Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 5

Coverage of Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here

Overview

  • The most important part about this chapter is that Crisman explains in depth his supposed philosophical reasons for engaging in this political war. I say “supposed” not to imply he’s lying, but merely to stress that for these purposes I’m taking Crisman’s words at face value but also not lending them unquestioned support. I’m not going to venture to say if he’s being honest or not, because I don’t really know.
    Anyway, Crisman’s main problem is with the imposition of state power in generally, but in specific with “sensitivity training,” which he considers a moral and subversive scourge.
    This is fascinating from my 2019 perspective, because these things are now commonplace in America. For Crisman in 1966, though, they represented something wholly nefarious. For Crisman, this sensitivity training was a means of political brainwashing.
  • Crisman claims that Rasmussen is the victim of a slander campaign accusing him of being a racist. This caught me by surprise, as I didn’t think being branded a racist would have a career-destroying stigma in the late ’60s. Looking at it from 2019, when “racist” and “sexist” accusations are the new “commie” catch-all condemnations designed to shut up anyone who doesn’t agree with things, I feel a natural sympathy with Crisman’s position here. However, it needs to be reiterated again that we really have no idea what Crisman was really up to.
  • Marshall Riconoscuito wraps up the chapter saying “there’s going to be hell to pay” after saying that the only way for them to fight this media campaign is to get some media of their own, by the order of “millions of dollars.”

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 4

Coverage of the rare book Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here.

I’m changing the format of how I write about this book. Reception (and just plain attention) for my blogging on this literary work of weird American history has been much better than I anticipated. I’m very grateful for that, but the narrative form I’d been using was just too time-consuming.

So, I’ve decided to use my technical writing skills and switch it up. I genuinely believe this will better serve most readers, too. You’re here just for the information, so I’ll cut the fluff and get to it. If you’re interested enough at the end, there will be longform content aplenty when I write the book on Crisman.

So, with no further ado, I present Murder of a City, chapter 4:

Murder of a City, Tacoma, Chapter 4 Summary

In this chapter, Crisman mainly expands on painting the political situation of the era, as he sees it. His main concern is with the Soviet Communist element he believes is trying to subvert U.S. culture. For the first time that he recalls, he mentions also that there is also a Far Right element that is far too extreme for his “plebian” tastes.

The political war really ramps up when Slim Rasmussen is denied his bid to replace Rowlands by a 5 to 4 City Council bid.

The Tacoma News Tribune, which Crisman continues to paint as the most nefarious player in this saga, launches a smear campaign to label Rasmussen a racist.

Rasmussen never says anything definitive, but the implication is that he’s ready to counter-punch.

Points of Central Importance in Chapter 4

  • Crisman describes more about politician (including future Tacoma mayor) A.L. Rasmussen, but in doing so reveals more about one of his peculiar tendencies. Rasmussen is unerringly idealized in every representation.
    Whether it’s intentional on Crisman’s part (meaning, if Murder of a City was indeed a work of straight-up propaganda and not a legitimate journalistic account) or simply an aspect of his character, everyone in the book is described in the extreme. They’re either morally perfect or completely reprehensible, heroes or villains, no in between.
  • Crisman claims Rasmussen was a liberal and a Democrat, but that he wasn’t “Far Left” enough to satisfy his political opponents, and so was smeared by the Tacoma New Tribune.
  • The city council is narrowly split (5 to 4) on whether to use the City Management form of governance, or to go with the minority Rasmussen-led alliance.
  • Crisman reveals his greater fears of the influence of Communism on American life of the 1960s. He is unambiguous in his assertion that this influence is intentionally malicious and designed to undermine American society.
  • Crisman leaves us with his meeting with Rasmussen. Crisman has come to let him know that his enemies are labeling him a racist in order to destroy his reputation. Rasmussen twirls in his seat and says, “If this goes on…” without finishing the sentence.

