“Hell no, I won’t go!” is all I could think of as she blew her top, sending the mushroom cloud of ash and gases over 15 miles high into the atmosphere and 40 miles wide.
Harry R. Truman was on everyone’s mind on May 18th, 1980, when Mount St. Helen erupted. Our local legend and folk hero refused to leave his home, Mount St. Helens Lodge. He chanted that phrase repeatedly to the media and anyone who would listen. Harry was beloved by not only his friends and family, but by the entire Pacific Northwest. Before his death, he was already a celebrity and caused a media flurry. He attracted the attention of National Geographic, United Press International, and The Today Show. He appeared on the front pages of The San Francisco Examiner and The New York Times. Many other major magazines did profiles on him such as Newsweek, Life, Time, Field & Stream and Reader’s Digest.
They continued to pay tribute to him after his death. Oscar-winning actor, Art Carney, portrayed Harry Truman in the docudrama film St. Helens in 1981. They also commemorated him in a book, poems, in several musical pieces, and many songs, including those by Headgear, Billy Jonas, and Shawn Wright & The Brothers Band.
I was a few months shy of ten years old and often think of the eruption which decapitated this mountain. Harry remains tied to this mountain in my mind. I worried about him and wished he would leave when they asked him to. I was a kid that didn’t want this nice guy to perish. I asked my mom what happened to Harry that Sunday. She looked at me, her eyes sizing me up. I imagine she was figuring out how to tell her overly sympathetic daughter the news. She put her arm around me and told me calmly he didn’t leave the mountain. She let me arrive to my conclusion of his fate. My mind went to picturing him standing there and struck with pyroclastic flows. I did not comprehend his choice to pick death. I grasped a little better as an adult why an 83-year-old man who loved that mountain and his home made that decision. It was tough for a ten-year-old.
We lived in Willamette Valley. Specifically, Salem, Oregon. We saw the plume from there, about 110 miles away. The eruption was audible farther than the 200 miles the scientists claimed. One account recorded was in Newport, Oregon.