by Hannah Ybarra
It’s easy to get lost in the architecture of our historic Campbell House. Kirtland Cutter’s Tudor-style home contains 32 elegantly designed rooms that reflect the purpose and grandeur of late 19th century tradition while hiding within its walls the technology and innovation of the future. However, the narrative of our largest artifact and longest running exhibition here at the Northwest Museum is far more intricate than the rococo ceiling and Corinthian columns of its interior. Campbell House is most intriguing when you put aside the decor and delve into the lives of the people who called it home.
This year, Helen is the one who is on my mind most often as it was her diaries that first endeared Campbell House to me. Helen was flesh and blood. Her story is straightforward: the daughter of a mining magnate and a stoic mother, she progresses through childhood in relatively uneventful normalcy. We hear nothing of her failures — simply the occasional mention of gifts and school friends in letters. Her diaries begin as she is introduced to society in 1913, a 21-year-old, and we embark on the typical journey of an early 20th century young adult’s life. Some may see inference in my narrative of Helen but, after years of relating her anecdotes as I go from room to room, I find her to be a true romantic. I relish the personal moments that she divulges amongst the mundane. Helen Campbell fell in love within these walls and this year would be her 100th wedding anniversary.
Bill wasn’t who she was supposed to marry. A pinematch box maker from Puxatawney, Pennsylvania, he had little to recommend him as a suitor. He was ten years older than Helen and he lived with 300 other men at the University Club in downtown Spokane. Perhaps she was attracted to the novelty of an unsuitable courtship at first or perhaps Bill was always going to be “the one”, but Helen hemmed and hawed over him for years as her mother fretted over the relationship. Other suitors came and went, but Bill’s consistent presence in the pages of her diary is telling. They had drives in the electric car, trips to the theater, quiet dinners at home with mother followed by evenings of Parcheesi in front of the Gothic sandstone fireplace in the Campbell’s library.
She married Bill on June 27, 1917, in front of that same fireplace. The Spokane Daily Chronicle described the event as “one of the most stately and pretentious functions ever seen in Spokane”. Her life with Bill would be filled with challenges. Shortly after their wedding he would be sent overseas to fight in WWI, missing the birth of their first son, William. Their second son, Alan, was lost in WWII. Despite the trials and tribulations, it is the narrative of life that draws us to history and the history of the Campbells. The love story of Helen and Bill is here waiting at the Northwest Museum. Come take a tour and celebrate 100 years.
A few quotes from Helen’s Diary mentioning the wedding and the war.