Important/Interesting Lesser Points of Murder of a City, Tacoma, Chapter 4

  • The parallels with recent American history have become almost freakish. As Crisman prepares to take on the establishment with his pirate radio station, á la Alex Jones, he declares, “It never really occurred to [The Tacoma News Tribune] that they could lose this election.”
    Replace The Tacoma News Tribune with CNN or MSNBC, and you’ve got 2016 all over again (but 50 years earlier).
  • Crisman reasserts that he did nothing to help Rasmussen’s campaign, despite rumors that he did indeed write all of his material. This can be true, or it can again fit into the opposite narrative (I strive to avoid speculation in this stage of research), and in doing so fit another possible tendency of Crisman’s: coming out first with derogatory or inflammatory accusations about himself (rather than hiding them) and thereby controlling the narrative.
    While I’m not a politician (thank God), my understanding is that this technique is fairly common among those in that world.
  • Marshall Riconosuito returns, with Crisman explaining that he’d been assigned urban renewal adviser.
  • Crisman and KAYE radio arrange to live-broadcast all city council meetings, which prevents them from continuing to slant their decisions without justification.
  • Interesting, opinionated perspective on the now-ubiquitous but then-new field of “human relations” (or HR as we mostly know it as today). “For the most part,” Crisman says, “these boards simply worsened conditions as they arose and stirred up problems that never existed.”
  • Crisman gives Lynn Hodges a backhanded complement by saying that rumors of his Communist affiliation had to be untrue because, “he was never capable of the self-discipline that a good, well-trained Communist must have.” In looking up Hodges, I found on the Tacoma Historical Society website that Hodges was named first executive director of human relations for the city of Tacoma on May 31, 1967. Crisman seems to be earnestly defending the man’s reputation, saying there’s no way he’s a Communist.
  • Crisman says that he finds himself unwanted by both sides of the war, because he isn’t extreme enough for the Far Right and is ideologiclaly opposed to the Communist Far Left. He continues to assert that he is not part of any side of the conflict. He just wants justice.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 3, Enter Jim Nichols

(Coverage of Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here.)

All conspiracy theories and questions of credibility aside, Fred Crisman could flat-out write. Murder of a City, Tacoma is well paced and penned with conviction.

Crisman was a convincing writer, and he had a good feel for pacing. Murder of a City picks up at a slow but consistent boil from the introduction through to chapter 3.

Crisman starts the chapter meeting old friend Miller Stevens at the New Yorker “restaurant.” In looking this up, I’m pretty sure Crisman was referring to a place remembered today as the New Yorker nightclub, not restaurant. University of Puget Sound has some images from the club.

Crisman explains that Stevens is a Gypsy (which he capitalizes), and then goes on to talk about how Gypsies were being abused by the city of Tacoma. According to Crisman, social systems had been enacted for all other demographics, but the Gypsies had been left out.

Also here, for the first time, Crisman mentions that he was a teacher. I noted in my coverage of chapter 1 that I previously found this to be a curious omission, as Crisman’s firing from his position just prior to the events of Murder of a City seemed very intriguing. He’d been accused of starting a secret society among students, which, if true, says a great deal about the guy.

Regardless, Crisman talks about Gypsies for a while and proudly declares that Stevens considered him to be the best “gadjo” (non-Gypsy) he’d ever met.

Crisman says that he helped Stevens write an education plan for the Tacoma Gypsy population, and that this plan won funding by the order of $6700, which in today’s dollars is about $51,000.

Crisman says the education plan was successful but not renewed. So, Stevens, encouraged by Crisman, decides to go straight to Washington D.C. to make people aware of the problem and to continue getting the funding they need.

This is where things get interesting.

Stevens comes to Crisman to say that figures in Washington D.C. warned him to stay away from Crisman, saying they had “black and white proof” of Crisman’s poor character. Stevens is nervous and doesn’t know what to do.

Crisman advises Stevens to have these people meet him at his home. Crisman then goes and stakes out the location. When the two men arrive, Crisman follows them inside.

The men are identified as Bob Lee, a “public relations” man, and Edd Jeffords, Tacoma News-Tribune reporter.

Jeffords appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, among other placesHe was the fine arts editor for the Tribune.

Crisman confronts the men, and they confess to having none of the “black and white” proof they’d promised. Crisman throws the men out of the house.

In reviewing the situation, Crisman surmises that the Tacoma establishment must have been angry that he and Stevens had gone straight to D.C. to rectify the injustices being done to Tacoma’s Gypsy population.

Crisman slips in a note that Lee and Jeffords were telling people that Crisman had been skimming money from the aforementioned Gypsy education program. Crisman brushes this off, claiming officials knew that Lee was a “liar” and Jeffords was just a “cheap hippie-in-residence.”

Crisman now feels thoroughly crucified by the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma News-Tribune. He hears of a Canadian-turned-U.S.-citizen named Jim Nicholls, a “man of integrity.”

