If you have ever taken the Boeing Factory Tour or seen the Mukilteo Historical Society Storytellers, chances are you have seen or heard of Christopher Summitt. Summitt has been actively involved with the Mukilteo Historical Society since the late 90s and has become a vital part of restoring, sharing, and maintaining the history of Mukilteo. The engaging speaker and writer took the time to speak to us about his background, the historical society, films, and the Future of Flight.
DM: You and your wife, Dr. Margaret Robe Summitt, have extensive involvement with the Mukilteo Historical Society. Can you tell me your current role and how you started with the historical society?
CS: I started attending the Historical society meetings about 1998. Before long I was Volunteering at the Lighthouse on summer weekends, engaging the public. That soon lead to making presentations during the monthly meetings, then various society roles.
Margaret is Secretary for the Historical Society, I’m a former Board Member.
Currently, I’m just a researcher. I use photoshop to clean-up & restore period photos. Often I’ve dressed in period clothing as the Pioneer Founder of Mukilteo, Jacob Fowler. I’ve been at ribbon cutting ceremonies, season openings of the Lighthouse, Memorial Day at the Pioneer Cemetery. Pre-Covid, I went to local schools making presentations to 3rd & 4th grade students, sometimes meeting them later at the Lighthouse when they make a fieldtrip. Margaret & I prepare short presentations called Mukilteo Monthly Minute, as a sort of warm up for the MHS monthly meeting’s main speaker on ZOOM.
DM: According to the Mukilteo Historical Society website, you are one of their storytellers. Tell us how you started doing historical reenactments and why you chose Jacob Fowler.
CS: Both Margaret & I have a strong backgrounds in History & Genealogy. I worked many years as a Ranger/historian at the former Custer Battlefield National Monument, involved with historical re-enactment, archaeology, storytelling. Jacob Fowler is from a period I’m well familiar with.
DM: In addition to giving presentations on Mukilteo History, what is involved in becoming a storyteller?
CS: Interest in Mukilteo History, engaging the public, raising their interest and enthusiasm for the local story of which we are all part.
DM: Can you tell everyone what other services the Mukilteo Historical Society provides?
CS: Staffing the Lighthouse, gift shop, keeping an eye on it’s the site issues in cooperation with the City of Mukilteo, maintaining the historical collections.
DM: What is your favorite place in Mukilteo to visit and why?
CS: The Pioneer Cemetery. It’s a very quiet place, on the bluffs just south of Lighthouse Park. There’s a lovely view of the south end of Whidbey Island. One can watch sea mammals cavorting in the waters from up there, they’re more in view now that the ferry has shifted to the new dock further north. I occasionally stop by and pray a Rosary there. Pioneers Fowler, Frost, & Native folk are buried there, alongside Japanese workers from Crown Lumber.
DM: In addition to your work with the historical society, you volunteer at the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival. Can you tell us more about your role and why you chose to help the festival?
CS: I started as a liaison to the Festival Committee from the Historical society. Activity with it just took on more & more duties. For the last ten years or so I’ve been in logistics for the Festival & in particular, using 3D modelling to place our booths & layouts for accurate maps which help in planning, visualizing, and setting up the actual arrangements. Document everything on the ground so we can see what works best. I could sure use an apprentice, as I won’t be around forever.
DM: You were named the Best Tour Guide for your work at the Boeing Factory Tour on various travel websites. Are there any plans to resume the tour?
CS: It’s hoped we’ll be at it again next summer. 12 years Work as a Boeing Tour Guide has always been a great satisfaction to me. At it’s height a Guide, doing 3 tours a day, might speak to over 12,000 visitors each year. It’s no small thing. The logistics of circulating 4 full buses at a time, 52 people on each, over to the factory, through the access tunnels, up to balconies, out of the way of our Boeing workers, being on time, not getting in each other’s way, & getting them all safely back again to Future of Flight, is quite an achievement. Telling the Boeing story in the biggest building in world, with the greatest aircraft that ever flew.
DM: Is there an achievement or contribution you are most proud of, and why?
CS: The 1984-85 Archaeology surveys at Custer battlefield. My 12 years on the Boeing Tour, my years with the Mukilteo Historical Society & Lighthouse Festival.
DM: Since you’re a history buff, we must ask, what’s your favorite book or movie about history?
CS: History is someone’s storytelling. Real life doesn’t easily fit into a volume, or 2 hours in a theater. Adapting events into an interesting story is a great challenge. Nothing was as simple as it looks to us. A lot depends on what I’m watching or reading for. If its books I’m checking sources & footnotes. In film its much harder, for the storyteller has to keep it interesting to his audience. Margaret & I have been in several documentaries on different historical subjects and none of them were satisfying in the results. I found the same issue with artists who wanted to paint “Custer’s Last Stand” as it really looked. Trouble is they also needed to make the imagery interesting and stimulating to their audience. For film, “Ulzana’s Raid” is one of the best, realistic depictions of the Native frontier wars. “Gettysburg” & “Ride with the Devil” the best on the Civil War. Bondarchuk’s “Waterloo” & “War & Peace” are very satisfying.
DM: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
CS: Hard on say. Crazy Horse & Custer. As mythic figures, they both have been so buried in caricature that they would be unrecognizable to their contemporaries. We forget that they had to pull their trousers on one leg at a time like we all do, that they did what they did without any thought of what we would think of them 150 years later. Today, Crazy Horse & Custer, as real people, have more in common with each other than they ever could have with us of the Cell phone generation. Their world was lit by firelight. You went to bed when the sun did. I’m in no position to judge them.
DM: Is there any question I should have asked and didn’t? If so, what?