The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Golden Age

Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, and Laurence Olivier are three of the biggest names in the history of Hollywood, and they all have one thing in common: they emerged from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Between the 1910s and 1960s, Hollywood experienced an influx of experimental filmmaking – these were revolutionary years, filled with exceptional talent, new camera technology, and more freedom for scriptwriters. While the years of a thriving Hollywood industry seemed they would last forever, they did inevitably come to an end. This is the rise and fall of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Film In Its Earliest Years

Before the big screen was invented, theatrical entertainment was confined to a stage. In the late 1800s, early filmmakers wanted to shift this method of storytelling in favor of projected images on a screen. However, the first films were still forced to the confines of a small stage and shot at an unmoving wide angle. Cutting to different scenes was so limited that when it did occur, it was normally to a screen containing solely text. These performances were also silent, as audio technology had not yet evolved.

By the 1910s, filmmakers learned how to alter space and time on screen. Or really, they used varying angles and created multiple sets to portray spatial and temporal movement in ways that real-time stage acting could not. This was a breakthrough in modern storytelling. Filmmakers like David W. Griffith built independent film companies and began experimenting with such techniques, creating some of the earliest masterpieces in film. In 1913 alone, The Mothering HeartIngeborg Holm, and L’enfant de Paris reached new heights in cinematic storytelling.

In 1915, Griffith released The Birth of a Nation. Filled with monumental filmmaking breakthroughs, it became a staple of the film industry, and set the tone for future films. It was an epic silent drama adapted from the novel The Clansmen. By now, America had quickly established itself as a leader in innovative film techniques.

A New Age Of Cinema

Marilyn Monroe posing on a playground
Marilyn Monroe, a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Reprinted from Mount Sinai by Ann M. Becker, courtesy of Magnum Photos (pg. 89, Arcadia Publishing, 2003).

In 1920, the filmmaking landscape was again revolutionized when sound was introduced. The production of sound changed with the introduction of the studio system. These were the earliest large motion picture studios, complete with their own resources to create feature films. By the 1920s, actors, actresses, and filmmakers who had worked on independent projects throughout the earliest years of film joined up with one of these studios to begin their careers as on-screen performers.

Though there is some discrepancy when the sound era officially began, the 1927 release of The Jazz Singer signified a radical shift in the film industry. For the first time, sound played through speakers surrounding a theater while the images played on screen. By 1929, nearly every movie released used sound. During this time, there were a handful of genres whose motifs and plotlines were closely adhered too: western, musical, slapstick comedy, animation, and biographical pictures.

MGM Films, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount were the leading companies producing most of the decade’s major films. However, with the conjoining of sound and pictures, many film critics argue the artistic quality of the films during this era suffered. It took until the late 1930s for cinema to gain a foothold in modern technology, and start producing films with the same creative aesthetics as they did while still silent. But once they did, film cemented itself as a foundational form of storytelling.

Developments In Film

Two women fitting actress Bette Davis for a film costume.
Bette Davis being fit for a film costume in 1932. Reprinted from Early Warner Bros. Studios by E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker (pg. 68, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

In the year 1939, filmmaking again peaked with the releases of Wuthering HeightsGone with the WindThe Hunchback of Notre DameMr. Smith Goes to WashingtonThe Wizard of Oz, and more. All films released during these years were defined by advancements in three levels: film devices, plot, and technology.

First, film devices like continuity editing were utilized by filmmakers to slice up scenes, giving viewers varying perspectives of time and space. Likewise, the 180-degree rule had filmmakers pretend there was a line running along the 180-degree axis of each shot, informing where the camera should be placed to be aimed at the center of action. The cross-cut, which revealed simultaneous action in different locations, and axial cut, which contained no cutting but instead moving in and out of the scene, were both established.

Related: The Father of Film: Thomas Edison

Second, a sense of plot. The general narrative logic was driven by relatable human characters and established by a clearly marked beginning, middle, and end. In this form, the narrative is structured by a standard cause and effect formula. Cinematic time was also created. This functions similarly as a narrative logic but also included flashbacks throughout the story.

