Some of her successes:
Local conservationist Margaret McKenny galvanizes the
community to oppose construction of a parking garage on the
site of Sylvester Park.
Margaret McKenny spearheads a successful effort to preserve
the woods of the former City watershed in southeast Olympia,
now known as Watershed Park.
Margaret McKenny (1885-1969) was an educator, author, and conservationist. She attended Providence Academy, the University of Washington, and the Lowthrop School of Landscape Architecture in Massachusetts. In 1919, she established a progressive kindergarten and primary school in her home on Water Street in Olympia. She lived in the upstairs apartment and taught her school downstairs.
Margaret McKenny spent the early years of her career in the eastern US, where, she served in an executive capacity for the City Gardens Club of New York City. She also worked for the American Museum of Natural history and co-authored the classic "Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America," with Roger Tory Peterson.
When living in Olympia, she was a member of the Olympia Garden Club, and the Olympia Audubon Society.
Margaret McKenny was an expert on mushrooms, and wrote 15 books, including "Mushrooms of Wood and Field," published in 1929, "Birds in the Garden, published in 1939, Trees of the Countryside", published in 1943, "Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest", published in 1954, and "The Savory Wild Mushroom," (my favorite) published in 1962. She passed away not long after publication of "A Field Guide of Wild Flowers", published in 1968.
McKenny returned to Olympia in 1943, and became active as a conservationist and defender of our natural resources and parks.
She helped found the Olympia branch of the National Audubon Society and was the founder of "Citizens for the Future". She fought to keep the oak trees on Legion Way from being destroyed, fought to retain Sylvester Park as a public square, and fought to maintain the old watershed (now Watershed Park) as a wilderness area. Her Citizens for the Future group circulated a petition to save the park and ultimately took their case to the State Supreme Court. McKenny was also active in the movement to save the Nisqually Delta.
Margaret's father was also well known as Brigadier General T. I. McKenny who fought in the Mexican and Cival Wars and was Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Washington Territory 1867 - 1870. In later years he was active in Olympia real estate and the school system, and was president of the Steilacoom State Hospital for a while.
The Water Street duplex is better known as the Margaret McKenny (or Nisqually) home. She lived in the home for many years and was a famous naturalist. This is a photo of her with students and one of her published books. She was an avid mushroom enthusiast, and loved to teach about the various fungi.
- In 1993, the elementary School located at 3250 Morse-Merryman Rd SE, in Olympia was named the Margaret McKennny Elementary.
- Also named for her is the State owned Margaret McKenny campground located in Capitol Forest on the banks of Waddell Creek (a 1930's gold panning creek).
- On January 13, 2009, the City of Olympia created the Margaret McKenny Park (a 4.16 acre parcel located at 3111 21st Ave SE).
I am grateful to Nathan Wilson of collectivesource.com, who is yet another person influenced by Margaret McKenny's teachings in mycology and has given me permission to post these letters. (Nathan's study and research have resulted in the creation of mushroomobserver.org, truly a work of such vast knowledge, Margaret herself would be proud).
Please enjoy Margaret's letters:
2201½ S. Water
COMES A DAY OF QUIET SILVER
Comes a day of quiet silver.
Silver day among the golden,
Golden days of glittering August.
Day that dawned in silver quiet
Mist held in the quiet tree tops,
Silent gulls on quiet waters.
Mounting foothills veiled in silver
Silver deepening into purple.
And the Mountain - did we dream it?
The stars have paled -
The trees still black against the dark,
And sharp, note on note,
The swallows weave a wreath of sound,
Then a liquid whistle,
First far, then nearer, near,
And the whole air
Vibrates with clear, ecstatic song,
On and on,
Repeating song on song,
To rise, to fall, and dwindle
To a mere thread of sound.
Now light is white,
And trees take color, shape,
The swallows' wreath
Of insistent, intertwining notes
Floats far away;
The thrush's last trailing notes
Floats far away;
The thrush's last trailing trill
And silence holds.
Soft coo-ah-coo -
A band of pigeons flaps its way
And it is day.
All flowers in my garden are free,
Except the wayward sweetpeas;
Out of love and gratitude,
Have forged tiny green chains,
And chained themselves
To my lattice
And to my heart.
2201½ S. Water
July 3, 1957
Do you realize that I haven't had a word from you since
your Christmas card where you said four words - "we love it here!"
Well, I do hope you still love it and I do hope that some day you'll
welcome me if I surprise you!
Every day I think of you and the other night I dreamed we
went on a picnic and you brought a big roast mutton bone because you
said "Margaret likes to get it, (the meat) off in chunks." Now wasn't
that a romantic dream?
If you want to know what I've been doing, I'll tell you that
Knopf wants a book of Indian legends and I have been deep in books on
anthropology and ethnology. I have tried for years to find certain
books at the Library(State) and now have succeeded with the goal of real
publication by a good publisher like Knopf to spur me on. And it has
been so interesting. I have found a wealth of material which has nev-
er been published, a great deal by Franz Boas. One side of the page
the Indian language version;on the opposite page Boas' translation.
