Research for Mount Baker Marathon movie uncovered new details, old artifacts

Event was forerunner of Ski to Sea

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 22, 2012 

Ski to Sea is in the air, with the big race this weekend and the world premier this week of a homegrown movie about the Mount Baker Marathon, the adventure race a century ago that inspired the contemporary contest.

The 90-minute documentary "The Mountain Runners" is the brainchild of Whatcom Museum staffer Todd Warger, assisted by a deep and talented pool of area actors and filmmakers.

The marathon was held 1911 through 1913 to promote the region. Runners sped by car and train from Bellingham to trailheads in Deming or Glacier, ran to the top of Baker, then staggered back to the finish line. It was a grueling ordeal, with narrow escapes and memorable twists, several of which burn brightly in local lore. The inherent risks and other problems ended the marathon's run.

Warger has spent several years researching the race, an effort that has brought to light new details and dusted-off artifacts and photographs. Some appear in the movie; others will find their way into a follow-up book he plans to write.

What he and others have collected will contribute to the documented legacy of the marathon, with copies and, in some case, original items, eventually going to Whatcom Museum and maybe other depositories.

"Now that Todd has done the research, it helps to collect these pieces from all over," said Laura Jacoby, granddaughter of the late Bellingham historian Galen Biery. "It's quite amazing all the work he has done."

Warger visited Jacoby to peruse Biery's photographs, writings and taped interviews. He also made copies of rare marathon photographs on glass slides Biery used for his "magic lantern" show.

As word of Warger's project spread, quizzical people wrote and emailed him about old photographs they had.

"'These look kind of interesting, are they marathon related?' I heard that a lot," Warger told me in an email.

One woman had photographs that belonged to a county doctor showing the aftermath of the 1911 crash between a bull and the train carrying race leader Harvey Haggard back to Bellingham. The derailment and delay enabled Joe Galbraith to win.

Another county woman had a set of photographs taken by her grandfather showing cars carrying the runners through the streets of Deming.

More than a decade ago, Bellingham educator Tom Venable was clearing debris from the dirt-floor basement in his new house when he saw something shiny in the ground. It was a souvenir medal from the 1912 marathon. About the size of a half-dollar, it shows a goat in clothes running, with Mount Baker in the background and the slogan "GOA-T"O-IT.

Venable isn't sure what he'll do with the medal long-term, but he loaned it Ski to Sea organizers for the race's centennial and for Warger's project.

"It might be fun to replicate," Venable said.

Warger isn't the only local historian fascinated by the marathon. Years ago, Wes Gannaway of Ferndale, the co-author of several county history books, bought on eBay the 1911 trophy cup given to Haggard for the fastest trail time. He bought it from an antique dealer in Port Angeles, where Haggard died in 1953.

The cup is about seven inches tall and made of sterling silver by the same company that made serving dishes for the ornate Fairhaven Hotel, which was gutted by fire the year Haggard died.

Gannaway plans to donate the cup to Whatcom Museum.

"It's probably worth a lot of money," he said, "but from my viewpoint it needs to stay here."


MOVIE DETAILS

• The May 24 premier of "The Mountain Runners" at Pickford Film Center is sold out, but the movie will be shown at 6:30 p.m. May 25-31 at Pickford's Limelight Cinema, 1416 Cornwall Ave.

• The story behind the making of the movie is in the summer issue of Whatcom Magazine, available Tuesday, May 29.

• For details about "The Mountain Runners," see themountainrunners.com.

• Donations to help cover the cost of making the movie can be sent to: "The Mountain Runners," c/o Pickford Film Center, attn: Marla Bronstein, P.O. Box 2521, Bellingham, WA 98227.

Reach DEAN KAHN atdean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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