The hometown of Kurt Cobain, Aberdeen, remains an inspiring place for grunge fans
written and photographed by Joni Kabana
Rounding the corner into Aberdeen, the first impression the town of 17,000 gives is a feeling of restlessness, as though something happened here and the town is worn from the effects. Shuttered businesses, buildings in disrepair and gray skies could make a visitor drive right on through this location known as the “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula.” But don’t. If you take time for a deeper look, delightful surprises appear all throughout its nooks and crannies.
Named after a Scottish salmon cannery and incorporated in 1900, Aberdeen was once filled with saloons, brothels and gambling establishments, and subsequently being labeled as “The Hellhole of the Pacific” and “The Port of Missing Men.” Raucous behavior, high murder rates and the prevalence of taking the law into one’s own hands were the attributes that built this town. One resident, Billy “The Ghoul” Gohl, is rumored to have killed 140 men, disposing of their bodies into the nearby Wishkah River.
Given the nature of this town’s early beginnings, it is not a stretch to see how the angst-filled music of Kurt Cobain was influenced by his upbringing in this renegade location. After enjoying a tasty meal at the historic Billy’s Bar & Grill (once a brothel, and if you look closely, you might see a girly ghost peering from the second floor window), head toward the banks of the Wishkah River and find the place under a bridge where Cobain spent a lot of time after realizing he did not have enough credits to graduate high school and left his splintered family. Here, he wrote several songs, most notably “Something In the Way.”
The small park near Cobain’s favorite spot is composed of several celebratory structures that honors this prolific musician, but more interestingly, the love notes and anguished statements of loss depict the level of profound impact his life had on so many. The site is raw and unfiltered, just the way one can surmise that Cobain was himself. Just a few streets away stands the home where he lived before he threw a few clothes in a box and turned his path toward music.
Aberdeen is a fishing village at its heart, so make some time to stop at one of the fish shops for some exquisite seafood such as at the Breakwater Seafood & Chowder House. Enjoy a lunch on the riverbank deck or be sent off with ice-packed delectables to savor as you make your way into the Olympic Peninsula or for your return home. As you leave town, reflect upon the remarkable effects that Aberdeen had on a beloved singer, and perhaps, upon yourself. Aberdeen, with its wild and wooly attributes, stirs and inspires.