[Back to Formatted Version]

Mount St. Helens Oral History Collection, 2015

By Chris Petersen

Collection Overview

Title: Mount St. Helens Oral History Collection, 2015

ID: OH 050

Primary Creator: Schmieding, Sam

Extent: 10.9 gigabytes. More info below.

Arrangement: The interviews held in this collection have been organized into a single series, 1. Interviews, 2015, and arranged chronologically within the series.

Date Acquired: 00/00/2019

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Mount St. Helens Oral History Collection consists of seven interviews conducted in 2015 by historian Samuel Schmieding with five scientists and one administrator who have played a leading role in the study and management of Mount St. Helens, a Cascades Range volcano that famously and catastrophically erupted on May 18, 1980. All of the interviews described in this collection have been transcribed and made available online.

Scope and Content Notes

The born digital interviews described in this collection were mostly conducted at the Mount St. Helens Scientific Pulse, a periodic gathering of members of the scientific community working on the ecological response to the 1980 eruption. One interview, with Virginia Dale, was collected in Baltimore, Maryland at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America. All interviews were led by historian Samuel Schmieding and collected to audio-only, sometimes in multiple parts. The original *.wav files collected by Schmieding have been preserved. In addition, *.mp3 derivatives have also been created for each file, and multiple files collected for a given interview have been compiled together for user access. Each interview has also been professionally transcribed and made available online. The biographical sketches and abstracts used to contextualize each of these interviews in their online form were written by Frederick J. Swanson.

Topics covered in these interviews include: narrators' personal backgrounds, mentors and colleagues; experiences of the mountain prior to the 1980 eruption, memories of the eruption itself and the immediate aftermath; research activities in the blast zone on mammals, birds and aquatic species, vegetation, and geology; the human toll of the eruption and its cultural and economic impact; the creation and importance of the National Volcanic Monument; conflicting opinions on how best to manage the Mount St. Helens ecosystem; the many safety risks inherent to field study at Mount St. Helens; comparative research at other eruption sites; the importance of the Pulse gatherings; and thoughts on the future of the mountain and its surrounding area.

Biographical / Historical Notes

Mount St. Helens is an active volcano located in the Cascade mountain range in southwest Washington state. For centuries a sacred space to the region's indigenous communities, the mountain became a popular site for recreation during the twentieth century, with many flocking in particular to Spirit Lake on its north side. In March 1980, a series of small earthquakes - followed by episodes of steam venting - indicated that the long dormant volcano was becoming geologically active again. On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens famously erupted in spectacular fashion, ultimately losing more than 1,300 feet in elevation from its peak, unleashing a fearsome landslide, and creating a cloud of ash that blanketed communities across the Pacific Northwest and eventually circulated around the world. At least fifty-seven people were killed by the explosion, with property damage estimates in the billions of dollars.

On August 26, 1982, an act of Congress designated the mountain and 110,000 acres that surrounded it as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. This declaration restricted development activities within the monument to permit natural processes to "proceed substantially unimpeded" so that research could track responses of the land to the eruption. The resulting wealth of research findings have been conducted in part by the following individuals, who were interviewed for this collection in 2015.

Lynn Burditt has served in a variety of leadership positions in the National Forest System of the US Forest Service, including tenures as Ranger at the Blue River Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest and Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is located.

Charlie Crisafulli, an ecologist with the US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station and based at Mount St. Helens since the early 1980s, has conducted his own studies on a wide variety of topics, facilitated work of many others, spearheaded local and broader outreach programs, and advanced the field of volcano ecology globally.

Virginia Dale began studying Mount St. Helens while a graduate student at the University of Washington and continued during her career as a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Focusing on vegetation in the debris avalanche, Dale was a contributing author and editor for two books providing overviews of ecological research at Mount St. Helens.

Jerry Franklin began his relationship with Mount St. Helens on family and Boy Scout camping trips, studied the vegetation as an early-career Forest Service scientist and later as a professor at the University of Washington, led Andrews Experimental Forest research program in the 1970s and early 1980s, and helped lead studies at Mount St. Helens.