Lastly, other technological improvements included artificial lighting, low-key lighting, and fire effects. All of these played with shadows and light to create anything from a light-hearted to sinister mood in a scene. As a result of these advancements, films got longer, and plotlines more complex. Stories that were once confined to paper as books or plays were transformed visually to be consumed by wider audiences. All of this combined established a booming industry that lasted through the middle of the century.

The Golden Age Comes To An End

A worms-eye view of the Hollywood sign
The iconic Hollywood sign. Reprinted from Hollywood 1940 – 2008 by Marc Wanamaker (pg. 19, Arcadia Publishing, 2009).

Hollywood’s Golden Age finally came to an end due to two main factors: antitrust actions, and the invention of television. For decades, it was common practice for major film companies to purchase movie theaters, which would only show their company’s produced films. This type of monopoly forced Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold to take up a case against the eight major Hollywood corporations at the time. He claimed they were in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act which regulates competition among large corporations.

As a result of the court case, every Hollywood corporation signed a consent decree agreeing to release their hold on spaces that showed only their films in theaters nationwide, to stop the pre-sale of films in various theater districts, to prohibit film companies from scheduling more than 5 films in theaters, and finally, to establish a board to enforce these rules.

As these rules began to take effect, Hollywood started revising and releasing the contracts of their employees, thereby completely rewiring the infrastructure of the industry. The traits that made each company individual vanished with the overhaul of their creative teams. The shift ultimately led to fewer movies released, but larger budgets for each individual film.

In addition, the increasing presence of televisions in the homes of average Americans, and the growing popularity of television shows presented traditional movie theaters with steep competition. This, combined with the new antitrust regulations, meant there was less money fueling the industry thus creating a decline in filmmaking and profits.

Hollywood’s Golden Age were pivotal years in the history of filmmaking. They established much of the technology that was built upon to create today’s films. While it may not have lasted more than a few decades, it had an indelible impact on the industry as a whole. A short, but crucial part of the development of film, the Golden Age of Hollywood are years that are revered in filmmaking history.

Loving Los Angeles Sports: A Fan’s Firsthand Account

When you think of Los Angeles, Hollywood inevitably pops up first. California’s City of Angels is a company town, and their business is show business. So naturally, the movie industry, with all its glam and stars, spills over into other facets of Tinsel Town. Just look at college and professional sports in Los Angeles, their star athletes, owners, and coaches stand out to the rest of the nation as larger than life, and LA’s best sports moments showcase some of their marquee legends. Sportswriter Doug Krikorian has filed hundreds of stories celebrating the dazzling feats on the field of play, as well as personal interactions with his idols. Here are some excerpts from his decades-long career.

Wilt Chamberlain and Doug engage in a bit of frivolity before serving as judges at a Raiders cheerleading tryout at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Author’s Collection. Image sourced from Los Angeles Sports Memories.

LA’s Most Colorful Athlete

Wilt Chamberlain leads a life of intrigue, suspense and thrills—and there is never a dull moment for a person always in the spotlight. There is no other human being in the world who has done the things he has—like, well, average 50.4 points a game for an entire NBA regular season. He is the envy of every unmarried man who has ambitions that only a large amount of money can accomplish. Wilt is the only athlete around who one minute might decide to phone his good friend in Washington, D.C., President Richard Nixon, to discuss world events and the next be seen flashing down Sunset Boulevard in his $25,000 Maserati with a beautiful starlet.
He’s been around the world twelve times. He’s been involved in countless business dealings. He’s the most adept seven-foot-one water skier and snow skier who ever lived. And, oh yes, he’s also the greatest scorer in basketball history.”  — Los Angeles Herald Examiner, February 10, 1969

Related: The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry: Tigers Vs. Bulldogs


