On November 11, 1889, Congress admitted the State of Washington into the Union.
No one could have predicted that World War I would end with a ceasefire on that date in 1918, nor that Armistice Day would evolve into an annual holiday that would forever eclipse the Evergreen State’s birthday.
It gladdens my heart to see so much love going out to current and former members of our armed forces. (If you’re looking for a Veterans Day fix, then please consider my essays on Nathan Hale and Molly Pitcher in the American Revolution, Andre Cailloux in the Civil War, Henry Johnson and Alvin York in the Great War, Alvin Ackerman and Sargent Shriver in World War II, and Lawrence Joel and Milton Olive in Vietnam.)
But I write today to extol the virtues of my native state.
No place could rival its natural beauty. The stunning Tahoma — Mount Rainier — reigns, radiant and benevolent, its alabaster mass marbled with veins of ice blue, presiding regally over the surrounding landscape of luxuriantly verdant foothills. Global warming now trims Tahoma’s hem in the summertime, but the mountaintop still stays snow-covered year ‘round.
“The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle.” On clear days, you can see the majestic peaks of the Cascades and the Olympics on either side of Puget Sound’s calm, glittering waters.
“And the hills are the greenest green.” Our famous rain drives off the faint of heart, but it is the generous watering that makes the west side so lush, from the moss-draped and vampire-haunted Olympic Rain Forest to the towering timbers of the Cascade foothills where Sasquatch roams with grizzlies and gray wolves.
Eastern Washington holds its own charms, from apple orchards to divinely scented dill fields, from the plunging beauty of the Columbia Gorge to the phantasmagorical colors of the Palouse at sunset.
Our architectural marvels range from the Gothic splendor of the University of Washington to the futuristic whimsy of the Space Needle, from the mind-bending psychedelia of the Experience Music Project Museum…
… to the monolithic practicality of the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Grand Coulee Dam, which remains — like Hagrid in the Harry Potter books — “simply too big to be allowed.”
Washington workers and entrepreneurs have reshaped our country and world. If you’re reading this, you probably fly in Boeing planes, use Microsoft programs, drink Starbucks coffee, order from Amazon, and eat our apples. (And potatoes. Washington grows nearly as many of those as Idaho does, but we gallantly grant our beloved neighbor bragging rights to the humble tuber, because the Leftover State needs something to feel good about.)
The Evergreen State grows elite athletes. In the interests of brevity, I’ll confine myself to the top three professional sports:
Baseball: Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Ron Santo, Randy Myers, Ron Cey, Ryne Sandberg, John Olerud, Tim Lincecum
Basketball: John Stockton, James Edwards, Brandon Roy, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Mike Dickerson, Nate Robinson, Detlef Schrempf
Football: Red Bagro, Mel Hein, Turk Edwards, Chuck Allen, Hugh McElhenny, Warren Moon, Mark Rypien, Chris Chandler, Mark Brunell, Drew Bledsoe, Corey Dillon, Marcus Trufant
Seattle’s pro teams win championships.
Of course, Seattle had professional sports only sporadically before the 1960s, but in 1917, the Metropolitans became the first American team to win pro hockey’s Stanley Cup.
Founded in 1967, the SuperSonics won six division titles, three conference titles and the 1979 NBA Championship — before a scoundrel smuggled them out of town in 2008. In women’s basketball, the Seattle Storm won conference titles and league championships in 2004, 2010, and 2018.
Since reforming in 2009, the Sounders have qualified for the playoffs eleven times in eleven seasons, won four North American Conference championships and four U.S. Open Cups , including three in a row from 2009–11. The Sounders won the MLS championship in 2016 and 2019.
The aptly-named Reign only started in 2013, but the team finished first in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2014 and 2015. Based initially in Seattle, the Reign now plays in Tacoma.
In the franchise’s first 25 years, my beloved Seahawks only won their division once, but so far in this century, they have added eight more division titles, plus three conference championships, and one Super Bowl victory.
Our universities dominate intellectually and athletically.
Available time and space forbid even a summary of the University of Washington’s contributions to world arts and sciences, so — in the interests of brevity — I shall confine myself to citing a few notable examples from college sports.
A men’s rowing team from UW — the famous Boys in the Boat — represented our country in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and stuck it to Hitler by winning gold.
The following year, their classmate — my maternal grandfather, Jack Murdoc MacKenzie— won all-conference honors as a tackle on UW’s 1937 Rose Bowl team. (Unfortunately, a broken leg prevented him from playing in Pasadena, and Grandma Fern made him decline offers from the NFL, which paid linemen chump change back then.)
On the gridiron, the Huskies have earned five national championships, seven Rose Bowl wins and 17 conference titles. Under Coach Gil Dobie from 1908–16, the Dawgs won 58 games, lost zero and tied three, helping to compile a streak of 64 games without a defeat, which remains an NCAA record.
