To celebrate my 6th anniversary of relocating to Seattle, a place where I had never been before, my husband and I decided to spend the day in places I had never been before. I’ve already written about Flaming Geyser State Park and Green River Gorge Resort. Now I’ll tell you about the last stop of the day, the ghost town of Franklin, Washington.
The remnants of Franklin are very close to the town of Black Diamond, Washington. So close, in fact, that you can hear the gun shots from the Black Diamond Gun Club while standing in the middle of the Franklin Cemetery. That kind of detracts from the ambience. (Or maybe it adds to it, depending on how you look at it.)
Franklin was a coal mining town that was established in the 1885. It was named after Benjamin Franklin. The whole area was lousy with coal, which was why Black Diamond was named Black Diamond. And since I’m digressing anyway, let me tell you that my husband handed me an actual lump of coal the size of my hand recently and it was freakin’ heavy! Am I the only one on the planet who assumed that coal was light like charcoal briquettes? I stand corrected. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah! Franklin!
Franklin was rather a big deal in its time. It was established in 1885, and had a post office by 1886. At its height, it had a population of 1,100, and the town had a school, saloons, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, and of course, countless company houses. The Seattle to Walla Walla Railroad was extended to Franklin so that coal could be shipped from there to San Francisco. Its people were mostly immigrants from 15 different Eastern and Western European countries.
It was a rough place to live. There were labor conflicts throughout its history. In 1891, the company brought in African Americans as strike-breakers. The scene erupted into violence and two people were killed. The National Guard had to be deployed to quell the strike. Then, in 1894 there was a fire in one of the shafts and the smoke suffocated 37 miners. It was later determined that the fire was intentionally set by one of the very miners who died.
As so often happens with mining towns, as the coal output slumped after 1908, the town started to die. The last mine was closed in 1922. There was some scattered mining here and there until 1981, but by then the town had all but melted into the undergrowth. During its history, though, 4.15 million tons of coal was extracted from the Franklin mines, and there were 88 fatalities.
So now let’s return to the present day, and visit the ghost town. When you leave the parking lot, you have a few choices to make. The first one comes up pretty quickly. Do you want to go to the right and visit the ghost town, or to the left and see the coal car in Green River? We chose right. My husband told me he had pictures of the coal car, and I was sure there’d be plenty online, too. Here’s one. You’re welcome.
So off we went, on a very well-maintained, wide gravel path which the Washington Trails Association claims is an easy walk on a gentle grade. But I think we gained 400 feet in elevation, and I’m here to tell you that my heart nearly exploded. If anyone with any influence reads this, that path is crying out for benches. (Or maybe that was me.) My advice to you is to wear sunscreen and bring water. The views of the cascade foothills are gorgeous, though.
At some point you come across another coal car, and I was ever so grateful to sit on it for a spell. Then you have to make your second decision. Do you go right, to explore the town, or left, to check out the Franklin No. 2 Mine Shaft and the cemetery?
It was an easy decision for me. I love cemeteries. And we ran into a few hikers that said the town basically consists of a few concrete slabs, so I didn’t mind missing it, at least this time around.
Onward. The path was starting to get narrower, but it is still quite well maintained. A lot of the climbing was over with, too, to my everlasting joy.
Before reaching the shaft, we stumbled across bits of building here and there that appeared to be leftovers of the mining operation. We also saw what looked like a train track suspended about 30 feet in the air, which I later learned was once used to support the pipe that brought water into the town.
The mine shaft was rather fascinating. It was built to go 500 feet below sea level, and we were already pretty freakin’ high up, so the shaft was, according to the plaque in front of it, 1,300 feet deep. I yelled down it. Hello? It echoed. (If some disembodied voice had said, “What do you want?” I’d have made it back to the car in record time.) I also dropped a pebble down there. I never heard it hit bottom. (I wonder how many pebbles are at the foot of that shaft now.) The shaft is covered by a massive grate consisting of railroad tracks and rebar. It looks sturdy, but I still wouldn’t suggest that anyone stand on it.
Beyond the shaft, the trail to the cemetery gets really narrow, as in, deer-path-through-the-deep-woods narrow. And you can tell that in damper times of the year, the path is covered in deep mud. On sunny days like this one, the mud flattens out and dries, and the path has a weird springy feel to it, as if you’re walking on the surface of a drum. Your footsteps make a hollow thumping sound. It’s kind of creepy.
Finally, the path opens up into a giant sloped clearing, and you know you’re in the cemetery. But it’s choked with blackberry brambles. There are a few winding pathways that someone was kind enough to bushwhack for us so that we could visit the few headstones that peek out from the berried vines. People have left coins on the headstones over time. I found that to be very poignant.
The whole place felt very isolated, and I became even more aware of the hollow drum-like thumps that my feet were making. Surely there are dozens of graves here whose headstones had disappeared. Was that hollow sound just the mud, or was I trodding upon graves that were just waiting to cave in?
I wouldn’t want to hang out there at night. But during the day, as I said, you could hear the gun shots from the Black Diamond Gun Club, and, too, we unfortunately ran into a school outing of some sort. About 20 twelve-year-olds screaming and hollering and acting the fool. I don’t enjoy such encounters even in the heart of a metropolis. I really didn’t appreciate it out here among such solemn history.
Still, I stood amongst the graves and brambles and thought about how quickly this bustling town has been reclaimed by nature. So much happened in this place. Lives were lived and lives were lost. And yet, in a few years, much of it will have melted into the landscape and it will be forgotten by most of us.
We all think we make our mark in some way or another. But it’s all so temporary on the grander scale of the universe. It really makes you think.
It reminds me of a poem by Percy Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
If you’d like to learn more about Franklin, Washington, Wikipedia suggests two publications: The Coal Miner Who Came West by Ernest Moore, one of the last residents of Franklin, and From Smoke to Mist: An archeological study of Franklin, WA – A Turn of the Century Company Coal Town. If you read either of them, please let me know what you think.
Meanwhile, enjoy these photos that we took on our hike.
I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5