Friday, September 7, 2007

An Encounter With Mr. Browne

Port Townsend
Originally uploaded by onepurplefork
While working with our hundreds of volumes of the Congressional Serial Set I met an old friend today. Volume 1342 of the Serial Set is a report on the mineral resources of the west written by J. Ross Browne.

Browne, an Irish-born gentleman, may be unique in world history. He is the only person I know who made a living by writing 1) government reports and 2) humor.

I know. As a combination it doesn't flow like cup and saucer, does it?

Here is Mr. Browne describing part of our state in his best officialese:

Port Townsend, on the bay of that name, is the county seat. It is the site of the customs-house of Puget Sound; the marine hospital is located here, and at the head of the bay is the military post, (Fort Townsend). The bay is six miles long, four wide, and an excellent harbor.

DId you stay awake through all that? Good for you. Now here is the same Mr. Browne (slightly edited by historian Murray Morgan) writing in one of his unofficial books:

Port Townsend is indeed a remarkable place. The houses, of which there must be at least twenty in the city and suburbs, are built chiefly of pine boards, thatched with shingles, canvas and wood slabs. The streets of Port Townsend are paved with sand, and the public squares are curiously ornamented with dead horses and the bones of many dead cows.

This of course gives a very original appearance to the public pleasure grounds and enables strangers to know when they arrive in the city, by reason of the peculiar odor, so that, even admitting the absence of lamps, no person can fail to recognize Port Townsend in the darkest night.

Oddly enough, the citizens of Port Townsend were not appreciative of Browne’s attentions. But it can be argued that one result of his scandalous description was that when a gold rush hit the Pacific Northwest the only town in the area that every miner knew of – and flocked to – was the wicked city of Port Townsend. Proving, I suppose, that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.


Hope Floats said...

Hey, I took that picture above. I'm famous! :) It's amazing what you can find by searching for your screen name.

Fifteen Iguana said...

Thanks for making it available. The (sepia?) tone made it perfect for a discussion of the good old days.