Jeff Jardine

Patterson hopes to captivate students with National History Day

Broken glass emerges from the soil where land has been excavated for a catch basin below a water tank on the east side of Oakdale. It turns out the site once was a dump. City officials knew there had been a dump in the area, but thought it had been east of the water tank. Engineers will need to further inspect the site, which is on a bluff along the Stanislaus River.
Broken glass emerges from the soil where land has been excavated for a catch basin below a water tank on the east side of Oakdale. It turns out the site once was a dump. City officials knew there had been a dump in the area, but thought it had been east of the water tank. Engineers will need to further inspect the site, which is on a bluff along the Stanislaus River. jjardine@modbee.com

From the emails and voice mails:

HISTORY TO COME ALIVE – In an era of technological gadgetry and emphasis on math and science, holding students’ interest in history can be a bit of a challenge.

With the National History Day 2015 competition scheduled for Saturday, educators in Patterson are hoping a combination of people, places and past will enthrall students participating in a variety of events and presentations beginning at Creekside Middle School.

Roughly 5,000 students from the Patterson Unified and Newman-Crows Landing Unified school districts, along with students from University Charter School in Modesto, have worked on projects and presentations throughout the school year with this event in mind. Saturday, 400 will vie to move forward to state and possibly national and international competitions. It also is open to the public, which can sit in on live performances by professional actors portraying Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

They’ll get to see the original land grant document for Rancho del Puerto, where Patterson is located, signed by President Lincoln in 1864. They’ll see that the Grayson Hotel register used from 1876 to 1881 includes the names of Gen. U.S. Grant, writer Bret Harte, Emperor Norton, and Patterson family members for whom the town was named.

And Patterson resident Les Williams, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, will appear. The Airmen were America’s first African American military pilots.

The event begins Saturday with check-in a 7:45 a.m., followed by judging at 9 and the awards presentation at 1:30 p.m.

DUMPING THE NOTEBOOK – My column Sunday on the unearthing of a long-abandoned dump in Oakdale, and why others similar to it could emerge in any town anywhere, brought some interesting responses.

Bill Shatswell moved to Oakdale in 1938. His dad, Lester Shatswell, started a garbage service, and the dump was his daily destination. This was in the days before plastics dominated our lives, and before agencies began strictly controlling what occurred along the Stanislaus River and other waterways. The elder Shatswell also had a pig farm on the hill.

“One day (in 1943 or so), he backed the truck up too far,” Bill Shatswell said. “The dirt caved in behind him. He almost went over the cliff.”

Bill’s brother, whom he described as a tall, lanky kid, jumped out of the truck and ran as fast as he could into town, which was a mile or more away from the dump at the time, to get help. Dad stayed in the truck with his foot on the brake, not that doing so would have stopped the truck if the side of the hill proceeded to give out.

“He stayed with it until the tow truck got there,” Bill Shatswell said.

Lifelong Oakdale resident Kent Gripenstraw remembers going to the dump as a kid.

“That was before Hope Chest, Salvation Army or similar drop-offs,” he wrote. “People would take old furniture, clothing, appliances, dead dogs or cats, and just about anything else and throw them off the bluff down towards the river. There was always a fellow there that would check to make sure you weren’t disposing of something valuable or dangerous.”

And Scott Abell of Oakdale recalls a meeting in 1990, when Caltrans still planned to build the Highway 120 bypass north of the Stanislaus River. One option was for 120 to cross the Stanislaus at the old dump property as it headed east. A Caltrans official gave his spiel and then turned the floor over to townsfolk.

“Shortly after his initial presentation, a very mature stately woman rose to speak,” Abell wrote. “I can’t quote exactly what she said, but this is close: ‘Gentleman, you should be less concerned about what is buried in the dump, but more concerned about who is buried in the dump.’ She sat down and for about 2-3 seconds you could have heard a pin drop.”

Yet another reader, Nolan Harris, said he lives near the old dump site and has found syringes in containers there, probably from the original dumping days.

“They are older. I have also dated some bottles found at site and they correspond with it being old,” Harris wrote. “The part that upsets me is (authorities) see no need in proper cleanup, and kids play at the site regularly.”

Oakdale Public Works Director Thom Clark said the city also has found syringes there and cleaned the site.

Clark validated the thought that old dump sites could be anywhere. Contractors recently demolished the McDonald’s restaurant on East F Street to rebuild from the ground up. The excavation turned up an old dump 14 feet deep that included old vehicle doors, among other discards. In all, about 1,000 cubic yards of junk-filled soil had to be removed and replaced before the building could begin.

“The building inspector said you could have driven a car into it,” Clark said.

TAKING FLIGHT – The Stanislaus Audubon Society just joined the motion-picture business by producing what likely is a first: a one-hour documentary focusing on birds and habitat within 40 miles of Modesto. The film is scheduled to debut at the State Theatre in April. The film, titled “Wings Over Our Two Counties,” will be the main event in a doubleheader that will include “Birders: The Central Park Effect.”

Contact the State box office at (209) 527-4697 or visit www.thestate.org.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – Mary Burch of Modesto is the author of “Christy,” the story of her 41-year-old daughter who is disabled and has attended programs for the disabled her entire life. Author mom is Christy’s full-time caretaker.

“The book is all about her and her friends and family, and some of her teachers, like John Wray, who was a teacher at the Kennedy Center for over 40 years,” she said. The book is available at Barnes & Noble for $28.99.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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