Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gerald Crosby, the Genius and Jason Crosby

Of course, here at the Harbor History Museum we are all following the restoration of the Shenandoah project quite closely for several reasons.  First and foremost is probably because it was built here in Gig Harbor in 1925 by the Skansie Brothers Boat Building Company.  Second, it was one of the fishing boats which served longest on the water; the license still showing on the pilot house is for the term 1997/1998.

So what does this have to do with Gerald Crosby and the Genius?  Well I would like to say that Jason Crosby was influenced by the Harbor History Museum's restoration of the Shenandoah which was gifted to the museum in 2000 by Tony Janovich.  Is this what got Jason thinking about purchasing his uncle's boat "Genius" and restoring it?  Both boats are well known in Gig Harbor, both were built at the Skansie Boatyard; Genius in 1920 and Shenandoah in 1925 and both had a very long active life.

Gerald Crosby moved to Rosedale, Washington in 1922 when he was about 10 from a little place called Plentywood, Montana.  Fishing boats were not common sites in Montana.  However in little more than seven years, he found himself on his way to Southeast Alaska.  Eventually his father Jim and his brothers Walt, Leonard and Babe all became commercial fishermen.  Even his sister Mildred married into a fishing family when she married John "Buddy" Bezich.

At age 10, Gerald earned money by cutting cord wood for the steamboat "Florence K", piling the wood up near the Tides Tavern.  He made $2.50 per cord which as you know is 4 ft X 4 ft X 8 ft.  Each individual piece had to be cut to a 4 foot length so that it would fit into the boiler on the steamboat.  He would just go out into the woods and in the wooded 10 acre part of his family homestead in Rosedale.

when Gerald was still a student at Union High School he was one of three drivers hired by the School Board to operate the high school buses for a monthly salary of $30.  There were three routes - Rosedale, Arletta and Elgin.  His first route was the Rosedale route and he picked up riders at the Rosedale schoolhouse, Rosedale Hall and various stops along the main road to Union High, now known as Harbor Heights Middle School.  Later Gerald was given the Arletta route stopping at Arletta, Warren, Cromwell and Midway.  The Fox Island students caught the bus at Warren.  He also drove the bus to the football games in Roy, Vaughn or Kapowsin where upon arrival he would change into his football uniform.  He played all positions except quarterback and center.  After the game he would drive the team home.  Although the bus drivers were the same age as their passengers they had the authority to "maintain strict order and take care of scholars while enroute."  And Gerald; on one occasion he kicked some disorderly students off the bus.  He also on occasion pulled over to a stop and waited for the disturbance to settle down.

Crosby began his fishing career in 1929 with John Elliot.  John owned a converted World War I US Navy 42-ft. hull built entirely of Port Orford cedar named R.D.  Elliot was referred to by Crosby as " a tough skipper.  He was a retired Navy man and was hard-nosed, very frugal and looked a lot like John Barrymore.  He wasn't really a bad fellow though."

Fishing in Alaska was much more primitive when Crosby first went to Alaska.  Although the season was just as long, June to end of August. the food supplies were not the same as today.  They would take a barrel of butter in salt brine, 3 or 4 cases of eggs which were kept in the lazaret(a space in a ship between decks used as a storeroom), and they would also take canned goods and hard tack.   They would shot a deer every week for meat and also eat a lot of fish., but they never had fresh vegetables.  They got ice by chipping it off the icebergs that floated ashore.

When his father-in-law, Nick Skansi passed away in 1939 he took over as skipper of Genius operating as buyer\packer, and bought fish for the Friday Harbor Canning Company. He also operated as a seiner and a dragger of the Washington coast during World War II.  As well as being a buyer for Friday Harbor Canning, he also bought for the New England Fish Company, Whitney Fidalgo Inc., Washington Fish & Oyster Company as well as others.  He had a long association with Washington Fish & Oyster Company as their fleet superintendent, head fish buyer and 'outside man'.

Crosby also ran a number of other boats and packers besides the "Genius".  Some were "Over the Top", Rosalie", "A. F. Rich", "Uwanta", "Silver Mist", "Sonia", "Flamingo", "Oceania", "Frostland", "Eskimo", "Yankee Maid", "SeaComber", "Verona", etc.  Gerald worked on boats from 1926 (age 14) until 1980 (age 68).  

