Research Opportunities in
On March 1, 1910 a snow avalanche at Wellington, Washington engulfed two Great Northern Railway trains. Ninety-six people died in this disaster.
The purpose of this paper is to provide researchers with information on where to look, in Washington State, for the historical records about the event.
Robert E. Kelly
18722 SE Lake Youngs Rd.
Renton, WA 98058
Permission is granted for this document to be copied by museums, historical societies, libraries, universities and researchers for non-commercial purposes.
Copyright 1996, 1998
Robert E. Kelly
Seven of the Wellington trainmen are buried in this cemetery. The Evergreen Funeral Home also seems to have made arrangements for four other victims. Train men buried are: Sidney H. Jones, John E Kelly, Earl R. Longcoy, Francis S. Martin, John K. Parzybok, Joseph L. Pettit, Louis G. Walker
The marker for Sidney H. Jones is more modern than the grave. It says on the stone "GNRR Wellington Avalanche"
Mount Pleasant Cemetery
Eighteen of the Wellington dead are buried in the cemetery, including 6 unknowns. The Burial Record book for 1903 - 1934 shows that the following train men were buried after the slide. Peter Bruno, G. Christy, Luigi Cimmarusti, William Corcoran, J. D. Fox, Milton Hicks, Gus Liebert, Stephen E. Lindsey, Peter Nino, Porlowlino, Carl Smith, Vasity Suterin, Unknown #53, Unknown #62, Unknown #76, Unknown #77, Unknown #83, Unknown #90
Lindsey and Fox are buried in family plots. Both have large gray markers. All the rest were buried in Section 132 IOOF. This section is listed as owned by the "G N Railway" on the plot card on file in the office. Cimmarusti has the only marker in the GN plot from the Wellington dead.
In Section 132 is a black marker with Japanese pictorial writing on both sides and a list of 24 Japanese names in English. Mr. Edwards, the cemetery owner, said this marker is not related to the Wellington slide.
King County Superior Court
King County Court House
Court Case # 94511 - Topping vs The Great Northern
The microfilm files contain many documents dealing with topics such as: moving the trial from Spokane to Seattle, instructions to the jury, lists of witnesses, various motions, the judgment for $20,000 in favor of Topping and details on the cost of the trial etc.
The verbatim transcript for this case is not on record in the microfilm library. The transcript was prepared for the Great Northern Railway appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Washington State Supreme Court
Court Case #11949, Topping vs The Great Northern
The remaining records of the Supreme Court case are stored here. The records need to be delivered from a warehouse so an appointment is necessary. The records consist of one legal size file folder. In it are several 5x7 inch soft cover bound briefings presented to the court by the lawyers for both sides. There is a total of about 1100 pages.
Washington Reports, Volume 81, page 166
This document contains the verdict of the Supreme Court in favor of the Great Northern.
King County Medical Examiner
The Coroners Death Record book for 1909 - 1910 has a page for each of the dead. The records for Wellington start on page 457 with G. W. Begle. Each page has the name, description of the body, home town and who the body was sent to. This book is located in a conference room to the right as you enter the lobby. Not all the staff realizes this book is in the conference room. It is a large leather bound book with pages about 11 x 17 inches.
Edward W. Topping is on page 488. This is the father of William Topping (he was 2 years old at the time of his father's death) who had the court case Topping vs The Great Northern filed on his behalf.
On Page 533 is the record for John Brockman. Also on this andthe next page is the verdict of the Coroners Inquest Jury. The pages contain the verdict, list of the jury, all the people interviewed by the jury and an itemized list of the costs.
The Coroners Inquest transcript has not yet been located in King County or Washington State Archives files. This document is a typed, verbatim record of the questions and answers posed to each witness called for the inquest.
Everett Public Library
The Northwest Room contains a collection of J. A. Juleen photographs. These photographs were taken shortly after the avalanche. He may have been working for the Great Northern. Other photographers from the west side were not allowed into Wellington as fast as Juleen. The collection has 12 photographs.
North Central Washington Museum
The Oliver L. Chappel collection contains several unique items. There is the blanket that Raymond Starrett was wrapped in when he arrived at Wenatchee. He was the 7 year old who had a cut on his forehead as a result of the slide. In the collection are several letters between Basil Sherlock, a telegraph operator at Wellington, and Starrett. Newspapers in the collection include a copy of the Seattle Daily Times of March 3 and 11, 1910. There are approximately 40 photographs in the collection. The Spring 1988 issue of the museum quarterly journal contains a personal description of how passenger L. C. Jessph walked to Scenic prior to the slide.
