Sunday, March 11, 2007

21. "The White Cascade" ~ Gary Krist


"The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche."

In 1910, east of Spokane in the rugged Cascade mountains, two trains were stranded because of horrific blizzard conditions. After much debate and worry, some of the passengers hiked the dangerous path to a town seven miles away. Others stayed, and in the early morning hours of March 1 were hit by an avalanche that broke some of the cars like matches, killing more than a hundred people.

This book's title is misleading, however. The story is about the railroad system from the late 1860s through 1910. It's about one man, James H. O'Neill, and his desperate dedication to the trapped trains, a man who was in charge of the entire western railroad system, but shoveled snow alongside immigrant workers. It is also about greed, and how James J. Hill (a St. Paul businessman) used his power to shush this disaster.

The historical chapters were frustrating for me because, like many, I wanted to get to the disaster. I wanted to see how some triumphed. But the event itself garners only a chapter in the book.

However, Krist pieces the days before the avalanche in painstaking detail. All dialogue is original, copied from journals and survivor interviews. As far as historical nonfiction, this is an amazing creation. But, I felt mislead by the title... perhaps, "The White Cascade: The Days Leading Up to the Greatest Railroad Disaster" would have been more truthful.

3.8 out of 5.0 Snowballs.

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