Northwest Passage (newspaper)

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Northwest Passage
Northwest passage april 1969 cover.jpg
Cover of Northwest Passage vol. 1, no.2 (April 10, 1969) issue. Photo showing members of the local "freak" community, including Northwest Passage staffers. Frank Kathman is the tall, mustachioed man in the upper right.
TypeBiweekly newspaper
FormatTabloid/Alternative newspaper
Founder(s)Frank Kathman, Laurence Kee, Michael Carlson
PublisherFrank Kathman
Editor-in-chiefLaurence Kee
FoundedMarch 17, 1969; 50 years ago (1969-03-17) in Bellingham, Washington
Ceased publicationJune 1986; 33 years ago (1986-06)
HeadquartersBellingham, Washington (1969–1977)
Seattle, Washington (1977–1986)
Circulation6,000 (1972)

The Northwest Passage was a bi-weekly underground newspaper in Bellingham, Washington, which was published from March 17, 1969 to June 1986. The paper was co-founded by three men: Frank Kathman, who took the role of Publisher; Laurence Kee, as Managing Editor; and Michael Carlson (now Harman), as Art Director. While the three devoted their full-time energies to the daily running and initial growth of the paper, several members of the Bellingham community made major contributions to the content and character of the publication.

Publication history[edit]

From its inception, the Northwest Passage stood out from other "underground" tabloids at the time because of its graphic design content, which was spearheaded by Carlson, and embellished by the talents of artists Cindy Green, Gary Hallgren, and others.[citation needed] (Hallgren went on to a noted career as a New York-based graphics artist, illustrator, and cartoonist.)

Frank Kathman had originally been influenced by a college class that he took with Bernard Weiner at Western Washington State College (now University), where the underground press was studied. Later, Kathman and Carlson wrote and designed a recruitment poster that was printed, calling for the founding of the paper. They recruited Kee, who was a reporter for the Bellingham Herald, and the only one of the three with a steady paycheck, so it came down to him to write a check to the Lynden Tribune on March 17, 1969, in order to get the first issue printed. Kee was later fired from the conservative Herald for his involvement with the Passage.[citation needed]

The paper was sustained from that point on by personal donations from the community; by sales in a few news boxes and through personal hawking campaigns in Bellingham and Seattle; through subscriptions sold to individuals and university and community libraries all over the country; and through the sale of display advertising — most notably through a deal with Warner Bros. Records. The Tribune later refused to print the Passage, bending to conservative political pressures in the county, and the Passage was moved to the Skagit Valley Herald for further printing. Published in tabloid newspaper format and selling for 25 cents, it was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate and the Liberation News Service, and reported circulation of 6000 copies in 1972. Crews of volunteers set type and did layout.

The Northwest Passage was originally housed in Kee's home on Maplewood Ave., where the bedrooms were converted to graphics layout rooms. Later, when Kee and the paper were evicted from the rented house, the Passage moved to a house in the outlying area, on Yew Street Rd. The next home of the paper was in a taxidermy building on W. Holly St., near the downtown area. Later, the paper moved to offices in the Morgan Block Building in the Fairhaven District of Bellingham, known as "Happy Valley", or the "Southside". "Happy Valley" had been a common name for the area since before the founding of Fairhaven. The Block building also housed Good Earth Pottery, Fairhaven Music, and the Community Food Co-op, and was a hive of the counterculture from 1969 through the end of the Vietnam War. At the time, Fairhaven was a hippie enclave—a temporary autonomous zone of cooperative enterprise that spawned the community garden program, a cooperative primary school, and a co-op flour mill (it has since become a family-owned business and moved out of Bellingham), all of which are still thriving forty years later.[when?][citation needed]

Though initially a kind of hippie paper focusing on the counterculture and ending the Vietnam War, under the leadership of Kathman and Kee, and later Chris Condon and others, it quickly became an important source of investigative journalism on political and environmental issues in Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest in general. Its environmental journalism earned it such a solid reputation — sometimes influencing policy decisions — that politicians and oversight agencies and polluting corporations made sure to subscribe or obtain copies to read.[citation needed]

During the People's Park riots in Berkeley, California during the summer of 1969, the Passage was chosen as the pool print representative for the national media, and was allowed inside the Park to be "embedded" with the armed National Guard unit that was holding the Park against the siege conducted by thousands of demonstrators who were trying to get the park restored to its former use as a public area. The resulting article by Kee was representative of other reporting by the Passage which was often quoted by other publications and even reprinted by some on occasion.[citation needed] Although the editorial and reporting reach of the Passage extended out into the nation and the world, the paper nevertheless retained its local community feeling in Bellingham throughout its existence.[citation needed]

Original editor Laurence Kee left the paper to found the Seattle rock band Child, and in Los Angeles played with the Eric Burdon Band and others, before coming back to Bellingham to teach at Western Washington University's Fairhaven College in their "Artist-In-Residence" program.[citation needed]

From 1969 to 1977 Northwest Passage was based in Bellingham, relocating in 1977 to Seattle.[1] After 1981 it was published monthly.[2]


  • Mary Kay Becker, later a state legislator and a judge on the Washington State Court of Appeals
  • Bob Hicks, who had a long newspaper career as an editor with the Portland Oregonian and later as an online reviewer
  • Roxanne Park, who became a leader with the Prison Sentencing Commission for the State of Washington
  • Bernard Weiner, who became a critic/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades and co-founded the political-analysis website The Crisis Papers
  • Buck Meloy, who became a leader in the fishing community in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast
  • Cindy Green (Davis), illustrator of the popular Molasses Jug centerfold (created by Shiela Gilda and Elizabeth Mabe), went on to a successful career as a graphic artist
  • David Wolf, who moved on to various leadership roles with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County
  • John Servais, who founded and edits the website NorthwestCitizen
  • Melissa Queen, who became a noted yoga teacher/board member at the Mount Madonna Center in California
  • Joel Connelly, who became the politics writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper
  • Marga Rose (Hancock), who became executive director of the American Institute of Architects–Seattle
  • Jeff (Yehuda) Fine, who while with the paper wrote the columns on Wild Pacific Northwest Herbs and later went on to found and become the principal of one of the earliest alternative high schools for the Mendocino Unified School District in California — The Community School,[3] and then moved to Brooklyn where he was ordained as a rabbi, became head guidance counselor for Yeshiva University in NYC and later a noted author of the bestselling recovery book, Times Square Rabbi — Finding the Hope in Lost Kids' Lives (Hazelden, UP Publishing) and The Real Deal — For Parents' Only: The Top 75 Questions Teens Want Answered Today as well as his first novel Shadow Walker (Simon & Schuster) on the rise of sex trafficking in America.


  1. ^ AP. "Crusading newspaper close to going under". The Spokesman-Review Jul. 10, 1984; p. A7
  2. ^ About this newspaper: Northwest Passage, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, retrieved April 16, 2010.
  3. ^ Mendocino Community High School website. Accessed Nov. 6, 2019.