The Tule Lake Relocation Center opened in May 1942 initially for some 12,000 internees. In October 1943 its status was changed to “Segregation Center
”, meaning it became a maximum security facility, namely for those Japanese Americans who were regarded as “disloyal” to the USA
or who had been disruptive, even if that was just protesting against the injustice of their internment.
The issue of the questionnaire with which the US military sought to recruit Japanese Americans for military service, created another phase for Tule Lake because those who had refused to answer the crucial loyalty questions or had responded “no” were brought to Tule Lake from other relocation centers (while a few thousand internees deemed “loyal” were transferred to other relocation centers).
At its peak Tule Lake Segregation Center had a population of nearly 19,000 crammed into its barracks. In total almost 30,000 people are believed to have passed through the facility.
As a maximum security camp, Tule Lake was also the most repressive and most controversial. Conditions were unsanitary and unsafe, with a lack of medical care and with poor food. There was a curfew in place and living quarters were frequently checked by prison guards. Unlike at the other nine camps recreational activities were stopped and there was little employment. All this triggered protests and violence.
Tule Lake was also the place where those Japanese Americans who had taken up the offer to renounce their US citizenship were held, and were supposed to be deported to Japan from here. Hence the camp continued to be run after the war until as late as March 1946, when it was the final one of the ten camps to be closed.
In a long-drawn-out legal battle, the majority of Japanese Americans who had renounced their US citizenship under duress and under false assumptions and didn’t actually want to be “repatriated” to Japan were eventually allowed to stay in the United States and regained their US citizenship.
For those slated for deportation, a separate centre was also used, Camp Tulelake
, which had already existed before the war since 1933 as a vocational training centre, but then became the Tule Lake Isolation Center. Also held here were Italian and German POW
s. This camp closed in April 1946.
As with the other “relocation centers” commemoration was late to begin here, but from 1974, regular pilgrimages by former inmates, their descendants and activists started. A stone monument and a memorial plaque at the site of the Segregation Camp in Newell were installed in 1979.
In 2006 Tule Lake, like several of the other former relocation centers
was declared a National Historic Monument
. Together with Manzanar
, Tule Lake is one of the three such sites administered by the National Park Service
What there is to see: The first thing to note is that Tule Lake is actually three separate places. The site of the “segregation camp” (see above) is in Newell. Then there’s a museum about it in the town actually called Tulelake to the north-west of the former camp. And finally there’s Camp Tulelake west of the town of the same name, which was a special camp for deportees and POWs.
Of the “segregation camp Tule Lake” very little remains, but it’s a significant relic, namely the camp’s prison (so actually a prison inside a prison). This has been preserved and it’s now protected from the elements by a roof superstructure and fence. It is accessible only on ranger-guided tours, like the rest of the camp area, and these tours aren’t particularly frequent.
More buildings survive of “Camp Tulelake” but again these are not normally accessible to the general public. But NPS ranger-guided tours are available, but only in summer on Saturdays.
The main place commodified for tourists is the “Tulelake Butte Valley Fairground Museum” in the town of Tulelake. In the yard are various pieces of farm machinery and a reconstructed (shortened) guard watchtower as well as a reconstructed camp barrack with furnishings that give an impression of the cramped living conditions internees had to endure. The visitor centre has various text-and-photo panels providing information about the camps in general, and about Tule Lake in particular, as well as a few original artefacts. This is said to be a temporary visitor centre, so it has to be assumed that it will be supplanted by a new one at some point, possibly at the original site of the “segregation center”.
All in all
, Tule Lake is one of the more complicated memorial sites out of the ten
in total, especially since access to the original sites is so restricted, and the current museum/visitor centre can’t quite compete with its equivalents at, say, Manzanar
. But given its special role and controversial status Tule Lake is still the darkest of the whole set and thus well deserving of a visit by dark tourists.
in rural northern California, USA
, just a few miles from the border with the neighbouring state of Oregon but over 230 miles (380 km) north of California’s capital Sacramento, and a similar distance south of Oregon’s capital Portland.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: quite restricted at the original sites, the visitor centre has limited opening times too, the original sites are free, but the visitor center charges a fee. .
Details: In order to get to any of these three sites you need to have your own means of transport. The nearest Interstate is I5 that connects California to Portland, Oregon. From exit 748 it’s a ca. 80 mile (130 km) drive north-west along Highway 97, then country road 161 west and then 139 south-east to Tulelake. Newell, the site of the former “segregation camp”, is a few miles further down road 139. Camp Tule Lake is 2.5 miles (4 km) south of country road 161 along Hill Road. The visitor centre/museum is currently off 800 Main Street in Tulelake at the Tulelake-Butte Valley fairground.
This visitor centre is open between 30 May and 5 September, Thursdays to Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; an admission fee is charged. (The website states so but does not quote the actual price).
The authentic sites can currently be visited only by ranger-guided tours, which only run in summer but are free of charge. These tours to the Segregation Camp take place on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and start from the museum in the town of Tulelake. Tours of Camp Tulelake also start there at 1 p.m. – as places on these tours are limited, it is advisable to book in advance – see the NPS website. From the website you can also download a self-guide app.
Time required: Tours of the Segregation Camp are said to take ca. 2 hours, those of Camp Tulelake one hour. The museum itself may require between half an hour and an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Nothing in the vicinity that I would know of, unless you count the Lava Beds Wilderness, also under the aegis of the National Park Service. Indeed exploring things like lava tube caves may be considered somewhat dark too. Moreover, one of the caves is called “Skull Cave” (but is actually an ice cave). Lava Beds Wilderness is located some 14 miles (21 km) south of Tulelake.
The nearest other dark destination featured on this website would be San Francisco
, almost 300 miles (500 km) to the south.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: There are a couple of wildlife refuges around Tule Lake, but other than that this is not the most touristy part of California.