Boas'translations are so picturesque and as far as possible I have tried
to keep the style. Then I have ponderous tomes from the Jessup Expedi-
tion and in these books there is so much general information - enough
for several books. I had sent the editor about 15,000 words and Miss
Martignoni wanted a book of about 25,000 to 40,000 and ready by Nov.
1957. Then to be brought out in'58. I have the material ready now
and can send it if she wants the illustrator to have more time.
Then of course "The magic Mushroom." Did you read the Life
article May 15th? I first read about the Wasson in Saturday Review,
then in the New Yorker and in the May Harper. If you haven't read
the Harper be sure to get it.The article is called Toads, Mushrooms
and Schizophrenia. Just at this time I knew that thousands of Amanita
pantherina were growing in our prairie woods and wrote an article for
the Olympia News. I wrote it before I read all these magazines. Then
we had four cases of A. pantherina poisoning and that brought things
to a head. Dr. Lux, who had the cases in his care, asked me to identi-
fy the mushrooms. Then I interviewed the patients and have written
it up. I'll send you a copy. One woman, near Tenino, had all sorts
of halluciantions. She had not read the article. I called Dr. Stuntz
and told him Dr. Lux was giving atropine. He said:"Good Lord, No."
You see Amanita pantherina not only has xxx muscarine in it, but also
myco-atropine, and poisoned people often die of atropine poisoning rath-
er than muscarine poisoning. These people had to be put in straight-
jackets and saw all sorts of visions.
If you read Life you know of the book, Mushrooms, Russia and
History. Well Leota ordered($125.00) and I saw it and her friend Mrs.
Price ordered and I'm to have it and read it. It is simply beautiful.
So now write me what you are doing and come to see me. Let's
go up the Dosewallips and find flowers and mushrooms.
With much love to you + Corwin, too.
2201½ S. Water
Oct 23, 1957
Such a nice letter! Thank you. It is so nice to hear
from you and with auch good news! Please tell Nancy I wish her all
happiness. As she has waited a while she is more likely to have real
companionship as well as love.
I do wish you were here with me now. I am getting ready
for the annual mushroom meeting of the Audubon. It is Thursday eve.
If you get this in time could you get over? We have a big exhibition
and will show lots of slides, some of mine and of other members..
We were up Mt. Rainier last Saturday. The mushrooms are
not as plentiful as they usually are, but, even at that, we got a lot.
The porch is full now and we put them up Thursday afternoon.
I was so interested in your saying you looked at the Jes-
up Expedition exhibition. I have been working on the contents of the
big volumes issued by the American Museum of Natural History. I have
been studying Franz Boas translations of Kwakiutl, Bella Coola and
xxxxxxxxxxTsmimshian Indian Legends. I have just sent to New York
31,000 words. I have been just fascinated by them. I never knew
there was so much humor in the Indians and so much poetry, too.
These stories are quite different from any I have ever seen publish-
About the visit. I am so busy here. I do wish you could
be with me for a visit here. If the weather doesn't turn cold we ough
to be in the middle of the mushroom season. Chantarelles are still
thick. I talked to a woman yesterday and she said she had gathered
35 lbs. near Millersylvania. I have had two big baskets of meadow
mushrooms. I have canned or one of my friends has done it for me,
13 hlaf pints of chantarelles. If people weren't so eager for meadow
mushrooms, I'd get some of them canned.
The sun is coming out, so I guess I'm going out to the
I'll write again soon, for I do want to see you,
With love to you both,
Oct 15, 1958
I do think of you all the time. How could I help it
in mushroom season, for that was when we met? How many nice trips
we had,didn't we? And partic/iularly meemorable becausex we combin-ed
birds and mushrooms.
Our Audubon Society meets next Thursday, the 23rd of October.
Leota Kisor is going to show her slides. She has many beautiful
ones, among them an Amanita group which received a silver medal
at the Chicago International Exhibition. I thought it was better
to have some other person show their slides as they had many of
them seen mine. It makes it easier for me that evening. Can't
you, Corwin and your mushroom loving neighbor come up that evening?
I'd so like to see you.
Mushroom season has been so wonderful. It is always best
when we have a hot summer and early fall rains. I was up at Mt.
Rainier, that Tahoma Creek section, and the colors were just marvel-
xxxxx ous. By the way, did you see my article in the April Gourmet
Magazine? They had eight full color reproductions from my slides.
The plates were made by the four color process in Denmark. And best
of all as I wrote immediately, they sent me the plates, four each
of copper and they say they are worth at least $1500.00. I can use
them in another book on mushrooms.
I am so happy for your happiness in Nancy and to know you
are going places and seeing things. I seem like Thoreau - I am
studying my own wood lot. But there is always something new and
new friends to make. But why do my best friends go away?
You may be interested to know that I dramatized one of my
Indian legends and it was presented with marionettes at our Arts
and Crafts Show. Hundreds of children saw it. It was called How
the Raccoon got his Stripes, and was climaxed by the showing of a
live coon, tame and pettable. So you see I keep busy.
