Editor’s Note: History and Heritage is a new column focusing on South Seattle’s storied past.
by Virginia H. Wright, Director of the Rainier Valley Historical Society
Purchased and constructed in 1977 by the Seattle Parks Department, Othello Park has not been around nearly as long as some of the other parks in Rainier Valley. But in one of our oral histories, we recorded a reminiscence from Karleen Pederson-Wolfe, from her ’50s childhood living next to the area that later became the park. The following was excerpted from an interview conducted on November 14, 2001.
“We had a nice little stream that came through. Across the street was a pond where I used to collect polliwogs and just wade in the water with boots on. I couldn’t wait for the winter when it was ice and I could go play on the ice. Othello Park was right here across the street and everyday my dad would take the cows out here and he’d stake them. He had a big iron stake. He’d put it out and they’d graze in Othello Park during the day.”
These days Othello Park doesn’t have any neighbors sending their cows over to graze, but last Sunday, August 17th, 2014, at the Othello Park International Music & Arts Festival, there was a camel, a pair of baby goats, and a few other animals on hand to encourage kids to come out for the event. A varied array of people from the surrounding areas flooded the park, where they were able to visit the booths selling merchandise and presenting information from local organizations, including Rainier Valley Historical Society. At our booth, we had a display of ’70s photographs by local photo-journalist Denis Law, which included photos from Jimi Hendrix’ funeral procession. Visitors to our booth were very interested in seeing the photos, and reading the corresponding articles on our display board which were reproduced from our archives of issues of the Beacon Hill News and South District Journal. The event provided us with an opportunity to talk to people about their experiences living in Rainier Valley and their memories of the park itself. People talked about how much it been improved over the past few years, with the overgrown hills of blackberries being replaced by comfortable grassy hillsides.
We also had the good fortune to be able to see demonstrations of local heritage and culture, from the lion dance put on by Vietnamese group Au-Lac Vovinam Lion Dancers, to a group of Oaxacan dancers in white dresses balancing candles on their heads, a demonstration of South Indian Bhangra, to a group of Somali dancers, and even a group of very talented young tap dancers.
The Othello Park Alliance puts on the festival, as part of the annual Rainier Valley Culture Fest weekend, which also includes the Heritage Parade down Rainier Avenue, which we participated in the previous day.
Rainier Valley Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of our area, and we are also tasked with recording the activities and displays of culture in our current communities, as a way to show future generations what the Valley was like before their own time.