Indeed, the Lakers today are the world champions of basketball because of one super-cool, super-confident, super-talented twenty-year-old named Ervin Johnson. Mr. Johnson may not be able to part the Red Sea, but I’m willing to bet he can walk on water as long as he has a basketball in his gifted hands.
Without Magic Johnson, the Lakers would have been a good team this season but would not have made it past Seattle in the playoffs. Without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar last night, the Lakers were a great team because Magic Johnson rose to heights so staggering that it left cohorts in awe and Philadelphia in tears. Considering the circumstances—unfriendly atmosphere, rough, desperate opponent, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ailing in LA—Johnson dispensed one of the most heroic performances in all seasons of James Naismith’s favorite sport.
It was more than just Johnson’s magnificent numbers—forty-two points, fifteen rebounds, seven assists, three steals, one block—that triggered the 123–107 blowout over the 76ers. It was his charismatic presence that turned the Spectrum into his private showcase and turned the poor 76ers into ashes.”  — Los Angeles Herald Examiner, May 17, 1980

Architects of the 1980s Showtime Lakers. From left to right: Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and Pat Riley. Courtesy of Karen West. Image sourced from Los Angeles Sports Memories.


Shhh—let’s all keep this a secret from Wilt—but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continues to prove he’s the most amazing basketball player of all time. Abdul-Jabbar seems to have spent his entire adult life making skyhooks and a mockery out of my usually flawless observations.
It was seven years ago that I wrote how the Lakers should make a major trade involving their then-thirty-two-year-old center before he lost his market value. Fortunately, Lakers management ignored my advice—as it did a couple years ago when I predicted they would be making a serious mistake allowing Abdul-Jabbar to play basketball past his thirty-seventh birthday. The joke, of course, has been on all of us who have failed to realize that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar long has been a phenomenon of human science.” — Los Angeles Herald Examiner, May 2, 1986

Thrilled Angels have a wild celebration on the Angel Stadium field after beating San Fransisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. It was the first–and so far only–world championship in the team’s history. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels. Image sourced from Los Angeles Sports Memories.


The Happiest Place on Earth might be Disneyland, but it’s doubtful any place on the planet could match the euphoric bliss that pervaded Edison Field on the evening that the Angels of Anaheim finally became rulers of their sport with a 4–1 win over the Giants before those 44,598 fanatics whose undying devotion was almost as riveting as the unyielding deportment of their gallant idols.
Oh yes, with a thrilling gladness, with a relentless deftness, with a blue collar toughness, with a theatrical coolness, the Angels, at 8:18 p.m. on Sunday, made it official that they had overcome the odds, the Giants and their own troubled history to win their first word championship.”  — Long Beach Press Telegram, October 28, 2002

Daniel Boone’s Old . . . Missouri Home?

While most Americans associate Daniel Boone with Kentucky, the famous frontiersman passed some important years in Missouri as well. Here, in an exclusive excerpt from his new book Finding Daniel Boone, Ted Franklin Belue provides a fun and detailed tour of the Daniel Boone Home near Defiance, Missouri.


Walking on Boone turf elicited an array of feelings as I trudged up the rise to the home where Daniel “passed off gently.” William Ray intercepted me. We shook hands but we’d met once before, he said, at a Bluegrass Alliance and New Grass Revival bluegrass jam at Rudyard Kipling’s, a pub located at “Mile 604 on the Ohio River.”

I went blank. “What’s ‘Mile 604’?”

He smiled, brown eyes crinkling behind his wire-framed glasses.

“Louisville. Starting up at Pittsburgh at Mile 0. The river is 981 miles long.”

Bill—tall, lanky, dark-haired under his dirty green Boone Home cap—is a true “Kaintuck,” as Frenchmen called boatmen. For six years he plowed the Ohio as a deckhand or manned the Belle of Louisville—“I’ve been as far down as Henderson and as far north as thirty miles past Marietta.” Like most riverboat men he’s a free-spirited, engaging fellow. He trains guides, researches and plans events. He’s an old-time fiddler and plays banjo, talents that go well here or on the Ohio. We made plans to pick some Boone-era tunes after hours.

