The story pole was moved to Latodami Nature Center on 4/13/11.
The story pole was moved into Latodami Nature Center barn on 8/10/11.
We greatly appreciate the donation and support of: a line truck and operator from Bronder Technical Services (headquartered in Portersville, PA); flat bed trolleys from The Home Depot; and the Allegheny County Public Works Department, in the moving of the story pole to the interior of our barn.
A Brief History of the Story Pole, North Park, Allegheny County, PA
Prepared by Ron J. Block
High on Parish Hill in North Park stands a remnant of the earliest days of the county parks. Battered by weather but still impressive in size and detail, this 40’ story pole deserves a better fate than its former partner in South Park, which fell victim to age, vandalism and neglect and was unceremoniously taken down some years ago.
The county parks were developed beginning in 1927, at a time when the romance of the west was still strong. Both parks had deer and buffalo herds roaming over large tracts of land, and Native Americans were brought in as caretakers. The buffalo herd at South Park is a reminder of these days. The North Park buffalo herd was kept not far from where the pole now stands; the fence is still there, slowly rusting away. The story poles were another reminder of the western traditions. The National Park movement was young and growing strong, especially in the West, and the county parks looked to these parks for inspiration.
A story pole differs from a totem pole, in that a totem pole tells a tribe or family history, while a story pole illustrates Native American legends and folktales. The story poles were commissioned by Edward Vose Babcock, the Allegheny County Commissioner known as the ‘Father of the County Parks’ for his vision and efforts in getting the parks established. Babcock was a successful Pittsburgh lumberman with business interests throughout the east and in the Pacific Northwest. Babcock commissioned four of the story poles in 1928. Two of the poles were for the newly-created Allegheny County parks. The other two, also 40 ft. high, were donated to the city of Everett, Washington, which had ties to his lumber-shipping operations.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted on Oct. 24, 1928 that the poles were to arrive in McKeesport within two weeks with a shipment of lumber. They were stored for the winter, and installed in the parks in the spring of 1929, under the supervision of Parks Director Paul B. Riis.
The poles were carved of cedar by Tulalip Chief Wha-Cah-Dub, aka William Shelton (1868-1938), who spent his life documenting and preserving the ways and lore of the Native American tribes. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Shelton spent about 6 months carving the poles. He was one of the most notable carvers of totem or story poles, and is often credited with keeping the tradition alive at a time of great change for the Native Americans. He was 60 years old when he carved the Allegheny County poles. There are few of his poles still in existence.
“I know the only future for my people is assimilation by the white brothers. I think we can teach them some things too. We are the children of nature. We are closest to the trees and the birds. We can teach the love of nature and the great, generous spirit of the Potlatch feast…. “Our race must vanish so our spirit may live.” William Shelton
Cedar is a durable wood, but it doesn’t last forever. For many years the poles were brightly painted, which helped to keep weather at bay, but now the remaining pole shows the weathered grey of the cedar, with just a few hints of color. The window of opportunity for preservation is short. Damage from weather and insects is obvious and if unchecked will mean the end of this interesting survivor of the earliest days of the park.
For information about William Shelton from HistoryLink.org, Visit this link
For 2 stories and a narrative from William Shelton's story pole, visit this link
The top photos were taken by Esther Allen in 1980