Even Pullman pitches in occasionally; Washington State University won a Rose Bowl in 1916, and the Cougars have earned four conference titles.
Evergreen State musicians have repeatedly redefined popular music.
By helping make jazz palatable to mainstream audiences, Bing Crosby expanded opportunities for Louis Armstrong and other African-American musicians.
Since the early 1950s, Quincy Jones has innovated with great success as a producer, arranger, composer and musician in jazz, pop, funk, disco and R&B, plus Hollywood soundtracks, TV themes, and Broadway scores. Early in his career, Q worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. Notable later credits include “Soul Bossa Nova,” Lesley Gore (“It’s My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me”), the Brothers Johnson (“Strawberry Letter 23,” “Get the Funk Out of My Face,” “Stomp”) and Michael Jackson’s great trilogy: Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987).
Even some one-hit wonders wielded enduring influence.
With “Come Softly to Me” (1959), the Fleetwoods pioneered a mixed-sex pop vocal format that prepared the ground for groups like the Mamas and the Papas and Fleetwood Mac.
Bonnie Guitar paved the way for women in country and pop music. After her huge crossover hit “Dark Moon” (1957), she continued to record strong albums and score minor country hits over the ensuing decades. She continued to write, record and perform in Soap Lake, Washington, until her death in January 2019.
Washingtonian guitar wizardry and rock prowess predated Jimi Hendrix.
Starting in the late ’50s, the Ventures helped invent surf guitar with instrumentals like “Walk, Don’t Run”; their virtuosity inspired George Harrison, the Beach Boys, Joe Walsh and countless others.
In the early ’60s, garage bands like the Sonics and the Fabulous Wailers experimented with a raw, aggressive sound that ultimately influenced metal and grunge, but first inspired Jimi Hendrix, who melded their heaviness with the soul of the Isley Brothers and the rock innovations of the Beatles to create something truly new, and to evoke effects from an electric guitar that no one had ever dreamed possible.
In the ’70s, Heart proved that women can rock as hard as Led Zeppelin, for much longer, and often a lot better.
In popular music’s darkest hour, the Emerald City rode to the rescue.
By the late ’80s, LA hair bands had taken over the airwaves, peddling faux metal — an artificial confection of formulaic songs fueled by recycled riffs, performed by primping pretty boys in straining spandex, punctuated by soulless guitar solos, featuring the high-pitched screaming of misogynist lyrics, sung by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying… painful tedium.
Swaggering like apex predators of the late Cretaceous, these false gods of glam metal failed to see — through the haze of hairspray and potsmoke — the blazing portent of doom streaking across the night sky: a massive meteorite of flaming flannel from the Pacific Northwest — wrapped around a super-dense core of pure grunge — packing untold gigatons of explosive force that would do the world a solid by forever obliterating Poison, WASP, Warrant, Tesla and their ilk. (Full disclosure: Some of those bands apparently still exist, but they are — mercifully — no longer ubiquitous.)
Of course, the Evergreen State has struck a few false notes. Kenny G, Kenny Loggins and Sir Mix-a-Lot have recorded a few good songs, but also innumerable terrible ones, and we’re really sorry about that.
Washington’s worst and best citizens
Like anyplace, Washington State has unleashed its share of evil on the world. In descending order of offensiveness, we hereby apologize for the Green River Killer, Ted Bundy,
conspiracy nutjob Glenn Beck,
incorrigibly corrupt antitax activist Tim Eyman,
Bronco quarterback and general manager John Elway — arrogance incarnate,
John Ehrlichman — one of President Nixon’s most odious henchmen,
Mark Lindquist — the inept, corrupt, and vindictive former Pierce County prosecutor,
unfunny comedian Sam Kinison,
Husky and Seahawk tight end Jerramy Stevens — a draft bust and a brutal drunkard,
and his more athletic and accomplished — but similarly troubled — wife, goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Of course, their perfidy pales alongside the enormous greatness Washington State has bestowed upon the world.
renowned journalist Ed Murrow, who helped expose Senator Joe McCarthy;
Tom Foley, Spokane’s Congressman for three decades, a champion for farmers, and US Speaker of the House from 1989–95;
William O. Douglas, the US Supreme Court’s longest-serving Supreme Court Justice, and “the most doctrinaire and committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court”;
animator Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas),
seafood innovator Ivar Haglund,
philanthropists Paul Allen and Bill Gates,
George Washington Bush, the Washington Territory’s first African-American pioneer;
writers Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) and Chuck Pahlaniuk (Fight Club);
and Gordon Hirabayashi, a UW student who mounted principled legal resistance to Japanese American internment during World War II.
Bow Down to Washington. And good night.
Note: Updated in November 2019.