Women’s History, Anacortes News, and Remembering a Murder in Alaska

On Wednesday, March 13,The Anacortes Museum, 1305 Eighth St., will host the opening of “Extra! Extra! The Early Years of Anacortes Newspapers” celebrating the role of journalists and newspapers on Fidalgo and Guemes islands. The opening celebration, from 4 to 6 p.m. occurs on the 140th anniversary of the founding of Anacortes. The exhibit will also celebrate the website unveiling of digitized 1890 to 1922 Northwest Enterprise and Anacortes American newspapers and the new online availability of the first 40 years of Anacortes newspapers. These are made available by a joint effort of the Anacortes American, Anacortes Museum and the Washington State Library, with support from the Anacortes Museum Foundation and the Skagit Community Foundation. At the exhibit, you will see old newspapers, photographs, printing equipment and more. Read all about the lives and work of early Anacortes writers Douglass Allmond, Sophie Walsh, Charlie Gant, and their successors like Wallie Funk and all the rest whose news is now history.
A series of events will occur throughout the run of the exhibit, beginning with a presentation by Bret Lunsford at the Anacortes Public Library, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20.
Anacortes was founded by a journalist whose wife’s name, “corrupted in the interest of euphony,” was officially bestowed 140 years ago as the name of the post office, on March 13, 1879. Amos Bowman, who wrote for Horace Greeley‘s New York Tribune newspaper in the 1850s, followed his boss’ advice to “go west” and began publishing the Northwest Enterprise here in 1882. From 1890 onward the Anacortes American covered local news, joined at various times by other long forgotten journals.
Many newspaper publishers, including Amos Bowman and Legh Freeman, were also visionaries of imagined communities. They platted and promoted frontier towns, Anacortes and Gibraltar respectively, which rarely lived up to their dreams or hype. Noting the historical context, these newspapers include materials that reflect the attitudes, perspectives and beliefs of different times, which includes unique detail about local personalities and occurrences from this period.
Anacortes Museum staff utilized the newly online and searchable newspapers, hosted on the website of the Washington Secretary of State, to trace historical threads to fascinating biographies of the men and women who collaborated and competed “in the stormy sea or journalism” on local shores.
These writers boosted the prospects of Anacortes even when “the 
puncture of the financial bubble left it in dire straits,” as founding American editor Douglass Allmond described the 1890s bust, when he struggled to publish “on an old army press” with prominent citizens pitching in. Details: 360-293-1915, museum.cityofanacortes.org

March is National Women’s History Month, and the YWCA, 1026 N. Forest St., has organized “Heartsongs,” a special event using music and hands-on activities to help women use their own history to learn about the concept and truth of women’s history from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16. Bellingham singer and songwriter Linda Allen will sing some of her songs to the participants, and other songs will be used as a basis for the activities. Through a combination of music, conversations, and activities, participants will learn about various aspects of women’s history, including their own.  Specific content includes recognition of the community and social benefits women have long contributed, the similarities between women’s work of different cultures, the importance of seemingly routine work and the challenges and need of working together to achieve equality. Participants will also receive a workbook. Bring your own brown-bag lunch to enjoy. Pre-registration is required to assure adequate seating. Email Katie@ywcabellingham.org or call her at 360-734-4820.

Port Orchard author Leland E. Hale will discuss his new book, “What Happened in Craig?” at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Village Books, 1200 11th St. He will share more than a decade of research into Alaska’s worst unsolved mass murder and provide new insights into a crime that continues to confound victim families, witnesses, and local residents from Bellingham and beyond.
Since the murder still has so many ties to Bellingham and Whatcom County, I emailed Hale some questions about his book.  
“What Happened in Craig,” he says, represents what is called “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction,” a genre related to, but distinct from, journalism.
The difference between these two genres, Hale says, is in how the story is told. Hale says that Lee Gutkind, a leading light in the creative nonfiction community, states that “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”
Hale emphasizes that the truth is essential to this genre.
“In my case, this means that virtually 99 percent of the references are from two primary sources. Of these, the vast court records housed in the Alaska State Archive in Juneau make up the majority of the source material. They are supplemented, and given color, by personal interviews.”
“I started the interviews in 1992, only a few years after the court cases ended, with the goal of getting the most contemporaneous record possible. That meant talking to family members, former crewmen, state troopers and, amazingly, the first trial judge. Those interviews, in turn, led me to the motherlode at the State Archive – literally boxes and boxes of case files and records that the prosecuting attorney, Mary Anne Henry, convinced the Alaska courts to preserve. That repository is still intact in Juneau and it contains many materials — including grand jury transcripts — that were not presented in court and are not in any database. As I said — the motherlode.”
“The news writers and media entities I acknowledge are there, in the main, because once the trial started the news media became a character in the story – both the defense and prosecution, frustrated at times with what was going on in the courtroom, pleaded their cases to the court of public opinion. I also had the luxury of great reporting from at least four news organizations – The Bellingham Herald, The Anchorage Times, The Ketchikan Daily News and the Juneau Empire – so I could triangulate their coverage with information I gleaned from the court records, participant interviews and my own experiences. For better or worse, attribution here is a tangle best resolved by a blanket acknowledgement of their steadfast reporting.”
“An example of this approach in action is the reconstructed Bellingham Police Station interrogation of John Peel. That interview was recorded, transcribed and preserved in the court records I accessed at the State Archive. Obviously I wasn’t there. But Sgt. Glenn Flothe — whom I knew from my previous book, “Butcher, Baker” — was there. So I talked to Glenn and gathered his sense memories of that place and time. I also have an archive photo of John Peel taken in that cramped interview room. The words in the transcript can now come alive.”
“Of course, no commentary about “What Happened in Craig” is complete without acknowledging Brian Keown. Brian’s brother Jerome was killed on the Investor. He knew I had a book that was languishing – the post-trial lawsuits created an atmosphere of trepidation among publishers – and he wanted to know why I hadn’t resumed my quest after the legal actions were resolved. I agreed to take another look at my manuscript. And there is was, all these years later, a compelling story that needed to be told. ‘What Happened in Craig.’”
For more about the author, visit LelandHale.com.