<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Friday, December 1, 2023
Dec. 1, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

From the Newsroom: Photo gear loaned to Mount St. Helens’ exhibit

By , Columbian Editor
5 Photos
Items carried by Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn on May 18, 1980 are going to be loaned to Washington State Parks for a new display on the eruption of Mount St. Helens, as seen Tuesday, February 7, 2022.
Items carried by Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn on May 18, 1980 are going to be loaned to Washington State Parks for a new display on the eruption of Mount St. Helens, as seen Tuesday, February 7, 2022. (Ben Campbell/The Columbian) (Ben Campbell/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

We’ve been working on an interesting side project here for a month or so. I thought you might find it interesting, too.

It involves the Mount St. Helens Visitors Center east of Castle Rock. The center is run by the Washington State Parks Department and lies across the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway from Seaquest State Park.

If you haven’t visited, it is well worth the very modest price of admission. There are a number of interesting displays, and you can descend below a miniaturized Mount St. Helens to see what lies beneath a volcano. Outside, there’s a lovely, flat trail that includes a long boardwalk through the wetlands bordering Silver Lake.

But back to our project, which started with a Jan. 17 email from the exhibit curator for state parks. Park staff are refreshing the displays at the visitors center, and he had heard that The Columbian still had the cameras our photojournalist Reid Blackburn had carried with him on May 18, 1980. If so, could we possibly loan them to the parks department for display at the visitors center?

Blackburn was one of 57 people killed by the cataclysmic eruption that day. To keep the public away, a large “red zone” had been established around the mountain before May 18. But Blackburn had received special permission to enter the red zone in order to photograph the bulging, smoking volcano at a supposedly safe distance of 8 miles, as part of a collaboration involving The Columbian, National Geographic and the U.S. Geological Survey.

May 18 was a clear Sunday morning. So at 8:32 a.m., when the biggest landslide in recorded history sloughed off most of the volcano’s bulging north side, Blackburn probably shot some of the most spectacular photos of the 20th century.

Sadly, neither he nor the film survived the superheated cloud of gas, ash and pumice.

I wasn’t with The Columbian in 1980, and I couldn’t speak to what property we had or could loan, so I quickly turned the email over to my boss, Publisher Ben Campbell, and Reid’s widow, Fay Blackburn, who retired in 2016 after a long career at The Columbian.

I was quickly reminded that we didn’t actually have either of the obviously damaged cameras Blackburn had carried with him that day. In 2019, Fay Blackburn had donated them to be included in a time capsule being placed at the Space Needle in Seattle. It is not to be opened until 2062, which will be the centennial of Seattle’s World’s Fair.

However, we did have an external camera flash, some lens caps and some pens. The photo gear was found in Blackburn’s Volvo a few days after the eruption. Even though the gear was in the trunk, the heat and force of the blast had melted the items together. We also had a melted calculator and a piece of a camera tripod.

The parks department was still interested, and Ben has agreed to make a long-term loan of the artifacts. I’m hoping that they will soon become part of the display at the visitors center.

Talking about homelessness

As you’ve probably seen advertised in our paper, we’re organizing what we hope to be a recurring series of events called Columbian Conversations, where we bring together a diverse panel to talk about community issues with our journalists in a public forum. The first of these is set for 5 p.m. March 1 at the Kiggins Theatre.

If you’re interested in attending, act quickly to get your free tickets at Columbian.Ticketbud.com, as most of them are already reserved. Any unreserved seats will be available starting at 4:30 p.m. that day.

We’ve got a strong panel, and I’ll be interested to hear what new ideas there are now that Vancouver voters have agreed to spend $100 million in extra taxes over 10 years to ease our homelessness and affordable housing crisis. That’s a lot of money to be put toward a big problem and deserves the spotlight.

Support local journalism

Your tax-deductible donation to The Columbian’s Community Funded Journalism program will contribute to better local reporting on key issues, including homelessness, housing, transportation and the environment. Reporters will focus on narrative, investigative and data-driven storytelling.

Local journalism needs your help. It’s an essential part of a healthy community and a healthy democracy.

Community Funded Journalism logo