Aaron GoingsMar 2, 2021
The Port of Missing Men
Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest
In the early twentieth century so many dead bodies surfaced in the rivers around Aberdeen, Washington, that they were nicknamed the "floater fleet." When Billy Gohl (1873-1927), a powerful union official, was arrested for murder, local newspapers were quick to suggest that he was responsible for many of those deaths, perhaps even dozens--thus launching the legend of the Ghoul of Grays Harbor.
More than a true-crime tale, The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, 2020) sheds light on the lives of workers who died tragically, illuminating the dehumanizing treatment of sailors and lumber workers and the heated clashes between pro- and anti-union forces. Goings investigates the creation of the myth, exploring how so many people were willing to believe such extraordinary stories about Gohl. He shares the story of a charismatic labor leader--the one man who could shut down the highly profitable Grays Harbor lumber trade--and provides an equally intriguing analysis of the human costs of the Pacific Northwest's early extraction economy.