How to Solve a History Mystery?
Call a Taxonomist, Of course!
The Mystery: How old is the Empress Tree at 4th Street and Harris?
South Siders always knew the beautiful tree on 4th Street and Harris Avenue had been given as a gift from Goon Dip, Chinese labor contractor, to E.B. Deming, president of Pacific American Fisheries. Many thought it was given for the 1935 re-opening of the new Pacific American Headquarters at that location. (Today part of he Amtrak train station.)
So follow along the trail trying to solve the mystery of when this tree was given to Fairhaven and E.B. Deming.
May 21, 1931: "Down at the PAF there is a tree a-bloom with purple.”
Spring 2019 photo by John Koenig
Fairhaven Empress Tree Still Blooms
A 1941 article reported that 30 years earlier, PAF gardener Rockwell H. Thomas, planted a small tree on the grounds of PAF and that the "big Empress tree is one of the few monuments left to the memory of his love of nature’s handiwork.” Gardener Thomas worked for PAF from 1913 until his death in 1928.
The May 23,1962 Herald ran an interview with Mrs. Wes Geiger, in front of the tree. Mrs. Geiger thought the tree was presented to PAF around 1908.
Fairhaven and PAF Historian, Galen Biery, maintained in the Herald on September 22, 1968, that the Empress was planted by 1918, based on photographs in his collection. The article reports that World War I rallies were held next to the tree.
Jeff Jewell, Photo Archivist of the Whatcom Museum found Galen's photo of a Flag Rally on April 6, 1918 in front of the PAF headquarters, it is barely possible to see two "saplings" at the far left of the photo. Impossible to anyone but Galen Biery. According to Gordy Tweit, Galen was obsessed with finding information about that tree!
J.W. Sandison photo of 1918 Liberty Flag Raising
Whatcom Museum #2016.25.19
Close up hows two saplings at the location
of the current Empress Tree.
A quick look at the photo seemed to indicate to one of us (Eileen of FairhavenHistory) that those trees were just saplings! So, a guess of 1916 was made, corresponding to a date that Goon Dip was in Fairhaven waiting to have his "countreymen join him" on the S.S. Victoria.
In September 1919, Fairhaven Neighbors Association had a program called Trees, Trees Trees. One of the speakers was John Hymas, an arborist responsible for planting lots of trees in Happy Valley. When presented with the information the tree was probably planted in 1916, John responded with "Holy Cow!" and "John Wesserlink needs to know about this!"
John Wesserlink is a Washington State Taxonomist. Taxonomy is the science of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. John had been very aware of the Empress tree on 4th and like many others thought it was planted in the 1930s.
Then Wesserlink took a look at the photo. Perhaps the Empress Tree was the one on the right. Look at the leaning of the tree! His more careful observation showed the tree towered over the people below. He estimated the tree to be almost 27 feet. Empress trees grow about 3 feet a year, so the 1916 date couldn't be right. The Empress tree was closer to 9 years old in the1918 photograph. A date much earlier than anyone had suspected or researched.
So what happened in 1909?
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Portland Oregonian, Volume XXVIII Issue 2 Page 6
Sunday, January 10, 1909
NEWLY-APPOINTED CHINESE CONSUL LEAVES FOR SEATTLE TO ASSUME OFFICE
GOON DIP, HIS IMPERIAL CHINESE MAJESTY CONSUL AT SEATTLE WASHINGTON
In compliance with his final instructions from the Chinese Minister in Washington DC, Goon Dip, one of the wealthiest members of Portland's Chinese colony, left the city yesterday for Seattle, where he will take up at once the duties of the newly-created consulship.
Photo, left was included in the original 1909 article.
No photographer attribution given.
The Oregonian went on to say Goon Dip, was considered a "representative Chinese" all over the Pacific Coast. Held in high esteem by his fellow countrymen, the appointment was met with a great deal of jubilation.
Some historians have written that Goon Dip and E.B. Deming met at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P-E) in 1909 in Seattle. The Bellingham Herald has numerous reports during the 1900s of Goon Dip working with Deming and the PAF. They were both very involved with Seattle's Exposition (a World Fair) which drew millions of people between June through October 1909.
In early 1909, Deming remodeled his offices to almost "palatial standards." He was ready to receive visitors.
And then this:
Wednesday, August 25, 1909