Sumas Astonisher --
Looking Back After 25 Years

I LAUNCHED the Sumas Astonisher in the wake (literally) of a catastrophic flood that nearly obliterated the little town of Sumas, WA, on Veterans Day 1990.

The Astonisher began as a "Flood Lost and Found," cataloging some of the flotsam around town:

  • FOUND -- oak veneer dresser with square wooden drawer pulls
  • FOUND -- wooden hanging planter with live lobelia (still in bloom)
  • FOUND -- 18 cubic foot Kenmore chest style freezer
  • FOUND -- one page from The Battalion of Death
  • LOST -- The Lone Jack Tavern lost several thousand pull tabs, including many apparent $50 winners, but the tabs cannot be cashed because the numbers haven't been validated

Sometimes NOTHING goes right! At that moment, Sumas was about as low as it's possible for a town to be. On every street, people had all their possessions (furniture, carpeting, clothes, etc.) piled out on the front lawn waiting to be hauled to the dump.

This was clearly an inauspicious time to start a newspaper in Sumas, but I really wanted to do something to buoy the spirits of my little home town. The woefully backward Sumas city government, which was bent on turning the town into an industrial slum, also helped prompt me to launch the Astonisher. But in truth, the biggest reason was probably that the Astonisher was great fun for me.

Above all, the Sumas Astonisher was resolutely local. It poured a great deal of time, attention and wit into chronicling the world of the little town of Sumas, WA, and many of the locals responded warmly, making the paper a regular part of their lives. In fact, between its launch in December 1990 and its last issue in March 1993, the Sumas Astonisher became the dominant newspaper in Sumas, as well as the surrounding part of Whatcom County.

Unfortunately, much of Sumas's retail commerce -- which provided the advertising base for the publication -- didn't look at all well, to paraphrase Peter Lorre. The flood was just a small part of it. Dairying had become a chronic malingerer, and then the Canadian dollar tanked and Canadian shoppers -- who made up well over half of Sumas's retail commerce -- simply stopped coming.

Today, Sumas resembles a modern ghost town ringed by unsightly industry. Driving down the main street of Sumas, you see six abandoned gas stations, two closed restaurants, a supermarket that went out of business, the closed doctor's office, the empty offices of a veterinary hospital that moved to a neighboring town, the closed showroom of a farm implement dealer who moved to another town, etc.

So read all about the little town that was -- it's in the Astonisher! In addition, to its regular news reporting, the Astonisher contained a bevy of regular columns and features, including "The Bottomless Cup of Coffee" (commentary), "As Sumas Turns" (doings of local people), "Looking Back" (local historical tidbits), "Garden Notes" (local garden roundup), "Dipstick" (cartoon commentary of Ray Collins), and a different, generally-thought provoking quotation on its masthead every month...

-- Bruce Brown


The Sumas Police Chief's drinking problems come home to roost; December 1992

Witty post-W.W.II repartee on Jack Lambert's croquet court (the stylish woman is my mother, Marian Brown); September 1992

Richard Farnsworth as The Grey Fox, the real-life 19th century Sumas desperado Bill Miner; October 1992

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The South Pass Rd. Flasher: a local exposé; October 1991



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