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday March 29, 1882 Emmett Hunt's Diary

Day pretty fair but some mist & strong wind.  Finished one cornice work for present & did some other work.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Alvestad Families

Robert Alvestad and cousins Peter and Klaus

A brief history lesson...

Norwegian nationalist aspirations were frustrated by Sweden's victory in a brief war in 1814.  This victory resulted with Norway entering into a union with Sweden. However, the Norwegian constitution was kept largely intact, allowing Norway to operate as an independent state with its own parliament, judiciary, and executive powers.  All foreign affairs, however, were totally controlled by the Swedish king.

This presented problems for Norway because its economy was more dependent and sensitive to foreign trade; Norway was allied with the United Kingdom whereas Sweden's affiliation was with Germany; Norway had greater interests outside Europe than Sweden did and King Oscar II became totally disenchanted with Norway and called for Norway to be excluded.  Finally, on 7 June 1905, the Parliament of Norway broke the personal union with Sweden. This ended the fear of war between the two countries and King Oscar II accepted recognition of Norway as an independent monarchy on 26 October 1905.  This event lead to Prince Carl of Denmark assuming the Norwegian throne and taking the name of Haakon VII.

I imagine that these struggles between the two countries caused many to leave their homelands and search for a new environment in which to live. Only the individual family histories can tell us the true reasons for immigrating to the United States.  But, once they arrived, we can continue their stories.

The Alvestads...

Peter Alvestad immigrated to the United States in 1906. He had been born in the village of Alvestad, northwest of Harstad in Troms County, as Peter Peterson but, as did many immigrants, he changed his surname to his place of birth. This was a common practice.

Peter did not come directly to Gig Harbor. He stopped in Minnesota, working on a farm to save money before finishing his journey to the west, and on to Tacoma. After arriving in Tacoma, he had the opportunity to meet Karen Marie Kahrs, also a Norwegian immigrant. Karen had come in 1905 with her stepmother Anna Nyhammer, her stepbrothers Jacob and Charles, and stepsister Martha.  

In 1908, Peter and Karen married. They moved to Gig Harbor in 1911 where they purchased 20 acres in Crescent Valley.  Although the land had been logged, it still needed to be cleared before building a house and establishing a farm. As did many people living in Crescent Valley, they raised chickens and cattle, and grew berries. They had 4 children: Margaret, Helen, Paul, and Ben.
Peter and Karen Alvestad home in Crescent Valley
Peter's son, Ben, joined the army in 1942 and was assigned to the elite First Special Service Force of the American and Canadian soldiers, known by the Germany Army as "The Devil's Brigade." Ben was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Combat Infantry Badge, Canadian Parachute Wings, and numerous other medals and citations for bravery in battle. After the war, Ben went on to become a successful commercial fisherman for more than 40 years.  

Peter's son, Paul, is perhaps the best known of the four children because he was appointed by both President Eisenhower and President Kennedy as Postmaster of Gig Harbor, which he served from 1961 until his retirement in 1981. Prior to his appointment, he was an accountant in Bremerton for Loftus Oil. Before World War II, Paul was a member of the Naval Reserve and was activated after Pearl Harbor. He served as Chief Petty Officer on board an escort carrier in the South Pacific until 1946.

Paul's wife Helen also had a rather interesting life prior to their marriage in 1950. Helen had attended business school and then enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in World War II. She served in Calcutta as a stenographer in the Movements Section of Plans & Operations Division of the India-Burma Theatre. Following WWII, both Paul and Helen joined the Gig Harbor chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars and met at a dance held by the VFW. Paul's activities and his role in the development of Gig Harbor are long, varied, and illustrious so I will not list them all here in this blog.

Robert and Martha Alvestad
Robert Alvestad came to the U.S. later than his cousin, Peter, in 1908. He met and married Karen's sister Martha J. Kahrs on 27 May 1914. Robert and Martha had 2 daughters, Agnes and Ruth. They moved to the peninsula and Peter worked for Alaska Packers in Bellingham for several years. He was gone most of the year, coming home only 2 or 3 times each year. As a result, the children were unfamiliar to him and they to Robert. In order to change the situation, Robert decided to go salmon fishing in the fall and summer and then when the season ended, he would work at the Austin Mill [site of the Harbor History Museum].  Robert was the president of the Fisherman's Union in both Seattle and Gig Harbor. He remained politically active up until 1974, at the age of 84. In 1948, he and Martha returned to Norway visiting relatives in Bergen and Alvestad. They were both active members of the Peninsula Lutheran Church. Their favorite activity? The annual Lutefish Dinner.