A long rock wall bordered our left. Remnants of a well and Nathan’s once-gurgling spring—these days barely a trickle—were to our right, once considered the property’s rear. “We’ve found evidence of cabins right about here.” He pointed a few yards away. “Maybe three, close in proximity. It makes sense that their cabins would have been close to the source of water.”

One structure may have been slave quarters.

Nearby lay the gray masonry core of a giant American elm (Ulmus americana), Daniel’s so-called Judgment Tree, looking like a derelict Cecil B. DeMille movie set prop, circa 1935. Here, legend has it, Boone—of stout build and ruddy faced, with white hair queued and attired in earth-toned homespun or a linen ruffled shirt, buckskin coat and weskit or wearing a woolen regimental pulled over a walnut-dyed shirt and breeches—prevailed over his shade-tree court.

It’s a romantic image, an untutored woodsman acting as magistrate under a splattering of sunlight filtering through shimmering, saw-toothed foliage. Such “council elms” soared 150 feet or more. At thirty feet the trunk splits, forks leafing skyward above billowing, dappled shadows. In 1775, beneath Boonesborough’s Divine Elm, Boone and other assembly delegates doffed their hats as an Anglican minister preached the gospel in the Bluegrass.

As “Commandant of the District of the femme osage,” he sentenced lawbreakers, signed documents and brokered peace between brawlers like James Meek who “bit off a piece of Bery Vincent’s Left Ear,” governing “more by equity than by law.” Spain’s lieutenant governor Carlos Delassus, who handed rule to Americans, called him “a respectable old man, just and impartial” and advised that “in view of my confidence in him for the public good,” he should stay at his post. “Whipped and cleared” was a usual sentence or fines paid in cash, livestock or labor.

One hothead displeased at his verdict vowed he’d fight him if he were not so old. Boone threw down: “Let not my gray hairs stand in your way. I am old enough to whip the likes of you.” Swift justice kept men out of jail to provide for families. His was an equitable system.

In 1925 when Francis Marion Curlee bought the home the Judgement elm was showing the ravages of two hundred years. Curlee excised its dead wood, fertilized and concreted its decaying trunk and limbs—standard remedy for languishing hardwoods. Like a “dentist when cleaning a tooth for filling. If all the decay is not removed, it will continue as if the filling had not been placed.”

Photos prior to Curlee’s era show the elm leafed out. G.H. Pring, horticulturist for Missouri Botanical Gardens, stands by the trunk, its girth making five of him. He estimated it at “sixty-five feet high, forked about three feet from the ground, each branch measuring nine feet in circumference at the fork. The main trunk is sixteen feet six inches in circumference two feet from the ground.”

Related: The Rice Family and Napa’s Hidden History of Resistance

When the defoliated crown crashed to earth, workers jammed rebar down its erect trunk and pumped in more concrete. As its pith rotted around the concrete and the scaly bark peeled away (to be scooped up by tourists), it left a duplicate stone elm sprouting steel spikes. Dan’s ominously leaning Judgment Tree was roped off to keep it from toppling over on someone.

“I’ve seen a photo of it standing in the 1970s,” Bill Ray said. “It was stripped. No green, no bark. With the rebar it looked pretty foreboding—like something out of a Tim Burton film.” He sighed. “One of the misconceptions we get from people is this was ‘Boone’s Hanging Tree.’”

Actually, there were two Judgment Trees. Nathan’s elm was the second. How often Boone held court here is speculative, though it was less than on his land near Matson where he lived and presided until 1805. By the time he moved here this was U.S. territory evolving to statehood. As Governor William Henry Harrison of the Louisiana Territory was appointing district judges, any Boone-arbitrated decisions would have dubious legal standing.

“This is one of the more exciting finds we’ve had.” Bill pointed to an archaeological test pit exposing a tight vertically laid stone phalanx. “We found this cobblestone path. Theoretically, you could be looking as early as 1810, but it’s more probable you’re looking at the 1820s or so.”

