Nothing says love like silk ties, long-distance correspondence, divorce and murder-suicide. OK, maybe a hug and kiss would do, but for your Valentine’s Day entertainment here are some historical Northwest stories that have something to do with love.
Imagine a ball of silk yarn. The strands once held together the hopes and desires of a young woman named Martha. It was the 1890s and she lovingly crocheted it into a tie – a gift for her suitor. Martha likely dreamt of a long, happy life with her suitor complete with children. And it could have happened if it weren’t for her sister.
As Ed Nolan, Head of Special Collections and Archives for Washington State Historical Society recounts, “The story goes that Martha’s sister told the suitor that Martha was “sickly.” The suitor ceased to pursue her after that. Heartbroken, Martha unraveled the tie and wound it into a ball that is now in the possession of the society.” While the failed courtship happened in Iowa, Martha moved to Spokane around 1900. She never married and died in Yakima in 1956 – not bad for “sickly.”
When you hear of a “free love” colony you may think of San Francisco, not Port Angeles. But back in 1886 the lovely town had a scandalous reputation thanks to some folks with the surname Smith. Seattle lawyer and anti-Chinese activist, George Venable Smith had a dream – a cooperative colony, a utopia settlement, the first of many around the Puget Sound. It didn’t last long and neither did his marriage.
His wife, May I. Vestala Smith was courted by Norman R. Smith – no relation. One can only imagine the pick-up line: “You married the wrong Smith, Ma’am.” Perhaps it was because of Norman’s dreamy eyes, or his lineage, his daddy was the “Father of Port Angeles.” Whatever it was, May left George. George then married the teacher of the colony, Ione Tomlinson. According to Clallum CountyHistorical Society's research librarian Donna Cloud, “There was much talk about all the parties involved but they went about their business and later the two men joined forces in business. Both marriages were long lasting. These events led to the mistaken idea that Port Angeles was a “free love” colony.”
Out of Okanogan County by way of London is a love story that almost wasn’t. William Baines was born in England in 1869. At 19, he left for America, leaving behind a sweetheart. Baines settled near the Similkameen River. He got word that his first love married a police officer. Seven years passed and it was with great surprise in 1895 that he received a letter from her. Eliza Turnbull had not married! He wrote back, “Judging by your letter, I imagine that it was a false report and that there is a chance for me yet.”
They began planning for a life together and he tried to prepare Eliza for life in the wilderness. Two years later William sent Eliza money for a ring and travel fare. She would have to go alone across ocean and country to Spokane then meet him at the Pedicord Hotel. A week passed and William figured Eliza changed her mind. But Eliza did arrive! Weary from travel, she asked the hotel clerk if Mr. William Baines was in. Imagine how she felt when the clerk said William had left that morning! According to The Okanogan County Heritage, “Eliza didn’t know what to do. She turned around and there staring at her with blue eyes was William! He had forgotten something at the hotel and came back.”
They got married at the courthouse on May 6, 1897, had three children and a successful life. William was the county clerk and opened the Okanogan County Abstract Company, now called the Baines Title Co. In 1947 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary then 13 days later William died. Eliza lived to be 96.
You can learn more about William and Eliza by contacting the Okanogan County Historical Society and ask about the Okanogan County Heritage 1981 issue.
For the final selection of Northwest love stories comes a murder-suicide. The true tale was fictionalized in Carol Ryrie Brink's novel Buffalo Coat. A married doctor moves to Moscow, Idaho. He falls in love with a minister's daughter. They have an affair and take a train to Orofino where he gives her a lethal dose of morphine and then injects himself. They die in an embrace leaving behind suicide notes asking to be buried together. Did their families honor their wishes? Did the young woman really love the doctor or was she hypnotized by him? The Latah County Historical Society has the full story - one you have to read! You can also listen to Lola Clyde recount the tale in an oral history recording. Find the double-suicide murder about an hour into the interview.