Nicholls runs KAYE radio in Puyallup, which is a few miles outside Tacoma. Nicholls also has a history of running programs outside the mainstream, and of confronting the same powers-that-be that have tormenting Crisman.

The two decide to do something about it. Their alliance is formed, and the die is cast.

The chapter closes with Crisman walking into the studio for his first Murder of a City broadcast, truly setting his information war in motion. History is now ready to be made.

Dungeness Spit to Dungeness Lighthouse

I didn’t know where the Dungeness Spit led to when I started walking it. I was just taking a weekend to explore Sequim, staying at the Seqium Bay Lodge (which is remarkably spacious and clean for the price, by the way).

On my second day in town, I cruised the back-country roads aimlessly for a while, got some books at the Seqium Library book sale, and  happened upon the Dungeness Spit.

I parked, paid a whopping three dollars, and started walking…and walking…and walking…

It turns out that the Dungness Spit is five-miles long. You get a good view of the spit as you descend down to the coastline, but (for me, anyway) it was hard to gage how long it actually was.

Stack of rounded stones in foreground with Mount Baker in background.
Some people complain about these rock stacks in natural places, but I find them pretty cool. Here they made for a neat visual.

The grade of the Dungness Spit is level but made a bit more challenging than a typical five-mile-walk by the sand and cobbles, which shift under your feet as you go. I hiked back during high tide and there was still plenty of room to walk, though the angle of the walk becomes more extreme as you’re forced towards the middle of the spit.

I have no idea, however, if it’s always safe to hike at high tide, and anyone going there should check that out for themselves. There are some enormous pieces of driftwood on the spit, and I imagine it’d be a bad day to get caught out there when one of them slammed into you.

There weren’t a great deal of people on the Dungeness Spit as I hiked. I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it’s because I was there in October when the weather normally isn’t suitable for a long walk. I got lucky, because the weather was perfect.

Things to Do at Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

As it turns out, the Dungeness Spit leads to the Dungeness Lighthouse. The lighthouse and its grounds are maintained in their originals state as a historical site, but the lighthouse is also still functional. Volunteers stay in the guest quarters and give free tours. They’ll take you to the top of the lighthouse tower.

One thing I’d want to say as a heads up to anyone thinking of making the trip is to remember that the Dungeness Spit is completely exposed to the elements. I imagine the walk would be somewhat miserable on a blustery day, unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys getting blasted by the elements that way (and if you are shoot me a line because we’d get along just fine).

This is definitely a trip I plan on doing again. It’s a nice walk with some beautiful views. You’ve got Sound and mountains surrounding you in a circle as you go.

It’s one of those experiences that makes me love the Pacific Northwest. The Dungeness Lighthouse joins Point Robinson Light as my favorite lighthouses in the state of Washington.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 2

In chapter 1 of Murder of a City, Tacoma, our mysterious pal Fred L. Crisman introduced us to the cast of characters that will play important roles later in our book. Chapter 2 is where the story really begins.

Chapter 2 of Murder of a City has Crisman riding around Tacoma with Marshall Riconosciuto, head of Riconosciuto Advertising Agency. The drive is uneventful, but it gives Crisman the chance to tell us about his hometown of Tacoma as he saw it…or, at least, as he wants us to think he saw it.

The writing feels very sincere, I will say. Crisman seems to be earnestly troubled by the state of corruption and ruin his hometown has fallen into. He blames the state of the city unambiguously on the City Management form of governance.

One interesting side note that may interested Tacomans is that Crisman discusses the now-(in)famous Hilltop neighborhood as being a new thing. He says it was once called the K-Street neighborhood and was only changed to the Hilltop in the years he’d been away.

We also meet a new character in the form of Burt McMurtie, “radio genius.” He was a local media personality known his “It Seems to Me…” and “Breakfast with McMurtrie” radio programs. I’ll be digging up what I can on Mr. McMurtie, as he sounds like an interesting character and an important part of Tacoma history.

McMurtrie agrees with Crisman’s opinion that Tacoma has gone to hell because of corrupt governance.

The chapter ends with Crisman trying to speak with David Rowlands, City Manager. He can’t get an audience with the man, and he finishes the chapter saying:

“I was sincerely sorry he would not speak with me. Maybe it is of no consequence. Again maybe the history of Tacoma would have been on a different note and even changed, if Rowlands had had a few minutes so spare a seeking man!”

“…if only…”

If that sounds vaguely like a threat, it’s because it basically is. From here, one of the nastiest political wars in Washington state history will begin.