Life on the Peninsula

Adventure is Just Around the Corner


    When you sit surrounded by nature it is not difficult to leave your world and enter another in less than 30 minutes.  And so it was that on a warmish, sunny afternoon that I decided my dog, Star, needed an outing.  I threw a towel over the back car seat and off we went.

     Twenty minutes later we were walking down a trail through the woods to the mouth of the Elwha River.  When we came out of the woods, our normal beach area was gone from our sight.  It lay a good couple feet beneath a raging river.  We retraced our steps and took a different path to a slightly higher elevation north of our original position and closer to the mouth of the river that has served as a gateway for migrating salmon for centuries.

   Benjamin Franklin may have thought the turkey should have been our national emblem, but I - like many others - have always fancied the bald eagle.  We are blessed here in Clallam County to have multiple areas of eagle habitat.  One of them is up river from where we walk in the high bluff area.  Years ago, I had been told there were ten mated pairs that nested there.  

     They are majestic birds and quite powerful.  I have felt the wind from its wings as one flew three feet over my head.  

     Eagles mate for life and use the same grounds every year for nesting and raising their young.  Several years ago, I had friends who lived in eagle habitat.  They would buy pork roast when it went on sale and cut it up into chunks about the size of a tennis ball.  Standing on their back, second-story deck, they would throw the meat chunks onto the yard below when they saw eagles circling overhead.

     Once the eagles came to trust my friends they would show up with their young to teach them how to swoop down, grab the meat in their talons and fly off -- a skill essential to survival for these birds of prey.

   There was one eaglet that was larger than the others and was given the name "Baby Huey" by my friends.  Baby Huey was a delight to them because he refused to follow the plan.  He would fly in, land, hop over to the meat and grab it with the talons of one foot, then hop to the edge of the bluff and jump before spreading his wings and flying off.  My friends said they noticed two adult eagles in a nearby snag watching, calling out loudly and encouraging (read that as screaming at) Baby Huey to no avail.  It got particularly loud one day as the watching parents saw Baby Huey land, hop to a chunk of pork and grab it.  As he hopped to the bluff he saw a second chunk and grabbed it with his other talons then stood there unsure how to proceed.  

     Had he been accustomed to grabbing and flying off there might not have been a problem, but the chunks were too cumbersome to try moving across the lawn. With meat in each of his talons he could not think of what to do next and stood on the lawn like a kid with his shoes stuck in the mud, unable to move but not wanting to free either foot for the sake of losing what was attached.  This dilemma was compounded by the parents going ballistic in their reproach from the sidelines.  

     Baby Huey survived despite his unorthodox method to approaching food.  He returned every year and they could easily spot him.  He was the only eagle who would land, grab a chunk (just one) hop to the bluff and jump off.

    The tales of Baby Huey, the experiences I had had with eagles, the memories I had of viewing eagles all flashed before me and were instantly supplanted as we emerged from the woods and saw nine bald eagles on a fallen log near the opposite bank of the river.  I stood mesmerized by the sight.  Then I looked up. . . in the tress on the other bank were more.  Star did not seem to notice the river sentinels basking in the sun and watching the water.  But standing just inside the tree cover I counted 22 more.  Thirty-one bald eagles. . . twenty minutes from my house.  It was a sight I will not soon forget.

    I am not certain about other places in the country but I love that in Port Angeles -- and throughout Clallam County -- adventure is just around the corner.eagles at the Elwha





: a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true.

        : a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well.   


     In Port Angeles, both are in plentiful supply.  We have legends like, “The Scotsman of the Forest,” where lost hikers have for years sworn that the way they found themselves back to a trail or out of the forest was by following the sounds of a bagpipe.  We also have had several people who made and left a permanent mark on our community.


      There are three main East/West arterials in this town which like the county, is long and skinny.  You can follow the waterfront on Marine Drive and follow it to go up Hill Avenue.  You can drive on Eighth Street and go across the bridges.  Or you can travel on Route 101 up Lincoln Avenue (or Race Street up) to Lauridsen Boulevard.  Many people travel that last way every day but most -- while familiar with the street -- have probably never heard of G.M. Lauridsen.  Lauridsen was someone who happened upon Port Angeles by mistake and ended up transforming the town with his actions.


     He was born Gregers Marius Lauridsen on March 19th, 1861 in the village of Transbol, Sweden.  He emigrated to Bridgeport, Connecticut at the age of 19 and eleven years later embarked on a journey around the world.  On his way back he stopped in San Francisco and was told about a thriving community in the northwest named Port Angeles.


