Happy Birthday, Bonnie Jean Hermann

Finally Found Books, Auburn WA

Finally Found Books
Auburn WA

Last week I attended the opening of Finally Found Books. They moved to a location literally just around the corner from my house! While there, I discovered an antique book with an inscription that I could work with. Like a tombstone, it included a full name and date, and implied a Washington location. Every book includes a story between its covers, but a used book often has a story that can’t be found within its pages—the story of its previous owner.


If Wenatchee, Washington is synonymous with one thing, it’s apples. In early September, when Bonnie Jean Hermann celebrated her fifth birthday, it would have been harvest time. The air would have been redolent with the crisp scent of cider and spiced applesauce. Even in 1930, as the Great Depression tightened its death grip on the American economy, Wenatchee autumns would have been alive with the activity of the local orchardists and itinerant workers who flocked in each year to harvest the crop.

Bonnie’s father Harry Hermann, the owner of a local drug store, was able to support his family while remaining in Wenatchee year round throughout the Depression. Her mother Lorena no doubt tracked the family’s expenses carefully, making it her mission to stretch every dollar as far as possible during those challenging days. Still, Lorena was able to purchase a special book and lovingly inscribe it for her youngest daughter on her special day: “Happy Birthday to Bonnie Jean Hermann from Mother, Sept. 4, 1930.”

Burgess Animal Book for Children

Burgess Animal Book for Children

With no pictures except for its beautiful cover, The Burgess Animal Book for Children would have been an ambitious gift for such a little girl, but Bonnie had two older sisters. Kay was only 7 years old in 1930, but at age 12, oldest sister June could have easily spent time reading out loud to the littler girls.

As the years passed, the Hermann girls, one by one, graduated high school in Wenatchee. However, sometime after 1942 Harry relocated the family to Seattle where he passed away in 1948. Although her two sisters eventually married and established homes of their own, Bonnie Jean remained with her beloved mother for the rest of the older woman’s life. Lorena died in Arizona in 1977; we presume Bonnie Jean was at her side.

What became of Bonnie after that? There was evidence that while she was living in Phoenix in 2001, she acquired her sisters’ interest in the family home back in Wenatchee. After that, she disappears from the available records. She could still be alive, living her life anonymously, maybe in Arizona, maybe in Washington State. I can’t find her.

But I found her book tonight.

Happy Birthday, Bonnie Jean Hermann—wherever you are.


Finally Found Books, Auburn WA

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The Sad Death of Henry Englund


There are no photos of Henry Englund, but this photo of a young boy was taken in 1897, the year Henry died. Who is this boy in the photo? Answer at the end of this post!

I wrote this essay several years ago, inspired by a tombstone in the Soos Creek Cemetery. It was my first attempt to parlay a simple tombstone inscription (and a bit of associated research) into a biographical essay. Although the essay veers strongly into the realm of autobiography, it was successful enough that I decided I wanted to create a collection of similar essays based on the lives of several people in a single cemetery. The Auburn Pioneer Cemetery website was the resulting project. For me, the biographies are the heartwood at the core of the site.

Henry Englund

Little Henry Englund spent his last happy day playing along the banks of Soos Creek. Like any six-year-old boy, he was lost in a world of his own imaginary adventures. Clearly, he wasn’t paying any attention to his surroundings, but I’m still mystified that he could have actually managed to fall into the creek. Then as now, it was surrounded by a wild net of brambles and branches; in places, you would need a machete to hack through the growth to get to the water. Perhaps Henry had kneeled down at one of the few open verges of bank to pursue a bright green, nickel-sized frog. Maybe in reaching for that tiny prize, he slipped on a rock greased with mud and tumbled head-first into the creek. He must have bumped his head—there’s just no other way I can imagine him being hurt in the slow, shallow water of Soos Creek.

But he was hurt. Someone, a playmate or a parent, must have seen him fall because they pulled him out of the creek before he could drown. He did, however, aspirate enough water into his small lungs to develop pneumonia. Henry died, leaving his family with their memories of him as they had last seen him: a bright and playful six-year-old boy living out his dreams of summer adventure.

Henry Englund died in 1897 and is buried in the Soos Creek Cemetery. His parents evidently saw no irony in burying him in ground named for the very creek that had taken his life. In their time, the fact that even thriving, energetic children like Henry could die without warning (and all too frequently did), was simply a tragic fact of life to be endured as God’s will.

Fifty years later, parents had formed different expectations regarding their children’s long-term survival. The death of a child, never an easy event to shrug off, by then became the central and defining tragedy in the lives of the surviving family. My parents, in the 1960’s, bought a house from such a family. The grieving parents felt they couldn’t stay after their small son had wandered from the front yard and was later found face down in Pringle Creek—only a block away from their front door. After burying their child, they decided their hearts would only heal (if they could heal) somewhere that wasn’t poisoned with the aftertaste of that horrible tragedy.

My mom and dad, despite having three children under the age of five at that time, found the house’s quick-sale price far too hard to resist. How they thought they could keep their own children safe from a fate that had already claimed one young life is something that they never explained. I believe they must have thought of that earlier child’s drowning as a fluke, the tragic outcome of extenuating circumstances that would probably never converge again. Looking down from the nearby bridge into Pringle Creek, I can understand that conclusion. From that vantage point I saw that even the spawning salmon had too deep a draft to navigate Pringle Creek comfortably. I remember playing with my sisters for hours on end in that creek and seldom getting more than our feet and ankles wet. Except for the rare winters when we had actual flooding, the creek just didn’t seem like much of a threat. That little boy’s death, just like Henry Englund’s, must have involved some sort of incapacitating fall. There’s no other way I can imagine him being hurt in the slow, shallow water of Pringle Creek.

I never even knew the name of the little boy who drowned up the street, but I spent my childhood looking over my shoulder for him when I climbed the narrow stairway at bedtime, and expecting to see his grainy image appear behind me as I glanced into my mother’s mirror. Maybe it’s only because I grew up obsessed with the possibility of this little ghost that Henry Englund’s story strikes such a chord in me. I’m not the kind of person who goes to church, so I don’t light candles in the memory of departed souls. However, whenever I walk the Soos Creek Trail, I gather all the pennies in my car (for some reason my car has pennies like a dog has fleas) and take them with me. There’s a hollow stump that sits near the trailhead, and I always pause to drop those pennies there in the memory of Henry Englund. I imagine some little boy finding them there as he plays along Soos Creek, and wondering if the booty came from pirates, bank robbers, or maybe misguided tooth fairies. All little boys should get to live out their dreams of summer adventure.

(The photo above is of Harry Truman in 1897.)