I do hope you can come next week,
With love to you both,
2201½ S. Water
Dec. 13, 1959
When you read this fairy tale you will know why I haven't
written, for I truly have been busy.
You remember the article I wrote for the Gourmet Magazine,
April 1958? Well, Mrs. Sylvia Schur, calling herself a Creative
Food Consultant saw it and called me long distance from New York.
She wanted me to furnish chantarelles to a new restaurant just to
open in New York.
Well, to make a long story short, I sent her air express
hundreds of pounds(helped by my good friends) and made enough to
pay off my mortgage, pay for the furnace, new roof, new water heat-
ers etc. and have enough for a new car! Isn't hat a fairy tale
for you? And they want morels in the spring and more chantarelles
and Boletus edulis in the fall. Besides this the University of
Washington want the mushroom book( I have it ready) and Binfords
and Mort want a bird book. So now you know why I haven't
been down. or up whichever you may call it.
Mushrooms are still in the woods. I'm going out today
for Amanita pantherina which Dr. Andrija Puharich wants for ex-
perimental purposes. Have you read his book The Sacred Mushroom?
Tell me if you believe in it? He is now in Carmel, California and
doing research work for four foundations.
Dr. Tyeler, at the U. is still working on A. panther-
ina and A. muscaria. He also has very interestign finds in Psi-
locybe campanulata. We gathered forty pounds A. muscaria at the
Ocean this year and many hundred pounds of A. pantherina around in
the prairie woods.
Do let me know how you are and the birds. I have
lots of chickadees at the feeding-station. Ruby ?egbert has a pair
of kinglets that come to her suet. Isn't that unusual?
With love to you both - do come to see me soon,
I only tell my friends about my good luck - some one
might bust in on my market - so mum's the word. But I wanted you
to rejoice for me, beings as you knew of my many financial diffi-
I have also lost 45lbs. purposely
under Dr. Koch - another fairy tale!!
2201½ S. Water
June 9, 1960
Dear Enid and Corwin:
Sunday, June 12th we ae, the Audubon Society, are going
to Port Orchard to visit Purdy's Woods. That is, about a dozen of
the Club as far as I can find out. Anyhow everybody takes their
own lunch so I'm not worrying.
Do you know where these untouched woods are? You go
on Highway 14 toward Purdy, then take Van Scriver road about ½ mile,
then turn left to Purdy home. He is George Purdy, Real estate man.
I don't know whether it is he or his son who is the photographer.
Anyhow couldn't you and Corwin join us? I want you to
see my new car that mushrooms bought and I want to see you. It
seems so long. I have so many things to talk over with you. Do
try to meet us.
Did you see the May House Beautiful with the beauti-
ful picture of the chantarelles I sent the author? The new book
is mentioned and four of my pictures used, but alas, not in color.
But they paid me well and it was good to see how well they repro-
duced. One was taken in your old orchard in Olympia.
I want to mail this now. I hope you can come.
2201½ S. Water
Dec. 1, 1961
I was so glad to hear from you the other day. I was mad as you were
at Corwin for not bringing you down to see me. You just show him by
coming by yourself and staying a week. Please do, I'd love to have
We are still finding mushrooms. I have shipped ten pounds each
week which is nothing compared with the first year, but anyhow my
car is paid for.
We had a wonderful exhibition at the October 26th meeting of the
Audubon Society. Just the week before we went to Mt. Rainier and one
of the boys found a 25 lb. Sparassis radicata My butcher put it in
his cool room and it was good for the exhibition. But it was bad af-
terward. Corwin would say:"What a waste of good-eating." Well, the
boys broke off two five lb. pieces and they enjoyed|that much of it. x
It made a nice showing at the meeting. We dragged in a big stump and
arranged it as if it was growing at the base with coral hydnums higher
up, then lots of moss and wonderful specimens as big as a dinner-plate
of Amanita muscaria. Then at least fifty or more other specimens. You
ought to like hearing about exhibitions - if I hadn't had one, you
would never have met me. Remember, we went mushrooming the next day
down at Johnson Point.
A boy, later on, found one of the most beautiful specimens of
what I think is Hydnum caput-ursi It was inside a maple log and I had
to lie on my tummy to get the picutre. It was like looking into a
fairy-cave. The teeth were long and straight, like stlactites.
A man just brought me a basket of chantarelles. They are pret-
ty water-soaked, but I think I can dry them out. I have been drying
those that I felt weren't good enough to ship. They dry beautifully
over my floor register and keep their golden color. This man says
his wife has canned and frozen 40 pts. He eats them three times a day.
Did you read the Sacred Mushroom by Andrija Puharich? I sent
him many pounds of Amanitas for his experiments and he has written
very interesting letters of his experiments. Then I just finished
reading Psychic by Peter Hurkos, the man he worked with. Don't poohxx
too much - the mind is very strange. We ought to know more of it and less
It is a shame we can't be in the same town, for I miss our
wals and talks so Much.
Do try a n d run in on me - I'd be so glad. With love to
The mushroom book put until spring! 48 in color