Pilgrimage to Manzanar Internment Camp

For my wife’s birthday last November, we traveled to California to visit family and tour some of the national parks in Southern California. After visiting Joshua Tree National Park, we headed north to Death Valley. Not exactly between Death Valley and Pinnacles National Parks, but not too far out of the way, is the site of the Manzanar internment camp.

For reasons outlined in posts on my discovery of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and its history, we made the pilgrimage to Manzanar.

The first internment camp to receive detainees, Manzanar was opened on 21 March 1942 and remained open for over three years, closing on 21 November 1945. It’s peak population was 10,046, housing prisoners from Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, and San Joaquin County in California, and Washington’s Bainbridge Island. In the shadow of Mt. Whitney’s 14,500 foot peak, Manzanar is 200 miles from Los Angeles, but felt like 1,000 miles from nowhere when I visited.

Manzanar is also one of the best-known and best-documented of the 10 permanent internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. It drew the attention of photographers like Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, among others.

“Street scene in winter, photographer Ansel Adams, 1943, Manzanar concentration camp, California.,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-i93-00023-1/.

It has been a California Historical Landmark since 1972, and was designated a National Historic Site when President George H.W. Bush signed H.R. 543 into law in March 1992.

The National Park Service runs the site, which includes a replica of one of the watchtowers, a visitor center in the restored Manzanar High School Auditorium (including exhibits, gift shop, movie theater), reconstructed barracks, the archeologically excavated “Pleasure Park,” and the iconic monument at Manzanar cemetery.

It is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in this and related aspects of our nation’s history. For those who can’t make it, following are some photos that may give a feel for the place.

Sign at the gate of Manzanar War Relocation Center. Photo by David Yamane
Replica of one of the guard towers positioned at the perimeter of the internment camp. Photo by David Yamane
Exhibit superimposing names of detainees at Manzanar on photo of the camp. Photo by David Yamane
20 detainees named “Yamane” among the 10,000+. Photo by David Yamane
Exhibit listing names of individuals who entered the U.S. Army from Manzanar internment camp and/or had immediate family interned at Manzanar while they served in the U.S. military. Photo by David Yamane
Exhibit of reconstructed barracks. Photo by David Yamane
Exhibit showing condition of barracks upon initial arrival in 1942. Photo by David Yamane
View from window of barracks exhibit. Photo by David Yamane
“Pleasure Park” marker. Photo by David Yamane
Excavated bridge and ponds in Pleasure Park. Photo by David Yamane
“Turtle Rock” at Pleasure Park. Photo by David Yamane
“Soul Consoling Tower” (Kanji inscription) monument at Manzanar cemetery, just outside the barbed wire fence of the internment camp. Photo by David Yamane
Chains of origami cranes left at Manzanar cemetery monument. Photo by David Yamane
150 people died while interned at Manzanar. 15 were laid to rest in the Manzanar cemetery, and 6 remain including “Baby Jerry.” Photo by David Yamane

Published by David Yamane

Sociologist at Wake Forest U, student of gun culture, tennis player, racket stringer (MRT), whisk(e)y drinker, bow-tie wearer, father, husband. Not necessarily in that order.

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