Maybe by this route (or the river) Nathan got word of their father’s death to his brother Jesse, serving in St. Louis’s legislature. The fourthborn son survived Boonesborough’s siege, inspected salt-works in Virginia and Greenup County and was a Kentucky judge. He married Chloe Van Bibber and came here after his parents did. To honor Dan’s memory, Missouri’s Constitutional Convention adjourned for twenty days, yet Jesse missed his pa’s funeral. Maybe he wasn’t well, as consumption killed him by year’s end, leaving Chloe with five sons and four daughters. Chloe died the following year.

St. Louis’s Missouri Gazette published her father-in-law’s obituary. Riddled with errors, it still captures the spirit of the man beneath the buckskin—its length confirming Boone’s stature:

Death of Col. Daniel Boone

Died—At Charette village, in the state of Missouri, on the 26th September last, Col. Daniel Boone, the first settler of Kentucky, in the 90th year of his age. He was a native of Buck’s County, Pennsylvania; he left that state at 18 years old, and settled in North Carolina. He was one of the few men of our country whose enterprise led him to search into the wilderness for the best tracts of land for man to inhabit. As early as the year 1775, he removed with his family, and settled on the Kentucky river, (with the loss of his eldest son, killed by the Indians,) at a plain now called Boonesborough, then an Indian country, where he remained until the year 1799. During this period of time, although most of his life had been spent in agricultural pursuits, and he had been frequently honored by his countrymen, as a member of the Virginia Legislature, and lived, at the close of the Revolutionary war, in peace and plenty, yet, such was his delight in hunting—such his devotedness to it, that, in the year 1799, with a numerous train of followers, he removed from Kentucky, and settled on the Femme Osage River, which empties itself into the Missouri River, about 50 miles above its mouth, then a wilderness. The year after he discovered the Boon’s Lick country, which now forms one of the best settlements of the state. In that year he also visited the head waters of the Grand Osage river, and spent the winter upon the waters of the river Arkansas. At the age of 80, in company with one white man and a black man, whom he laid under strict injunction to return him to his family, dead or alive, he made a hunting trip to the head waters of the Great Osage, where he was successful in trapping beaver, and in taking of other game.

Colonel Boone was a man of common stature, of great enterprise, strong intellect, amiable disposition and inviolable integrity—he died universally regretted by all who knew him; and such is the veneration for his name and character, that both Houses of the General Assembly of this state, upon information of his death being communicated, resolved, to wear crape on the left-arm for 20 days, in token of regard and respect for his memory.

A painting depicting Boone's daughters in a canoe being captured by the Native Americans
The Capture of the Daughters of D. Boone and Callaway by the Indians, by Jean-François Millet and Karl Bodmer. Image sourced from Finding Daniel Boone: His Last Days in Missouri and The Strange Fate of His Remains.

Bill Ray and I stayed on the walkway up to Nathan and Olive’s front door; in their day it was their home’s backdoor. The home fronted the creek six hundred yards southward and was bordered on the northern shore by Boone’s Trace, Daniel’s wagon route circumambulating the Femme Osage.

I stooped to peer into a slot by the door frame; the slots were blocked off on the interior end. I shoved my fist in, stopping three inches past my wrist. Using the door as a center point to divide the home’s face, between it and four window frames were three slots per side, each five and a half inches across by eight and a half inches high and fifty-five inches from the ground. Home lore deems these as “gun ports” or “loops”—fashioned so that Nathan and kin could poke guns out to blast away. Perhaps this tale was birthed by Curlee, whose construction crew, while “working on the walls of the house… found at the front six stones practically identical in size, evenly spaced and at the same height from the floor. Curiosity prompted investigation, and it was found that they filled what appeared to have been portholes. The conclusion that these openings were designed for portholes is natural, for at the time the house was built, it was surrounded by a wilderness through which Indians lurked and wandered.”

To me (I’m five foot eight, same as Dan), these ports seemed a mite low to shoot out of unless the home’s defenders were hobbits. Gun ports typically flare at the sides for aiming and side-to-side mobility; these were rectangular, sharply edged and compact. And why ports just to the northeast?

