I wanted to sleep in yesterday, but instead I woke up at 5:15 am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Darn early work days! I got up and was in my office, but came back into my east facing bedroom to catch the last of a stunning sunrise.
Last Saturday night Jon and I had the good fortune to go to a showing of the movie The Mountain Runners. It is a film about a crazy marathon event held for a couple of years after the turn of the last century here in Bellingham. It was the crazy dream of the Mount Baker Club, a club dedicated to promoting outdoor activities. The Mount Baker Club was in its infancy in 1911, having just been formed, when they decided to hold an event that they hoped would promote tourism to Mount Baker, the 10,781 foot peak in the backyard of Bellingham. As the crow flies, Mount Baker is just over 30 miles from Bellingham. On today’s road, with switchbacks for the ascent, the distance is about 60 miles.
The film was showing at Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre, which is an independent historic theatre built in 1926. It is neat to take a step back in time, and see the fully restored beauty. The Lincoln was built as a vaudeville and silent movie house with a Spanish motif. It has beautiful and simple wrought iron light fixtures and wall coverings in what’s known as a travertine finish. It makes large use of reds, yellows and blues. It’s a bit plain on the outside, but if you appreciate historic architecture and design, you won’t be disappointed by the interior!
So, back to the movie. If you are planning to watch it, stop reading now! Spoilers! Although it is a documentary about an event that occurred 100 years ago, so really, maybe you already know what happens…
So here was the plan. The Mount Baker Club would host a race, where men would depart from Bellingham, make their way to the summit of Mt. Baker and back to Bellingham, all within 24 hours. There would be two routes to choose from, one where you made the initial 44 miles (one way) of the trip by train to the small town of Glacier, and then ran the remaining portion of the trip to the summit (about 28 miles round trip on foot). Or you could opt for route two, where you were driven from Bellingham 26 miles (one way) to another small town, Deming, where you began your journey on foot to the summit from the other side of the mountain. This route’s round trip run was about 32 miles (but supposedly the trails were a little better in this direction). Once you arrived back at your vehicle (either car or train) after your run, the vehicle took you back the other way into Bellingham. The first man to arrive won. Simple right!?
Except that even in the height of summer, the highest portions of Mount Baker still have about 20 feet of snow pack. And the temperature at the summit is generally 35 degrees colder at that altitude. So, even if we are having a pleasant 70 degree day in town, it will be about 35 degrees at the top of the mountain. That’s if it isn’t storming… And these men, in their race to be the fastest, didn’t want to stop and put on mountaineering gear. Nope, they were making the summit climb in simple cleated logging boots. Yikes!
In 1911, the first year of the race, Joe Galbraith took the win with the Deming route in 12 hours and twelve minutes. But only because Harvey Haggard’s train, while speeding back to town, collided with a bull and derailed! Up until the derailment Harvey Haggard was in the lead. Newspapers of the day sensationalized the story quite a bit and announced that 3 men died in the crash, but in fact, there were only minor injuries. I think Harvey Haggard should have gotten a special prize, for continuing his journey in a horse drawn buggy, then on horseback, and then in a car. In fact his horse spooked when it saw the waiting car and stopped short, sending Harvey sailing over his front end. Even after fainting twice on the car ride back to town, Harvey Haggard still finished second. The bull didn’t fare as well. He was killed by the train wreck, and BBQ’d up by the townspeople to celebrate the race.
In 1912, Joe Galbraith was going to defend his title, but ended up breaking his arm a few weeks before the race and having to withdraw. Harvey Haggard won this time, without the high drama experience of the year before. In 1913, race organizers had come to understand that barring any train derailments, the Glacier route was faster, so they switched things up a bit. If you took the train up the mountain, you had to take the car down, and vice versa, to even the odds. But 1913 barely averted tragedy again. One of the racers, Victor Galbraith, cousin of Joe, fell into a crevasse on his way down from the summit. Miraculously, he survived the fall, but almost died of hypothermia (remember they aren’t wearing mountaineering gear) as he waited 5 hours at the bottom of the crevasse to be rescued.
After the 1913 race, organizers realized that it was only a matter of time before something went horribly wrong. There were other issues of mismanagement on the part of the race organizers too, but I won’t go into them here. The race was ended for good. Or so you thought! In 1973, the Mount Baker Marathon was reborn as the Ski to Sea Race. I’ve blogged about it here, earlier this year, when Jon participated in the running leg of the race.
It’s nice to see a local independent film make its way in the world. If you can, it is worth seeing – and if you aren’t from the area, check out the website, because it is getting some national and international viewings!
This evening I had an evening with the girls… literally and figuratively. A friend of mine invited me to go with another friend of hers on a “Sin and Gin” historic walking tour in my hometown. The tour explores the seedier side of town, from the earliest founding of the communities that eventually formed Bellingham, all the way up to World War II. Most of it was concentrated around the turn of the 20th century – the Victorian era. Obviously the Gin part is the history of the drinking establishments in the area. The Sin part is prostitution. Yep… Brothels. Who knew that up until 1910, Bellingham had a legal red light district? It was complete with a police and health department registration process, and weekly medical checks.
