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The original Courier-Times 1948 profile of Pete Beletsky,
the Stumphouse Man near Northern State Hospital

Journal introduction & Background
Courier-Times 1948 original story
Also see Part Two: 1948 follow-up report from Portland
Also see Joanne Brawley's extensive corrections to the original 1948 Courier story.

Journal introduction and background for Pete Beletsky
(Pete Bielecki and his stump)
Pete Beletsky and his stump

      2005 update: We originally posted the 1948 Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times story about the Stumphouse Man of Northern State Hospital, Pete Beletsky, in 2001 because so many people wrote in and asked about him. When we asked many old-timers about him, their memories were hazy and varied and contradictory and we asked readers of the website to provide any information that would clarify and correct the story if need be.
      Earlier this year, Joanne Brawley was kind enough to provide an extensive update. She was horrified that the original Courier reporter had interviewed the wrong property owner for the story and had printed some information that Joanne feels was derogatory to Pete. The Courier reporter spelled his name as Bilecki. The reporter interviewed neighbors, the Christoffersons, who lived across Fruitdale road, instead of Joanne's mother and stepfather, who actually owned the land where the stumphouse stood. We found in land records that the John Christofferson family did indeed own land south of the Bates family at the time of the original Courier article in 1948. Perhaps that was why the reporter wrote some incorrect information. Joanne is definitely an authority; it was her family's property where the stumphouse was located and she knew Beletsky very well from having spent many hours around him with other members of her family. Joanne requested that we print her extensive corrections to the original 1948 story.

Update June 2005: Thanks to Joanne Brawley's follow-up research, we now have some answers to the vital statistics of Pete Beletsky. From his death certificate, we now know that the official burial record is correct. His last name was indeed Beletsky. Born Aug. 18, 1894, Somazy, Poland; Died April 17, 1957, Memorial hospital Sedro Woolley; Cause, Uremia — Chronic nephritis (15 years); Buried Union cemetery, Sedro-Woolley; Father and Mother unknown; US army May 14, 1918-Dec. 11, 1918.

      Joanne also recalled that the original reporter misspelled Pete's last name, but we could find no record of his death or any other official records. She recalled that it was spelled Beletski. Last week I was putting flowers out at my father's grave and those of other friends and I tripped across Pete's burial location. After double-checking burial records, we found there was also confusion at the funeral home and in the county burial records, which any genealogical researcher encounters quite often. The county record lists him as Peter Beletsky, with "(Bilecki)" in parentheses behind his name. His burial card is from Lemley, No. LE-18-007. His official burial record from Lemley spells his name as Beletsky. Joanne has sent for his birth certificate, which we hope will give his original official name. Until we find other official records, we will use the Beletsky spelling from his official burial record.
      This is a good example of why we always ask for corrections of the historical record and why we advise historical writers to be very careful about reprinting old stories verbatim. This website project was started so that readers and descendants of the pioneers would have the opportunity to correct the record. Newspapers in the old days often got the story wrong, and as the current Courier editor noted, if corrections are printed, they seldom get saved along with the original story. Newspaper reporters in the old days occasionally got a story wrong, just as we writers occasionally get stories wrong today.

    Any time, any amount, please help build our travel and research fund for what promises to be a very busy 2011, traveling to mine resources from California to Washington and maybe beyond. Depth of research determined by the level of aid from readers. Because of our recent illness, our research fund is completely bare. See many examples of how you can aid our project and help us continue for another ten years. And subscriptions to our optional Subscribers Online Magazine (launched 2000) by donation too. Thank you.

We recently visited our newest sponsor, Plumeria Bay, which is based in Birdsview, just a short walk away from the Royal family's famous Stumpranch, and is your source for the finest down comforters, pillows, featherbeds and duvet covers and bed linens. Order directly from their website and learn more about this intriguing local business.

