Archive for the ‘Community History’ Category

Do people make the place… or vice-versa?

Sunday, February 12th, 2023

Moby Dick Hotel

As I’ve been reading and sharing information about Little Creatures Everywhere by Mary Brindle, I am struck by some of the quirky history of the Moby Dick Hotel.  Yes.  Quirky since its very beginnings.  And I can’t help but wonder how certain places and the people who populate them influence one another.

The Moby Dick was built in 1929 by Theo and Margaret Russell.  From the onset it has provided the little town of Nahcotta with some interesting experiences.  During World War II, it served as headquarters for the men and horses of the Coast Guard Beach Patrol.  In 1948, a night at the Moby Dick was awarded by the popular radio show, Queen for a Day.  And Margaret, herself, gained notoriety for taming three raccoons — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — and giving them an upstairs bedroom.

Spartina on Willapa Bay – A Chinook Observer Photo

Environmental controversy marked the years of the Moby Dick’s ownership by Fritzi and Ed Cohen.  For years Fritzi negotiated (read: fought) with the Noxious Weed Control Board regarding the invasive spartina grass on the hotel property as well as on a parcel she owned personally.

Finally, after numbers of court cases and hearings, Fritzi was told that spartina on the land must be completely eradicated by the winter of 2012.  If the spartina was not eradicated to the board’s satisfaction by that time they would use whatever means necessary to do so.  At which point the Moby Dick Hotel’s manager Keith Stavrum threatened to sell the property to the Aryan Nations white supremacist group.

WWII Beach Patrol

I’m sure that there are many hotels approaching the century mark that have had interesting histories — but a Queen-for-a-Day guest?  A bedroom reserved for three raccoons with Biblical names?  A horseback riding beach patrol headquarters?   An illegal sanctuary for an invasive noxious weed?  A possible sale to a white supremacist group?

I ask you — was it the owners or the property?  Or is that like asking the old chicken and egg question?

In 1991 – “Little Creatures Everywhere”

Saturday, February 11th, 2023

If you lived on the Peninsula in 1991, you may remember a rather poorly written murder mystery centered on the Moby Dick Hotel, thinly disguised as the “Grey Whale.”  Also thinly disguised were a number of well-known Peninsula northenders who “starred” in this highly controversial book.  I probably wouldn’t remember who they were all these years later except that I have Gordon Schoewe’s “annotated copy.”

On the first page he wrote this list:  Helen & Gavin Nelson – Dot & Wayne; Ralph – Dick Shelton [sic]; Tilly Vine – Larry Warnberg;  Fran – Marge Welling; Althea – Anita Stone; Grace- Carol Wiegardt; Martin – Wiegardt Kid; Doc’s Tavern.  As I recall, those weren’t the only characters that most of us recognized and, as you might imagine, the book was the talk of the Peninsula — at least for a while.

The Moby Dick – 1940s

The New York author, Mary Bringle, was a friend of Fritzi and Ed Cohen who had recently purchased the Moby Dick Hotel.  How it happened that the Cohens encouraged (or even allowed) the book to be published is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.  As Publisher’s Weekly introduced their review: “The theme of newcomers-vs.-oldtimers is rehashed in this low-key, heavy-handed mystery.”    I’m not even sure I read the entire 183 pages, but here I am, willing to give it another go.

My interest has been rekindled because in the thirty-plus ensuing years, Fritzi made a lasting impression on many of us.  Her recent death brought to mind so many of her outspoken opinions and controversial actions. Looking back over her life here, I can’t help being reminded that she, like so many “characters” who have lived here need to be remembered.  She may, indeed, appear in my next book — which will not be a mystery and I hope will not be heavy-handed!

Visiting… and Broadening My Horizons!

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

Entering Chinook

Yesterday I went visiting — clear to Chinook!  In some ways it seems ridiculous to think of a community with so many similarities to Oysterville  (and only 22.8 miles distant) as being “far away.”  Especially when I drive through it several times a month on average and, in doing so, go right past the houses of a number of folks I know.

But yesterday I had made a date and I actually stopped and had a lovely visit with my friends the Kragers.  I was gathering information for a new book I’m noodling around — this one not a book of ghost stories, but one about real people —  especially the “characters” in our communities from the years of earliest settlement up to and including present times.  Amazingly however, although my notebook was bulging with names and ideas and anecdotes, it was another aspect of our visit that I thought about on my drove homeward.

        The Donaldson House, Chinook

Jon’s great grandfather, W.B, Donaldson, arrived in Chinook in 1860 and soon went into the fish trap business.  I can’t help but wonder if he became acquainted with my own great-grandfather, R.H. Espy, who had arrived in Oysterville just six years earlier and was already a mogul in the burgeoning oyster business.

