By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
The show was called “Margaret.” Inspired by a scrapbook and brought to life by gifted musicians, the April 11 concert was the vision of Everett singer-songwriter Jason Webley. Its subject was Margaret Rucker Armstrong, a daughter of one of the city’s first families.
The Historic Everett Theatre was a packed house. Nearly a dozen performers wowed the crowd with original interpretations of the Everett woman’s life. Webley, along with his friend “Chicken” John Rinaldi, told how Margaret Rucker’s story found its way home.
The scrapbook — filled with young Margaret’s photos and poetry, and newspaper clippings about her life — was found by Rinaldi in a San Francisco dumpster. It wasn’t until years later, when Rinaldi mentioned the scrapbook to his friend from Everett, that Webley learned about Margaret Rucker, who had married a Navy man and moved to California.
“She was a poet who led a beautiful, tragic life — and the way that her scrapbook found its way to me was unlikely and magical,” Webley wrote in an email describing his latest effort.
The Everett concert was a once-only experience, but Webley recently launched an online Kickstarter campaign so the music and the story will find new listeners. He plans to make a CD and create a book based on the Everett woman’s life and music from that amazing April night.
Started July 22 with a goal of $11,111, the fund was up to $39,678 by Tuesday afternoon, with 22 days left to go.
A unique artist and traveler, Webley has fans all over the world. He was pleased at the “Margaret” show to see a diverse mix, “people who were interested in me, and people interested in Everett and Everett’s history.”
In answer to why the successful Kickstarter effort continues, Webley said donors are essentially preordering the album. “I’d love it if it keeps on spreading into a bigger circle, and this story gets a bigger audience,” Webley said Monday. With the largest donations, Webley promises on the Kickstarter site a tour of Everett, with a glimpse of the Rucker mansion and other spots important to the story.
Extra funding will help create a higher quality album and hardcover book, and perhaps a CD-release concert.
It’s a chance for people who missed the April show to hear the music. It won’t be the same as the Everett theater experience.
“It had this ethereal quality, never to be re-created,” said Carol Thomas, Everett’s cultural arts manager, who attended the show. “It kind of grew as the evening progressed. It was different from most theater, the ephemeral quality of it.”
Thomas said she and Lanie McMullen, the city’s executive director of economic development, met with Webley before the show, and that the city was supportive of his project. Webley visited with David Dilgard, a history specialist at the Everett Public Library, to learn more about the Ruckers.
Webley also met Everett’s Bill Rucker, a grandson of prominent Everett pioneer Bethel Rucker. Margaret Rucker Armstrong, who died in California in 1959, was Bill Rucker’s aunt.
Born in Everett in 1907, Margaret was the daughter of Bethel and Ruby Rucker. Brothers Bethel and Wyatt Rucker had come from Ohio with their widowed mother, Jane Rucker. They settled in Everett in 1889, and acquired land that is now the city’s central business district. Rucker Avenue is one of many reminders of the family’s prominence.
Margaret Rucker wrote poetry as a student at the University of Washington. She and her husband, Navy Lt. Justus Rogers Armstrong, had two sons, and another who died as an infant.
Born to privilege, she was injured in an accident as an adult. She lost her husband in a tragic way. Her early poetry seems prescient of the sadness that would come her way. In the scrapbook’s pictures, her haunting beauty is frozen, a look from another time.
Webley, 40, said the April show was all he hoped it would be. After the concert, many joined him in a walk to Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery. With other Rucker ancestors, Armstrong was laid to rest in the Rucker monument, a 30-foot granite pyramid in the cemetery. Concert goers lit candles in Margaret’s honor.
“That night I was really pleased to see that old theater so full,” Webley said. He hopes to release the CD Dec. 12. The Everett woman was born Dec. 12, 1907.
“It won’t be exactly the show,” Webley said of the CD. “Having told the story once, I have a little more information. The story is going to keep changing a little bit.”
Performing with Webley and Rinaldi at the concert were: Shenandoah Davis, Jherek Bischoff, Led to Sea, Eliza Rickman, Zac Pennington, Lonesome Leash, and Mts. &Tunnels. “He didn’t direct his fellow musicians, except to give them one little piece of the story,” Thomas said. “What he really did was use it as a source of inspiration. It was so much more than historical.”
On stage that night, Webley sang a question that couldn’t be answered: “Will it please me if someone lights a candle and says my name?”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Jason Webley’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign to release a CD and book based on a scrapbook and writings of Margaret Rucker at tinyurl.com/WebleyMargaret.