Klaus Alvestad, Peter's brother, also came to the US in 1908. I was unable to find much information on Klaus's life, although he became a halibut fisherman owning and operating his boat "Yellowstone."  Klaus died in Puyallup in 1971.  His wife was Laura Karoline, she died in 1953. Perhaps you can help fill in the gaps in Klaus's story.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday, March 22, 1882 Emmett Hunt's Diary

Nice & warm cloudy day.  Worked on house.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

William R. Lotz

We first met William R. Lotz back on December 6, 2012 when we heard his story about his father patrolling the streets of Olympia during the Indian Wars of 1855-1856 and being allowed to accompany him. At that time we also learned of William's newspaper career, but we didn't discuss his retirement in 1904 or other facets of his life.
W.R. Lotz on left at the Warren store

William decided to retire in Warren and continued to share his thoughts and opinions in writing to the local newspapers, especially the fact that he did not approve of changing Mount Rainier's name to "Tahoma."   But, he also spent much of his free time cultivating plants on his three acres on the southern shore of Hales Pass.

He exhibited vegetables at the Puyallup Fair and, in his usual fashion, his display attracted the attention of many of the fair visitors.  His label for the potatoes read "Maggie Murphy Potatoes raised by Mike O'Connell at O'Brien."  The visitors were overheard to comment "Those are sure Irish potatoes."  William's plants included many native plants and trees, berries and evergreens.  He had more than twenty varieties of apple trees, some pear trees, and of course huckleberries.

In 1914 in letters to his daughters, Gertrude and Grace, he wrote "I had drawn up and had signed a petition with 136 signatures for the formation of the Hale's Pass Voting Precinct."  Barring objection from the Rosedale and Artondale precincts "the new precincts will take in all the waterfront from Wollochet to Horsehead bays, including Arletta and Cromwell.  The voting place will be at People's Hall (Warren)...I know over 50 voters who did not go to the polls in the election this month, on account of the distance."

When William exhibited his produce and plants at the Bay Island Fair in 1917 he also petitioned Pierce County for a permanent wharf at Warren. He was one of the individuals invoolved in the incorporation of the Hale's Pass and Wollochet Navigation Company.
Lotz and dog in front of the Warren Community Hall
 William died in 1937 in his mid-80s.  However, his last activity was serving on the election board at the polls in the precinct he had helped to create.

William's daughter, Grace Lotz Woodruff, was married in June, 1908, and lived in Tacoma and Portland, Oregon. In 1964, she mentioned she had three daughters, ten grandchildren, and five great grandchildren and that they were scattered about in other cities.  However, she was living at the old place in Warren where her father had retired in 1904.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tony and Donald A. Gilich

In almost all of the stories about emigration it seems that the people leave their homelands because of hard times.  But have you noticed that rarely are the hard times explained.  It's like it doesn't matter, its just hard times.  I thought perhaps a short explanation of what those hard times were in Croatia were when so many of our settlers left their homeland and came to America and eventually settling in Gig Harbor.  I'll try not to bore you though.  

Napoleon conquered Venice and Dalmatia in 1797 but ceded the terrorizes to Austria.  He then defeated Austria in 1805 and annexed Dalmatia. in 1814, and until 1914, after the fall of Napoleon, Dalmatia once again became a part of Austria.  Once Austria gain control they forced Italianization upon the people, introducing the Italian language in schools and public administration.  Suddenly there was a reawakening of Croatian national consciousness.  The population on Brac resisted long and hard and its struggle lasted into the 20th century.  

In 1914 the vineyards were being destroyed due to philloxera and sailing ships deserting the seas around the island mass emigration began.  This period was followed by the rumbling of World War I when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in July 1914..  Croatia suffered the loss of lives of the many young men who fought in the Austrian armies on the fronts of Soca and in Galicia.
As a result, in 1899 Andrew Gilich sensing the dismal times to come left Sumartin on the Island of Brac and immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia and went to work on a fishing boat named "Rainier".  When he took over the helm of a seiner "Traveler" a short time later he moved to Gig Harbor, and later owned "Saint Mary".  Eventually he owned or was a partner in nine fishing boats but he was also a successful businessman.  Andrew was one of the founders of the Gig Harbor National Bank as well as a founder of the Friday Harbor Canning Company, and with his partner Justin Richardson built the Peninsula Hotel.  

