Lesser told tales. That’s how Everett writer Richard Porter describes the profiles in his slim new book “Smokestackers!”
His 32-page collection is boldly subtitled “A History of Everett, Washington.” Yet the folks Porter chose to highlight run counter to people in the region’s long-established histories. There’s not a timber industry baron, mayor or governor in the bunch.
Instead, in the table of contents, we find Leslie “Wildcat” Carter. An African-American prizefighter, he was raised in Everett’s Riverside neighborhood and in the 1920s had a shoeshine stand on Hewitt Avenue. Yet by the 1930s, he’d earned a quarter-million dollars boxing.
There’s Fred French, a Snohomish County sheriff’s detective. He drove a 1935 roadster confiscated from a mobster in a gambling bust. With years of police work behind him, he ended up working in a flower shop and joining a garden club.
A music industry giant heard on many 1960s pop hits is another subject in Porter’s book. Carol Kaye began her life in Everett, and went on to play bass guitar on recordings by the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, Glen Campbell, Sam Cooke and others. Still, most music fans likely don’t know her name.
“It’s been awhile since a book about Everett’s history came out. I really wanted to capture the local folklore,” said Porter, 32, who writes for the Live in Everett blog, the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, and runs Porter Wordsmith, his writing and editing business.
In research for the book, illustrated by Sierra Rozario, Porter listened to hours of oral histories collected by historians at the Everett Public Library. He said he owes a special thank-you to the late David Dilgard and Everett’s Margaret Riddle. As historians in the library’s Northwest Room, Dilgard and Riddle recorded local seniors beginning in the 1970s.
“David provided a direct link to some of those people,” Porter said of Dilgard, who died in May at age 73.
Porter also read local history books, “Riverside Remembers” among them.
“That’s my neighborhood,” said Porter, who grew up in Monroe, attended college in Seattle, and has lived in Everett since 2008. “There’s a toughness, it’s a strength,” he said of Everett’s historic Riverside, where the city’s mill workers once made their homes.
In his chapter “Wildcat Knocks ‘Em Cold,” Porter wrote that he looked up Carter’s onetime home in a Polk City Directory. “I still bike by his house. I go out of my way to see it,” he wrote of the boxer’s former home. “It’s a peeling two-story bungalow on Maple Street. Concrete steps.”
Porter fell in love with a certain brand of American literature when a Monroe High School teacher introduced him to the populist poetry of Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation works. Such common-man heroes are found in “Smokestackers!” In his book, they’re real people, some of them still our neighbors.
The chapter “For Carl Gipson” tells of the discrimination faced by Carl and Jodie Gipson during their early days in Everett.
When the African-American couple bought a home in north Everett, some white neighbors threatened to burn the house down, Porter wrote. Carl Gipson would go on to serve nearly 25 years on the Everett City Council. At 94, he visits the Everett senior center named in his honor.
Porter is married, has two daughters and another on the way. He published “Smokestackers!” with the help of online donations through Kickstarter, which supports creative projects. In a nod to Everett history, he noted that it was printed at Alexander Printing Co., a local business started in 1886.
Of all his subjects, Porter said “the one I think moves me the most is Betty Spooner.”
Until the aging sign on a Rockefeller Avenue dance studio was painted over in 2014, Spooner’s name was a recognizable part of Everett’s cityscape. The Betty Spooner School of Dance, later operated by her son Mike Jordan, was a downtown fixture for decades.
Spooner’s life, as Porter described it, was a long struggle for financial survival. “Betty started giving dance lessons at age 14 in the back room of the candy store on Bond Street,” Porter wrote. That candy store, run by her grandmother, was near the Anchor Pub.
The dance teacher’s story has a sad ending. She died in a car crash in 1967. “May you always be remembered as a dancer,” Porter wrote.
On the book’s cover is a sketch of Wildcat Carter.
“His spirit kind of sets the tone — of Everett’s tenacity,” Porter said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Porter’s 32-page book “Smokestackers!” is available for $10 at Everett’s Narrative Coffee, 2927 Wetmore Ave., or at www.porterwordsmith.com
Find his blog posts at www.liveineverett.com