The Port of Missing Men
Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest
- PUBLISHED: July 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Pacific Northwest / History, Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 296 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 10 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295747415
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
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 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.
Authors & Contributors
Aaron Goings is associate professor of history and chair of the History and Political Science Department at Saint Martin’s University. He is coauthor of The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-radicalism in Southwest Washington and Community in Conflict: A Working-Class History of the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike and the Italian Hall Tragedy.
Consider putting your preconceptions of Billy Gohl’s story back on the shelf and immerse yourself in this compelling new read.- The Daily World
[P]art whodunit mystery, part biography, and part case study of Grays Harbor’s itinerant workers and their labor movement...The Port of Missing Men makes major contributions to both local history and the larger story of industrial capitalism.- Oregon Historical Quarterly
In this thoroughly researched study of Gohl's career and trial, Aaron Goings persuasively argues that the union activist was framed by Grays Harbor elites.... The Port of Missing Men illustrates how untruths can be repeated often enough to be widely believed, and difficult to dislodge.... [Goings's] laser-like focus on this isolated deindustrialized area...reveals the interconnections between business and political leaders at the local and state level and how they marshaled repressive tactics to silence Gohl, the IWW, and others.- Laurie Mercier, Pacific Northwest Quarterly
Goings smashes through the mythology to deliver a compelling and exciting story that is at once real crime and labor history.- H-Net
Aaron Goings has done a fantastic job of taking a famous local legend about a mass murderer and grounding it in the true story of labor violence and strikebreaking of the era, a period when workers struggled to stay alive each and every day. Goings has masterfully combined narrative and academic history to produce a compelling, smart, and fun book.- Erik Loomis, author of A History of America in Ten Strikes
This work persuasively challenges a century-long belief: did the maritime labor activist at the largest lumber port in the world really deserve an enduring reputation as a monstrous serial killer? Goings provides the defense that Billy Gohl never got in court. What a welcome labor history lesson from the Pacific Northwest!- Karen Blair, editor of Women in Pacific Northwest History
True crime meets labor history in this page-turner. For more than acentury, William ‘Billy’ Gohl has been called the Ghoul of Grays Harbor. Aaron Goings, a native of Grays Harbor, does us a tremendous service inrescuing Gohl, an innocent man, albeit more than a century after he died behind bars. While his conclusion may upset some, Goings delivers a more convincing source for the notorious ‘floater fleet’ of Grays Harbor—not a powerful union leader but, rather, capitalism itself.- Peter Cole, author of Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area