News Columns & Blogs

From giant fleas to railway crashes to 'Blanket Bill,' enjoy summer reading with ties to Whatcom County

If you're looking for some quick summer reading, several new articles with ties to Whatcom County just came out.

In The New York Times, Bellingham resident Carol Kaesuk Yoon provides a fascinating and hilarious account of her and her husband's endeavor to photograph a live specimen of the world's largest flea.

Yoon is a science writer for the Times, and her husband, Merrill Peterson, is a biology professor at Western Washington University and the curator of Western's insect collection.

It turns out the Northwest is home turf for Hystrichopsylla schefferi, which can grow up to half an inch long, making it the Godzilla of fleas. It also turns out the flea lives on mountain beavers, so Yoon's and Peterson's challenge was to corral one of the grumpy critters and check it for fleas.

It's a hoot of a story. I don't want to give away too many details, but Yoon's story just might have given birth to a new phrase - "inhaling the flea."

To read Carol Kaesuk Yoon's flea adventure, go to and search for "giant flea hunt." Yoon's website is


If you're interested in Northwest history, go to and subscribe for it's free weekly newsletter. is an online encyclopedia of Washington state history, and it recently released two new articles about Ferndale.

Its thumbnail history of Ferndale runs to seven pages of printed text, covering the basics from initial Indian settlements to pioneer figures John Tennant, Billy Clark and Darius Rogers. You'll learn how a massive logjam in the Nooksack River played a crucial role in the development of Ferndale, and read about the early battle for supremacy between West Ferndale and East Ferndale.

A second, shorter article profiles William "Blanket Bill" Jarman, who died at his niece's home in Ferndale in 1912. Jarman was one of those garrulous old-timers whose life was full of adventure wrapped in mystery. One writer came up with 18 nouns to describe parts of Jarman's life. The list includes "deserter," "Indian slave" and "accused murderer."

To read the Ferndale articles, go to and search for "Ferndale thumbnail" and "Blanket Bill",


Also at you'll find a new article about Bellingham and Skagit Interurban Railway, the electric railway system that linked Bellingham to Mount Vernon, with a side route between Burlington and Sedro-Woolley. The main route earned the nickname "The Trolley That Went to Sea," for its four-mile trestle above the waters of Samish Bay.

The system opened to great acclaim in 1912, and remained robust for a decade before the rise of paved roads, bus travel and private cars brought on its demise. Passenger traffic on the interurban ended in 1928, and freight traffic died two years later.

Today, a six-mile stretch of the route serves walkers, runners and bikers as the Interurban Trail.

A related article describes the 1928 accident in which a northbound interurban car with 20 passengers jumped the tracks and rolled 30 feet down an embankment. No one died, but the crash was another black eye for a transit system already on its last legs.

To read the interurban stories, go to and search for "Bellingham Interurban Railway" and "trolley jumps."


A new article by Laura Laffrado, an English professor at WWU, compares Ella Higginson's 1902 novel, "Mariella of Out-West," to Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel "The Scarlet Letter."

Higginson was the Bellingham writer who was internationally known by the early 1900s for her stories, poems and other writings, only to die in obscurity in 1940.

It may take some digging to track down Laffrado's article in the spring issue of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and it may not be your cup of tea if you're not a fan of literary analysis.

More important, the article is Laffrado's first published academic piece about Higginson, part of her effort to revive scholarly and public interest in Higginson's writings. Laffrado plans to publish a selection of Higginson's work in conjunction with the Whatcom County Historical Society, possibly in time for holiday gift-giving before the end of the year.

To read an interview with Laura Laffrado about Ella Higginson, go to and click on Bellingham in the Tour TV Schedule.