Repository Spotlight: Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo

AHA is pleased to introduce you to another repository featured in the 5th Edition of the Directory of Historical Records Repositories in Hawai’i.  This month’s pick is the Pacific Tsunami Museum Archives.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located on the corner of Kamehameha Ave. and Kalakaua St in downtown Hilo.  The building, built by First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawaiꞌi’s most prominent architect of the early 20th century.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located on the corner of Kamehameha Ave. and Kalakaua St in downtown Hilo. The building, built for First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawaiꞌi’s most prominent architect of the early 20th century.

Hawai’i has a long history with tsunamis, which remain an ever-present threat to the islands.  The Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM) is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides tsunami education programs to residents and visitors to the State.  The PTM Archives houses one of the world’s most extensive collections of tsunami photographs, maps, oral histories, scientific papers, documents, videos, and artifacts, many of which are on display within museum exhibits.  PTM archive materials are used in programming to promote tsunami understanding.  The Museum shares the stories of communities that have risen up after tragedy and survivor voices that impart a warning for others with lessons learned.

Caption:   The book Hawai’i Tsunamis includes images and survivor stories primarily from the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis, but also includes the 1950’s, 1975, 2010, 2011, and 2012 tsunamis.  Some of the images in the book are seen in print for the first time, from collections recently acquired.  Men running from the huge third wave in downtown Hilo in 1946. PTM Yasuki Arakaki Collection. Cecilio Licos, photographer.

“Hawai’i Tsunamis” in the newest book produced by the PTM and includes images and survivor stories from several tsunami events; some of the images in the book are seen in print for the first time.

 

The Archives has an extensive collection of historic images, which include photographs depicting the aftermath of tsunamis and advancing tsunami waves and historic images of Hawai’i, particularly of Hilo town.  Exciting new photograph collections in the archive include aerial photographs taken after the 1946 tsunami and also high resolution color images taken after the 1960 tsunami.  Some of the new images were recently published in the book Hawai’i Tsunamis, authored by PTM Archivist/Curator, Barbara Muffler.

“My dad says that if we are going to die, we hold each other hands so they can find everybody together.”  – Bertram Kinoshita

Perhaps the most important collection is the oral histories, emulating a “living archive”.  The oral history collection includes over 600 first-hand accounts, from tsunami survivors and witnesses, in video and written format.

“Faces began to appear at the windows of buildings damaged so heavily that any life in them seemed impossible.”  -A.E.P. Wall

Kazu Murakami, 15-years old at the time, had been washed out to sea at Laupahoehoe during the 1946 tsunami.  He drifted overnight and was rescued the next day by David Cook and brought aboard the Naval ship LST 731.

Kazu had been washed out to sea at Laupahoehoe during the 1946 tsunami. He drifted overnight and was rescued the next day by Naval ship LST 731. Photo from PTM Archives.

One of my favorite stories starts with a photograph (right) donated to the archive that showed a man hanging on the side of a Naval ship rescuing a boy that had been washed out to sea during the 1946 tsunami.  The identity of the boy and the rescuer were unknown at the time… but then two random visits to the Museum within eight days of each other connected the families of both men to the photograph.  Years later, the PTM brought the men, David Cook and Kazu Murakami, together for a “surprise reunion” at the Museum and to share their amazing stories.  

Kazu was 15 years old at the time and had spent the day and night drifting at sea.  He was taken to the military hospital after his rescue; however, he was not identified by his family, even thought they had searched for him there, because his sunburned condition had made him unrecognizable.  When he was discharged, Kazu took a bus home where he found family members planning his funeral.

Tsunamis have played a significant role in determining where people live and work in the Hawaiian Islands.  With hundreds of lives lost and extensive damages, the Big Island areas of Hilo and Laupahoehoe have been heavily impacted by tsunami events; but the disasters also brought countless stories of survival and heroism.  Out of these tragedies, families relocated into new homes, beautiful open spaces and parks were developed in waterfront areas, and the warning system improved to allow more assurances to the community during future events.  The PTM stands as a living memorial to those who lost their lives in past tsunamis and those that reshaped their communities out of these tragedies.

“The city’s spirit was one of rebuilding, with greater safety precautions than ever before, confident that out of the rubble would come a more beautiful and more productive community.” -A.E.P. Wall

If you have any questions about the Archive, please contact the PTM Archivist at (808) 935-0926 or email at tsunami@tsunami.org.

Jill Sommer

 

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