Author J.D. Howard, whose novel “The Pride of Monte Cristo” features Martin Comins,’ pours Irish whiskey Monday near a new grave marker for Comins, who died in 1913. The grave of the man known as the “Duke of Monte Cristo” had been unmarked for more than a century. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Author J.D. Howard, whose novel “The Pride of Monte Cristo” features Martin Comins,’ pours Irish whiskey Monday near a new grave marker for Comins, who died in 1913. The grave of the man known as the “Duke of Monte Cristo” had been unmarked for more than a century. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

From fictional Monte Cristo tale comes new marker on a grave

Local author helps memorialize Martin Comins, known as “Duke” of the mining boomtown in the 1890s.

There’s fiction. There’s history. And there is today’s reality.

All three came together at Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery Monday. On a slope just north of the 35-foot Rucker tomb, a headstone was placed on the grave of Martin Thomas James Comins.

The grave was unmarked for more than a century. Comins, described in his obituary as “the Duke of Monte Cristo,” died Jan. 27, 1913.

Comins is one of the central characters in “The Pride of Monte Cristo,” a new historical novel by J.D. Howard. Set in 1896, its plot follows a landscape painter’s stay in the east Snohomish County mining boomtown of Monte Cristo. It is Comins, an Irish immigrant and miner at Monte Cristo, who in the book helps townspeople escape when a disastrous flood threatens lives.

“Long live the Duke of Monte Cristo,” the author said at the cemetery Monday as he raised a shot glass of Irish whiskey. He poured a bit from the Jameson bottle onto the ground near Comins’ new grave marker.

Standing by was Fred Cruger, a Granite Falls Historical Society board member who helped with research for the book. Also there were cemetery general manager Pete Cameron, Pacific Coast Memorials owner Chris Green, and the author’s girlfriend, Susan Harrell.

Howard also wrote “Sawdust Empire,” a fictional account of Everett’s 1916 labor struggles that erupted in an infamous gun battle known as the Everett Massacre. Like Mark Twain did, the local author uses a pen name. J.D. Howard is a nom de plume for Jim Cuthill, 64, a 1973 graduate of Everett High School who lives in the Monroe area.

Real names of people from the annals of Monte Cristo history fill the book. Jacob Cohen was the actual co-owner of The Pride, a Monte Cristo hotel. But his nephew in the book, artist Oliver Cohen, is fictional — although the author said the character is based on John Englehart, a painter whose landscapes documented the Northwest frontier.

In the novel, all the paintings Oliver Cohen created at Monte Cristo are destroyed by floodwaters.

Little is left of Monte Cristo’s storied past. The town site, where money from East Coast capitalists bought mining claims and built a railroad, is now a ghost town. It’s a destination for hikers who make the trek along a long-closed road along the Sauk River’s south fork.

Frederick Trump appears often in the novel, with his saloon below the railroad tracks on the town’s lower level. And yes, President Donald Trump’s real paternal grandfather —a German immigrant whose ancestral surname was Drumpf — not only owned a disreputable Monte Cristo hotel, he was elected justice of the peace.

In his research, the author checked with local election officials. They found no name for the real write-in candidate who lost the 1896 vote, 32-5, to Fred Trump. So that character, Ned Berwyn, “was dreamed up,” Howard said.

What wasn’t dreamed up was Comins’ epithet as “the Duke of Monte Cristo.” It is indeed in his obituary, published Jan. 28, 1913, in the Snohomish County Tribune.

The obituary announced that Comins, “the Duke of Monte Cristo,” died of tuberculosis at Providence Hospital in Everett. He was 63. It described “a pioneer of the county” who had studied for the priesthood, farmed, and lived in solitude in the mountains.

With no known relatives, according to the obituary, his body was taken to “Jerread’s undertaking parlors.”

Cruger shared an article from the Granite Falls Historical Society’s December 2018 newsletter that tells how the grave was located. In the 1930s, Jerread’s combined with what decades later became Purdy & Walters with Cassidy, a funeral business with the same parent company — Dignity Memorial — as Evergreen Cemetery.

Burial records and a detailed map showed Comins’ unmarked grave in a section of Evergreen Cemetery near the Rucker tomb and overlooking 41st Street. Howard said he and Cruger paid for the marker. He praised Green, owner of the monument company, for doing “a fantastic job.”

Near the end of the book, after the flood and evacuation from Monte Cristo, Comins and the fictional painter have a drink at the “Depot Bar” in Granite Falls. Comins tells the artist about the 100-acre homestead he has, with “a cabin right on the lake and a plot of potatoes and carrots.”

Several years ago, Cruger helped a descendant of Richard Roesiger — great niece Monika Teuscher-Schramm — compile her ancestor’s diaries into a 500-page book: “On the Trail of Richard Roesiger: A pioneer’s life in the Pacific Northwest.”

Lake Roesiger is named for the man whose homestead is now a waterfront park.

And that lake cabin Comins’ character mentions in the Monte Cristo novel? “His next-door neighbor was Roesiger,” Cruger said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

‘The Pride of Monte Cristo’

The historical novel “The Pride of Monte Cristo,” by J.D. Howard, is available on Amazon. Starting March 16, it will be on sale at: J. Matheson Gifts and the Schack Art Center in Everett, Main Street Books in Monroe, the Granite Falls Historical Museum, and Mike’s Barber Shop in Gold Bar.

Book-signing events are scheduled:

Granite Falls Historical Museum, 109 E. Union St., Granite Falls: noon-3 p.m. March 30

Anchor Pub, 1001 Hewitt Ave., Everett: 5-8:30 p.m. April 6, live music by The Folsoms and Bonfire (no cover)

J. Matheson Gifts, 2615 Colby Ave., Everett: 1-3 p.m. April 13

Main Street Books, 110 E. Main St., Monroe: 1-3 p.m. April 27

Half Price Books, 1321 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett: 2-4 p.m. June 1

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