Even though the distance from Chinook to Oysterville may have been greater in those days — or did the Bear River portage make the towns closer? — there seemed to be a lot of interaction between the two settlements.  That the court house was located in Oysterville, the county seat, explained the business connections. The courtships and marriages among members of the two villages are probably best explained as “human nature.”

Downtown Chinook 1930s

I’m looking forward to more visiting, more note-taking, more speculating about our past and how it informs the present and future.  And along the way… gathering more information about the “characters” of Pacific County!



When Commissioners Worked for Pennies!

Thursday, December 8th, 2022

Dr. Elija White, Pacific County Commissioner 1852

I’m not advocating that our county commissioners — or anyone else for that matter — work for pennies in these days of struggle and strife.  But when I was writing my column for yesterday’s Chinook Observer, the question did come up concerning what our first three commissioners were paid — as a comparison to what the compensation is these days.  The best I could find was was this:

For services rendered from Jan. 1 to Sept. 8 that year [1852] Meldrum recived $31.50, White received $ $27.70 and Hall, $21.90 — though the meeting minutes do not make clear for what exactly.

As is so often the case, the very day of publication I received an answer to my question from Washington State Archives.  In the spirit of “better late than never” I am reporting the information (as received) forthwith:

We apologize for the delay, but we needed to dig into the territorial laws.  Please find attached the law establishing the board of county commissioners.  Section 8 should give you the information you need.
Sec. 8  The commissioners shall each receive three dollars per day for each and every day they may be necessarily employed in the county’s business, and ten cents a mile for every mile travelled in going to and returning from the meeting of said board, or in the discharge of any official duty to be computed by the most usually travelled route.

Frank Wolfe, who has served as County Commissioner since 2012, resigns at the end of this month for health reasons. Chinook Observer Photo

So there you have it!  Or at least as much as I have learned so far.  The exact nature of the “county’s business” for which the three commissioners were paid or which portion of their salary reflected payment for mileage is, so far, anyone’s guess — at least for 1852.  Nowadays?  I have no idea how the accountability works and, frankly, don’t much care as long as the results are clear and produced in a timely manner…

Mostly, I hope that we have some viable candidates for Frank Wolfe’s position.  I believe that the application deadline is at the end of this month. I’m eager to hear that those hats are piling up in the ring!

Attn: All History Buffs!!

Monday, December 5th, 2022

If there had been space, the title of today’s blog should have been:  ATTENTION ALL HISTORY BUFFS — ESPECIALLY LOVERS OF COMMUNITY HISTORY AND OF AUTHOR LOUISE PENNY!!

Inside the Library of Congress — is our history here?

And, although the passage I will quote below is from her latest book, A World of Curiosities, no spoiler alert is necessary if you’ve not yet read your copy.  The quote has much to do with the subject of the book but gives absolutely nothing away.  Nothing about the book that is.  But it, once again, tells so much about the author.

Reine-Marie sighed. “It’s our fault. Historians, archivists, researchers, professors, biographers.  We look to the so-called importan figures.  We value papers left behind by Premiers, Prime Ministers, Presidents — by the most prominent witnesses to history — and forget there are other witnesses.  The people who actually lived it.  The First Nations.  The farmers.  The cooks and cleaners and salespeople.  The laborers.  The immigrants, the minorities.”

Medora Espy’s Diary, August 1915 – Or is our history here?

I just want to jump up and down and shout and cajole (as I have done so numerous times in these blogs!) — Keep a journal, folks!  Write in a daybook or a diary or note events on a calendar!  Tell what something looks like, why you love dit or hate it or what the neighbors are saying about it.  Those are the descriptions of the now.  Of December 2022.  Probably not worth noting or even remembering in the now.  But in December 2122 or even 3022 it will be “history” — the real deal!!

No they didn’t, Mr. Webb! L.B. didn’t “win”!

Saturday, April 30th, 2022

Gathering at the Pacific House, 1870.

This morning I stopped by the Heritage Museum and enjoyed a walk around their April 9- July 9 exhibit “The Grand Hotels of the North Beach Peninsula.”  I felt like I was visiting old friends — so many familiar photographs of the old hotels of Long Beach and, I’m happy to report, of the Pacific House in Oysterville and the Taylor Hotel in Ocean Park, as well.  The information, too, was well-known — from Lucile McDonald’s Coast Country as well as from many Sou’wester magazine articles and from the extensive files of CPHM.