Don's father, Tony Gilich came to Gig Harbor in 1915 at age 20 he had a couple contacts in Gig Harbor:  John Novak because his father (Don's grandfather) had gone to school in Brac with John, and his cousin Andrew.  With his brother's tutelage Tony rapidly took to fishing and the sea.  Two years later Tony was able to use his earnings to buy an interest in the "Commander", a 62-foot seiner built by the Skansie Boat Building Company.  As skipper Tony and his crew did very well fishing the salmon banks in the San Juan Islands waters.  Tony also fished with John Novak and Samuel Jerisich. 

Tony was neither literate nor a citizen, but when World War I started he volunteered to serve in the US Army and was accepted.  After he came out of the service from Camp Fort Lewis in 1919 he had Petrich (Western Boat) in Old Town (Tacoma) build his own boat, "Victory".  That year, because the run of salmon in the Puget Sound was small, Tony made a risky decision to take his boat to Kodiak Alaska in hopes of a better catch.  The waters and the weather were something he had not seen before - exceptionally high waves, strong winds, and very rough weather.  But the season was very successful and he was able to pay the balance owed on "Victory".  However, Tony never returned to the Alaskan waters to fish.

 Tony married one of John's daughters, Angeline.  Tony's cousin Andrew Gilich had also married one of John Novak's daughters, Antoinette.  Both the daughters were 1/8 members of the Puyallup Tribe.  In July 1920 Don was born at home the midwife that delivered him was his Grandmother.   Josephine Novak, his grandmother, registered Don in the Puyallup tribal records and he was, after the Boldt Decision in 1974 Don was offered a fishing card but Judge Jack Tanner in the US  District Court located Tacoma refused to allow him to receive it. 

One of the more intriguing tricks Tony used when fishing for herring was a wooden salmon.  He had carved a wooden salmon, inserted lead weights in it so that it would dive down under the water.  Then one of the crew members would operate the salmon with strings.  It was placed right by the bolt which operated the purse and kept the herring from swimming out of the net.  Don said that he believes they used air pressure now rather than the more romantic wooden salmon puppet.

Don went to Lincoln School and Union High School.  He indicated that all his young life he was taunted by the kids and called "a dirty Indian" and most of the tormentors had Yugoslavian names.  It certainly didn't make for an enjoyable childhood.  

Don started fishing with his father in 1936 when he turned 16.  They fished all summer and fall that year.  When he got back he made up his sophomore year and started his junior year.  However he flunked one subject and instead of making it up, he quit school and when fishing full time.

But when the US entered WWII, the Navy and the Coast Guard needed boats to patrol the Washington coastline.  Don was 21 and while he was docked in Friday Harbor while fishing the Coast Guard came aboard and explained their need.  The Gilich family volunteered their boat but the Coast Guard didn't have anyone to operate the "Victory".  Don volunteered to service like his father, Tony had done during WWI, but Don could not pass the physical.  The Coast Guard accepted him anyway as Temprary Reserve.  At first he patrolled from Seattle but later was transferred to Port Angeles.  While there Don was able to pass the Coast Guard exam in 1942 and became the head of the Northwest vessels serving the Coast Guard in its war effort.  The "Victory" was a crash recovery boat for aircraft while used on behalf the Coast Guard.

After the war, Don went back to fishing; and he would operate the boat during the fall season and Tony, his dad, would operate during the summer season.   Then in 1971 Tony retired and Don operated the "Victory" full-time.

In 1972 the "Victory" added yet another adventure to its career.  Paramount Studios leased the "Victory" for a feature role in the movie "Hit" starring Richard Pryor and Billie Dee Williams.  The movie was shot in Gig Harbor, Port Townsend and Hadlock --- just another event in a long hardworking life, dedication and accomplishments the Gilichs made in the fishing industry and community.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday March 15, 1882 Emmett Hunt's Diary

Pleasant cloudy day.  Took our raft in tow & by 2 find ourselves at the mouth of the bay.  Tie up here & go home.  I find by a slight investigation tonight that I am four score or nearly there.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Twig Boat under Construction at Harbor History Museum!

