Rusting Wreckage of the March 1, 1910 Wellington Train Disaster
Image courtesy of Slate Magazine
On March 1, 1910 a ten foot wall of snow swept two snow bound trains off the tracks into the Tye River Valley killing 96 people. It was the most deadly train accident in both US and Washington State history. To this day you can see broken glass and twisted metal in the valley below the tracks. The ghosts of the dead from the train, the town and the Native population also remain.
A couple years ago two friends and I hiked the easy trail between the two Cascade Tunnel’s at Steven’s Pass. The first tunnel was completed in 1900, ironically to mitigate the problems caused by heavy winter snowfalls for the trains of the Great Northern Railway. The first tunnel is a short walk from today’s parking lot, not far from the overgrown remnants of the former railroad town of Wellington.
“Sam”, “Al” and myself first visited the original 1900 tunnel on an October day that had to have been the last warm and sunny day of the season. The first ghost to greet me at the mouth of the tunnel was a former Great Northern Railway design engineer. He was formally dressed in a morning coat, trousers, black shoes, cravat and top hat. He walked with an expensive black stick with a silver topped handle. He told me he was still at the site because of the terrible decision he made in looking the other way when the railway was in the planning stages for the the tunnel. He told me he knew the avalanche danger had not been mitigated but bowed to pressure from his bosses and created plans he falsely claimed would be acceptable for safe use. The engineer never gave me his name but I doubt it was world renowned engineer John Frank Stevens as the ghost I saw had a graying beard and the vast majority of public access images of Stevens show him as consistently clean shaven until his advanced elder years.
It took me a few minutes to realize the ghost of the engineer was holding back two other spirits who wanted to come forward. I had to be quite firm with him and insist with appropriate angelic backup that he step back and let the two other spirits come forward to have their say. Those two spirits were of a well dressed 1910 era woman and her early grade school daughter. The woman’s auburn hair was done in the Edwardian Gibson Girl style of the era and like many redheads she rocked a hunter green dress and matching hat with feathers. I would have put her in her early 30’s.
Gibson Girl sketch, Dana Gibson
Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
The woman’s daughter had blond, shoulder length hair and was wearing a short sleeved, knee length dress made of silk.
Mother and daughter were both timid and afraid of the hostile engineer. They told me they had been casualties on the trains swept away by the 1910 avalanche. Furthermore the ghost of the engineer didn’t want them talking to me because they had been the family of one of the Great Northern Railroad officers at the time of the tragedy. The mother had been at a wee hour social gathering (read cocktail party) when the avalanche hit, at the opposite end of the passenger train where her daughter was bunked down for the night. Having been separated a train length apart at the time of their deaths they were determined to stay together after the fact. They didn’t want to move on so I thanked them for talking to me and left them to the afterlife they had chosen, but not before having a dutch uncle talk with the ghost of the bully engineer.
Before heading up to the second 1929 tunnel that was built to replace the 1900 one, my friends and I got as close to the town of Wellington as possible. That wasn’t particularly close as the long abandoned town has a great deal of heavy brush, trees and no well defined paths to it. The town had been badly damaged by the same avalanche that swept both the mail and passenger trains off their tracks in early March 1910. I sent out a general greeting and invite to any ghosts of former townspeople who lived in Wellington in 1910. The strongest response I got was from a local prostitute. I think she was the madam of a local brothel at the time. I didn’t realize her role in the town at first because I originally saw her during an average day in work clothing. She wore a plain skirt and shirtwaist with the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. Her brown hair was in a low messy bun on the back of her head and she had a recently emptied porcelain chamber pot tucked under her left arm. Whips of hair straggled around her tired face innocent of her customary cosmetics. She remained angry about how she felt the railroad authorities had abandoned the townspeople following the avalanche. She said the surviving townsfolk had to fend for themselves regardless of what or who they lost in the tragedy.
At that point the scene shifted to her in full regalia during evening working hours. If I hadn’t already been introduced to her energy signature I would have been hard pressed to recognize her as the same woman. She wore her hair in one of the softer, half up, half down Gibson Girl styles with sleek thick ringlets that rested on her neck and chest. Blush and lip color had been applied. She showed me her pride and joy, a set of French silk lingerie in red and black. This was a complete ensemble from the teddy to the garter belted silk stockings, high black heels and matching hat. The base color was bright red, (similar to popular nail polish colors today) with black lace trim. The hat was red with black goose or swan feathers parallel to the oversize brim. She was incredibly proud of the fact it had been ordered directly from Paris.