Bringing it all to life were mannequins in period costumes — so evocative of more genteel and civil times! — and the fabulous carriage, an 1890s “Roof Seat Break” — on loan from the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond. If you’ve ever dreamed of going back in time for a weekend get-away, this may be the closest you’ll ever come to it!

Crew of the Alice at the Taylor Hotel, 1909

I have to say, though, that when I read Patrick Webb’s article about the exhibit in the Observer a few weeks ago, I was just a wee bit put off by his statement: “North Beach” was the name that entrepreneurs used in brochures and on maps. But eventually — a story for another day — “Long Beach” won.) Well, maybe more than “a wee bit put off.”   I was sure that the staff at CPHM made no such claim (and I was right!) but I was disgusted with that lack of knowledge about our Peninsula by one of our finest local feature writers.  I can’t imagine how he missed this very basic information about a place he claims to love.

I do hope my readers know better.  But, just in case you might need a bit of review, here is an excerpt from one of my 2013 blogs, “The Long and the North of It:”
If there’s one thing I’ve always hung my Historical Hat on, it’s the official versus the popular name of this Peninsula.  In almost everything I write, I find a way to point out that according to the United States Board on Geographic Names (under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior), our little finger of land is still legally and officially the North Beach Peninsula.  It is only due to a vigorous public relations campaign mounted by the city of Long Beach in the early twentieth century that we are now shown on local and regional maps as “Long” rather than “North.”

Portland Hotel, Long Beach c.1900

In the  Introduction to Legendary Locals, for instance I point out in the Introduction: The tiny finger of land in the southwestern-most corner of Washington State is popularly known as the Long Beach Peninsula.  Officially, however, it is still the ‘North Beach Peninsula,’ so-named because it stretches northward from the mouth of the Columbia as opposed to the Oregon beaches to the south.   By whatever name, it is an area that gives rise to rugged individualists, independent thinkers, creative dreamers, and innovative problem-solvers.

So, if you happen to see Mr. Webb (or anyone else who may be confused about the official (and legal) name of this sandspit we cherish, please recommend this post!  You’ll be furthering the cause of History, to say nothing of Accuracy in Reporting!

Attention Local History Buffs!

Saturday, April 16th, 2022

Ilwaco Shoreline, 1903

If you are interested in local history, especially the history of early Ilwaco, Community Historian Michael Lemeshko and the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum are offering you a fabulous opportunity!  Walking tours of historic Ilwaco beginning in May!  (Lest this information be misleading, I do believe it is the same tour, offered on various dates for your convenience.)  Here is what the CPHM website says:

The tours will be held on the 3rd Saturday of the month from May through September rain or shine. They begin at 2 pm (meet in the Museum’s parking lot) and will last approximately 1 1/2 hours. Each tour is limited to 15 people. You must reserve your spot by calling the Museum at 360-642-3446. The tours are $5 per person, with proceeds supporting the Museum. All participants will be required to wear a safety vest which will be provided.

Mike Lemeshko, September 2016, on the publication of his first book!

The walking tours, led by Michael, will focus on early events and locations  important to the founding of Ilwaco through 1899. As they walk through the areas where Ilwaco had it’s (sometimes) boisterous beginnings, participants will learn about Hayden’s Cove Saloon, the Ilwaco Wharf Company’s Pier, and Finn Hall .  Much of the information is as yet “unpublished” and is the result of Michael’s diligent research for his next book which is about B.A. Seaborg, founder of the Aberdeen Packing Company and Ilwaco’s most successful (and,  perhaps, most controversial) early entrepreneur.

The tours should be a real treat — especially given Michael’s uncanny ability “to find where the bodies are buried” — both literally and figuratively.  It was while he was writing his first book — The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the rest of his neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula – about Judge John Briscoe (a contemporary of Seaborg’s) that he formed “The Friends of the Briscoe Burying Ground” to take care of a small grave in a field north of Long Beach.  Since then… discoveries have been made!

And no telling what he’s uncovered in his research in Ilwaco.  Sign up for one of his tours and find out!  Perhaps I will see you there…



Coming Soon! May 2nd, to be exact!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

This is “almost-but-not-quite” the final version of the cover. (What do you think has changed?)

According to the Arcadia Publishing website, my newest book with them makes its debut on May 2nd, two weeks from this coming Monday.  WOOT! WOOT!  Look for it beginning that day on the shelves at your local book stores!

The book is called The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula and is part of Arcadia’s new “Spooky America” series for middle-school readers.   These particular tales were adapted from stories in my 2014 book in Arcadia’s Haunted America series — a bit less explanatory background and history, perhaps, and just a tad bit scarier than the originals.  “That’s what middle-schoolers want,” the editor told me.