So, I had always known that Bellingham was founded on three main industries: logging, mining and fishing, and that the four communities that eventually merged into Bellingham (Whatcom, Sehome, Fairhaven and Bellingham) were rough and tumble communities. And I even knew that there were brothels and a red light district. But I had no idea that the brothels were so widespread! This tour focused only on what is now downtown Bellingham (there is a separate tour for Fairhaven).
As a prostitute, you worked for a madam, who provided you with room, board, and meals in exchange for a cut of your profits. However, if you were a man, it was illegal in Bellingham to be a pimp. In fact, if it was found out that you were profiting from a “fallen woman”, you would literally be run out of town. And apparently there are documented occurrences of men being run out of town.
There were two main areas in Bellingham that housed brothels. One was the legal red light district, running approximately from C Street to F Street out along the piers. All of the area from C to F along Holly was actually over the water at that time (we filled in this whole area of town with scrap lumber and other garbage later) and the brothels were built on pilings over the water, along with lots of other businesses. As this was the designated area for prostitution, you could be seen out and about and get your business done in that section of town – have your clothes laundered, get a bite to eat, pick up some groceries, etc. However, most of the brothels employed errand boys to do that work for you, if you so chose. This is where the lowliest ladies worked, because a respectable gentleman wouldn’t dare be seen going into the red light district, because you would know what he was up to!
So, for those more respectable gentleman, there were also at least a dozen brothels in the upper part of downtown Bellingham, generally along what is now Railroad Avenue. It was illegal to operate a brothel here, but apparently the police were well aware and did little to stop it. In fact, they filled the City’s coffers with revenues from the raids on brothels. All the prostitutes’ money would be seized and a fine would be levied, and then the brothel would go right back to business as usual. Prostitutes in this area were also required to register with the police and the health department, so it would be hard to say the police didn’t know these prostitutes were operating outside of the legal district. The fact is, as long as the City got its revenues, they didn’t care. 11% of the City’s budget came from revenue from the prostitution industry! Apparently they didn’t consider that to be ‘profiting from a fallen woman’, as long as they could pay for a new fire truck.
It was a bit different up in this area though. Bellingham had a law against street-walking outside of the red light district, so if you were a known prostitute (and remember you had to register), you could be arrested for even being out on the street. Your madam would have errand boys do your errands for you. The madams had an ingenious way of advertising though – when they had a new girl and they wanted to get the word out, they would take the girl shopping. This wasn’t illegal street-walking because the girl wasn’t a prostitute – yet. Men would know if you were out walking with a madam, then they would soon be able to find you at that madam’s brothel.
There were different societal levels for prostitutes here too. The upper strata of prostitution was to work in a parlor house, basically where you live in the madam’s house and men would come and socialize with the ladies in the parlor, before choosing their fun for the evening. These women were educated and sophisticated, and could play instruments and speak multiple languages.
Then came the boarding house ladies. The upper rooms of a hotel or boarding house would be dedicated to prostitution. Men came in the back staircase, to avoid calling attention to themselves and what they were doing. The brothels along Railroad Avenue, outside of the red-light district, were boarding house brothels. Many of the buildings along Railroad had boarding house brothels on the second floor, including, the Avenue Bread Company, and the Helena, which is now low income housing. I’ve never been inside the Helena, but the guide told us that if you go upstairs, the windows in the rooms face the hallway. This was so the men could go upstairs, check out the girls available through the windows into the rooms, and then come back downstairs to settle up with the madam.
The lowest level were the cribs. These were the brothels on the waterfront, with rows of small rooms that housed the prostitutes. Men here paid by the minute, rather than by the act. 15 minutes of sex cost about $1. To put it in perspective, a female teacher during that time could make $60 per month. So even the lowest level of prostitute could make more than a teacher if she had two clients per day, for a total of 30 minutes. A cannery worker, stuffing salmon into cans by hand for 10 hours per day, made $1.25. So, whatever your thought is on the red light industry, a lot of women were drawn to the idea of being able to make more money more quickly. The “cribs” along the waterfront are all gone now, demolished when all the turn-of-the-century pilings and docks came down.
I asked the guide about the ages of these girls, and she explained that no madam in Bellingham would employ a local girl. So this lowered the rate of young girls becoming prostitutes, because you had to be from out of town, and you had to have gotten yourself here. The guide said that most of the women listed on the registration records of the time indicated that they were in their late teens to early twenties.
And one last story… Up to World War II, even though the brothels were technically illegal now, business went on as it always had, with the police and health department registration and the weekly health checks. And the police raids and fines to fill the City’s coffers. Navy officials at the Navy base in Oak Harbor told the sailors to go on leave in Bellingham, rather than Seattle or Vancouver, because they knew that prostitution was regulated here. And when you got back from your leave, you had to report who you had slept with – her full name. That way, if you got syphilis or another STD, they could go back to the source. And if you were the unlucky girl who got the finger pointed at you, you could look forward to a 30 day quarantine in the basement of the old City Hall.
So that’s what I learned – at the end of our tour, we were treated to cocktails at Bayou on the Bay. My girlfriends and I all had the No Shrinking Violet, a delicious concoction made of gin, simple syrup, Creme de Violette, and one other ingredient that slips my mind. We had a great time with lots of laughter, and gained a new appreciation for the seedier history of my hometown.