GRAYS HARBOR TINKERERS AND THEIR INVENTIONS
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In the 1890s, Aberdeen was called the roughest town west of Chicago. The millworkers, fishermen, and transient sailors were regular customers of the girls of Paradise Alley and the saloons that lined lower F Street. They were a tough bunch, and one of the more notorious of this class was William Thurman, a besotted Finnish immigrant fisherman better known to his fellow Aberdonians by the moniker ‘Sailor Bill’ He was a man with five children who in his short 28 years found life a blur of heavy drinking and wife beating, often spending the night in the local jail. So frequent were his drunken and violent exploits that his dissolute being was chronicled in the local newspapers, giving us a glimpse of a short, alcohol-soaked life — a path that too many still follow today.
An the summer of 1891, the
We’ve looked at the history of Aberdeen and the Grays Harbor area through the eyes of those who were here, but how did those living elsewhere view us? Here are a series of stories from newspapers that reflect how Grays Harbor was seen by outsiders near and far.
One of the problems with living in a society is all of the other people who also reside there. People get into the way of people and soon someone’s throwing a right hook or getting whacked over the head with a beer bottle. It is one thing that has never changed as these stories from the local press past attest.
In the pages of Aberdeen history, there is perhaps no greater show of ignorant fear and prejudice than that which occurred in the early hours of Nov. 7, 1890. An ugly act carried out by cowardly citizens with a violent streak of open racism who took the law into their own hands and forced the expulsion of a Chinese community that was simply going about its business in the raw, muddy clearing called Aberdeen.
As the result of an election bet, Oswald Bell treated Councilman George Stalding to a nice little wheelbarrow ride from F street to the Washington Hotel on Heron (corner of K) Street yesterday afternoon. The spectacle was enjoyed by about 300 people.
On Saturday, Oct. 17, 1903, 112 years ago, the residents of Aberdeen awoke to a town very different than it had been 24 hours earlier. It would become known as Black Friday, the day when fire swept through 14 blocks of the main commerce area. The central business district was still smoldering and acrid smoke hung in the air as the City Fathers met and began planning the future of Aberdeen.
Long before the white man arrived on the shores of what is now Grays Harbor, it was home to the native peoples, which the newcomers had long termed “Indians.” They had lived here since time immemorial, living in cedar longhouses and subsisting on salmon, deer, bear and razor clams. In 1800, the Harbor tribes numbered an estimated 1,000 members before a series of epidemics decimated the population and by the 1870s only about 130 remained. Since then the numbers have rebounded and today the Quinault Nation is stronger than ever. Here are a number of stories from the past reflecting the trials and tribulations of the local native population.
Back at the turn of the last century, as quaint and idyllic as it may seem today, daily life was fraught with dangers that have since become rather rare. One of those is the threat of an explosion snuffing out a life. Certainly men were killed in the woods as they blew up stumps and the TNT detonated prematurely, but the fear of explosion was equally shared by those who lived and worked in the city. Whether it was an oil lamp or a peanut roaster, injury and death by explosion were very real threats in the early days of Grays Harbor. Here are a number of stories that reflect that peril from the pages of the Aberdeen Herald.
Summer is slipping behind us and a new month has arrived. As we move toward fall, let’s look back at a mix of stories of incidents that occurred on the Harbor in the month of September.
One of the great things about reading through old newspapers are the odd little news bits that don’t really connect to anything else. Sometimes silly, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes down-right weird, these are the stories that humanize and give insight to the times. Here are a few of those tales.
Throughout its history, Aberdeen has dealt with issues regarding the streets. The first permanent roads were filled with sawdust and laid over with planking. In 1909 the sawdust was dug out and hauled off, and river dredgings were used to fill in the central downtown area. More recently, the Aberdeen City Council passed a much-debated plan to reduce Wishkah Street from three to two lanes, and a major paving job is underway on Market Street. Here are some of the other street issues that the citizens of Aberdeen had to deal with once upon a time.
Back in the early 1900s, when the mills were running three shifts and ships arrived daily from exotic, foreign ports, the “Gentlemen’s Resorts” of Grays Harbor were very popular and somewhat necessary destinations. The “inmates” of those establishments would entertain the men, but at great personal cost. Here are the stories of three of the women who could no longer take the grinding life of the Harbor prostitute and turned to a final, tragic solution. Rest in Peace, Dear Ladies.
