September 25, 2012

More Than an Avalanche


My grandparents always called it Tye, that rail stop high in the Cascade Mountains—more wilderness camp than actual town—where they lived as a young married couple in the early 1920s. “Back when we lived up at Tye,” they said. They never called it Wellington. And they never mentioned, as far as I know, the terrible train wreck that happened a decade before they arrived.

In February of 1910, on a steep mountain slope above Tye Creek, two Great Northern Railway trains headed for Seattle were stranded for days in a blizzard at the station known then as Wellington. At midnight on the sixth day of storms, as rail crews struggled to clear the line, an avalanche swept both trains from the track and hurled them into the canyon. Ninety-six people perished in what is still regarded as one of the worst disasters in American railroad history. Six months later the Great Northern quietly changed the town’s name to Tye, effectively erasing the avalanche site from its schedules. Passengers planning a rail trip to or from Puget Sound country would never see the name Wellington on the Great Northern route again. (more…)

September 11, 2012

Duckbill Platypus and White Guy Canoes


Somewhere in the collection of just about every history museum there’s a Truly Irrelevant Artifact—an item so inappropriate that curators actively hate it, and so popular with the public it can’t be culled from the herd.  Ask any museum employee or front desk volunteer and they’ll roll their eyes and tell you exactly what it is.

The zither collection.

The cuckoo clock.

The gargantuan blouse of a P.T. Barnum sideshow giantess.

“I don’t know why,” a panelist complained at a museum workshop a few years back, “but people go nuts if you talk about removing the dugout canoe.” (more…)