The Murrow boys
by Hannelore Sudermann | © Washington State University
In 1913 Ethel and Roscoe Murrow moved their family from their small farm in North Carolina to the Puget Sound community of Blanchard hoping to find a better living for themselves and their three sons.
The worldwide fame of their youngest, Edward ’30, the broadcast journalist, over-shadowed the stories of the rest of the family, particularly the two older brothers. But Dewey x’26 and Lacey ’27, ’35 forged the path for him to follow to Washington State College in Pullman. They, too, led interesting and productive lives and influenced the development of the state. They deserve some attention in their own right, says J. Clark McAbee ’80, the new executive director of the Skagit County Historical Museum.
“We’re going to tell a part of the story very few people know,” he says, as we walk into the hilltop museum in La Conner where the exhibit opens this May. Plumbing the museum’s archives as well as the memories and materials left in the area, McAbee and Craig Holstein of the Washington State Department of Transportation have assembled an exhibit that features all three brothers, their Pacific Northwest childhood, and their legacies.
When the Murrows first arrived they made their home in a tent near Samish Bay. After about a year they settled into a small house in Blanchard. Roscoe found work as a field hand, then took a job in the sawmill, and later became a railroad brakeman and engineer for the Samish Bay Logging Company. While he was away working, Ethel saw to bringing up the boys.
The exhibit, “Peak of Their Professions: the Murrow Brothers,” is broken into several parts. The first explores the family’s time in the Skagit Valley, and through that offers views of development, farming, logging, and rural life. All three boys earned money as farmworkers, and then as teenagers worked in logging camps. They also hunted, drove the local school bus, and played sports with their classmates.
The Washington State College section explores fraternity life, campus in the 1920s, the ROTC, and their studies. Lacey focused on engineering, Dewey on agriculture, and Ed on speech.
There’s so much more to their story, says McAbee. For example, at the young age of 28, Lacey was appointed the Washington State Director of Highways. Though it was during the Great Depression, a number of significant projects were built with his oversight, including the Deception Pass Bridge and the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, now known as Galloping Gertie because of its bucking and breaking apart in a 1940 windstorm.
While Ed and Lacey were ambitious, Dewey was the easygoing brother who dropped out of college to go to South America and prospect for gold, according to Joseph Persico’s biography Edward R. Murrow: An American Original.
Edward had already witnessed the dawn of the Second World War, broadcasting from London when Lacey stepped away from the DOT and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and Dewey enlisted in the Army Corps of Engineers.
After the war, Lacey went to work for the Association of American Railroads and Dewey became a mining engineer and businessman in Spokane. “These two other brothers had very compelling lives,” says McAbee.
He tells their story with the help of family members, letters, materials at the museum, military records, the state department of transportation, and WSU’s archives. His is an exhibit that explores the stories of not one, but three of the community’s most successful sons.
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