Ghost Log

Ghost Log is an 8’ diameter by 44’ long Corten steel sculpture located on Coast Salish Land on Commencement Bay, at Dickman Mill Park in Tacoma, Washington. The public art work is embedded with references to the Puyallup Tribe, whose ancestral homeland the park sits on, and the Dickman Lumber Mill which was on the site for 90 years before it burnt down on January 6, 1979. The sculpture sits on a historical vintage reclaimed artifact, the head saw and carriage from the original Dickman Lumber Mill. Ghost Log is an abstracted cedar log with laser cut skin resembling cedar bark.  An 8’ wheel gear at the park end of the log makes witness to the enormous scaled logs that were cut at this site and contributes to a deeper understanding of the industry. The sculpture starts at the park end as a mechanical structure mashed together with an enormous cedar log. It transforms to the organic as it twists and turns, first to form a series of baskets midway, and then to culminate in cedar boughs at the water’s edge. Forged text is integrated in the limbs. Coss worked with the Puyallup Tribe to incorporate traditional twining and lushootseed words. The sculpture, lit inside, creates an ethereal form day and night and serves as a visceral reminder of our past.

Artist Mary Coss at Alma Studios with Amber Sterud Hayward, Language Program Director of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians

While conducting research for this project, I spoke with several individuals with connections to the site. These stories began to reveal many complex layers of history and inspired the creation of two sound components, which enrich the sculpture. Ghost Timbre is a 13 minute audio collage that incorporates local stories, songs, waves, native birds, a working vintage lumber mill and other sounds related to the history of this site. Timber Lines, a 7-episode podcast, explores the history of the land through interviews with local historians, Puyallup tribal members and former millworkers. The sound pieces were created with Artist Residency support at Alma Studios in Tacoma and Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle. 

The project site is at Dickman Mill Park on Commencement Bay in Tacoma, WA. Dickman Park sits on Indigenous land, the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people. Cedar is sacred to the local Puyallup Tribe and the Ghost Log honors their history through form and text incorporated into the sculpture. 

Built in 1889 and destroyed in a fire in 1979, the mill housed a giant head saw that was salvaged and has been in storage for nearly 40 years. The project is built on top of the ruins of the mill. aerial view of the ruins

The head saw dates from 1923 and is an unmodified “ten saw” from the heyday of Tacoma’s lumber mill years, unique in Washington State. The artifact is listed on the Washington State Heritage Register and on the City of Tacoma’s Register of Historic Structures.

Site of the former Dickman Mill