Pedestrians and people driving by the corner of Mason and Maple streets in Bellingham last week may have been questioning why in the world people were burning sage in front of the “Welcome to the Historic Sehome Neighborhood” sign.
The answer is simple, but the backstory is more complex.
On the morning of Thursday, July 13, the sign was returned to the corner after spending a couple of years in front of a nearby apartment complex, and then being removed and refurbished. A 2:30 p.m. “saging” ceremony, held hours after it was reinstalled, was meant to welcome the sign back to its original locale and to expel any bad energy the sign had accumulated since it was nearly smashed to pieces by a drunk driver a few years ago.
Jane Kimura, a resident of the historic neighborhood since 2007, said she organized the event to draw attention not only to the sign, but to the people who worked diligently to get the Sehome Hill National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
They were able to do so in 2000, thanks in part to the book “At Home on the Hill: A Historical Album of an Early 20th Century Neighborhood on Sehome Hill.”
The tome was on hand to browse at the casual event held in front of Matt Hargleroad’s house, the white craftsman-style edifice which is pictured on the sign. People paged through the book to find the history of their own homes, or of places they used to rent in the neighborhood comprising approximately 150 residences.
As people sipped sparkling cider and caught up with others (and their dogs), Kimura thanked them for coming.
“We’re really happy that we can celebrate the return of the sign, which is very important to this neighborhood,” she said. “It kind of defines us. We’re in this special area. And thanks for all the people who worked very hard on this book. The sign is a reality because of this book.”
Kimura also gave props to Wray Berry, who designed the cover of “At Home on the Hill” and also designed the stately sign which was first installed at the turn of the century. Berry and her daughter, Carol — both of whom helped do the research on the book and get the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places — were also at the saging of the sign, which is near the 1925 duplex they share.
Sehome resident Jane Kimura talks about the history of the Sehome sign at a gathering of more than a dozen neighbors. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
“We can see the sign from our front porch, and it’s just lovely,” Carol Berry said. “It was really interesting researching the history of our neighborhood. It’s an ordinary, working-class neighborhood and a group of us wanted to research who had lived in our houses. We learned to do that research.”
Longtime Sehome Hill resident Vince Foster was also in attendance. Foster helped put the sign back together after the last crash. He said it was in four big pieces. The sign had a good frame but was still quite a project.
“People have crashed that corner a lot,” he said. “I was on the [Sehome Neighborhood Association] board back at the beginning of the century, and it’s been up since then.”
Since the last accident, a median has been installed near the turn, and there are now two lanes instead of four, which Foster and others think have helped slow traffic and make the corner safer.
By the time Matt Tellez and neighbor Katrina Whitefield approached the sign with bundles of sage — his bound tightly, hers in a loose collection — everyone had gathered in front of the sign to pay their respects.
“Before I start, I usually like to state an intention,” Tellez said. “The intention here is to clear any negative energies from this sign, clear any of the old accidents and to protect this space for all of you guys.”
As the two “sagers” wafted smoke on and around the sign and then moved up to the house to do the same, people stood around telling stories about the neighborhood and the years they’ve spent there. Some have seen their kids move out of the house, while others are in the process of raising their own families.
Matt Hargleroad owns the property on which the sign resides. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Hargleroad, who moved into the house on Memorial Day weekend after renting in the York Neighborhood for years, is the latter. He has two daughters and is happy to be part of the Sehome Hill crowd.
“The sign is a landmark, and having it here makes us feel like a part of the community,” he said.
When asked if he had any concerns about somebody running into the sign again, he said he didn’t due to the recent upgrades to the road.
“Plus, it’s been saged,” he added, laughing.