I had no doubt that such was the case, but just to be sure, I checked with Gabi and Dani Wachsmuth, two of Tucker and Carol’s grandchildren.  “Yes!  Spookier!  Creepier!” they concurred.  Being the stickler that I am for telling stories the way I heard them and without gratuitous embellishment, made the writing a bit of a challenge.  I’m sure my young consultants will let me know how I did!

There once was a Pacific House in Oysterville (shown here in 1870) but, as far as is known, there was never an “Oysterville House.”

Meanwhile, I see on the Arcadia Publishing website that this is what they are saying about the book:  Ghost stories from the Long Beach Peninsula have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pacific County comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit the Oysterville House to catch a glimpse of the wandering spirits who still call it home. Or step foot into Sprague’s Hole, but be careful or you’ll end up trapped for eternity, too. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.

I wrote the editor and asked if they might tone down that “come-on” a bit.  Just what is the “Oysterville House” that readers are being invited to visit??  (I surely hope it’s not mine or anyone else’s here in our little village.)  And suggesting that they “step foot” into Sprague’s Hole (which fortunately doesn’t exist anymore) seems a bit beyond responsible.  The editor’s response was that the blurb has actually been “out there” for quite a while and, besides, readers are being “invited” into the story — not into the actual places in the book.  Yes, I get that.  But will the readers??  SIGH!

A Lingerie Party for the Quinquagenarian!

Friday, February 25th, 2022

The year was 1986 and I was at the half-century mark.  So, of course, another party was in order!  It’s been a few memory-dimming years since then, so thank good ness I have pictures!  They were annotated (!) and pasted ever-so-carefully in a little hand-made booklet by quintessential party host Gordon Schoewe (who was undoubtedly given all sorts of encouragement by the always-quiet-and-sedate Roy Gustafson!)

Page One had this announcement:  KEEPING UP WITH YOU IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE and on the following pages were pictures of me (mostly) and of my nearest and dearest including Nyel, my mom and dad (OMG!  Did dad look a little dazed? And is mom hiding her eyes?), Patty and Noel, Kaye and Charlie, and several folks cowering out of camera range whose presence is known only by the odd hand or foot.

Bill and Dale — Parents of Boom-Boom!

My choice of Entertainment for the Evening seems to have been modeling each new gift of lingerie “and so forth” without benefit of removing anything I had previously acquired and certainly not anything I had worn to the party in the first place!  At one point I believe I was wearing three or four bras — if that which went on my head before the hat was, indeed, the underwire model I remember.  And “two-toned” panties — black lace in front and purple satin behind?  Where did these “friends” get this stuff — and did I mention that all of it was being re-cycled!  Not a new item among them.

Until, that is, we got to the purple satin spandex trousers.  They really truly were a size too small, but I don’t think that stopped me from wearing them to the next few parties.  Thankfully, there were no pictures taken of me in them.  Although… I’m really far from completing this downsizing project!  No telling what the next box will bring!

Unbelievable that a year or so later he married me anyway!





The Fort North of Oysterville

Monday, January 31st, 2022

I. A. Clark

The story of Fort Oysterville is one of my favorites!  I think my Uncle Willard told it best so I will give his version here.  From Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village:

By the 1850s, reports of Indian uprisings sent spasms of apprehension through Washington Territory.  Forts rose in the forests almost as fast as high-rise apartments shoot up today in Manhattan.  Even Oysterville, perhaps more to be in fashion than through true worry, organized a militia.  Grandpa was elected commander, with the rank of Major.

John Crellin, Jr. circa 1870

Finding that the available ordnance was limited to a dozen dubious jager rifles and a few shotguns, grandpa dispatched an urgent plea back east for modern weapons.  He also ordered his men to construct a fort north of the village.  It did not occur to anyone to set up a picket stockade around the fort, and for the next few weeks, the Siwashes spent much of their time at the edge of the clearing, exchanging ribald comments among themselves while the white men sweated; though for hard cash the reds did occasionally lend a hand with the filling of one log to another.

By the time the walls were in place, it was generally agreed that the Siwashes had never represented a danger.  Besides, an exceptionally good run of oyster tides was due, and not to utilize them would have been criminal negligence  So the militiamen never got around to putting a roof on the fort.  Instead, they returned to their oystering.

John Briscoe

A few months later, the weapons grandpa had ordered — rifles as good as most fired later in the Civil War — reached Oysterville.  The settlers, having  enough guns already for their hunting needs, sold the government issue to the Indians.

And that is how grandpa became a Major!

(Pictured here are some of those early fort-builders who stayed on in Oysterville, contributing to the development of early Pacific County, Washington Territory, and ultimately, to the organization of Washington State.)