Columbia in 1970

The Anecdotal History of Columbia

The Anecdotal History of Columbia

As a class project, the students of Mrs. Øydegaard's Hands-on History elective at a local elementary school, gathered a plethora of tales representing each decade of 20th century Columbia State Historic Park history. Columbia, known since the early gold rush years, as the "Gem of the Southern Mines," has been a town since 1850 and a state historic park since 1945. Thousands of school children and other visitors come each year to experience a real gold rush town and, as you can learn from the Columbia Memories recorded here, they keep coming back for a myriad of good reasons.

A memory might not make it into the history book, lacking factual backing, but even so, it ought to have a place to be recorded and shared. Many a memory that seemed too fanciful to be true has been validated by some late-coming evidence. On the other hand, and probably more often, stories are related as fact, when they ought to be retold as “just stories,” lacking significant reality and truth (an “art form” the movie-making industry has perfected).

Here we share our Columbia memories, whether laden with fact or fiction, as well as give readers a chance to compare, validate, or provide the missing factual information making this blog an educational exchange as well as a place to tell our cherished tales of Columbia.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Approx. 1969

From Mrs. Øydegaard

When I was a kid way back in the 1960s and 70s, we never got to get away for any "real" vacations, at least not the kind my cousins had to brag about.  We were lucky if we got to go for a drive to the mountains, and so that is exactly what we cherished most throughout my childhood: a drive to the mountains.  Dad usually felt he had to dream up an ulterior motive for the trip: he would stop and talk to a man from whom he wanted to buy rocks or sheep or something.  No matter what his reason to go was, we were always ready and willing, knowing that many good things were possibilities during such an excursion.

A favorite destination or one seldom excluded from the “stops” for the day, was Columbia.  I remember one particular Sunday afternoon trip to Columbia that was not only memorable for me, but a momentous occasion for the town.

The weather was chilly and though I don’t remember what else we did that day I do remember that Dad was reluctant to spend anymore time in the mountains because he was afraid it would snow and we’d encounter icy roads.  We puckered up for cries and pouts at the thought of leaving the mountains just when we might get to see snow, and of not getting to stop by Columbia for candy. Mom must have “weighed-in” with us on the subject because Dad took the turn in the road that meant we were getting to go to Columbia.

It was nearly impossible to find parking that afternoon and once again Dad almost bailed out of the venture.  After circling the town and just before Dad drove away, Mom persuaded him to park in seemingly the last available opening along the main road which I know today as Broadway (as it goes through town) and Parrotts Ferry (on either end of town).  It was very cold and we bundled up. Dad issued the edict that we would go straight to the candy store and no where else.  That was an edict about which we were not likely to complain.

Once we rounded the corner of the brick building that was our destination it was clear to see that this was no ordinary day in Columbia.  We weren’t sure what it was, but I recognized it right away as scary.  "Hippies" were everywhere and though I had never been around alcohol or drug abuse to recognize the effects, I knew that a number of the people around us were out-of-control.  It seemed like there were several arguments going on at once.  I seem to remember music or musicians (who also looked like hippies to this little country girl) but rather than the scene of festivity, no one seemed to be in a very good mood.

Dad hurried us into the candy store and urged Mom to make hasty selections.  We wanted to do our usual looking around, but Dad would have none of it.  It was “hurry up” or “forget it.”  I remember I got English toffee, my favorite, and something else too.  Mom got divinity.  I think my brothers got rock candy; the kind that looks like pebbles.  Then Dad insisted that we leave the store.  Mom argued that we might be safer inside, but Dad insisted.  He lowered his voice and said something to Mom, but I could hear some of what he told her.  He was afraid that there was going to be a fight in the street and he wanted to get us out of there.

As I remember, my dad carried my littlest brother and my mom held the hand of the brother that was two years younger than me.  I must have been about ten years old because I remember that I was wearing my gold furry coat.  Mom told me to stay right beside her.  Dad led and we hurried out the door of the candy store to make a left around the corner of the building and head for the car.  There were two people getting rough with each other in our path.  We had to swing out around them farther into the street than I felt was safe.  I doubled up my fists in my pockets, though I can’t imagine what I intended to do.  We made it off the main street between the buildings and arrived at the car just as it started to hail.

We couldn’t believe the noise that hail made on our beige Plymouth.  Dad started the car motor but waited until it subsided enough so he could see to drive.  I was so afraid we would wreck in the slippery ice, just as Dad had feared.  In that moment I understood why Dad had not wanted to make the candy store stop.  I understood that Dad had wisdom about things that went beyond satisfying our craving for sweets, though he had set his wisdom aside to appease us.

We didn’t have to go very far before we were below the hail.  It seemed to be just in Columbia.  Dad told Mom that he heard someone stop another person intending to intervene in one of the fights in the street saying, “That’s a father and son fight.”  We were all saddened that we had seen so much violence and disrespect in our favorite little mountain town.  I nibbled away at my English toffee and thanked God that we had made our escape.

Little did I know, until we read it in the newspapers, what we had really escaped.  The event was the annual Fireman’s Muster.  A fight did erupt as Dad feared it would.  In the seconds after we left the candy store and before the hail stopped the melee, someone threw a rock and broke the candy store's big glass windows.  The paper said that some people inside were hurt.  That could have been us.  We could have been cut by glass or worse if Dad hadn’t acted just when he did to get his family out of danger.  I also felt sure that God had sent the hail as his opinion of the whole mess.

Years later I remember so many details of that experience.  I remember the feeling of danger and even evil around us.  As a child, I didn’t understand all of what was going on, but I knew that it was wrong, just wrong.  I remember my hands as fists against the silky lining of my coat pockets.

But over the years I have also remembered things that puzzled me.  I knew we turned the corner to the left to leave that store and yet years later as we continued to visit Columbia and I tried to reconstruct what happened, I discovered if you turned left leaving the candy store, you’d run into a wall or enter the NSGW display.  I felt badly that my memory was so far off from reality.  Or was it?

The matter was finally settled for me when I saw a 1945 photo of the candy store located where it remained until a few years after the day of the “muster riot.”  It used to be in a building that has been a bank for several more recent years.  The candy store used to be located exactly where it needed to be to make my story’s details valid.

It’s nice to know my memory is right, at least sometimes.

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