I nodded to my kind host who I suspected didn’t buy the story either.

Others say the holes held scaffolding—an explanation less thrilling than whooping, war-painted apparitions circling on dashing ponies shrouded from flintlocks blazing away. Such skirmishing happened up the road a few miles at Jonathan Bryan’s. Not here.

On entering, the first door on the right opens to narrow stairs—thirteen steps, not counting the landing—leading down to the basement. A grandfather clock occupied a hall corner by Karl Bodmer and Jean-François Millet’s lithograph, The Capture of the Daughters of D. Boone and Callaway by the Indians. Above the mantle in the parlor—the wide, open-air sitting room leftwards where the Boones greeted visitors—was a finely done oil-on-canvas bust of Daniel reminiscent of John James Audubon’s Boone.

The darkened timbers above the smoke-stained hearth told of many fires. Between the two windows on the north-south walls hung portraits of Francis and Ursula Curlee across from the first official presidential lithograph, The Courtship of Washington, suspended above an old chair and couch. The parlor was light federal blue and trimmed in walnut. Its patinaed floors were hammered with square-headed nails and the room smelled of age and smoke.

“We can head into the death room,” Bill said.


Want to read more? Check out Finding Daniel Boone: His Last Days in Missouri and The Strange Fate of His Remains and other similar titles at!

Frederick Douglass In Rochester, NY

In 2018 the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration placed 13 statues around the city of Rochester, NY to commemorate Frederick Douglass’s 200th birthday. On the anniversary of one of his famous speeches, one of those 13 statues was torn down. On July 16, 2020, the community came together and replaced the destroyed statue in Maplewood Park.

In the 1840s, the Rochester region matched New England in its zeal to end slavery. It was conveniently located along the Erie Canal and railroads, mid-way between New England and the Midwest for Frederick Douglass’s lecture tours, which is one of the reasons the Douglass family moved there in 1848.

Douglass and his wife, Anna, made their home in Rochester for 25 years. It’s where they raised a family, where Douglass published his abolitionist newsletter, The North Star, and where their home was a haven for slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The first issue of the North Star was printed and distributed in December 1847. Rochester Images, Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

While in Rochester, Douglass also became active in the Western Anti -Slavery Society where he met the abolitionists and women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. On July 19th 1848, Douglass spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention in nearby Seneca Falls NY. In an issue of the North Star published shortly after the convention, Douglass wrote:

In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that ‘Right is of no sex.

Related: Behind The Scenes at The Seneca Falls Convention

Douglass was the only African American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention. On August 2nd, a few weeks after Seneca Falls, Douglass spoke in favor of women’s rights at the larger Women’s Rights Convention of Rochester.

The Douglass family’s first home in Rochester, on Alexander Street. Rochester Images, Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

Read more about Frederick Douglass’s life in Rochester

Cover image of Frederick & Anna Douglass In Rochester New York: Their Home Was Open To All

Despite living through one of our nation’s most bitter and terrifying times, Frederick and his wife, Anna, raised five children in a loving home with flower, fruit and vegetable gardens. While Frederick traveled widely, fighting for the freedom and rights of his brethren, Anna cared for their home and their family and extended circle. Their house was open to fugitives on the Underground Railroad, visiting abolitionists and house guests who stayed for weeks, months and years at a time. You can check out this book here!

Check Out Books On The Other Residences Of Frederick Douglass

You can find these titles at!

Terror in the Cascades: The 1910 Wellington Disaster

By the turn of the twentieth century, train travel was commonplace and relatively safe, even on far-flung routes through the harsh mountain landscape of the Pacific Northwest. But in the winter of 1910, Washington state’s Cascade mountain range was hit with an especially long blizzard, creating multiple disasters on snow-covered train tracks near the small village of Wellington. Ninety-six travelers, railroad workers, and rescuers would perish in what would be know as the 1910 Wellington Disaster.


