FELIKS BANEL

All Over The Map: Is sunken boat in Puget Sound just an old ferry or artifact of dark chapter of history?

Apr 2, 2021, 7:59 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2021, 9:35 am

An old ferry boat that was involved in a dark chapter of wartime transportation history nearly 80 years ago also took a few strange journeys of its own.

The “Golden State” was a wood-hulled car ferry built in 1926 in California. The vessel was about 227 feet long and could carry 75 cars. It served San Francisco Bay along with a fleet of other ferries crisscrossing the waters until the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in November 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge opened in May 1937.

In late 1937, the “Golden State” – and a number of other no-longer-useful Bay Area ferries – were sold, and came north to Puget Sound.

The Black Ball Ferry operators – the privately owned predecessor to the Washington State Ferries – renamed each of the old California boats using “Chinook jargon,” the regional language spoken by Indigenous tribes and early traders.

The “Golden State” became “Kehloken,” which, in Chinook, means some kind of aquatic bird or waterfowl. A few Chinook dictionaries consulted align with contemporary newspaper accounts, with “Kehloken” said, at various times, to mean “swan” or “crane.” It probably does not mean “white dove,” as one old newspaper article said.

The dark chapter that the “Kehloken” was involved with was the wartime transport of 227 Japanese and Japanese-Americans from Bainbridge Island to Seattle on March 30, 1942.

Those Bainbridge Island residents were then placed on train cars, and most were taken to Manzanar, an “internment camp” in California. The actions on that long-ago March day amount to the first forcible removal of Japanese and Japanese-Americans under FDR’s Executive Order 9066 of February 1942.

In those years, a total of about 120,000 people would be incarcerated this way because we were at war with Japan and the Axis Powers. However, unlike our German and Italian enemies, Japanese and Japanese-Americans looked different from European-Americans, and were considered a threat to West Coast security.

“Kehloken” was retired from service in 1972 and sold for $25,000 in 1975. It was moved to the old Houghton Shipyards in Kirkland, and plans were to turn the old ferry into a restaurant or nightclub. While “Kehloken” sat there along Lake Washington, it often served as a backdrop for team photos of the Seahawks, whose original training facility was built on old shipyard property in 1976.

Unfortunately, the nightclub or restaurant was not to be. An arsonist torched “Kehloken” in September 1979 and it burned to waterline. Then, in the early 1980s, the remains were hauled to the south end of Whidbey Island and scuttled — intentionally sunk — to create an artificial reef. It’s now a popular – and photogenic – diving destination.

Four decades after she was scuttled, is “Kehloken” now just a collection of burnt timbers and rusting metal many feet below the surface of Puget Sound? Or is the old ferry something more?

One interpretation is that the vessel is an artifact of Japanese incarceration. It was a tool used by the federal government to enforce an ultimately unconstitutional policy that Densho and other organizations are committed to never forgetting. But, another interpretation is that it was just a ferry; if not “Kehloken,” it could just as easily have been any number of Black Ball vessels called on to do that particular duty on that particular day in 1942.

Frank Abe is a devoted historian of Japanese incarceration and a Japanese American activist who organized the first Day of Remembrance in 1978. He’s produced documentaries and written books – including a new graphic novel called We Hereby Refuse – and studied the World War II time period for most of his adult life.

“It was just a vehicle,” Abe wrote in an email to KIRO Radio. “I don’t think anyone blames the vehicle. We blame those who ordered the eviction. I know of no infamy attached to it. It could have been any vessel.”

“Of course,” Abe continued, “it’s easy for me to say ‘no hard feelings’ since I wasn’t there. To us, it’s historical.”

And, Abe wrote, he knows “toddlers who were removed that day who may feel personally shaken to see the actual ferry boat again.”

Like all compelling history, it seems that the story of “Kehloken” is not easily categorized or filed away. There are many chapters – California, infrastructure, transportation, Indigenous languages, wartime America, Japanese American incarceration, 1970s entrepreneurism – and within those chapters, are many stories, and countless interpretations.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

Feliks Banel

Memorial Stadium...
Feliks Banel

Could landmark designation save Seattle’s Memorial Stadium from demolition?

As it turns out, saving Seattle's Memorial Stadium from demolition may not be just some pedantic argument or splitting of historic preservation hairs.
14 hours ago
Zune...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: How – and why – did Microsoft ‘Name That Zune’?

We know now it couldn’t beat the iPod, but where and how did Microsoft get the name for its gone-but-not-forgotten Zune media player?
6 days ago
railroad...
Feliks Banel

Priceless archive keeps the history of Pacific Northwest trains running

A unique partnership devoted to Northwest railroad history means an incredible archive of photos and documents is being preserved and made accessible.
8 days ago
Roosevelt Highway...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Ghosts of the Roosevelt Highway in Washington state

For most of the 1920s and well into the 1930s, part of the long-forgotten Roosevelt Highway traveled through the Evergreen State.
13 days ago
MJ McDermott...
Feliks Banel

Beloved kids’ show host turned meteorologist M.J. McDermott hangs up her barometer

When meteorologist M.J. McDermott retires this week from Channel 13, not many people will remember her early years hosting a kids' show.
15 days ago
Klickitat...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: How Kittitas, Klickitat and Lewis counties were named

All Over The Map’s county origins series took the summer off, but returns for this installment, featuring Kittitas, Klickitat, and Lewis counties.
20 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
All Over The Map: Is sunken boat in Puget Sound just an old ferry or artifact of dark chapter of history?