Feed & Seed and a Belling-History Mystery Man

This post was inspired by a news blurb about a new building on Railroad Avenue to be occupied by Curt Pless’ Feed and Seed business in 1908, and Pless’ mysterious disappearance soon after.

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#Onthisday in #Bellinghistory October 3, 1908 the Herald reported on the “New Headquarters for the Pless Hay & Grain Company,” on the corner of Railroad and Magnolia, better known in recent years as the home of Avalon Records and Clark’s Feed and Seed, and gutted by fire in July. 

“One of the most up-to-date buildings of the year erected for housing a feed and grain business is the above warehouse, built at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Magnolia Street and leased for a long period by Curt Pless & Co.”  

Bellingham Herald Apr 29, 1908 - image showing Pless’ large stature.

Bellingham Herald Apr 29, 1908 - image showing Pless’ large stature.

The German-born Curt T. Pless had only been in Bellingham a few years and was already well known around town. In 1906 Pless and his young wife Myra had arrived in New York from Belgium and come straight to the Pacific Northwest. Pless got right down to business, starting the firm of Haskins & Pless feed company with several partners. Pless commissioned a beautiful residence at 16th and Garden Streets where he lived with his beloved wife, who was expecting their first child.

Standing 6’6” tall, Curt Pless towered over most folks at the time - he really “stood out in the crowd.”

Only a year or so into the business, his partners grew uneasy with his financial dealings and opted out.  The business was reincorporated as Pless Hay and Grain Company.  

View of Bellingham Waterfront with “Haskins & Pless Feed Co Mill” Warehouse circa 1906

View of Bellingham Waterfront with “Haskins & Pless Feed Co Mill” Warehouse circa 1906

In December of 1908, Pless left town on a “routine business trip” and disappeared.  A few weeks after his departure his despondent wife Myra gave birth to their daughter, Madeline.  Pless was apparently deep in debt, and had left wife alone with a large legal mess as well as a newborn baby.

East Oregonian July 1, 1909

East Oregonian July 1, 1909

The mysterious disappearance of Pless garnered a lot of attention in the press as the case remained unsolved.   A body in a crate turned up in the Columbia River, but as evidenced by stature, it was not Pless.  Mrs. Pless refused to talk about her husband’s past in Germany, and many rumors abounded as to why the couple had come the the U.S., and why Curt Pless had disappeared, including stories of a duel that had angered the Kaiser.

Seattle Daily Times, June 20, 1909

Seattle Daily Times, June 20, 1909

Myra Pless always maintained that her husband would come back for her and baby Madeline. Myra turned to teaching French and German lessons to support herself and her child.  

A large man with a heavy German accent tended to be noticeable, and In 1912 Myra received a tip that her husband was indeed alive and living in Norfolk, Virginia under an assumed name. Myra packed up their daughter and headed across the country where she indeed found her long lost large husband living under the name George Lanz and selling real estate.  At first “Mr. Lanz” seemed to welcome Myra and their daughter back into his life. The three lived in Virginia as the “Lanz”  family for about a year, before the tall German man once again fled town, again abandoning his wife and child and leaving many debts in his wake.

Richmond Daily Dispatch, Sep 12, 1913

Richmond Daily Dispatch, Sep 12, 1913

Bellingham Herald, Sep 20, 1913

Bellingham Herald, Sep 20, 1913

Myra and Madeline returned to the Pacific Northwest. Myra opened Madame Pless School for girls on Capital Hill.  She ran the school for almost 20 years before retiring.  Madeline was a pianist who performed on cruise ships.  If they ever heard from Mr. Pless again, they likely took it to their graves.  Both women passed away in Seattle.

Ad for Mme. Pless - Seattle Daily Times, September 19, 1915. Madeline’s yearbook photo from Broadway Sealth High School in Seattle.

Ad for Mme. Pless - Seattle Daily Times, September 19, 1915. Madeline’s yearbook photo from Broadway Sealth High School in Seattle.

As for “Pless Feed Company” and its building, it was taken over by Farley Feed, later known as Farley-Clark and Clark Feed Inc. Farley also owned the neighboring building (which later became Hohl’s Feed and Seed).

The building at the corner of Railroad and Magnolia, after quite the make-over, as Clark Feed & Seed. Most recently the corner spot was occupied by Avalon Records before the building suffered a fire. The fire occurred shortly after one in the neighboring Spokane Building (home of Hohl’s Feed and Seed), effectively wiping out all of the “Feed Company” buildings on Railroad Avenue.

The building at the corner of Railroad and Magnolia, after quite the make-over, as Clark Feed & Seed. Most recently the corner spot was occupied by Avalon Records before the building suffered a fire. The fire occurred shortly after one in the neighboring Spokane Building (home of Hohl’s Feed and Seed), effectively wiping out all of the “Feed Company” buildings on Railroad Avenue.

Neighboring Hohl’s Feed and Seed as it looked in the 1980s. These buildings also suffered a fire in 2019.

Neighboring Hohl’s Feed and Seed as it looked in the 1980s. These buildings also suffered a fire in 2019.