Cruz, who opened up boxes and footlockers to accomplish his exhaustive research, says that thanks to his writing he now knows things he never would have known about his parents.

"It's just a magnificent experience," Wooton says of creating and compiling a second volume of Magnolia history. And, in turn, each of the volume's writers give the highest praise to Wooton, whom Hogle called "everybody's guru."

"Without her, the book never would have happened," she says.

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