     Port Angeles was not the thriving town he had been told about but he saw potential here.  The community fathers at the time were trying to lure businesses to the town and were offering incentives to anyone who opened a business.  Lauridsen, according to lore, bought a small building on the west end of town and brought in some stock so it would qualify as a business.  His intent was to simply lock up the building and continue on his travels with plans to return in a few months.


     The story goes that as he was locking up a man approached him and asked if he was open for business.  Explaining that he had just come from town and forgotten to buy lard, he offered his bucket to Lauridsen and asked if he had any lard for sale.  Lauridsen, being the businessman that he was, took the man’s pail, filled it with lard and then calculated what the price would be.  The man thanked him, paid him and left.


     As he went back to his homestead the man excitedly told every neighbor he could find along the way that a new store had opened up on the west side of town - not as far to go for provisions - and the prices were cheap!  G.M. never left for the rest of his journey.  He returned to Bridgeport a year later, married Faith O’Brien and brought her back to the Pacific Northwest.


     Lauridsen cared a lot for his community and was instrumental in its survival and growth.  When tough times hit the town, he came up with a simple but effective scheme.  He minted scrip for his store.  It was simple.  You went into the store and signed an I.O.U for (say) ten dollars.  You were given paper money and coins with Lauridsen’s name on the money.  It spent just like real money and you were given change in Lauridsen money as well.  When you got paid, you went in and paid back the I.O.U.  Easy bookkeeping for G.M. and a much needed breather for those who were pinched for money.


     It did not take too long before other merchants began accepting Lauridsen money.  They just took it back to his store and received coin of the realm in exchange.  Everything was going along fine until a woman from Port Angeles walked into a Post Office in Seattle and tried to pay for postage with G.M.’s coinage.  “That’s not real money,” said the postmaster.  To which the woman replied, “Well, it is in Port Angeles!”


     Shortly thereafter Federal agents came to Port Angeles to find out what was going on.  Realizing that there was no intent to defraud the government and that nothing underhanded was going on, the agents told him that while they understood his desire to help, he could not do it with “artificial money” and the scrip was pulled out of circulation.


     Lauridsen was involved in commerce, commercial construction and banking during his life here.  He also worked to benefit the community by building a theatre downtown and establishing the Lauridsen Trust, which still exists, as a way of helping widows and orphans.  The trust was/is funded by monies generated from his properties that still stand.  G.M. Lauridsen died on August 7, 1940 and is buried in Ocean View cemetery on the west end of town.  His good works built this community.  His caring helped insure its future.  And his name will be a part of this town, probably as long as there is a Port Angeles.

The Sounds of Port Angeles

     Ask anyone who grew up in a city about how they would describe it growing up and you'll probably hear about buildings, structures and parks.  Ask someone who grew up in a small town and they will tell you about sounds.
     The sounds of a town can be as comforting as a mother's soft lullabye to her infant.  They can also reinforce the character of the community.  I grew up in a rural farming community in the northwest corner of Ohio.  Grain fields populated the areas outside of the village and the train ran through the center of town.  I would lie in bed at night and hear it rumble through the town and dream of journeys and far away places it could take me.  
     The area is right by Lake Erie and subject to strong storms and tornadoes in the summer. You learned to gauge the distance to the storm head by watching for the lightning and then counting the seconds until the thunder reached you; one second for every mile away.  The town had a volunteer fire department with a siren that could be heard for miles.  We lived a half-block away from the fire station in a brick Victorian home built around the beginning of the twentieth century with a large porch that cover the front and half of one side of the house.  To this day, the sound of a distant train or the rumble of thunder takes me back to my boyhood.  The fire siren I don't really recall, mainly because it often went off at night and we learned to sleep through it.
     Port Angeles has its own sounds as well.  Our transit buses have a turbine that hums as they travel down the street.  It has a nice harmonic, almost chord-like pitch that fades quickly as it passes.  There's really no iconic fire siren here unless you count the one on the antique fire truck that they festoon with lights at Christmas time and patrol neighborhoods seeking donations of canned food for the local food bank.  Neighbors hear the old hand-crank siren and come running with bags of donations. . . and receive a candy cane for each bag given.  We don't have trains, but you can hear the ferry as it departs for and arrives back from our Canadian neighbors seventeen miles across the water.  Sadly, we rarely get thunder.  One of my favorite sounds here though (as it was where I grew up)  is the town hall clock.  And that's what got me thinking about all this. 
     The bell tower is about a mile-and-a-half north of my house.  In the evening and in many parts of the day the town is quiet enough that if you stand outside you can hear the clock as it chimes the half hour with a single note and tolls on the hour.  Every half hour and on the hour there is a deep resonant reminder sent across the valley and hills that we are a community.  It binds us as neighbors as the notes ripple from the heart of town across the homes and alleyways.
     There's the story of the man whose job it was to wind the clock in the courthouse and adjust the clock's time if it needed it.  For years the man had done so by peering through the slats in the belfry vents at the large electric clock in the pharmacy window across the street.  One day after he had finished for the day, the man stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some aspirin.  As he was being rung up he asked the pharmacist how accurate the clock in the window was.  "Keeps great time!" exclaimed the pharmacist, "I set it by the town hall clock every day."
     Our clock sits atop the historic County Courthouse -- just outside of downtown and across from a grocery store.  Other than that, the story might be about here.  Although, you never know, it could've been. . .   For the longest time our clock ran three minutes slow.

