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Friends working to preserve Neill Mullen's trove of Bellingham history materials

When I heard that Bellingham historian Neill Mullen had died, my initials thoughts were threefold.

I knew he had been in poor health.

I thought he was a heck of a nice guy.

And, what will become of his collection of notes, index cards, clippings and unfinished books? It turns out that other people wondered the same thing, and are stepping in to help.

Jim Berg, another Bellingham historian and a friend of Mullen's, plans to publish two of Mullen's nearly finished works - a book about life around Bellingham Bay in the year 1893, and a history of railroads on Bellingham Bay.

Berg is also pursuing ways to preserve Mullen's mountain of research material. Berg said he and Mullen discussed such matters during a spell when Mullen improved before his death Aug. 1 at the age of 81.

"He died in peace knowing that his legacy would live on," Berg said.

Mullen, who grew up in Bellingham, developed an early interest in local history when, as a youngster, he received pats on the back for clipping newspaper articles about pioneer figures and bringing the articles to school to share.

An educator, he taught at and supervised reading programs at U.S. Army schools in Europe before coming home to teach at Western Washington University and Meridian School District.

He retired in 1993, but kept busy gathering and publishing local history. A jam-packed room in his home served as combination library and writing station. Bookcases stood full with binders, books and papers, while boxes of books and papers left narrow paths for navigating the room.

A meticulous researcher, Mullen indexed nearly a dozen local history books himself, to make it easier to locate information. Wooden card-catalog holders that Mullen bought from libraries were filled with index cards covered with facts, dates and other nuggets he found during his research.

"He's the most thorough researcher and has the most accurate historical data," Berg said.

Such attention to detail may have kept Mullen from producing more books, but he did manage to publish several works, including "Lest We Forget," a collection of articles about World War II aviation history in Bellingham; a history of Arlington's airport; and a roster of early post offices and postmasters in Whatcom County.

Berg said the railroad history book he plans to publish was part of a multi-volume history of Bellingham Bay that Mullen hoped to finish, but the other volumes aren't close to being ready.

With help from Berg and Mullen's family, let's hope that Neill's writings and notes find a safe haven where others can pursue his passion for local history.


Bellingham Maritime Museum will host a reunion Saturday, Aug. 18, for people who worked at Uniflite, a Bellingham boat-building company, and the Vietnam-era veterans who piloted the Patrol Boat River crafts built by Uniflite. It's the first such event since a museum gathering eight years ago.

"This one is a lot lower-key than the first one," said Mike Granat, museum chairman.

In 1957, Art Nordtvedt opened United Boat Builders, the company that was later renamed Uniflite to match the product name of its boats. The company, which employed hundreds of local workers in its heyday, began with runabouts and later built other vessels, including PBRs for the military.

Many of the riverboats disappeared during and after the Vietnam War, but the Bellingham museum has five of them, along with other Uniflite boats, on display.

Granat said Nordtvedt plans to attend the reunion as a featured guest.

"He is Mr. Uniflite," Granat said.


A memorial service for Neill Mullen will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at First Baptist Church, 110 Flora St.

A reunion for Uniflite workers and PBR veterans will be noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at Bellingham Maritime Museum, 800 Cornwall Ave., across from the Georgia Pacific mill site. Admission is free; donations appreciated.