Museum of History and Industry
Several photograph collections dealing with Wellington are in the library:
The McDonald Collection
The Webster & Stevens collection
The Wilse Collection
The J. D. Wheeler Collection
There are over 50 photographs dealing with Wellington. A map, 22 feet long, of the Great Northern Railway between Stevens Pass and Skykomish is in the collection. This was drawn in 1894 by A. B. Wilse. The first few feet provide a detailed drawing of the switch back route and locations near Wellington. The collection also contains a portion of the Great Northern Railway, Legal Department file on the avalanche. This file contains 13 photographs taken by J. A. Juleen.
University of Washington Library
In addition to newspapers from the time period there are two photo collections.
The Curtis Collection with 25 photographs taken
March 10, 1910 at Wellington.
The Pickett Collection has a few negatives that deal with Wellington.
The library also holds an album of Great Northern photographs, several are from the Wellington area.
Washington State Archives
The state archives have Wellington related documents in the correspondence collection of Governor Hay. The Railroad Commission report of 1910 has a description of safety actions that were being taken by the GN. There seems to have been an extensive report completed by the Railroad Commission, however, it is not in the archives. The collection also contains two short telegrams to the Governor concerning Washington National Guard units volunteering to go to Wellington to assist. Also in the collection are exhibits from the Washington State Supreme Court case including many photographs.
Washington State Archives - Puget Sound Branch
This state regional archive holds extensive King County records. Relating to Wellington are items such as voting Pole Books 1920 - 1930 and precinct lists of voters eligible for jury duty. In the Assessors Tax Records are negatives for five photographs taken at Wellington in 1940. There are also Probate records and School District 116 student census data. A microfilm copy of King County Superior Court case # 94511 is also filed here. Records indicate that the Superior Court Statements of Fact and the Coroners Inquest transcript for the Wellington investigation were transmitted to the archives, however, they can not be found.
Washington State Historical Society Museum/Archives
The research library holds the Asahel Curtis negative collection. The Wellington photographs are well classified and easy to find. There are also some other unique photographs of the west side switch backs.
There is a copy of a 28 page typed letter from Basil Sherlock that provides a personal description of what he remembers happened after the slide. Sherlock was a telegraph operator at Wellington. He sent this description to Ruby El Hult in 1960. He describes his personal remembrances about the conditions and what he did to help in the first 24 hours after the slide. As with many personal recollections, there seem to be statements out of context with known facts. Ruby El Hult has written a paper pointing out many of the inconsistencies.
Also in the collection is a 3 page transcript of notes and two letters written by Mrs. M. A. Covington. These notes and letters were found with her body at Wellington.
Washington State Library
The state library does not have any primary documents dealing with Wellington. However they have an extensive microfilm collection of newspapers.
Washington State University, Historical Archives
These archives contain the personal papers of Ruby El Hult, the author of the book Northwest Disaster. The first half of the book is devoted to the Wellington snow slide and is titled "White Death in the Cascades". Ruby did her research in the mid 1950's and the book was published in 1960. There are 38 boxes of papers in the collection that relate to her various books. Two boxes deal with Northwest Disaster. In the collection are the draft manuscript for the book and two notebooks she used for information collecting. There are extensive notes from newspapers, court documents, personal interviews and coroners reports. Also there is correspondence and edited sections of the draft manuscript and book promotional materials. The original letter from Basil Sherlock to Ruby, in 1960, is in this collection. (this letter is described in the entry for the Washington State Historical Society) There are no photographs.
People Who Know About Wellington
There are a great number of people in Washington State who know about Wellington. Many are willing to discuss Wellington with interested people. In doing this research the author has met many wonderful people who are interested in sharing information. Several individual projects are underway that will increase the awareness of Wellington. The Iron Goat Trail will reach Wellington in 1999. If you have a specific interest in Wellington please contact the author for a appropriate referral.
People Who Were at Wellington
Many people tell stories about a relative or friend who had a relative or friend at Wellington at the time of the avalanche. These stories can get very confusing and it becomes hard to understand who was involved at Wellington on March 1, 1910.
The author has created a Wellington Who's Who with over 350 citations. The document was developed from people's names being cited in various publications. These documents include court records, books, telegrams, letters, cemetery records etc. Each time a person was mentioned a entry was made in the database.
If a person was cited more than one time they are entered each time they were cited. Various spellings may have been used and the spellings and other inconsistencies have not yet been resolved.
