What Happened to William Alberts?

Jay Blackburn, a fascinating character in his own right, came to us a while back with a collection of remarkable photos of everyday life near Yukon Harbor. The photos appear to be taken between 1905 and 1919 and are of vintage glass negative format. Many of those are featured in the current article, “The Seventh Span,” on this site.

The mystery comes from the fact that the photographer, William Alberts, disappeared on Armistice Day in 1919 when he left his home to celebrate the end of World War I (known as “The Great War” at the time). What we know:

  • The first Armistice Day was actually November 11th, 1919, but since Alberts is shown in the 1920 census we assume he disappeared during a subsequent celebration.
  • Local residents, concerned about him, reportedly checked local newspapers and law enforcement agencies and found no relevant news.
  • Tales handed down through the Blackburn family indicate that he was traveling in a rowboat the day he disappeared. Obviously, this opens up the possibility that the boat capsized.
  • The 1910 Census tells us that Alberts was born in New York and was about 59 at the time of his disappearance. He lived in the Colby area (Blackburn believes it to be South Colby, actually) with his wife, Ida, and three children: Walter William, Nora, and Elise. His occupation is listed as “employer/manufacturer [of] doors and sashes” so he was probably the owner or manager of the one of the Colby mills.

Blackburn, who owns a very successful fire control systems company, currently lives in Gig Harbor. In 1948, he was in the very last class of students to attend the Colby School located on Garfield Avenue on the hillside above Colby. The school is now a private residence.

Jay offered his extensive collection of glass negatives and prints to our group. A casual perusal of the negatives reveals that this is a genuine treasure-trove of information. While we need to have the film carefully cleaned and contact printed before an actual inventory can be made, we know that there are photographic records of:

  • The construction of the second wooden bridge over Curley Creek, about 1909. There have been three permanent bridges in all, and the second one is an amazing, high-arched structure that was a marvel in its time.
  • A group photo of the official Colby baseball team.
  • A panoramic view of the old picnic grounds before the fill taken from the Southworth Drive cut covered it over. It includes a glimpse of the full-size baseball diamond.
  • Pictures of vintage sailing vessels in the harbor.
  • Various houses and churches, including interior shots, from the entire region.

Several of these are featured in the article on this website, “The Seventh Span.” At our suggestion, the collection was turned over to the Kitsap County Historical Society, and the array of images is officially featured as The Jay Blackburn Collection.

If you have any leads on this, please drop us a note in the “comments” section, below.

4 thoughts on “What Happened to William Alberts?

  1. The 1910 census includes his son, Walter William Alberts, who is 18 years old, and his daughter-in-law, Elsie, age 20. Noma is his granddaughter and is 7 months old.

    The story about William Alberts’ rowing a boat to Seattle on Armistice Day must be a folktale, which I heard too, because he is listed on the 1920 census with his wife Ida. He is aged 59 in 1920, and was 50 when the 1910 census was taken. By 1930 Ida is listed as a widow.

    • Great, insightful comment, Virginia. It’s digging into all of the small facts (the census reports, a letter, the back of a postcard, etc) and piecing them them together that gives us the actual history of our neighborhood. Welcome to the historical effort! And Thanks.

      Frankly, we checked the 1910 census and never thought to check the next one. But there could be an explanation– it might have been just that he went to celebrate in 1920-21 or later and disappeared then. Remember, The Great War (WWI) was a really big deal, and having a national day to celebrate that terrible conflict was meaningful. For some reason, it was a big deal to Alberts. Because of this Armistice Day connection, I have wondered if he might have been a veteran. He was about the right age to have fought in the Spanish-American War.

      Do you know anything more about him? I know that his son, Walter, was a local carpenter, but not much more. As noted earlier, it’s the small details that add up.

      We have updated the “what we know” section of this article and continue our hunt. Great fun solving these mysteries, eh?

    • My Grandmother is Noma “Alberts” Smith. I am her son’s Larry Smith’s daughter (Noelle Morris). My Father passed away in November of last year and my Grandma Noma has passed away too at 99 years old.. I sure wish I could ask them about this. I still live in Manchester. My Aunt Almarie King was also a big part of South Colby history. This is is fantastic..Thank you!

      • Welcome, and thank you! Let’s keep digging to solve this mystery. There MUST be a police report or an account SOMEWHERE that will give us a clue about your distant relative! Did he drown in a boating accident? Have a heart attack in some obscure location? Was he shanghaied and hauled aboard a tramp steamer? It will be fun to know, eventually.

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