Seattleites hungry for history

The Luna Park amusement park in West Seattle in 1907. From the Seattlepi.com photo archives.

Seattleites can’t get enough of history lessons these days.

That is, if the lessons include taverns, amusement parks, sports stadiums, or other popular topics from the last 30 to 40 years.

“Very few people are going to click on an old photo of a Seattle pioneer,” said Feliks Banel, a local producer and historian. “They want to read about things they can identify with.”

Banel has been spreading history to the masses in a variety of new venues these days. In June, he began a series for Seattlepi.com called Seattle Rewind. The weekly episodes include a podcast and historic photos.

So far, Banel has covered the amusement parks of Seattle’s past, stadium plans that never came together, J.P. Patches, Seattle radio, Seafair, and the 4th of July. Next up are pieces on the Beatles coming to Seattle and the Seahawks.

Banel tries to tie the history pieces to current events. The Beatles, for instance, played in Seattle in August of 1964. The Seahawks just started their pre-season training camp. Seattlepi.com editors haven’t given the project an end date, as they want to see what kind of attention the stories receive.

Banel made the transition to freelance journalist in late 2008. Before that, he worked as deputy director at the Museum of History and Industry, and then at the Seattle Channel. He decided to go his own path in order to do the projects he wanted to, not realizing that the economy would crash just as he quit his job.

“The first year was rough,” Banel said.

At the same time, Banel recognized that the decline of traditional journalism and the rise of online news meant openings for individuals like him. News outlets need freelance producers to fill segments that regular staff members once took care of.

With web journalism, Banel can easily utilize historic videos and photos to tell a story. The Seattlepi.com pieces, for instance, take advantage of Hearst’s extensive historic photo collection.

“History has become so much more accessible in the last 15 years,” Banel said. “A 50-year-old television clip is as easy to watch as yesterday’s television clip.”

In addition to the Seattlepi.com podcasts, Banel writes for Crosscut.com, talks about recent history on KOMO’s “Not Quite Historian” twice a week and produces the occasional history radio program for KUOW on a segment called “This NOT Just In.”

So far, he’s created three shows for KUOW, and they’ve signed on for 10 more.  Planned programs include the 1962 Columbus Day storm, John Lennon’s assassination, the Kingdome implosion, and the War of the Worlds broadcast.

Banel believes Seattleites are eager to learn about history, so long as it is somewhat recent history. Unlike cities like Boston, Seattle doesn’t have the weight of hundreds of years of stories.

“The paint hasn’t dried yet in Seattle,” Banel said. “We’re still shaping our identity to the outside world, and we gravitate toward the more recent.”

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About Heidi Dietrich
HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi's blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she's writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.