Thursday, November 17, 2011

Puyallup Fairgrounds

If you're from the Pacific Northwest -- you know rain is always a possibility...this is a picture I took from the Expo Runway -- looking down on set-up day...

It rained off and on that day -- but there's a lot of blacktop -- so the inconvenience was minimal...And -- like many of you -- I LOVE THE SHOW so much -- a little rain would never discourage me.

And I ALSO LOVE THE Puyallup Fairgrounds...I look forward to those four days all year long. Because of the Sewing & Stitchery Expo -- I think of this place as nothing but good karma. My time there has always been about sewing, and sharing, learning and laughing...

So you can imagine how stunned I was to learn that the Puyallup Fairgrounds had once been known as "Camp Harmony". During 1942, when thousands of Japanese families were being removed from Seattle -- they were temporarily housed in the Puyallup Fairgrounds....

Because the accommodations were mostly livestock barns or hastily built barracks -- and there was no blacktop at the time -- the camp was soggy and full of mud...


Amazing. I thought I knew something about that place -- but I was wrong. And maybe we can never know everything there is to know...about a place, or a building, a house a relative or even the people we marry. Because there is always "history"...some of it known, some of it long forgotten.

I started to learn about the history of the Puyallup Fairgrounds as I was listening to this book in my car -- "Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet"...

Written by Jamie Ford -- it's really two books. One story takes place in 1942 -- and the other takes place in 1986 -- after the discovery of hundreds of suitcases in the basement of the Panama hotel. Japanese families left their belongings in the hotel -- not knowing they'd become a dusty time-capsule....because the families would never get back to retrieve their belongings...

The book is about fictional characters who lived in a very real time -- and I wondered how many of the facts in the book were true. Here's what the internet said about "Camp Harmony"...

The Puyallup Assembly Center was located in a small rural community about 25 miles south of Seattle famous for its farms and daffodils. The assembly center was built on the grounds and surrounding acres of the Western Washington State Fair so in addition to the stables, racetrack and outbuildings there was a rollercoaster.

Within a month the fairgrounds were transformed into a camp large enough to house more than 7,000 inmates. Barracks filled every available space -- parking lots, beneath the grandstand, within the circle of the racetrack.
The camp was divided into four distinct and separate areas complete with living quarters, mess halls and other facilities:

Here's an aerial shot of what the camp looked like...
I'm just sayin' -- WHO KNEW??

I'm not judging...1942 was a horrible, frightening time. At Camp Harmony, the Japanese families set up schools and government...they had sports activities and even 4-H for the children. Many of the men enlisted in the Army and went on to fight the Germans and became the most decorated American unit in the European theater.

All I'm saying is that I was shocked to learn that my beloved Puyallup fairgrounds played such a major role in history.

Just like life -- there's more to it than the sewing, eh?


  1. The fairgrounds has a fair museum that is open during the actual fair. It does have the Camp Harmony history. Back on the 50th anniversary of the Camp, the fair did a huge display about it. We don't hide the fair's sad past at all. It is a part of this town's history. The fair isn't the only area in the state that has the same past. There were camps in other parts of the Pacific NW also. A quilt museum up north had a wonderful display of a local artist's quilts inspired by the poems & journals of a young Japanese woman who lived in the camps.
    Laura in Puyallup
    Laura in Puyallup

  2. Another Puyallup history tidbit: My dad keeps after me to look around Puyallup in the daytime (I am insidem enthralled by sewexpo).

    My grandfather as well as some other (obscure) relatives helped lay most of the brickwork in most of Puyallup. But how can brick compete with fabric?

    I'll have to read more about Camp Harmony.