By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Greta Edwards is 9. At home in Everett, she uses an iPad Mini or sometimes a laptop. Until this week, her little fingers had never touched a typewriter.
Wednesday afternoon, Greta sat at a typing table — a relic of the past, like the sturdy Remington Office Riter typewriter that had captured her imagination.
The manual typewriter wasn’t in a dusty old office or an antique shop. It was — and is, through Aug. 5 — outside Renee’s, a women’s clothing shop at 2820 Colby Ave. in downtown Everett.
It’s one of 10 vintage typewriters, 40 to more than 70 years old and all manual, on display downtown and intended for public use as part of “Word on the Street.” Sponsored by the city of Everett, it’s an interactive art project that includes assignments for typists willing to share their thoughts for all to see.
Everett Public Library workers came up with queries that are printed atop “Question of the Day” pages. Those sheets are in typewriter carriages, ready for writers to get to work at the sidewalk tables.
Greta, who attends View Ridge Elementary School, didn’t take long pondering her answer to “What is the best gift you’ve ever received?”
“I’m going to say ‘My new skis,’?” said the girl, before tap-tap-tapping out her straightforward answer.
No one was typing late Wednesday on the old Royal outside HomeStreet Bank near the Everett Public Library. But that best-gift question had been answered earlier by several typists, and the paper was still there. The string of answers included: “Bottle of 2002 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon,” “The amazing science of IVF,” “FORGIVENESS!!!!” and “My wife Wilma.”
Typewriters were rolled out Wednesday at spots along Colby, Hoyt and Wetmore avenues. By Aug. 6, typewriters and tables will be put away, and pianos will be brought out for an encore season.
Lisa Newland, the city’s cultural arts coordinator, said the city has at least 16 pianos, many donated and decorated in years past, for the city’s Street Tunes program. Musicians will be playing impromptu piano concerts downtown Aug. 6-26.
Newland said the inspiration for “Word on the Street” came when Carol Thomas, Everett’s cultural arts manager, was in New Orleans and saw poets typing on street corners. Everett already showcases music and visual arts in public places. The typewriters, nearly all of them donated, offered a way to engage people in literary arts, Newland said.
Thomas said some answers shared by typists will be posted in storefronts and on social media.
Like the street pianos, typing tables were decorated by local artists, including Shannon Danks, Amber Forrest, Lyussy Hyder, Roxann Jaross, Jesse James Jeter, Erin Mee, Dawn Westmoreland and Josey Wise. With the written word as their theme, “all the artists had a different take,” Newland said. “They all did a wonderful job.”
The city had help from David Austin, who runs Northwest Business Products. He cleaned the old typewriters, fixed stuck keys and installed new ribbons.
A 1938 Royal Magic Margin is the oldest typewriter in the program. It’s outside Silver Cup Coffee, at 2707 Colby Ave. “That one looks the coolest,” said Austin, 43, who took over the longtime Everett business after his father Lauren Austin died in 2006.
These days, he repairs copiers, printers and even some typewriters. Austin said some law firms and other offices that fill out forms still use typewriters.
Along with Royals and Remingtons, there’s an early-1960s Olympia outside the library. For me, that one has the perfect snap. The Herald’s newsroom staff was still working on typewriters when I was an intern in 1978.
This week, the low-tech typewriter turned up in news about an up-to-the-minute issue. According to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers, Germany has considered using manual typewriters as a way to thwart alleged U.S. spying.
Some typists may need a lesson or two.
The QWERTY keyboard — that name comes from the top left row of letters — is the same as on a standard computer, but striking manual typewriter keys takes a lot more force. And Newland has seen some real puzzlement among novice typists.
“They get to the end of the line, they don’t know what to do when the bell rings,” she said.
Hey kids, that metal lever on the left is a carriage return — you have to do it by hand.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.