LEE PICKETT WAS surely the most prolific photographer to grace Snohomish County. His 1910 move from Seattle to the tiny mountain town of Index provided Pickett with opportunities aplenty to document the burgeoning highways and railroads and the booming logging and mining industries.
In the 1920s, he was appointed official photographer of the Great Northern Railroad. His stunning images recorded construction of the 8-mile Cascade Tunnel (1929) — then the longest in the western hemisphere — and quickly cemented his reputation.
His more whimsical portraits reveal Pickett’s playful side. This pair of “Then” photos, snapped a decade apart, features Eagle Falls along the Skykomish River, 3 miles east of Index.
The first, from 1916, shows boulders at the falls’ base, a perennial picnic spot and swimming hole for locals. The gent in jacket and fedora poses stiffly, while, across the bottom of the negative, Pickett has written, in the reverse script mastered by period photographers: “Hell’s Gate at Eagle Falls. An easy jump — but — hell if you don’t make it.”
In our “Now” photo at the same location, the boulders have shifted position, their top halves seemingly lopped away. These changes are due not to erosion or earthquakes but to explosives intended to reduce steep grades for adjacent Great Northern track beds.
During a recent visit, members of a videography class from Hillside Student Community watch as 16-year-old Will Maltz, trained in the urban gymnastic sport of parkour, leaps the gap between boulders.
Our second “Then” photo features the upturned canoe of local lumberjack (and Pickett regular) Al Faussett. In 1926, Fox Pictures offered $1,500 to anyone who would row through nearby Sunset Falls. Faussett built a sturdy craft to survive the ordeal, but Fox reneged on its offer.
Undaunted, the newly minted daredevil persisted, reveling in his growing celebrity, but cashing in proved elusive. On Sept. 6, 1926, hundreds of onlookers crowded the Eagle Falls banks to watch Faussett risk life and limb. Most declined to pay for the privilege, and the drama of his descent fizzled when his canoe stuck partway down the run. A friend soon dislodged it with a long pole.
Faussett spent the next three years shooting Northwest waterfalls, breaking bones and suffering repeated concussions until retiring on his waterlogged laurels.
Photographer Pickett (1882-1959) ended his career in the late 1940s, health ravaged by decades of exposure to chemicals used to develop photos. Today, his Index home houses the Index Historical Society’s Pickett Museum.