In 1896, the year William McKinley won the presidency, folks in the east Snohomish County mining town of Monte Cristo saw another name on the ballot: Frederick Trump.
Donald Trump’s paternal grandfather, a German immigrant whose ancestral surname was Drumpf, was elected Monte Cristo’s justice of the peace in 1896. It was 120 years before his bombastic grandson’s run for the White House. He won the Monte Cristo race by a landslide, 32-5.
Serving as justice of the peace wasn’t his only gig in town. Frederick Trump ran a Monte Cristo real estate office and a disreputable hotel.
“Prostitution was a sign of the times,” said David Cameron, a local historian who lives in Index. “With mining claims, there were a lot of single men.”
Frederick Trump’s hotel was one of five in Monte Cristo during the gold and silver boom of the 1890s, said Cameron, a member of the Monte Cristo Preservation Association’s board of directors. “There weren’t wide open bordellos. It was on a quieter basis. They’d get a room upstairs, and there would be dancing and a saloon down below.”
Gwenda Blair has been on the trail of the Trump family legacy for years. Her book, “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire,” was published in 2000. With “The Donald” dominating headlines, Simon &Schuster has released an updated edition of her book titled “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate.”
The biographer knows all about Frederick Trump’s years at Monte Cristo in the 1890s. An adjunct faculty member at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Blair visited Monte Cristo several times in the early ’90s. The ghost town is now closed for cleanup of mine tailings, but The Herald’s Kari Bray reported Tuesday that the hiking trail and town site is scheduled to open by late May.
Blair’s research also took her to Frederick Trump’s hometown of Kallstadt, Germany. She found the site of a restaurant he had in Seattle’s red-light district, and traveled to Whitehorse, Yukon, where after leaving Monte Cristo he ran another place during the Klondike Gold Rush.
And yes, she interviewed Donald Trump multiple times. “He was exactly the same person as he is on the campaign trail,” Blair said in a phone interview Monday.
She said he showed little interest in her focus on his ancestors, and instead wanted to talk about his accomplishments and plans. “He was always cordial and polite — cordial may be a stretch,” she said.
As Donald Trump was becoming a front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Cameron wrote an essay about Frederick Trump. It was published in the Monte Cristo Preservation Association’s August newsletter. A major source was William Whitfield’s 1926 book “History of Snohomish County, Washington.”
Frederick Trump, who Americanized his first name from the original Friedrich, was a teenage barber from a poor family when he arrived on New York’s Lower East Side in 1885. He headed west after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.
Setting up shop in Seattle’s Pioneer Square area, he expanded from a barber shop to serving meals, liquor, “and since this was Seattle’s red light neighborhood, female companionship,” Cameron wrote.
Blair said that by 1892 he was a naturalized citizen. He bought the fixtures from a Seattle restaurant called the Poodle Dog and changed the name to the Dairy Restaurant.
Hearing talk of gold, in 1893 he braved deep snow and packed his supplies into Monte Cristo. According to Blair, he put down a placer claim. It gave him mineral rights, but not the right to build on land he didn’t own. He built there anyway.
In an essay on the HistoryLink website, Cameron described Monte Cristo’s two separate town sites, separated by railroad yards. The upper area had respectable businesses along Dumas Street. Frederick Trump’s real estate office and hotel were on the wrong side of the tracks, in the lower town.
Cameron said Frederick Trump was involved in a legal dispute with Nicholas Rudebeck, the rightful owner of the Monte Cristo property.
By 1898, news of the Klondike Gold Rush had reached the Northwest. Frederick Trump headed north. He first ran the Arctic Restaurant and Hotel in Bennett, British Columbia. By 1900, he had opened a restaurant and inn in Whitehorse, Yukon.
With the gold rush ending, he went home to Germany and married Elizabeth Christ. They hoped to stay in their homeland, but Blair said he wasn’t allowed to stay in Germany because he hadn’t fulfilled mandatory military service.
He moved his family back to Queens, New York. “He was in real estate, just starting. It wasn’t a big business, but he got it going,” Blair said.
Frederick Trump was just 49 when he died in the 1918 influenza pandemic. His son, Frederick Christ “Fred” Trump, a New York real estate developer who died in 1999, was Donald Trump’s father.
Blair set out to write about Donald Trump’s success in becoming his own brand. After researching the family, the theme of her book grew.
“It’s a century of American capitalism,” she said.
In one GOP debate, The Donald defended his “New York values.” But one chapter of the Trump story happened in a wild and woolly Snohomish County town.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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