Eastern Fires: A Wikipedia Editing

By Logan Stanley, Staff Writer

On Feb. 15, EWU Libraries hosted a Wikipedia editing event that tasked students, faculty and staff with the assignment of constructing an entry about the EWU fires into the website’s database.

Referred to as an “edit-a-thon,” it is the second rendition of the event and is organized by EWU’s Education Librarian, James Rosenzweig.

“It’s a chance for us to choose something about Eastern’s history that isn’t covered on Wikipedia and to use the resources we have in the library, in our archives, special collections to add material to Wikipedia,” Rosenzweig said, who has been an administrator at Wikipedia since August 2003.

This year’s selection was the Eastern fires that occurred in 1891, 1912 and 1977. Wikipedia has no articles on their site about the fires. Last year, the editing event produced an article on EWU’s Red Reese, the coach who has won the most games in the history of EWU.

Those who chose to participate in editing were armed with laptops and supplemented with stacks of papers. Tables were designated for each fire. Scattered across the tables were printed newspaper articles sourced from microfilm: traditional scans of old newspapers, a few books written about EWU, maps of Cheney and State Normal School (EWU’s former name) and meeting minutes from the Board of Trustees.

In all, Rosenzweig said “we probably got 60-70 different unique resources.”

With their laptops and newspaper articles, those editing scoured and poured over the information to add to each specific entry. Dates, times and locations were all checked to ensure accuracy of the new passage being put into Wikipedia.

The first fire that happened in 1891 burned down the entire university — which consisted of one building — and was then referred to as the State Normal School. The fire was reportedly caused “when a leaking hydrant soaked a pile of lime next to the building.”

The school was finally rebuilt, but then a portion, a main classroom and an office building, subsequently burned down in 1912. The cause is allegedly unknown but “was speculated to be faulty wiring.”

Rosenzweig said that after the first two fires, the state of Washington was unsure if they wanted to pay to rebuild the school. Quite literally, EWU came very close to ceasing to exist. Ultimately, the school was rebuilt.

The most recent fire, which happened in 1977, burned down the entire Old Fieldhouse. Rosenzweig said there was already a three sentence article on the 1977 fire, so their intentions were to add onto the existing material. As of now, all three fires have Wikipedia entries.

The turnout was stronger than last year, with more students already showing up in the first few hours of the event than the totality of the previous year, Rosenzweig said.

One of the participants was EWU graduate student Angel Rios, who has attended both editing events.

“It was kind of fun to be in a room doing something I’m so passionate about with people who aren’t necessarily studying history the same way I do, but they’re very interested in what is taking place in the history of the institution,” Rios said.

Rios — who is also the treasurer of Phi Alpha Theta, EWU’s history club — was encouraged to come to the event as an aspiring historian. She said she was sure there were more than two fires and wanted to find out for herself.

Looking ahead, the plan is to put on the edit-a-thon again next year, but the topic remains undecided, Rosenzweig said.