The Lady of the Lake

      I have been here about sixteen years now and there are still days when I feel like a newcomer.  So many people here are multi-generational in their roots.  And it is not uncommon to find yourself talking to someone who has been a part of the area's history.  And so it was that one day I found myself in the living room of Doctor Harlan McNutt, retired.
     By the time I talked to him, Harlan was in his eighties and lived by himself in the same small white house with a soft red trim that had been his home for over thirty years, about eight blocks from the main part of town.  He had been a bit surprised at my request when I called him on the phone but had agreed to chat with me.  We sat in the living room enjoying a cup of tea as we talked about life years ago in Port Angeles.
     "Ever seen one of these?"  He handed me a small business card-sized invitation with delicate lettering.  "It's an invitation to tea, with time and an address," I said, reading it as I held it by the edges.  He chuckled, "That's what they called it; an invitation to tea."  He looked at me and his eyes twinkled with mirth, "The madams used to load up their girls on open horse drawn wagons dressed in their Sunday best and drive slowly through town.  The "girls" would hand out these cards inviting the men, many of whom were probably married, to come to tea at their establishment.  Lord help you if your wife found one of these in your pocket!"  (I found out years later that my son's great-grandfather had delivered beer and groceries to the brothels in that section of town as a youth).  
     The harbor area of town was just a couple blocks north of the downtown merchant area and used to be rather, shall we say, undelicate in character; some of the establishments reflective of the town's pioneer spirit -- including a bar known for their midnight sailing crew recruitment procedures; a.k.a., shanghai-ing through a trap door.  During Prohibition some establishments used the trap door for incoming supplies. 
     I gave him back his card and as we settled back, I asked him about his involvement with a local woman many years ago.  "I was just an intern then, working with the local coroner as a med student.  It was really odd.  She was odd. No one had ever seen anything like it before.  We used to shave off a little piece of her and watch it float in water."  Harlan was talking about Hallie Illingworth, also known locally as "The Lady of the Lake."
     The year was 1937 and Hallie, a local waitress, and her husband Monte, a beer truck driver, had apparently had another fight.  Monte was known as not being too constrained by his marital vows and he and Hallie would get into fights about his philandering.  She would show up for work bruised and beaten after one of their arguments.  On the morning she failed to show for work in December of that year,  Monte told her employer that they had had a fight and she had stormed off the night before and that she had said she was leaving for good.  She never returned to work and was never seen again.  About four months later, Monte left town.
     In 1940 a couple fellows were fishing in Lake Crescent, a highly alkaline and very cold, landlocked lake that lies about 30 miles west of town.  Lake Crescent is filled with local lore, reputed to be over 600 feet deep and also home to specific fish, the catching of which was such a passion to a particular Navy Admiral who brought the fleet to town that it was named the "Beardsley Trout."  Whether the men were out looking for Beardsley trout or not is not in the books.  But they caught more than a fish or two that day.  They recorded themselves  a place in history when one of them felt his hook snag something and pulled.
     Hallie surfaced, wrapped in blankets and bound with a particular high-quality hemp rope.  She was not recognizable as her features had faded in the three years she had been submerged but her body remained intact somewhat through a miraculous feat of chemistry.  The alkalinity of the lake had transformed her body tissue to soap.  The term they used in the report was "saponification."  She was later identified by dental records.  Turns out that in examining the body, the doctor and young intern McNutt found extensive dental work had been done and sent photos of the work out to every dentist they could find in a three state area.  One man in South Dakota recognized his work . . . and that his client had never paid him.  Through those records, Hallie was identified.
    Monte was found to be living in Southern California with a new wife and was extradited to Washington in 1941 to stand trial.  Even though the rope was a specific type only sold through a local Sear's store -- and that Monte had bought that kind of rope a few days before his wife "stormed off," -- and even though she still had tips in her uniform pocket when they brought her out of the lake showing she had not gone from home as he had alleged, the jury was unable to convict in the first degree. 
     For the strangulation of his wife, Monte was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sent to prison in 1942.  Local lore tells that after a few years he was such a model prisoner that he was put on an outside work detail. . . and promptly disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.  But history will tell you that Monte served nine years and was paroled.  He died in Los Alamitos, California in 1974.
     I sat enraptured as I listened to an inside tale of history.  The afternoon had slipped by and the sun was beginning to set as Harlan scratched his chin.  "That was a long time ago. . .  but I will never forget her.  In all my years in medicine I never saw anything else like it."
     I did not have the chance to see Harlan again but our afternoon together was enough for me to appreciate him for being a lifelong resident who loved the people of this community.  He helped solve a local mystery and then went on to serve the people of Port Angeles as a family doctor.  
     Harlan is gone now, but his life is interwoven into the fabric of our town.  As is mine. . . and as yours could be. 
    When you live in a small town, your life matters in so many ways.