On February 23, the remote wilderness was hit with five or more feet of snow, and days later, snow gauges measured 17 feet. Small towns like Wellington in the Cascade mountains relied on trains for their logging industry, and small Wellington had a power plant, small hospital, hotel and saloon, post office, grocery store, a few shacks, and a train depot. Aside from rail traffic, only telegraph lines connected them to the rest of the world.

Courtesy of LOC. Image sourced from The 1910 Wellington Disaster.

“Cascade Cement”

Late February saw relentless snow, making it difficult to keep the train tracks clear. More would slide down the slopes, burying the tracks deep under the dreaded “Cascade Cement.” Great Northern Railway crews worked nonstop to free the tracks. Powerful mechanical rotaries removed snow, but couldn’t chew up trees and debris included in the icy mix. In an unprecedented move, the rail owner shut down the Cascade Division. With telegraph lines down and rotaries choked, rail travel submitted to the weather emergency.

A picture of a snow-covered Hotel Bailets
Wellington appears almost peaceful blanketed under piles of snow the morning after the deadly avalanche. Passengers would get their meals at the Bailets Hotel. Some of the buildings at the bottom are completely entombed in snow. “Hotel Bailets” was hand-written on the photograph along with the information at the bottom. (Courtesy of SHS.) Image sourced from The 1910 Wellington Disaster.

Nine-Day Blizzard

On March 1, 1910, following a nine-day blizzard, rain, thunder, and lightning besieged two trains that had been stopped. While the Seattle Express No. 25 and the fast mail No. 27 trains were stuck waiting to reach Seattle, the entire town gave shelter to the 100-plus extra people stranded there. Many more remained on the train. Ironically, passenger safety was the reason the railroad crew kept the train from hunkering down inside an adjacent tunnel, where noxious fumes and gases threatened. Suffocation seemed worse.

Related: The Fire that Nearly Destroyed Fort Wayne’s Wolf and Dessauer

“I do not see how it could be possible for a man to do any more; a man can work all the time and do all that is in his power, and I could not see anything possible for them to do more than what was done.” — H.L. Wertz, a stranded train passenger

Mackey, a traveling engineer who walked to Scenic with word of the disaster, testified,“I may say that every man and woman in Wellington was up and they had the women at the hospital caring for the wounded, and every man that I knew was doing all they could to rescue the injured.” Here, a derailed locomotive lies among timbers and mounds of snow. (Courtesy of
84 W V M , 87-142-10.) Image sourced from The 1910 Wellington Disaster.


The avalanche was unstoppable. The passengers who remained on the stranded train were ultimately crushed by the enormous avalanche a half-mile long, a quarter mile wide, and 14 feet thick—approximately 10 acres of snow—killing them within seconds. Only one clerk in the fast mail train survived. The night of the avalanche, 19-year-old Alfred Hensel fatefully slept in the other end of the cay, away from his coworkers. The avalanche broke the fast mail car in half, killing the other eight on board.

Men are pulling bodies out in sleds using long ropes. Before the disaster, on Saturday, February 26, another slide fell at snowshed 3 that was 800 feet wide, 35 feet deep, and full of green timber, which meant it had to be cleared by hand. All the rotaries were out of commission. One was disabled, two were stalled between other slides, and the fourth was stuck at the east end of the tunnel. (Photograph by J.D. Wheeler, courtesy of SHS, Hensel Collection.) Image sourced from The 1910 Wellington Disaster.


One rescue rotary went missing three miles west of Wellington — the entire crew of 20 was lost under a landslide. Recovery crews dragged the bodies on sleds for miles until they could be hoisted down a slope to nearby Scenic. The gruesome task included tying a rope to the victims’ feet, then lowering the bodies head first, before reaching the recovery train.

The slope at Wellington is pictured after the disaster. O’Neill survived because he was offsite working on rotaries. When he got news of the disaster, after a few moments of sorrow and silence, he sprang into action and began the task of organizing rescue efforts, although his heart was surely sinking. (Courtesy of the Dr. George Fischer Collection, SHS.) Image sourced from The 1910 Wellington Disaster.


