Sunday, May 18, 2008

See You in Hell, Harry!

It was twenty-eight years ago today that Mount St. Helens went all kerflooey, blowing half a mile off its top and spewing steam and ash--4.6 billion tons of it--60,000 feet into the air.

I have a number of local newspapers of the time, including a July 13th, 1980 issue of Northwest, the (Portland) Oregonian's Sunday magazine. Even two months after the blast, the issue is filled with ads for air filtration systems, dust masks and carpet cleaners. Of course, there are also numerous stores advertising "volcanic values" and various crummy souvenirs (posters, calendars, belt buckles, ash-filled pens and paperweights, etc.).

One ad hawks a record and crudely drawn t-shirt commemorating the obstinance of this man:
That's Harry Truman, the 84-year-old coot who ran a lodge at Spirit Lake on the north flank of the mountain. According to the timeline in Northwest, he "cusses the mountain, pours himself another whiskey and Coke and refuses to leave" when residents within a ten-mile radius are ordered to evacuate. (Actually, he did leave the mountain at one point, just long enough to stock up on more hooch.) He became something of a national folk hero, and was even portrayed by Art Carney the following year in a TV movie about the event. Here's an interesting article about his life and ill-fated brush with fame. I liked the detail that he dubbed his own brand of moonshine "Panther Pee," though something tells me ol' Harry used another word less newspaper-friendly. In any case, it sounds tasty...

According to that article, Harry wouldn't desert his homestead simply because he wanted to protect his property from looting trespassers. In fact, he was terrified of the earthquakes. As Susan Hobart of the Oregonian wrote, at one point he moved his bed to the basement because the violent shaking made him feel like he was "on board a ship being tossed fore and aft, port and starboard." Harry thought that when the mountain reached critical mass, it would begin oozing lava and perhaps then somebody could swoop in with a helicopter and snatch him up. Instead, the mount exploded that morning without much warning--and precisely in his direction. Spirit Lake was obliterated and presumably Harry (and his sixteen cats) went along with it, as he was never seen after that day. Fifty-six others perished as well.

Here's the ad for that tribute record:
I don't know if "Thank You Lord, for Harry" by Shawn Wright and the Brothers Band burned up the local charts, but I'm guessing it vaporized faster than Harry himself. I've looked for it online to no avail. I'd love to hear it, or at least read the lyrics, as I have no idea what the title means. What exactly are they thanking the Lord for? For killing Harry, a frightened old man who just wanted to protect his hard-earned stuff from thieving scumbags?

Here's a comic strip from May 19th. It seems fellow drunken mountain-dweller Snuffy Smith took Harry's demise rather hard.


Blogger MO'SH said...

Oh, Snuffy! Andy Capp's American cousin!
We used to have some Mt St. Helen ash Mr. Lombardo brought us. Might've even had a little bit of Harry in it.

Mon May 19, 09:51:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Brian Kunath said...

Great stuff. Your nostalgic grasp of three decade-old cultural minutiae reaches into crevices even Google can't touch. The only references to "Thank you lord, for Harry" I found were from a Methodist Web site and a Harry Potter quiz.

Pretty good Snuffy. Lifting spirits. It's got two meanings.

Mon May 19, 08:43:00 PM 2008  
Blogger psaur said...

Thank you Qner. I've always wanted to touch your ungoogled crevices with my minutiae.

Tue May 20, 08:25:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Brian Kunath said...

I set 'em up. You knock 'em down.

Thu May 22, 12:22:00 AM 2008  

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