Somehow the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage showed up on my radar this year, and then I had enough vacation time to make a long weekend of it and go! In an ideal world it would have been cool to take more time and make a road trip out of it, but sometimes you have to just roll with the possible. And even with the Pilgrimage being the main point of the trip, we did get some sightseeing in.
The Pilgrimage had events in Cody, WY on Friday, at the Interpretive Center, which is between Cody and Powell, on Saturday, and an add-on hike up Heart Mountain on Sunday. Registration was available for both Friday and Saturday or Saturday only.
The Friday events were educational presentations and multi-generational discussion groups held at the Cody Library, and then a banquet dinner at the Holiday Inn. I found the presentation about artist Estelle Ishigo, one of the few Caucasians incarcerated – she chose to accompany her husband – particularly fascinating. I had not known that there were any Caucasians in the confinement sites. Estelle’s story dovetailed into a presentation on artifacts by Nancy Ukai, and the morning wrapped up with stories from Nisei incarcerees. Information about the draft resistance at Heart Mountain was particularly noteworthy. The afternoon multi-generational discussion groups gave participants a chance to hear stories from former incarcerees and share what brought them to the Pilgrimage. The surprisingly tasty dinner was accompanied by speeches and the presentation of spoken word videos produced in a workshop leading up to the event.
Saturday was an opportunity to visit the Interpretive Center, which includes an excellently done museum space and the remaining structures from the confinement site. The Center has recently acquired an original barrack which has been moved back and is awaiting restoration. There were more speeches, a documentary screening and discussion panel. I was feeling pretty saturated so skipped the evening closing reception.
The displays at the Interpretive Center are very informative and well presented. Even if you don’t read every single word, there are many visual elements that do a great job of conveying the story, such as the before and after barrack rooms. Several displays had movies that had been taken at the confinement site. I’d never seen movies before, and, although they didn’t have sound, they really hit me – particularly the one of Obon dancing. Seeing that, and some color pictures – also a new thing for me – somehow made it all very real. In addition to the permanent exhibits there were special exhibits on photography and of the art of Roger Shimomura. Both were excellent.
Outside there is a reconstruction of a guard tower, and just up the road are several original buildings, a pathway with informational signs pointing out where various areas of the confinement site had been, and memorials that have been erected to commemorate the site, as well as those who had been confined at the site and went on to serve in the military. Much of the area where the barracks were is now hay fields or other agriculture, and private property. Even with having seen the pictures, it’s pretty mind-boggling, looking over the now open space, to think about how a city of over 10,000 people has almost disappeared.
The hike was a nice way to wrap up the weekend – it felt good to be outdoors and doing something active – but more on that in another post. Although I don’t have any personal ties to Heart Mountain, the Pilgrimage was a great experience. There was a wide range of participants – many first time, many repeats, and all ages – one family, which included a former incarceree, was having a reunion along with the event, and had close to fifty members attending, from a babe in arms through several generations. Some had a personal tie to Heart Mountain, some a tie to another confinement site, others not at all – I think it’s good that there is general interest in learning more and keeping the story alive. Even if the event doesn’t fit in your schedule, if you happen to be in the area the Interpretive Center is worth a visit.