Though illegal (wink, wink), houses of prostitution operated in Aberdeen until the late-1950s and Aberdeen was off-limits to military personnel into the 1980s. When it comes to the World’s Oldest Profession, the Harbor has been a hot-bed since the 1880s. Early on, the large population of young single men toiling in the woods, mills and docks created a steady market for the Fallen Angels. They even made the news on occasion.
For the last thirty years, Grays Harbor has been in what is called an “economic slump.” Normally these things tend to last only a few years, but on the Harbor it sat down, put its feet up and never left. Logging and mill closures led to store closures, a declining population and a generally down-trodden outlook. The worst part is that we have been down so long that it has become accepted as the norm. Recently though, Aberdeen has seen an upturn as a number of civic-minded individuals and new businesses have sparked a revitalization that has the potential to make downtown vibrant again.
The unexpected death of a combatant in the recent MMA “Brawl at the Mall” card in Aberdeen shocked ringside fight watchers. This episode brought to mind a similarly unpleasant incident on the Harbor 110 years ago, when professional pugilist “Iron Man” Fred Ross met his demise in a 20-round lightweight bout before hundreds of Harborites.
The Grays Harbor country has long been an area rich in wild game. Their pelts have clothed and their meat has nourished innumerable generations for thousands of years. When the European white man arrived in the area around 1850, his trusty rifle got a lot of use bringing down animals clad in fur or feathers. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned and these news reports are grim reminders that hunting accidents happen - and to beseech the reader to be careful when carting loaded firearms around in the woods.
‘Fire!” The shout throws fear into the heart of the stoutest man, even more so when the call goes up in a town made entirely of wood. The role fire has played in Harbor history is great: Aberdeen had its baptism by fire in 1903, Cosmopolis had hers in 1929, and Moclips was leveled several times over the years. Those were the “Great” fires that left everlasting changes. Of course, there were other fires that could have lead to great tragedy if not for the fast actions of the local fire boys. Here are some tales of fire when Aberdeen was still 95 percent wood.
Back in the waning years of the 19th century when Aberdeen was growing into more than a muddy clearing and the timber trade was taking hold, it became a target for the lazy and indolent. At that time there were plenty of jobs available and little excuse to be unemployed which led in 1897 to the city fathers passing Ordinance 140 concerning vagrants and providing the punishment thereof.
For no particular reason, it seems to be a good time to finally let this column go to the dogs with a series of random stories about man’s best friend. 1906 seems to have been an especially rough year on the Harbor for dogs and people (and trains and streetcars) to mix.
From the rampant ickyness at the Thunderbird Motel to that runaway female prisoner, Aberdeen’s seedy underbelly has supplied some interesting news these last few weeks. These brought to mind other tales from the Harbor’s past that reflect the criminal element and their inability to follow the rules.
Drug addiction on the Harbor is a major problem, but the abuse of narcotics is nothing new for our area. In the late 1890s, opium was a common ingredient in patent medicines, and the use of laudanum and morphine was widespread among all classes of society. Opium and cocaine was more or less available over the counter until the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 regulating the procurement and pharmacological distribution of medicinal narcotics. Grays Harbor was also one of the many ports along the Pacific Coast that struggled with rampant smuggling of Chinese opium. Today, narcotics are still an issue on the Harbor, the only difference being that “tweakers” have supplanted the “opium-eaters” of old. Here are some tales of woe that came with the arrival of Chinese opium to the streets of the Harbor.
This photo, taken between 1910 and 1912, was shot looking north on H Street from Heron Street. The only visible structure still in existence is the one on the left, at the southwest corner of Wishkah and H Streets, which most will remember as the long-time home of Reiner’s Sporting Goods. Adjoining it is S.K. Bowes & Co., a pioneer real estate and insurance firm. Across H Street was Mark Payette’s Music House, where you could also purchase art supplies and sewing machines. Today it is the location of Rite Aid. In the distance looms the spire of the Congregational Church which stood on the southwest corner of First and H streets. Visible to the right, is the Crescent Hotel, located in the Ninemire & Morgan building on the southeast corner of Market and H streets. That structure was demolished last year and is now a rubble-strewn vacant lot.
As we conclude the Christmas season, here is a handful of random holiday stories from the past and a trio of tales where St. Nick ends up more than sooty.
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