Community mourns historian Milt Swanson
February 6, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Family, neighbors and community leaders gathered Jan. 25 to honor the life of Milt Swanson, a titan of Newcastle history and the man with an unceasing, warming smile.
The Newcastle pioneer, born and raised in this community, spent all of his 95 years living in the same area, 90 of which were in the same company house that still stands at the edge of town near the Cougar Mountain trailhead.
Swanson died Jan. 20 after a Jan. 14 fall sent him to the hospital, where he lapsed into a coma.
He knew more about the city’s vast coal-mining history than anyone, because he actually lived it. He worked in the mines, as his father and grandfather did before him, and it was vital to him to tell his story, making sure the history of Newcastle never died.
“It was important to him to allow as many people who were interested to understand the beginnings of the city they live in,” Newcastle City Councilman Rich Crispo said. “He loved this community.”
Friends remembered Swanson as a sharp, inquisitive man, with a sense of humor that made him impossible to dislike.
“He made me laugh all of the time,” said Newcastle Historical Society member Vickie Baima Olson. “He would always put a humorous twist on things.”
Swanson was the authority when it came to Newcastle history, leading him to create the Newcastle Historical Society.
For the better part of its more than 20 years of existence, the Newcastle Historical Society was a place where passionate history junkies could get their fix by attending monthly meetings where the legend that is Swanson would talk about the good old days.
It’s evolved since then, making a greater effort to preserve the city’s history, but Swanson was still a major part of that, Olson said.
“Milt, I think, died in peace,” she said. “I think he felt confident that his artifacts would have a good home and the Newcastle Historical Society would protect the history.”
At the group’s Newcastle Days booth, Swanson was often an attraction himself, a veritable encyclopedia of the city’s history, Newcastle Trails board member Giles Velte said.
“He is an irreplaceable part of our history,” Velte said.
Swanson had a love of railroads and speeders, something he shared with Newcastle Historical Society President Russ Segner.
“We both love railroad history, so we bonded over that,” Segner said. “He really was one of the final links between Newcastle as it has evolved, and the history that existed here from the 1900s, on up through the evolution of the Eastside.”
Crispo said he learned nearly everything he knows about the history of the city from Swanson. He, along with Olson, would often sit for hours listening to Swanson’s stories, while they recorded him for an oral history project.
“Milt was a 95-year-old guy that represented what all of us would like to be at 95,” Crispo said. “He was still somebody who could teach, somebody who could share his knowledge, right until the day he died. Not many people can do that.”