Walt Crowley's memorial service at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) on Tuesday, Oct. 2, was an event. Hundreds of people showed up and it was standing room only. If you missed it, the Seattle Channel was there.
A lengthy bio in the program outlined his many accomplishments as a historian, author, journalist, and activist, and there was a slide-show photo album of him hob-nobbing with people from William F. Buckley to William S. Burroughs. But more than accomplishments and connections, what really came through loud and clear was that here was a man with a zest for life who lived it fully and eccentrically as himself. He was a proud "citizen of Seattle," a phrase he wanted on his memorial plaque. He lived life as only Walt Crowley could have lived it.
The service was a fitting memorial because such a collection of people would gather for no one else. There were politicians, historians, media figures, fans, writers, Blue Moon boozing buddies, and living legends. I saw only a fraction of the attendees, but a few familiar names and faces included Dan Evans, Mike Lowry, Ralph Munro, John Carlson, Jean Godden, Peter Steinbrueck, Sally Clark, David Goldstein, Tim Egan, Eric Liu, Barry Mitzman, Steve Scher, Ken Vincent, Paul Dorpat, Cathy Allen, Bob Gogerty, Jay Rockey. It was a bipartisan, multigenerational, countercultural, and establishment collection of people who have shaped, and continue to shape, this city and state. Just the kind of party Crowley liked to throw.
Speakers included MOHAI executive director Leonard Garfield, master of ceremonies and eulogist Hubert Locke, Walt's wife, Marie McCaffrey, friend and philosophy professor Glenn Hughes, former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, historian Alan Stein, civic activist Henry Aronson, and HistoryLink board member Dr. Dorothy Mann. His mother, Violet, shared the stage as well. Color was added by the ushers who were members of the Doc Maynard outpost of E. Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization born during the gold-rush years. Clad in red and black with top hats and button-covered vests, they looked like an army of Morris Dancers and Deadheads. They enjoy historic preservation and love to drink, so Crowley was a member.
The thing Crowley brought to the civic table was his active use of history in political discussion. The past wasn't dead for him – it provided the fodder for argument, as exemplified by a guest column published posthumously in last Sunday's Seattle Times. Walt argued in support of the transportation ballot measure in November. He may have been speaking from beyond the grave, but he wasn't rattling old bones. He was telling us to seize the past and engage it as a living thing – as something vital to our being.
This was captured in a Crowley quote on the cover of the memorial service program:So what use does history serve? Ultimately, just one: It helps us to be more human. Subtract all analytic or pragmatic applications, and you are left with the story – the essential narrative defining our place in time and in the stream of our culture.
For a couple of hours, that stream and narrative wound through the gathering to remember Walt Crowley and carried us all some place new.