Bob Parmenter was an ecology graduate at Utah State University when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. Soon thereafter, he began studies of animals in collaboration with Charlie Crisafulli and others that ran for decades over his career as an ecologist with the US Geological Survey.

Fred Swanson had a long career as a research geologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, focusing in particular on the geology-ecology interface in ecosystem research groups at Mount St. Helens and the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. His roles included conducting research, administration, and communications, including engagements of artists and creative writers in those places.

Author: Chris Petersen and Frederick J. Swanson

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 7 audio files

Statement on Access: The collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: The collection was transferred to the Special Collections and Archives Research Center by Fred Swanson and Samuel Schmieding in 2019.

Related Materials:

SCARC is home to numerous collections housing materials related to Mount St. Helens and documenting its 1980 eruption. These include the Norman H. Anderson Papers (MSS AndersonN), the James R. Sedell Papers (MSS Sedell), the Chuck Williams Photograph Collection (P 345), the T.J. Starker Papers (MSS Starker), the Water Resources Research Institute Records (RG 251), the Oregon State University Memorabilia Collection (MSS MC), the Gerald Williams Slides (P 314), and the Extension and Experiment Station Moving Images (FV 120).

Video footage of the mountain venting in spring 1980 as well as a southern view of its May 18th eruption is held in the News and Communication Services Motion Picture Films and Videotapes Collection (FV 057) and available online. An oral history interview with newspaper journalist Roger Werth, who photographed the eruption, is held in the Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Collection (OH 026) and is also available online. Photographs of the mountain, both pre- and post-eruption, taken by Charles Rosenfeld, are available in the College of Science Records (RG 024).

SCARC also holds two topically related oral history collections that were generated, at least in part, by Samuel Schmieding with the assistance of Fred Swanson: the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Oral History Collection (OH 028) and the Northwest Forest Plan Oral History Collection (OH 048). The full contents of both of those oral history collections are available online through the SCARC exhibit, Voice of the Forests, Voices of the Mills.

Finally, a book titled After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens (Eric Wagner, University of Washington Press, 2020), makes use of the interviews held in this collection in telling the story of scientific inquiry at Mount St. Helens since 1980.

Preferred Citation: Mount St. Helens Oral History Collection (OH 050), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.


Schmieding, Sam
Swanson, Frederick J. (Frederick John), 1943-

People, Places, and Topics

Mountain ecology--Washington (State).
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument (Wash.)
Natural Resources
Saint Helens, Mount (Wash.)
Saint Helens, Mount (Wash.)--Eruption, 1980.
Stream ecology--Washington (State)
Volcanic eruptions
Volcanoes--Washington (State).

Forms of Material

Born digital.
Oral histories (literary genre)

Box and Folder Listing

Series 1: Interviews, 2015
All interviews were conducted by Samuel Schmieding and collected to audio-only. In addition to the item-level links provided below, the collected contents of this series are also available online.
Extent: 7 audio files

Digital Folder 1: Fred Swanson, July 25, 2015
Interview conducted at the Swanson residence, Corvallis, Oregon.
Extent: 3:23:26

Digital Folder 2: Jerry Franklin, July 27, 2015
Interview conducted at Mount St. Helens Science Pulse base camp.
Extent: 2:13:00

Digital Folder 3: Bob Parmenter, July 29, 2015
Interview conducted at the Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument.
Extent: 1:27:37

Digital Folder 4: Virginia Dale, July 30, 2015
Interview conducted at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Extent: 1:08:13

Digital Folder 5: Lynn Burditt, July 31, 2015
Interview conducted at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Extent: 3:01:30

Digital Folder 6: Virginia Dale, August 12, 2015
Interview conducted at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland.
Extent: 1:23:47

Digital Folder 7: Charlie Crisafulli, September 15, 2015
Interview conducted in Chelatchie Prairie, Washington.
Extent: 4:13:09

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.