The three of us then headed up the trail to the 1929 tunnel. The walk was easy, today’s trail being the former railroad grade. Part of it was covered with then state of the art re-bar reinforced concrete, ironically built to shield snow bound trains from avalanches. The problem was the 1910 trains were sitting outside of that specifically constructed snow shelter. I saw images of couples promenading on Sunday summer strolls just outside the snow shelter. Today it is overgrown with spindly trees and brush, but back then it was the place to see and be seen with your sweetheart or to give married couples the equal to a “date night” break from the daily grind of life in a railroad town. Based on their outfits they were likely from the late 1890’s rather than 1910 on.
Modern Day Interlopers Not Welcome
Once past the crumbling snow shelter things got tricky for a completely different reason. Al is a gifted psychic in his own right. He has deep empathy for those lost in 1910. Like most Americans today he boasts a mixed heritage, including Southwestern Native American Indian bloodlines. This was a problem with the long dead Pacific Northwest tribe the Great Northern Railroad literally ran roughshod over in the late 1800’s. Al’s tribe was considered one of their enemies and they were none too pleased to have him walking through their lands. He warned me about this dynamic he had experienced during a prior trip. I wasn’t sure I would have as much trouble as he did being a mixed bag of European and Mediterranean bloodlines, in other words just another alien white person rather than an established long term enemy.
I was wrong and surprised at how heavy the energy got as we made our way three miles up the grade. Surprise turned to unease when I looked up from the narrow rail bed and saw hundreds of Native braves lining the high ground above us, sharpened spears at the ready if they felt we were too much of a threat. Neither their expressions nor their sharply filed pointed teeth were remotely reassuring. Those were not smiles, they were baring fangs in the most direct warning possible. I assured them we were just passing through to the upper tunnel and asked they not attack. They didn’t but nor were they about to let their guard down. Al saw them too and our group picked up the pace.
It would be easy enough to shrug off long dead warriors by asking well, what could they do to you and your friends? Not like those spears were solid nor the warriors holding them incarnate. My response would be beings don’t need to be incarnate to do real damage to the living or the dead. I certainly had no desire to be attacked by them on their own ground. Being psychically or energetically overwhelmed in any way is often painful and frightening. It is not an experience any sane sensitive courts.
Déjà vu 1984
The energy on the trail eased up considerably the last few hundred yards to the upper tunnel. As soon as we got to the 1929 upper tunnel I realized I had been there before in high school. A mid-1980’s a field trip took a bunch of students up there. Before the 2008 collapse of the tunnel it was possible to walk straight through. During that field trip I got halfway through the tunnel and had an out of the blue, five alarm panic attack. I remember feeling distinctly uneasy as I watched my footing in the tunnel but I was not prepared for a complete crying melt down. The teachers and Vice Principal were smart enough to get me out of the tunnel ASAP and I calmed down. They attributed the panic attack to me getting overheated in a warm jacket over the course of the hike. At age 13 I simply had no idea why I reacted the way I did or how to explain my feelings to them. I was embarrassed to have caused a fuss. Pretty much identical to the feeling I had at my grandmothers funeral 17 years later when I accidentally stumbled on the boards covering the grave while placing a rose on her casket. I won’t forget the horrified collective intake of breath by my family behind me because one more wrong step and I would joined my grandfather in the grave below. Same level of deep mortification on that field trip. (Who said feelings were logical? Everything emotional is amplified at age 13.)
This time around I made absolutely certain I was grounded, cooled down and hydrated before approaching the upper tunnel. It is not advised people go into the tunnel since the 2008 partial collapse, but I scanned the integrity of the remaining structure and chose to risk it. Nothing fell on my head, but I still found it disconcerting to be standing a few yards into the mouth of the tunnel and hear the whistle of a long scrapped train heading toward me. I didn’t recall hearing that in 1984 but even as an established professional psychic I found it eerie. No panic attacks, I just walked out slowly as I felt the train gaining ground on me. That sensation ended when I got back outside.
1929 Old Cascade Tunnel
Do You Want to Hurt Us?