Members of the Maritime Art Committee, plus a lot of friends, get started on the "Twig Boat"-- part of the museum's summer exhibit 14th Annual Juried Maritime Art Exhibit. The twig boat will be one of the hands-on interactives during the exhibit run. Kids of all ages will be able to add twigs and then attach their own personal notes to the boat. The boat builders have been scavenging twigs and branches for weeks in preparation of this first work day.

The 14th Annual Juried Maritime Art Exhibit runs from July 20 through August 25 later this summer. Artists can enter up to three works, at:

Scroll down to the Harbor History Museum logo and click enter. All mediums accepted (except for digitally created works). More about the show and entry information at the site.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Spiro Babich

Have you ever considered how many Horatio Alger stories have played their life out in our community? Consider the young people who left their homelands, crossed the ocean (and continent) arriving in Gig Harbor virtually penniless. As you learned in Nick Bez's story, his fortune was 50 cents.

Spiro Babich

In comparison, Spiro Babich was wealthy -- he had twenty dollars in his pocket when he arrived in 1910 from Croatia, off the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia.  Although the small town in which he lived was near the water, he came from a farming community some distance away in the countryside. His homeland was primarily an agrarian economy made up of small family farms growing olives, grapes, and vegetables.   

Spiro knew no English and, more surprisingly, did not know how to fish commercially. The only fishing he had done was to catch a fish for the dinner table. However, his brother Andrew was living here and he sponsored Spiro and became Spiro's employer. They first fished together on the seiner "President" where Spiro was engineer and Andrew was the skipper. As the two men became more aware of each other's instincts, they changed place.  

Spiro also benefited greatly from Samuel Jerisich's knowledge and success of fishing. Spiro married Julia Skansi, Peter Skansi and Melissa Jerisich Skansi's daughter May 20, 1919;  they had two son's, Peter and Paul.  Melissa died at age 23; Julia was born  July 22,1906.

By 1917, Spiro went off on his own and built the first of many vessels he would own during his lifetime. The "Superior," a 65-foot seiner, was the first of these. He would own and operate a boat for two or three years, then sell it and order another one. His next boat in 1924 was "Golden West." All in all, he owned around 20 purse seiners. Some of the others were "Vanguard," "Ranger," "Reliance," "Invincible," and in 1930 "Reliable," The only one he kept from first acquiring to the end of his year was the "Invincible" built in 1929.

Fishing boats "Sonia" and "Invincible" in harbor
He operated the "Invincible" from California to the Bering Sea at various times, and it was also used as a back-up vessel when needed.  It was finally sold in 1962.

In a very few years after arriving in America, Spiro had become enormously successful from commercial fishing. During the Depression he returned to Europe with his family on an ocean liner. This was a period in history that was not so generous with others who lost everything and when the stock market collapsed, people were jumping out of windows and off buildings committing suicide. Food lines were long and many were homeless, not only in America but also in Europe.

Spiro was one of the first local men to fish in the False Pass area of the Bering Sea and operated there for many years.  However in the early 1930s he also became very involved with the sardine fishing on the California coast. The "Reliable" was specifically built for sardine fishing in 1930 and the in 1936 his new boat, "Dependable" was built for sardine fishing as well, but lasted only one year before Spiro sold it along with all its equipment including nets, skiff, knives, forks, etc..

The next boat, "Crusader," was launched in 1937 but as Peter described it "she was a beautiful boat but had a 'hoodoo' career" The boat was eventually lost in Shumigan Islands, Alaska, while under charter.  

In 1940, Spiro's largest boat, "Western Queen" measuring in at 92-feet, was built. But when World War II began, the United States Government commandeered it and used it as a patrol boat. Spiro's fastest boat was built in 1944, the 90-foot "Liberator." It was one of the fastest fishing boats anywhere.

Spiro's last boat was the 66-foot "Julia B" and was used in False Pass, Alaska, and for local fishing in Puget Sound.

After Spiro passed away in 1957, a very fierce competitor paid him perhaps the ultimate compliment: "You know, there are a hell of a lot of fish gone up the river that wouldn't be there if Spiro were still alive."  A true testament to a man who, buy his own example, became admired and respected as the king of his domain. Or, as frequently remembered, as "the best fisherman in Gig Harbor."

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wednesday March 8, 1882 Emmett Hunt's Diary

Very fine day.  Took "Alice" & went to Steilacoom from there by land to Hillhurst.  Had a fine time dancing till that girl went home & as I could do no better I went to bed.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.