Local Stories


    In a smaller community like ours it is not uncommon for details of our lives to become evident.  And many times, it is the small moments of our lives that give a sense of humanity to our town.  I was blessed to know the editor and publisher of our local newspaper for 15 years before he retired.  John often-times would smile and relate a particular story to me that would cause me to chuckle.  Two of my favorites of his that illustrate life in our remote area are:

The Missing Paper:

     "You need to understand a couple things before I tell you this." John leaned back in his chair and shifted his weight, "Most of our carriers have been with us for years.  And the folks that work in the outlying areas know all of their customers.  We cover stories in our county and another county as well and we home deliver the paper to three counties.  Some of these subdivisions are not a lot more than a couple cul-de-sacs stuck out in the trees somewhere next to the National Forest."

     He gazed at me over a stack of newspapers on his desk, smiled as he recalled the incident and continued.  "We got a call from a customer one morning that his paper did not get delivered.  So we called the carrier and told him.  The carrier swore he had delivered it, but he drove out and dropped off another paper.  A couple days later we got a call from the same subscriber that his paper was missing.  The carrier swore up and down that he was not missing this guy's house but took him another paper."

     "The next day it happened again.  And by this time the carrier was getting almost as upset as the guy was!  So he did his route and then went back and parked where he could see this guy's house and his paper box and just sat there watching."  John smiled, "I don't know if you know but we switched to a soy-based ink for publishing several years ago.  Maybe that is part of this.  Who knows?  Anyway, this guy is sitting in his car watching the newspaper that's sticking out of this delivery box.  It's dark, maybe four o'clock in the morning.  All of a sudden an elk wanders out of the trees. . .goes over to the delivery box . . . and eats the newspaper!"

     "Luckily for us, we have delivery boxes with a flap on the front for severe weather, but it would work to keep out the elk. So we installed one of those the next day.  Situation solved."  John laughed, "I'm glad that elk thinks our stories are in good taste, but he if he wants his own copy he'll have to buy one."

                                                                       # # #


Missing Paper #2:

    I happened to run into John at a local eatery one day.  As we were grabbing a bite, John related a happening from the weekend.  A man called in and was complaining strongly about having not gotten his Sunday paper.  He went on about how he had been a customer for a long time and relied on his Sunday paper to plan out many of his activities for the week ahead.  Without his paper he was horribly inconvenienced and wanted the woman in charge of the delivery people to know how upset he was with the lack of customer service he was receiving and he wanted a replacement sent immediately.

    The Circulation Desk clerk listened attentively as he complained and then then finished. She quietly offered, "Um, sir?"  

"Yes?" he replied somewhat curtly.  

"Sir, today is Saturday."  

There was a bit of a pause and then the man said quietly, "Well, that explains church."

                                                                    # # #

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