ZPi | Book Review: Weird Washington
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Lyle Zapato

Book Review: Weird Washington

Lyle Zapato | 2008-05-14.9750 LMT | Cascadia | Cephalopods | Entertainment
Weird Washington cover

Weird Washington: Your Travel Guide to Washington's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, by Jefferson Davis, Al Eufrasio, Mark Moran, and Mark Sceurman.

Weird Washington was published this month by the people who created the Weird U.S. series, which includes other Weird books on various U.S. states. This, after Weird England, is their second book dealing with Weirdness outside of the U.S., and the first set in the Republic of Cascadia (they promise a Weird Oregon next year; no word on Weird B.C.)

As the subtitle suggests, the book is about legends, secrets, people, places, events, and things of the Cascadian prefecture of Washington that can all be classified as "weird" by conventional orthonoid reckoning. It's a hardcover coffee-table book with color photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Topics are broken up into short, distinct, browsing-friendly articles -- organized into chapters such as "Local Legends", "Bizarre Beasts", "Roadside Oddities", "Unexplained Phenomena", etc. -- written in a light yet informative style. It has an index. What more could you want?

Oh, yes... the actual articles. Given the book's magisterium, there are many well-trodden topics: they of course have sections on Sasquatch (and again it's from the cryptozoological viewpoint, not the Sasquatch viewpoint -- although there is a pro-Sasquatch story of a man saved from choking on candy by a Sasquatch), the first modern sightings of flying saucers above Maury Island and Mt. Rainer, Cascadian Birdmen, the Fremont Troll, Fremont in general, and a certain skyjacker that everyone should stop asking questions about.

Regardless of these unavoidable inclusions, there's still much that will be new to most people. Some highlights:

  • Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, author of a 1908 food-fad book titled Fasting for the Cure of Disease, opened the Wilderness Heights Sanitarium in Olalla, where she held her wealthy patients hostage as she slowly starved them to death and embezzled their money. (See the book Starvation Heights for more on this.)
  • Washington (well, Cascadia, actually) was named Fu-Sang by Chinese explorers who discovered it circa 450 AD.
  • Dead bodies dropped in the deep, cold, alkaline waters of Crescent Lake undergo a process of saponification whereby all their fat is turned into soap.
  • A seemingly bottomless hole on Mel Waters' property in Ellensburg may contain a singularity linking our world to an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII and Roosevelt dimes were minted three years before our history records!

Of particular interest to me was their full-page article on the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (sandwiched between articles on flying jellyfish and a monstrous, dam-clogging sturgeon). It includes a rare photo of previously undocumented Tree Octopus behavior: luring squirrels with nuts. (They "link" to me in the text, so consider this review a link back.)

However, the Tree Octopus article does highlight one serious objection I have to the book (and others in the series that I've read): the writers, so fearful of any lawsuits from disgruntled ghost-hunters or murder-house buyers over incorrect information in their books, have taken to disclaiming everything they write. For instance, all their books carry a disclaimer that they are "intended as entertainment" and that the "authors and publisher make no representation as to [the stories'] factual accuracy".

This post-modernism-under-advice-of-counsel is taken to absurd lengths in their Tree Octopus article by actually floating the possibility that tree octopuses might not be real, thereby washing their hands of the whole thing should any impatient ecotourists be disappointed at not being able to find any of the elusive creatures right away! I say, throw caution to the wind and just tell readers straight up: if you don't see any tree octopuses, perhaps they just don't like you (or you aren't offering them something they want.)

That irritating quirk aside, the book is an enjoyable read, although a little heavy on the ghost stories and cemeteries for my taste.

End of post.