Bookmonger: Bellingham authors' new book celebrates the history of Mount Baker

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 13, 2014 

This winter's sporadic precipitation has meant a diminished snowpack in the mountains - it's hard to believe that a quarter century ago Mount Baker claimed the all-time world record for seasonal snowfall - 95 feet!

This meteorological marvel, and many other interesting facts and historical nuggets, can be found in a new book by Bellingham authors John D'Onofrio and Todd Warger.

"Mount Baker" is a new release from Arcadia Publishing's popular Images of America series, which provides a photo essay template for local niche histories. In Washington state alone, nearly 200 Arcadia books have been published on topics ranging from railroads to breweries, tall ships, small towns and world's fairs.

This book about Mount Baker is the third to focus on one of our state's famous volcanoes - earlier books have covered Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.

For "Mount Baker," D'Onofrio and Warger credit the work of three photographers whose work covered a substantial swath of the activities around Mount Baker in the 20th century.

As early as the 1890s, in fact, Darius Kinsey was roaming throughout Western Washington, taking photographs of tall timber and logging camps while his wife, Tabitha, presided over the darkroom.

A few years later, Whatcom County engineer and developer Bert Huntoon not only was involved in the building of everything from Chuckanut Drive to the Mount Baker Lodge, he also made an extensive photographic record of his projects.

And a generation after that, Bellingham-born Galen Biery understood the historical value of early photographs and lithographs and undertook to collect and preserve thousands of local images that had been created by photographers and artists from the early- to mid-20th century.

You'll see many examples of their work in this book, which is organized around nine themes.

The first chapter, which deals with "Discovery, Exploration and Conquest," gives only brief mention to the Native American culture that had existed in the region for thousands of years before the mountain was spotted in 1790 by a Spanish expedition, and later dubbed Mount Baker by Captain George Vancouver.

Granted, photography hadn't been invented yet, but there were scientists aboard those voyages of discovery who sketched what they saw as they entered into the Whulge (Puget Sound), and it's a shame their visual documentation of Native practices and village life was not included in this book.

Subsequent chapters deal with the waves of adventurers and settlers who came to the area in the 1800s - there was a gold rush and then the logging boom. Early in the 20th century, recreational ventures such as the Mount Baker Marathon (short-lived forerunner of the current-day Ski to Sea Race) and the Mount Baker Lodge were amply documented in photographs.

Hollywood came calling, too, with stars such as Clark Gable on location on the slopes of the mountain.

Chapter introductions are uniformly brief in "Mount Baker," but photo captions are detailed. This book is not an authoritative history, but it does offer an interesting visual portal into one of our region's dominant features.

BOOK TALK

John D'Onofrio and Todd Warger talk about their book at 7:30 p.m. March 13 at Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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