Wilkeson’s skeleton is in a car, not a closet

  • Fri Dec 18th, 2009 6:49pm
  • Life

By Sharon Wootton For The Herald

Coal mines and sandstone quarries put Wilkeson on the map, but these days, the most-photographed item in town is a skeleton.

South of Buckley, Highway 165 runs through Wilkeson, winding 18 miles along the Carbon River to Mount Rainier National Park.

Most of the downtown buildings date back to the 1920s, said Donna Hogerhuis, president of the Wilkeson Historical Society.

“Both sides of the street were burned in 1910 and 1914, once on one side and the second fire burned the other side.

“Eagles Hall is a cool building with original furniture. The Eagles … is the only fraternity left. Once there were over a dozen fraternities and ethnic halls in Wilkeson,” Hogerhuis said.

One mandatory stop is at Skeek’s Pizza, where history, pizza, lattes and Italian sodas share the space. When Bert Gonzales talks about the town, you’ll quickly get an appreciation for the mining and quarrying history.

Sandstone has been quarried here since 1886.

Local sandstone is popular because of its warm tones and fine texture. It was used for Olympia’s capitol buildings, Seattle’s Bon Marche, Vista Point on the Columbia River, Cathedral of St. John Evangelist in Spokane, cobblestones in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, and Wilkeson’s City Hall and school.

Walk to the rear of his store for historic photographs and artifacts, including a 15-foot-long blade, a quarter-inch thick and 5 inches wide that cut sandstone blocks.

Mines and quarries needed thousands of immigrants.

“The mines (until the 1930s) played a major role in keeping Northern Pacific Railroad’s creditors at bay around 1876, long enough to keep their charter and complete the transcontinental line connecting Tacoma to the East Coast,” Hogerhuis said.

Thirty coke ovens in Wilkeson Coke Oven Park are all that remain of the original 160. You can see the shells of the beehives. The ovens, named for their domed shape, were used to turn coal into coke for steel and iron foundries.

Two churches have a long history. One, the wood-frame Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, has a blue Russian-style onion-dome cupola with a three-barred cross.

And that skeleton? A few Halloweens ago, Dale Perry, owner and resident of the Washington Hotel, put the skeleton in his 1925 Ford Model T and left it out front.

His 1880 hotel is on the state Register of Historic Places.

“Many a man has died in here in gunfights,” Perry said.

In the 1880s, more than a dozen saloons gave miners, loggers and quarry workers a chance to let off steam … and an occasional bullet.

Wilkeson is much quieter now.

Click-click: Sometimes the best bird photography opportunities happen when you’re not near your camera, or even near the bird.

Brinno’s BirdWatchCam is a way around that. I liked several of its qualities, including a well-built water-resistant plastic housing (that’s even attractive), three distance settings, motion activation in a 9-by-12-inch sensing area, an automatic sleep mode that saves batteries, and four ways to attach the camera to trees, posts, walls or windows.

A bird’s motion triggers a series of shots that are filed on a 2GB SD memory card as .jpg files. Download into your computer and take your pick. Cool.

It doesn’t have an endless depth of field. If a bird lands at the preset 2-meter mark, for instance, the sharpest focus is there and for a foot or so beyond. The jpeg size works for Internet sharing. As for printing, a Brinnon spokesman assured me that a 5-by-7-inch print is fine.

BirdWatchCam (www.brinno.com) is about $200 retail, but this is the season of sales.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.