The Lewis & Clark Salt Makers Return

Posted by OCVA / July 29, 2009

Seaside residents and visitors can experience the closest thing to time travel when the Seaside Historical Museum celebrates Seaside’s contribution to the historical Lewis and Clark expedition by hosting the Salt Makers Return August 14 -16, 2009.

During the Corps of Discovery’s stay in NW Oregon in the winter of 1805-06, some members were dispatched to what would eventually become Seaside.  There they replenished the Corps’ store of salt by boiling seawater around the clock for 48 hours.

For the continuous event signs declaring “You Are Now Entering 1806” are posted at the Avenue U beach access where men in period costume and manner will provide first person interpretation of the event which provided the Corps with the staple necessary to succeed in their return to civilization.  Visitors can participate in this ‘performance’ by representing the Clatsop Indians who came to the salt camp to trade wild berries, fruit, meat and other 1806 trade goods for beads and bright pieces of metal.

In first person interpretation, the interpreters “become” a person from the past and move about and respond as that person would have.  The interpreters remain true to history by speaking in period dialect and being completely unaware of any cultural or technological reference beyond the year 1806.  The interpreters have thoroughly studied the past lives of each man portrayed, army protocols of the time and their personal adventures en route to the Northwest.  Visitors to the encampment are encouraged to ask questions, but the interpreters will be playing their parts so completely they won’t “understand” modern words, slang, or references to modern conveniences.

The event also features “contextual greeters,” museum volunteers who are placed at the entrance to this “other time” and prepare visitors for this temporal adventure.  As one of the greeters put it: “My job is to welcome visitors to the Lewis & Clark Salt Works and let them know they are traveling back to the year 1806.  They are to forget the hotels, houses, and parked cars a few hundred yards behind them and imagine they are approaching this camp 203 years ago. The visitors will soon find themselves entering a different culture.”  Greeters advise that the best way to start a conversation with a Saltmaker is to ask, ‘How are you today?’ ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your name?’ and ask about their journey.  In addition, museum volunteers have items on hand for visitors to conduct trade with the Corps members.

The interpretive site is just a few blocks south of the actual site where the saltmakers worked, which was determined during the Lewis & Clark Centennial 100 years ago through discussions with local tribal members still living who remembered the group.  A replica of the rock construction used to boil the water commemorates the occasion.

The Saltmakers Return is a particularly fun, interesting and extremely detailed interactive interpretation that provides a way to learn about history by engaging in the activities.  It is presented by the Seaside Historical Society, sponsored by Lewis & Clark National Park and the Pacific Northwest Living Historians with funding by the Tides Motel, TLC Credit Union, Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation; a portion of this project was made possible from a grant from the City of Seaside’s Tourism Advisory Committee, funded by room tax dollars.

More information about this event and Seaside’s history can be found at www.seasidemuseum.org.

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