Copies of the database are available from the author.
There are photographs of Wellington and the aftermath of the disaster on file in several of the institutions mentioned in this document. Private collections also contain a number of unique Wellington photographs.
The J. D. Wheeler photographs released as postcards seem to have been taken starting the day after the avalanche. These postcards are in museums and private collections. A group of collectors is working to compile a complete Wheeler inventory.
J. A. Juleen took photographs soon after the avalanche. He may have been working for the Great Northern. His photographs were also found in the Great Northern Legal Department files.
Asahel Curtis went to Wellington on March 10, 1910 and took a series of photographs. His negative collection is at the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma, Washington.
A. B. Wilse took photographs in the Stevens Pass/Wellington area in the early 1890's and as late as 1900. He was employed by the Great Northern Railway to make a detailed map of the line between Stevens Pass and Skykomish which was issued in 1894.
J. A. Turner photographed Wellington in the mid 1920's.
Public institutions with photographs are identified below.
Everett Public Library, Everett
Museum of History and Industry, Seattle
North Central Washington Museum, Wenatchee
University Of Washington, Seattle
Washington State Archives, Olympia
Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma
A database with over 200 photographs of Wellington has been compiled by several historians and collectors. Copies are available form the author.
Skykomish District Office
Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest
The Cultural Research Locker has extensive information on the history of Stevens Pass. Some of this material is also held at the district office in Montlake Terrace, Washington. There are over 50 photographs and other documents dealing with Wellington. These materials were assembled by a former employee who lived at Stevens Pass for many years. In the collection is a 1993 letter from a granddaughter of Julius D. Kerlee, a train man who survived the slide. Her letter contains a family genealogy. Also research documents completed for the Iron Goat Trail will be helpful in locating individuals with information on Wellington. An appointment is needed to use these materials.
There are a number of telegrams about the event in collections. The majority are held by individuals.
The telegrams deal with the conditions prior to the event, the announcement of the event, requests for aid and status of the rescue effort. Most of the telegrams immediately after the event are in code. Many of the copies available are in poor condition and hard to read. A list of 50 telegrams, documented by a group of historians, is available from the author.
Starting on March 1, 1910 many of the telegrams issued by the Great Northern are in code.
"...the Sagittateary and taints prophesised causes were up on the comfit turf ..."
"... the rotary and the superintendents private car were up on the coal track ..."
A group of historians has worked to document the code. Words and code have been identified from copies of telegrams that have been decoded in the past and from research by several individuals. There are many inconsistencies that have not yet been accounted for. A copy of the code list is available from the author.
Cascade Division,by Martin Burwash, Copyright 1995 ISBN 1-884831-001, This book contains a chapter titled "The Ghosts of Wellington"
There are a number of Washington newspaper collections dealing with the Wellington slide. The State Library in Olympia has a microfilm collection of newspapers that is comprehensive and easy to access. These resources can provide the press reports of the day and follow on feature reports 25 or 50 years after the event.
Northwest Disaster: Avalanche and Fire, by Ruby El Hult, Binfords & Mort, Portland, Oregon Copyright 1960 ISBN 0-8323-0021-7. This book tells the Wellington story best of all.
Northwest Rail Pictorial, by Warren W. Wing, Copyright 1983, ISBN 0-915713-06-3. Contains several photographs of Wellington.
Rails Across the Cascades, By Eva Anderson, World Publishing Company, Wenatchee, Copyright 1952. A compilation of Wenatchee newspaper articles, many dealing with Wellington.
The Confluence, North Central Washington Museum, Wenatchee, Washington
Volume 1, Number 2: James J. Hill Empire Builder
Volume 4, Number 4: 1910 Wellington Tragedy Recalled
Volume 5, Number 1: We Escaped the Wellington Disaster
Volume 14, Number 2 The Wellington Train Disaster
Washington Reports, Volume 81, page 166
This document contains the verdict of a Washington Supreme Court case in favor of the Great Northern Railway. Available in law libraries.
The site of Wellington (later Tye) is accessible by a county road and a short walk. There are only two structures remaining that were in place at the time of the disaster. The west portal of the old Cascade tunnel and the concrete bridge wing walls for Haskell creeks access under the mainline to Tye creek. A small concrete block structure is located at the point of the old Haskell creek bridge. (This structure is used to mount cannons for winter avalanche control on Highway 2 above the valley.) The county road to the site follows some of the old switch back route. (This road is not open in Winter)
Special Note: Bush whacking and bugs are part of any field trip to Wellington.