Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Missing pages of history

In the days leading up to the worst natural disaster in Washington’s history, it snowed as much as one foot per hour. Telegraph lines were down and two trains - the Fast Mail and the Spokane local - had been trapped at Wellington in Stevens Pass by heavy snow and avalanches for several days. Then, on March 1, 1910, after weeks of relentless winter weather, it began to rain. The storm culminated in a massive avalanche that swallowed both trains, assorted freight cars, a rotary snowplow, at least two steam locomotives, and four electric locomotives. Official records indicate that 96 souls perished in what became known as the Wellington Disaster. For the 26 survivors, a makeshift emergency hospital was created inside the motorman’s bunkhouse at Wellington. (Motormen operated the electric locomotives that ran through the Cascade Tunnel.)

Photos taken several years after the disaster were conspicuous for the absence of the bunk house and so far no record of its demise had been discovered. What had been effectively lost to history was the fate of the bunkhouse itself. Or at least until now. Several missing pages of history arrived at the Northwest Railway Museum earlier this year in the form of a glass negative collection. Two images depicted in that collection are believed to have been taken in 1913 and show the motorman’s bunkhouse engulfed in flames.

The Museum is grateful the donor recognized the value of the collection and ensured it found a home in a public collection. But many more collections remain in garages and attics. Often they are inadvertently overlooked and discarded as estates are settled. A few more missing pages of history are waiting to be found, perhaps in your family’s attic.

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