2020 is the 40th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens. It was the most destructive volcanic eruption in our nation’s recorded history and remains one of the most universal memories among Pacific Northwesterners. It was also the first eruption of its kind to be extensively photographed and videotaped, creating a wealth of visible and audible records.
Those who lived in Washington 40 years ago can recall without hesitation where they were and what they were doing on the morning of May 18, 1980. At 8:32 a.m. Mount St. Helens erupted with terrible violence. The initial blast decimated almost everything, natural or manmade, in an 8-mile radius. A massive ash plume rained 520 million tons of ash over Central and Eastern Washington disrupting everyday life for weeks.
The eruption killed 57 people, destroyed 200 homes and eight bridges, damaged or destroyed 39 rail cars and flattened almost 4.7 billion board feet of timber. The ash fall plunged downwind communities as far away as Spokane into darkness and smothered crops and transportation routes. It also advanced our understanding and perceptions of volcanoes more than any other eruption.
The exhibition, Mount St. Helens: Critical Memory will highlight the local and regional aspects of the “volcano next door” and will convey the 1980 experience, focusing the blur of nostalgia through a combination of material artifacts, film, photography, recordings, first-hand accounts, and interactive virtual and electronic communications.
Visitors will encounter a variety of analog and digital technologies that tell the story of the Cascade Range’s most active volcano. From time-tested oral traditions to digitally crowd-sourced accounts of the 1980 blast, Critical Memory explores how knowledge is passed down through generations. Scientific data, communications, and tribal culture merge to present a useable history because the question isn’t if Mount St. Helens will erupt again, it’s when.
Mount St. Helens: Critical Memory will open December 21, 2019, and run concurrently with Pompeii: The Immortal City starting February 7, 2020. Pompeii brings to life the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 79 AD. It buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic ash, preserving tools, art, and buildings, and providing an incredible resource through which to understand Roman history.
The juxtaposition of these two “explosive” exhibitions will demonstrate the risks of living in the shadow of active volcanoes and how a stronger understanding of both events can help to save lives in the future.