Great Northern invested millions to build a snowshed at the disaster site, hoping to spare lives in potential avalanches. Wellington was renamed Tye by the Great Northern in the hopes of removing any bad associations from the area, but it wasn’t enough to save the community. The New Cascade Tunnel opened in 1929, bypassing Wellington altogether. Today, all that remains is a crumbling snowshed lined with hundreds of rotten railroad ties and the old Cascade Tunnel at the site of America’s deadliest avalanche.

Want to read more? Check out The 1910 Wellington Disaster and other similar disaster titles at!

The True Story of the Witch of the Monongahela

Her name was Moll Derry, but everyone knew her as the Witch of the Monongahela.

In the ancient hills and misty hollows of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, generations of locals have passed down stories of a woman with mysterious magical powers. People came from near and far to seek healing and protection through her strange rituals. Some believed she could see the future. Some even believed she could fly.

The legend of the Witch of Monongahela has been documented by writers and folklorists for more than two hundred years. But who was Moll Derry, really? Solid historical details are far more elusive than tales of her magical abilities, but this is what we know.

The Real Witch

A sketch portraying Georges creek, with many trees arched over the water.
An early twentieth century postcard shows George’s Creek, which runs past many of the locations mentioned in the legends of Moll Derry. Image sourced from The Witch of the Monongahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania.

There are stories from around the country of strange or inexplicable people. Moll Derry was one of them.

She seems to have been born around 1760 and to have arrived in America with her husband, a Hessian mercenary who fought with the British during the Revolutionary War. Sometime after their arrival, the Derrys switched sides, with Moll’s husband becoming one of Daniel Morgan’s famous sharpshooters. He was such a good shot that there were even rumors that he rubbed himself with special potions or that he was a “wizard.”

Eventually, the couple ended up in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania. Before long, Moll had earned her own supernatural reputation as an uncannily accurate fortune teller.

A newspaper story that ran in 1879, a few decades after her death, recalled Derry’s simple homemade clothes and her love of coffee — and most of all her ability to help her rural neighbors find missing horses and cows and pocketbooks: “Many and miraculous were the stories treasured in the memory of the oldest inhabitants, and related for fireside entertainment, of her actually telling, without any hint, the article lost, when and where it could be found, and if stolen a description of the thief.”

But then the story hinted at a darker conclusion: “It was thought by many that Moll had intimate dealings with the devil.”

The Legends

Traditions of witchcraft arrived in Pennsylvania with German immigrants. This antique postcard depicts witches gathering on a plateau in the Harz Mountains, with similar traditions linked to several other Pennsylvania mountains. Image sourced from The Witch of the Monongahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania.

Moll and her husband ended up having seven children. There are a smattering of legal records and newspaper stories about them, just like there are about Moll. Her last will and testament has survived and is dated May 15, 1843.

But most of the stories surrounding her must necessarily come from the realm of legend. It was said that farmers who crossed her ended up with cows that would not produce milk and bread loaves that would not rise. It was said that she could control rattlesnakes and had an army of them protecting her home.

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The Witch of Monongahela could even be deadly. One time, in 1794, three rough and violent men ran into Derry in the countryside and mocked her ability to see the future. Derry defiantly cursed these men, promising they would all hang.

Within a few months, the first man, John McFall, killed a tavern keeper in a drunken rage; he was hanged in Fayette County. A few years later, the second, Ned Cassidy, murdered a man in a bar fight in Ohio; he also went to the gallows. The third man, whose name has not survived, ended up in Greene County. When he heard of Cassidy’s hanging, he chose to hang himself.

Was this because of the power, the inevitability, of Derry’s curse? Or was it a coincidence? Either way, it was out of character for the Witch of Monongahela. As that old 1879 newspaper story put it, “As far as known, she harmed no one, and if she got her money and her coffee, she was always contented.”

Want to learn more about Moll Derry? Check out The Witch of the Monongahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania and other similar titles at!