It came from Pierce County

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

By any criteria, Pierce County is a very strange place.

We’ve got physical terrain ranging from the highest point in the state (named in honor of a British Naval officer who fought against the nascent American colonies) to islands and waterways literally at sea level, and thick lowland forests home to the most Sasquatch reports in North America to the first UFO sightings (in 1947).

Pierce County has the space, setting and inspiration for crimes, eccentricities and just plain weird behavior, characters and situations like no other place, such as reports of Native giants most noted for their nocturnal whistles and Wayne Aho’s Spacecraft Protective Landing Area for Advancement of Science and Humanities (aka SPLAASH.)

In a letter sent to state and federal authorities—including the then-President of the United States—Aho identified SPLAASH as a “Free Landing Zone” that would be maintained free of arms and open and welcoming to all sentient beings, human and, presumably, otherwise. Major Aho (as he preferred to be addressed) operated in an abandoned sawmill outside of Eatonville for many years. You see more on him (if you dare) here.

The Jake Bird Hex

And if you’d like to hear a story of an actual ax murder and a corresponding curse on those who prosecuted the murder and contributed to the untimely deaths of five officials, you don’t need to read a Stephen King novel, it happened here in Pierce County. You can see the full story here.

Just passing through

There have been people who lived here thanks to our military bases (like McKinley Morganfield, better known as the Blues singer, Muddy Waters).

And those who were here against their will at McNeil Island Corrections Center (established in 1875 – 14 years before Washington became a state), such as Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (at McNeil 1962-1969, he worked with Al Capone and was supposedly a cell mate to a young car thief by the name of Charles Manson, who was at McNeil 1961-1965), Robert Stroud (also know as known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and was at McNeil 1909-1921), and even Samuel Bowers (founder and Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who murdered multiple civil rights activists during the Civil Rights Movement and who was a resident at McNeil from 1967-1976).

Charles Manson was a featured performer at more than one McNeil Island talent night. He later became friends with Dennis Wilson, drummer from The Beach Boys who helped Manson produce his first (and only) album.

You can see more on the history of McNeil Island Corrections (or even apply for a Department of Corrections job) here.

You can see details and related documentation of state-wide/regional general weirdness here.

And if you think Tacoma and Pierce County are weird places now, find some old person who grew up around here.

As a kid growing up in the southern reaches of Parkland/Spanaway, I was a short bike ride from two separate military bases, both essentially open, even to kids, at the time.

I used to ride my bike through the woods, sometimes running into troops in training. But more often coming across what they left behind – tents, bullets, ammo boxes and much more.

And as a kid with a few dollars I could go to the military surplus places on Pacific Avenue or South Tacoma Way and buy all manner of bayonets, uniforms, medals and MREs, among many other things.

A friend of mine told me about the scavenger automotive junk yards that used to line Pacific Avenue in what is now Spanaway/Graham. Back then you could buy a barely running, patched-together Franken-car for $20. He and his buddies would buy a car like this, put a dollar or two worth of gas and then drive it through the woods, through streams and over stumps and leave it wrapped around a tree on the military reservation. As a kid, I saw many of those cars wrecked and rusting miles from the nearest road. I always wondered how they got there. Now I wonder how any of us survived.

Sasquatches, UFOs, explosives, teenage mayhem, meth labs and bootlegging of all kinds, it’s a wonder any of us lived to tell the tales.

I’m not convinced that Pierce County, in some ways, has changed very much.