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Matt Driscoll: Will the consummate history of Tacoma appeal to a new generation? We're about to find out.

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 12/15/2018 By Matt Driscoll, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Dec. 14--It's impossible to say for certain, but Lane Morgan believes one of her father's books was his favorite.

The book is "Puget's Sound," the encompassing, timeless retelling of Tacoma's history.

It makes sense. Lane's father is the late historian and journalist Murray Morgan, who was a Tacoma institution until his death in 2000. There's a reason a bridge is now named after him.

"Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound," as historian Michael Sullivan says, was Morgan's "masterpiece."

Sure, "Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle," first published in 1951, was unquestionably Morgan's best-known work -- and the one that helped make him famous.

And "The Last Wilderness," which followed five years later, remains a nearly unparalleled history of the Olympic Peninsula.

But "Puget's Sound," published in 1979, stands alone, especially in the minds of Tacomans. Today, as it was upon its release, it's seen as both a work of history and a work of uncompromising adoration for the place its author called home.

Recently, University of Washington Press announced all three Morgan books would be reissued.

"Skid Road" came first, in March.

"The Last Wilderness" will arrive next Spring.

"Puget's Sound" was packaged in the middle, re-released last month.

Saturday, Lane Morgan and Sullivan will be at the Job Carr Cabin in Old Town from 1-4 pm, celebrating the re-release of what most consider the best history of Tacoma ever put on a page.

For established history buffs, the appeal of this is obvious. "Puget's Sound" remains revered in Tacoma, particularly among those with an undying affinity for the city's colorful past.

The bigger question might be whether new, younger readers will be equally enthralled.

For the University of Washington Press, answering that question, especially in light of the region's population boom, was one of the appeals of the decision to re-release all three titles.

"These really are treasured works, but at the same time newer people in the region -- close to a million of them -- just don't know (Morgan) and don't know what he wrote," said Mike Campbell, UW Press's director of marketing and sales.

"We had these classic histories in our back list ... and we wanted to bring them to a new generation of readers, with a refreshed look."

For Sullivan, who became friends with Morgan in the later stages of the historian's life, the continued relevance of "Puget's Sound" is unquestionable.

It's one of the things Sullivan addressed when crafting a lengthy new introduction to the book.

"This is also his most personal historical narrative, and what makes it his best work ... in my mind, is the element of complete familiarity he brings to the story that he was a part of his entire life," Sullivan writes.

Sullivan expanded on those thoughts this week, singling out the research and writing skills that make Morgan's work stand the test of time.

"For folks who just come from this kind of screaming information world, it's remarkable how it holds up," Sullivan said of "Puget's Sound."

"A good writer can put smells in the scene and give you details about a setting and an episode," he added. "It just really takes a special writer and e real depth of understanding of the subject matter to be able to do that, and Murray could do it."

Lane Morgan now lives in Bellingham and serves as an adjunct journalism professor at Western Washington University. She spent her early career as a teacher, but later went into journalism -- including serving as editor of The Argus, a Seattle weekly newspaper that enjoyed nearly a century-long run.

Today, in addition to her professorial duties at Western, she contributes to HistoryLink. She acknowledges that she "wandered a bit, but then wandered back to the family business.

Born in 1949, Lane says she was too young to remember her father working on "Skid Road" or the "Last Wilderness."

"Puget's Sound," however, was published when Lane was a grown woman. Though she'd already moved away from home, she certainly remembers the years-long effort her father put into writing it.

"Oh, good Lord," she quickly blurted out when asked to recall the effort.

After a good laugh, she said "Puget's Sound" -- which she describes today as "the story (her father) wanted to tell, and the way he wanted to tell it" -- was the book her father spent a lifetime preparing for.

"He was always working on several projects," Lane Morgan remembered. "He always had freelance he was doing, theater reviews, 5-day-a-week news and commentary program -- he attended every City Council meeting -- and then he was always working on a book."

"Everything was just sort of information gathering and processing," she added. "It was a life."

She, too, is excited to see how a new generation responds to her father's favorite book.

She also admits not being sure what to expect.

"It's delightful to see it out again. It makes me happy," Morgan said. "I'm very curious to see what young people are going to be taking from it."

The good news is, there's plenty to take.

___

(c)2018 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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