      This doesn't mean that any malice was necessarily involved, but instead it points out that reporters need to be very careful about their sources. My grandfather taught me well that erasers were put on pencils because people make and write mistakes. We thank Joanne, who has taken the time to correct each mistake in the original story. We will post her facts first; that way you can compare both the old and the new and see how reporters can be mistaken when they interview the wrong person.
      In Part Two of the Beletsky story, we post a follow-up story from a Portland newspaper's perspective. Part Three is the correspondence from Joanne Brawley as a letter to the editor with some of her initial corrections of the story's details and criticism of the story itself. Some of the facts in the Courier story are undisputed, and the reporter did include actual quotes from Pete. We want to point out to other descendants of old-time families that they are welcome to do as Joanne did and present corrections and updates of any of the original stories that we transcribe or our own biographies of pioneers and old-timers.

The Stumphouse Man
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times 1948 story, unknown date
      1948 Courier-Times Editor note: (A word about the stump story below) — Several weeks ago, Warren Lepper, 605 State Street, noticed the stump-house near Northern State Hospital. He told the Courier-Times [where you may remember his wife Edna was the longtime office manager for Frank and Grace Evans] about the unique dwelling and a reporter obtained a story about the man living there.
      The Courier-Times then called the Seattle Times, who came up and took pictures and turned the story over to the Associated Press, who then wired the photo and article to newspapers throughout the country. The news story has also been on several newscasts along the Pacific Coast [radio, not TV, remember those days?] and the Portland Oregonian even wrote an editorial about the subject. The editorial appears in another part of today's Courier-Times. Al Arnst, formerly of this city, sent clippings from the Oregon Journal and said the story had also appeared in Tacoma papers.)

(Main Courier-Times story:)
      An old, burned-over stump is just so much wood to most people. But to an ingenious woodsman who wanted a garden plot, a tool shed and a place to live, it offered unique opportunities.
      Bald, stocky Peter Bilecki was that man [the spelling of his last name was actually Beletsky, according to his death certificate]. A former cook at Northern State Hospital, but a gardener by choice, 54-year-old Bilecki envisioned a huge, rugged cedar stump west of the hospital as a future shed for his garden tools. The stump is three miles northeast of Sedro-Woolley on the Northern State hospital road.

Only a Saw, Ax, Wedge
      Using a saw, axe and wedge, Bilecki split, chopped and sawed for six months until he hollowed out the stump. [Corrected above.] When he clipped the last splinter from the interior of the stump, he measured the room and discovered it was seven feet, two inches. He was only five feet, eight inches tall. That simple calculation cinched it . The garden tools would have to be stored someplace else. The hollowed out stump would be Bilecki's house. that was in May 1946 and the bachelor gardener has been living there ever since.
      While carving out his new home, Bilecki continued to work as cook from 4:30 a.m. until noon at the hospital, but each afternoon he tramped the two-tenths mile up the road and chopped away at the old stump. Sawing the top off the stump, Bilecki discovered that fire had partially gutted the tree, simplifying his task of hollowing out the inside.
      From November 1945, when he took the first whack at the stump, until May 1946, Bilecki worked daily, sometimes 10 or 12 hours to complete the unique structure.

Waterproof Home
From the movie, Stage Door-—
Lucille Ball [leaving her Manhattan rooming-house for Washington state:
If you're ever in Seattle, the house of Millbanks is always open to you.
Eve Arden: I thought the people out there lived in trees.
Lucille Ball: Only in the summertime. In the winter they live in burrows.

      Insulated with oil paper and cardboard and topped with asphalt roofing, the snug little home to completely water-proof. And it cozy in a crowded sort of way. A low, hard wooden bunk stretches across the rear wall and functions as both bed and chair.
      Built-in shelves are jam-parked with cooking utensils, and boxes of cheese, crackers and Hershey bars. Clothes hang from the ceiling along one side of the circular room which averages almost eight feet in diameter. A kerosene lamp and a mirror hang above the bunk, and an alarm clock sits within easy reach.
      A cooking and heating stove, ingeniously made from a 10-gallon milk can, fills up the corner to the left of the door-way. Bilecki built the stove by knocking the bottom from the milk can, and cutting a hole in the side of the can for a stove-pipe. In another corner he has crowded a large bucking saw, hammers, an axe and wedge.
      "It isn't the best place in the world to live, but it's plenty big for me and the cat," the friendly, stump dweller mused.
      A pretty tabby cat who visited the stump a year ago has been the bachelor's loyal companion, following at this heels when he works about the place, but disappearing into the woods when strangers stop by. "Never had much use for cats until this one came along a year ago," he says.

