Interview With Mel Wortman

From the interview with Mel Wortman on June 1, 2004 conducted by Patience Rogge by phone from the Fort Worden History Center. Mr. Wortman served as a member of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission from 1984 to 1996. Here he discusses the development of “Memory’s Vault,” the art installation on Artillery Hill:

“The law required Parks to spend X amount in the arts…so we had construction projects going that required X amount of money to be spent, and unfortunately the way the interpretation of the law was that the Arts Commission would decide what was going to go there. And so they decided first, before my time, that grotesque looking thing over there on the lawn as you go up the hill. That was one of their projects. And then came the ‘Memory’s Vault’. And there were some Port Townsend way out folks (who) convinced the Arts Commission that this concept would be a great thing. The director at the time, Jan Tvetin, decided the best way was to let them put it in, but we could choose where it went. He decided and the commission approved, if you will, hiding it up there. … The vegetation has grown up considerably in front of it but not that much. It was the intent of the director and myself, and approved by the commission to sort of hide it because we didn’t want to see where they had spent a million and a half or some such ungodly number of dollars. It was a fabulous amount of money and people were paid. Then there was a guy commissioned from Port Angeles who was, if you will, a weirdo. He was to come up with the inscription on the plates. … Jan and I had a look at them, and I being a World War II vet, I just about blew my cork because one of the lines was…where it said the sailors who were dying of syphilis, the soldiers who were dying of syphilis and so on and so on…I tried my best to change it but decisions were made…I do believe our agency would have gone to court (but) the Parks Commission didn’t have the authority. So right after it was built then someone went up in the still of the night with a center punch and a hammer and obliterated it so you couldn’t read it….”

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