In 1890, Aberdeen was described as one of the “wonders of western development,” “nature’s metropolis” and as having “advantages far superior to the Sound cities.” The bustling city was in its infancy and destined for greatness, with shiny new railroads under construction and new factories cropping up along the waterfront.
But Grays Harbor also had a seedy side, with prostitution and murder running rampant. It was around this time that mass-murderer Billy Gohl achieved notoriety.
History buffs, genealogists and anyone who’s interested can now access first-hand accounts of Grays Harbor’s rich and colorful history through scanned pages of the Aberdeen Herald, which is now available online. Chronicling America, a nationwide project to digitize old newspapers, has scanned and uploaded about 30 Washington publications since 2008.
Shawn Schollmeyer, the Washington State Library coordinator for Chronicling America, said Washington’s newspapers are particularly interesting, as they document the state’s transition from being a remote part of the Oregon territory to statehood.
The Aberdeen Herald was published from 1886 until June of 1917, mostly as a weekly newspaper, though it was printed twice a week for about 7 years from 1904 to 1911. It’s rival publication and Daily World precursor The Aberdeen Bulletin, was founded in 1889 by former Herald editor Edward C. Finch.
“We’ve got some great historical papers,” Schollmeyer said. “It’s hard not to have your attention caught by some of these articles.”
She said she enjoyed stories about the gold rush and photos of women’s fashion, but one of her favorite topics was Billy Gohl, otherwise known as the Ghoul of Grays Harbor.
“He spent years taking advantage of sailors who came into town, and once their ships set sail no one would realize they were missing,” Schollmeyer said. “He may have killed hundreds of people. It’s fascinating to think of that happening in Washington.”
The newspapers uploaded nationwide range in publication dates from 1836 to 1922. Washington is one of about 30 states participating in the Chronicling America, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. The program is funded in two-year grant cycles, with the state being awarded about $300,000 per cycle. Washington state received its first grant in 2008 and will finish its last grant cycle at the end of the year.
The process of uploading newspaper pages is a time-intensive process — Washington Chronicling America employees and volunteers process about 100,000 pages per grant cycle, Schollmeyer said.
Most of the pages have already been scanned onto microfilm, so workers don’t need to worry about damaging original documents. The microfilms are scanned and processed with character recognition software so researchers can search for interesting pages by article text. The scanned pages are then saved to hard drives and shipped to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to be uploaded to the Internet.
“Before this, newspapers weren’t really accessible and there wasn’t really a way to search them,” Schollmeyer said. “But now we have a great resource for historians, genealogists and students. And teachers in the state really love having access to these primary sources.”
The Aberdeen Herald and other historic papers can be found at www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.