Off Beat: Cane's path from Jackson inauguration to Vancouver murky

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As the 57th presidential inauguration takes place today, an artifact from a much earlier inaugural celebration rests in a downtown Vancouver display case.

A wooden cane in the Clark County Historical Museum has a silver band with this inscription:

"Andrew Jackson, March 4, 1829."

That was the day of President Andrew Jackson's first inaugural address.

There are some intriguing questions about the cane's path from Washington D.C. to Vancouver.

There aren't many answers, said Susan Tissot, the museum's executive director.

The cane arrived 50 years ago with a pretty thin biography. A card indicates that it was donated by Clyde W. Wood in 1963. It was also noted that Jack Martin had received the cane from Sen. Joe Blackburn.

"How? Where? Who was Jack Martin? But it's like that with a lot of things" in the museum, Tissot said.

Blackburn was a U.S. senator from Kentucky for 18 years between 1885 and 1907. Mount Blackburn in Alaska, the fifth-highest peak in the U.S. at 16,390 feet, is named after him.

But that doesn't help backtrack the cane. When it was donated in 1963, people weren't always thinking about paperwork.

These days, "People are much more information-oriented," Tissot said. "We try to document everything."

The cane is part of "Above and Below the Fold," an exhibit about newspapering; it's in the "Politics" section.

As Tissot said, "There are a lot of things where we don't have as much information as we would like."

That includes Hudson's Bay Company artifacts, particularly a hat from Fort Vancouver's fur-trading era.

"According to rumor, it was one of few remaining Hudson's Bay Company beaver hats," Tissot said.

The Hudson's Bay Company was comfortable enough with the hat's pedigree to borrow it for a celebration in Canada.

Still, when you look at the card that accompanies the museum artifact, it's pretty sketchy, Tissot lamented.

It says "hat."

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.