Pitch Black at NAAM – Ends November 9th

Earlier this year, there was a billboard over I99 for an exhibit called Pitch Black at the Northwest African American Museum. It was a history of black players in the Pacific Northwest. I told myself I would go, then would forget about it (NAAM is a small museum, off the beaten path of downtown on 23rd and Massachusetts, a few blocks east of S Rainier Ave, so it isn’t anything I drive past every day like SAM is) then remembered, then forgot, etc. So when Tom asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday this past Sunday, and I realized that I had foolishly whittled my time down to a week left, I enthusiastically opted to make sure we went.

NAAM is in an old school building, and it is still relatively new as an entity. I have lived here for 13 years now, and can remember when it was still boarded up and kind of spooky, an old unused building surrounded by a nice park, towering over 23rd. When I heard that it was being turned into a cultural museum, I was really glad, because it’s a nice building and should not have been razed like everything else is so easily in this city. It is currently reduced in exhibits; the front hallway where I can assume there were once children’s lockers, is now occupied by a very detailed history of black milestones in the PacNW area and around the country. African Americans were responsible for quite a few advancements in this area which I would love to go into, but this is a baseball blog, and I’m going to talk about baseball with this post (but also, did you know that Ray Charles spent a lot of time playing here when he was younger? Or that George Washington Bush introduced a bill that became the roots of Washington State University, and also founded Bush Prairie (Tumwater)? Well, now you do!). Oh, and it costs $7 to get in, so you should go.

The long room just west of the timeline area was where Pitch Black was housed, and if you think I didn’t take a few pictures, you’d be wrong. This was the first thing I was greeted with:

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You can touch them! I have never been to a museum where things were not only readily touchable but where I was encouraged to do so. Those jerseys are wool, and while I admire the attempt on the catcher’s chest guard, I don’t envy anyone having to deal with a fastball while in one. I have long wondered if that style offered much protection, and I can say with confidence that the answer is ‘not really’. The leg guards, on the other hand, were light and very protective. There was an old school catcher’s mitt in the basket, too.

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Who else?

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Signed rookie cards! Old bobble heads! Wheaties! Is it just me, or does it seem so strange that this was almost 20 years ago now? I was still largely unaware and uncaring of baseball in 1996, playing in bands and going clubbing in between work hours was my life back then. I am glad I got to see Junior hit some out of the park before he retired.

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A felt that hung in Sick’s Stadium. I am somewhat fascinated by the fact that there was a ballpark where Lowe’s is now. In the event that you have never been to the Lowe’s on 23rd, you might not know that home plate is still there; they kept it in tact, with a plaque acknowledging the former presence of the stadium. Aerial views of the stadium in the exhibit show a very different area in the early 1900s than there is now.

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BASEBALL FOR FIVE BUCKS ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! The Seattle Mariners really need a true Turn Back the Clock Night.

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A scorecard from a game featuring the Harlem Globetrotters vs the House of David. When I was first introducing myself to the game, I read a few books containing lists of facts and history. None of that is complete without talking about barnstorming games, and one of the most interesting (in my opinion) barnstorming teams of that era was the House of David. HoD was a fringe religious group (I don’t mean that in a negative way) made up of men who cut neither their hair nor their beards. A GIS produced this photo:

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I had completely forgotten that I meant to buy a book on these guys, will need to remember to put it on my wish list.

The last picture I have is of the Seattle Owls.

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The Owls are a bit of an historic curiosity, as the only woman identified in this c. 1930’s photo is the gal in the front row second from left. I did not write her name down and really should have. The museum also has an Owls uniform in a case (my hip and leg hurt just thinking about having to slide in the dirt in that thing), but the exhibit says they have virtually no information on the team. A quick search in Google for “Seattle Owls” produces pictures of…owls. A search for “Seattle Owls baseball club” brings up pictures from the rest of the exhibit, and a few additional photos from the Owls 1938 and ’39 championship seasons, but nobody seems to know who any of these women are. To that end, I have created a page here for them, and will do some light research when I have the time here and there, as I find it incredible that there is so little information on them. One would think, with today’s eyes, that such a piece of history would surely be documented somewhere; but people who make history often don’t realize they’re doing so – and an African American women’s baseball team might have been looked upon flippantly at the time. In any event, if anyone has any information they can contribute, I’ll add it to the page here above.

I urge you to go to this if you have time this weekend. It took Tom and I maybe an hour and a half to walk through the few exhibits they have (there are other wings but they are currently closed off), I learned a lot and there is a lot more that I didn’t take photos of. There is also an art gallery of locals on the north side that has some fabulous paintings and mixed media pieces that I really liked. The whole thing is worth the time and money you’ll invest and then some. Go before it closes after this Sunday!

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