The first picnickers appeared on the streets of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis shortly after seven, an odd sight on a Thursday morning in 1914. Clutching picnic baskets, groups headed toward the railroad station in anticipation of the second annual Merchant’s Picnic at Moclips. It was to be a day filled with sports and games, clam digging and dancing, and a free barbecue with the attendees requested only to bring knife, fork, spoon and cup with them.
The second annual Merchant’s Picnic allowed the businessmen of the three towns to get a day off from work and enjoy a day of summertime relaxation and enjoyment. Virtually all of the businesses and stores in Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis were closed for the day, leaving only the banks, restaurants, hotels and saloons in operation. The cigar stores, pool halls, and drug stores would reopen at 7 that evening. Only loggers standing about the saloons and a few businessmen were to be seen on the streets all day.
By 8:30 a.m. every seat in the 16-car Aberdeen train was taken and many were left standing. The Hoquiam special had 12 coaches and packed likewise. With the rush of picnickers, the trains were about 20 minutes late in starting. As the trains left the two towns, copies of the Hoquiam Washingtonian and the Merchant’s Gazette, “a comedy paper with jokes on all local merchants,” were distributed free to the passengers. Approximately 2,500 people were aboard the two special trains for the picnic. An additional 45 to 100 automobiles made the trip carrying at least 500 more picnickers. The Kennedy autobus was packed to the limit as were other auto-trucks used for passenger service. With the beaches already crowded with summer outing parties there were no less than 4,000 people on hand to enjoy the barbecue and sporting events.
At about 10:30, as the Aberdeen special was chugging near the settlement of Carlisle, a new lumber camp town built by the Copalis Lumber Company, a 19-year-old Aberdeen High School athlete, Theodore “Ted” Faulk, and two friends were goofing around and made their way onto the rear platform through a door that was supposed to be locked. As they stood on the platform, the boys noticed two air-cocks. The smaller was emitting a light whistling sound. Faulk, thinking the larger one was also a whistle, pulled on it. The train issued a sharp screech and with a jerk began to quickly and abruptly slow down. Unknowingly, Faulk had pulled the emergency brake. Somewhere up ahead, there was a loud snap as a coupling broke apart. The startled boys made their way back into the car, little knowing what tragedy this impulsive act had caused.
Meanwhile, William C. Anderson, a 30-year-old Aberdeen carpenter and contractor traveling with his wife, had risen from his seat and headed towards the smoking car, four cars back from the engine. As he stepped onto the connecting platform between cars, the tracks below whizzing by, the train gave a sharp jerk followed by a loud, metallic bang as the coupling gave way. The coaches began to separate and Anderson stepped into the void, landing across the rail. The momentum of the massive iron wheels cut the man in two. The train rolled another 150 feet before coming to a stop. Anderson’s body was removed from the tracks and taken aboard; Grace, his wife, was in shock. The broken car was removed at Carlyle and the train continued to Moclips.
At Moclips, the main street had been transformed into a miniature carnival and hundreds of dollars were spent on games of chance. The visitors rode the merry-go-round, and gathered to watch a man descend in a diving bell in a glass tank of water. Surf bathing, and dancing in the pavilion were popular among the younger people, while many of the older folk had fun gathering stones on the beach and digging for clams at low tide. Everyone enjoyed the sports events and, as noon approached, were awaiting the barbecue lunch.
The barbecue tables were set up back of the Moclips cannery. Entrances and exits were set up to create an orderly flow but when the dinner gong sounded at noon, crowds entered both doorways. The mob blocked entrances and exits to the serving tables causing disorder and became a free-for-all. Thirty-seven waiters, two meat cutters, two bread cutters and two sandwich makers had planned to serve 3,000 people in 20 minutes. Instead they found themselves still busy an hour later and the last of the barbecue was not ended until nearly 2 o’clock. Fortunately, there was plenty of food and no one went hungry. The trains returned at 6 that evening as scheduled and by 8:30 p.m. the streets of the cities were once again alive with humanity.
Word of the accident made the rounds, but many of the picnickers remained unaware of the tragedy until they read the headline of that evening’s Aberdeen Daily World — “MAN GROUND TO DEATH UNDER PICNIC TRAIN.”
That evening, Chief Detective McMurray of the Northern Pacific railroad arrived in Aberdeen to investigate Anderson’s death. McMurray interviewed the train crew of the special before traveling to the scene of the fatality near Carlisle. He returned to Aberdeen the next day, convinced the emergency brakes were suddenly applied from the rear platform which resulted in the train breaking one coupling and Anderson dropping to his death under the wheels. In McMurray’s eyes, it was a case of manslaughter and the culprit or culprits would be brought to justice.
William Anderson’s funeral was held that Saturday, July 25, at 2:30 p.m. at the Episcopal Church, under the auspices of the Odd Fellows lodge, with Rev. F.F.W. Greene officiating. Two days later, the widow Anderson accompanied her husband’s body back to their old home of Battle Creek, Michigan for burial.
The following week, Ted Faulk presented himself at the office of the county prosecutor and took full responsibility for the accident. Newspaper editorials and articles spoke of the injustice of prosecuting an otherwise exemplary young man for an error in judgment. That the door to the platform was unlocked and the air-cocks were unmarked fell on the shoulders of the railroad. Ultimately, no charges were brought against Faulk as the tragedy was deemed an accident with no malicious intent. Faulk went on to be a star football player at the University of Washington, and for years operated a collection agency in Tacoma.
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and is thankful that although he did some stupid things in his youth, they never resulted in the death of another.