Since the tunnel is completely blocked the only way past it is to walk on the substantial concrete sides that provide a surface about the width of a normal Pacific Northwest forest walking trail. One small hitch. It had no safety railing and if you went off the side you would tumble directly into the Tye River valley far, far below. I tried, but nope, that was not going to work for me. So I left Al and Sam to continue without me. Had some snacks from my backpack, hydrated more and was enjoying the stunning October leaves below when the spirit of a Native American boy, about age six walked out of the trees and come over to me. With the directness of most children that age, he asked me, “Do you want to hurt us?” I assured him I did not, not him, not his people. I asked the same question in return. He shook his head no, giggled and ran back down the path he appeared from.
This brief interaction go me to thinking about his elders reaction to our ascent to the tunnel. I knew Al wanted to take me to the former Native graveyard on the way back down the trail and decided to see if maybe I could make that a more comfortable experience for all concerned. I sent out a general telepathic announcement to the warriors in spirit I knew were not too far away. I promised I would respect them, their territory and their burial ground. I further showed them the respect I had shown my grandparents grave a few months earlier on the other side of the continent. I have them my word I would treat them and their dead with the same respect I had my own grandparents. Luckily, they believed me.
Native Burial Ground
A few minutes later Sam and Al showed back up and we headed down the trail again. The energy around us was so much lighter! We reached the unmarked burial ground and stood on the trail/grade above it for a few minutes. Normally I don’t do this because let’s face it human remains are not the most pleasant to view most of the time. However this time I did a remote view scan to make sure we were in the right place. We were. Originally I saw orderly graves. They didn’t have the kinds of markers Europeans would expect but the local oral tradition knew the identify, location and story of each person buried there over time. It was a horrible mess. Skeletal remains were not just scattered but utterly broken up, shattered by the railroad’s original grading process. It was impossible to make any visual deductions about which bones belonged to which body. As I pulled my awareness out of the ground, I noticed a young Native woman in spirit watching me closely. She was beautiful and clothed in a white leather dress/robe. She smiled at me and I asked if she was the guardian of the burial ground. She replied no, she was not a guardian, but these were her people and she would be there as long as they were. Al got the impression she was in her lifetime a medicine woman of some sort. She liked that term much better, so I used it thereafter in our conversation.
We had a good chat, she showed me what had happened when the railroad men came to survey and made a deal with her tribe. As usual in such cases they were lied to and cheated badly. The final insult though was desecrating the burial ground. That I could understand. I cannot imagine the insult I would feel if my Mom’s grave was disturbed for any reason, let alone for someone else’s road! (I get upset just watching Seattle dog owners use the cemetery my Mom sleeps in as a leash free dog run.)
The medicine woman’s enduring rage over these atrocities were as fresh as the day the events took place. She played the long game. She showed me a version of herself that met the railroad men when they eventually died and crossed over. Hollywood movie makers would be hard pressed to match the hellish vision she greeted them with. Her lovely hair was no longer soft and groomed, but pulled back so hard as to be nearly invisible. Her eyes had red circles around the orbital bone with black filling in the space inside the circle and over her eyelids. More red and black paint was slashed on her cheeks and face. She bared her teeth at them and I saw they were filed down to razor sharp points just as her warriors who watched us on the way in. Then she screamed. I only felt the most minor echoes of the railroad men’s terror. Once was plenty. Nor do I want to see that visage or face that level of vengeful rage in this life or any other. (I am not remotely a shrinking violet when it comes to confrontation. Still I will take a pass on that one.)
Once she went back to her original appearance I asked her for safe passage back down the trail. Not only did she grant it, she escorted us nearly back to the snow shed. The warriors who had been so tense and watchful before stood honor guard. Their spears were now at parade rest beside them. Their teeth were as pointed as ever, but we were greeted with genuine smiles. This time their children and women joined a few of them to watch us pass. In about half a dozen cases I saw young or half-grown boys at their fathers sides. I understood they were the next generation of warriors in training. One man in particular stood out. I think he must have been a commander of sorts. Probably in his mid-40’s he was at the height of his power with the solid confidence such knowledge grants. He was deeply proud of the teen son who stood beside him, ready to take action at his slightest motion. I was under no illusions that her escort and the much friendlier honor guard were there to make sure we kept out word and left the area. That was fine with me because I knew myself and my friends were going to keep our word and they could read that intent in us.
I think the next time Sam, Al and myself head up to Wellington, we will have a considerably more positive experience hiking to the upper tunnel. I hope the medicine woman shows up as I would love to talk to her again.
Lynne Sutherland Olson
(c) 2018 Lynne Sutherland Olson
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