Raises Beans and Oranges
      Son of a wheat farmer in Poland, Bilecki learned early in life what it means to make a living from the soil. Techniques he learned as a boy, information he has gleaned from gardening booklets, and experience have made Bilecki a gardener of note. Besides raising almost seven varieties of beans, he is also experimenting with several date, almond, orange, grapefruit and tangerine plants. But beans are his particular specialty. Since they keep without cold storage, he raises quantities of them. His Oregon limas expand to an inch and three-eighths when soaked in water. He also raises cranberry beans, scarlet runner, and a couple unnamed varieties.
      Before he planted a single seed, he cleared away old windfalls, chopped down small brush, and tediously hauled in tons of new top soil. He carried in the new dirt in a sturdy, handmade wheelbarrow. Complete with three wooden wheels, the vehicle is built to carry heavy loads without burdening the men who pushes it.

(Stumphouse living)
Famed Sedro-Woolley photographer Darius Kinsey photographed this family in their stump house at the turn of the century. Although captions in various publications sometimes placed the stump in Sedro-Woolley, most experts agree that it was in Snohomish county. The stump was from a very old cedar, more than 15 feet in diameter. The most expensive element was the window. This is from a color-tinted postcard, copies of which were widely distributed and mailed around the world. Update 2005: We originally posted this photo with the Stumphouse story because so many people had inquired about it and assumed that it was in Sedro-Woolley because of inaccurate captions in various sources. Our original hunch that the Sedro-Woolley location of this stump was a myth has now been proven true. In working with Seattle photographer and author Paul Dorpat, we learned that the location of this stump has been narrowed to somewhere near the present location of the Arlington airport. Again, we hope that a reader can peg that location even more exactly and that we can eventually find out who started the myth of the Sedro-Woolley location.

      Hauling things is part of Bilecki's daily life. He must carry all water he uses from Northern State Hospital, a short distance down the road. [Corrected above.] And although he grows most of the fresh food he eats, he must haul all his groceries from the hospital or from Sedro-Woolley, three miles away.
      Two items he always has on hand are cheese, crackers and chocolate candy. For those two delicacies he gladly rides his bike to town. [Corrected above.] The bicycle also is his means of transportation to gardening work near Burlington. An exceptionally energetic "squatter," Bilecki has constantly improved the triangular strip of land he occupies by permission of the owner, Mrs. Christofferson. [This is the crux of the problem with the story. The stumphouse was on the Bates property northeast of the road, not on the Christofferson property west and south of the road. And as Mrs. Brawley notes above, Pete was not a squatter, but her family's invited guest. It is possible that the reporter, when interviewing the neighbors, just assumed that the Christoffersons owned the property.]
      "When he began hollowing out the stump, the property around there was nothing but a marshy swamp," Mrs. Christofferson declared. "Why he's fixed up the place an awful lot. Last year his beanstalks were about 12 feet tall," she exclaimed.
      He has transformed the swamp from an entanglement of brush into a neat garden strip complete with wooden fence. (Not a white picket one.) He has planted a variety of flowers around the hut and along the path leading from the stump to the Northern State Hospital road which runs by the property.

No Housing Problem
      "Keeping up the place is easy enough," Bilecki commented. "I don't pay any rent. Of course I can't say how long I'll be able to live here. The owner has been very good to me. [The Bates family, not the Christoffersons, as explained above.] I left Seattle four years ago because I got tired of the busy streets and crowded buildings, and I like it up here."
      Although the novelty of living in a stump has worn off for him, Bilecki proudly tells of the many surprised tourists who have stopped to see if someone really lives in the stump. One day seven persons crowded into his hut all at one time to take a look around. The Christofferson have urged him to get a guest or register book and have all visitors sign their names, but as yet as he hasn't bought one.
      "People from Texas and Iowa and other states have taken pictures of the stump," he said. "One man from Texas or California said he was coming back to take some movies here, but he's never shown up again."

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on March 25, 2001, last updated Jan. 30, 2007, moved to this domain May 27, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 55 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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