Clinton storyteller to perform “Little, But OH My!”

The 50th Performance Celebration of "Little, But OH My!" will be Saturday, Aug. 16, outdoors at the state park amphitheater at Deception Pass State Park.

Berte Olson is heading back where she belongs.

The feisty island ferry operator of the early 1900s will have her story told in a place where many of its more colorful aspects occurred — Deception Pass.

The tale of Olson, the first woman to skipper a ferryboat on Puget Sound, was launched five years ago in “Little, But OH My!”, a production created and performed by Clinton storyteller Jill Johnson. It premiered at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, then was shared with audiences throughout northwest Washington.

The 50th Performance Celebration will be Saturday, Aug. 16, outdoors at the state park amphitheater at Deception Pass State Park. The show is at 7:30 p.m., and it’s free. A cushion and blanket are recommended.

Before the bridge was completed, the Deception Pass Ferry Company owned by Olson and her husband, Augie, operated two ferry runs between Whidbey, Camano and Fidalgo islands.

“Those little ferries could only take 12 to 16 cars,” said Johnson, who spent two years researching Olson’s story, “but the ferry ran, rain or shine.”

With no bridge in the 1920s, travel from island to island was mostly by ferry. The Deception Pass bridge, hailed by supporters as the “Gateway to Whidbey Island,” was completed in 1935, effectively putting Olson and her company out of business. But she went down swinging.

Throughout the 1920s, Olson and other ferry operators vigorously opposed the idea of a bridge, and the Norwegian-born Olson (1882-1959) became a force to contend with in Olympia. In 1929, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill for a bridge, but Olson convinced Gov. Roland Hartley to veto it, and the veto stood.

Bridge advocates regrouped in 1930, and pushed through new legislation in 1933. This time the governor was Clarence Martin, who wouldn’t block it.

It was the height of the Depression, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic recovery program was to foot the bill for the bridge.

Cut off at the pass, so to speak, the Olsons switched to Hood Canal, where they started the Olympic Navigation Company, with runs from Port Gamble to Shine, and Seabeck to Brinnon.

At the Deception Pass performance of “Little, But OH My!,” music director Vern Olson will reprise the show’s original music.

Special guest of honor will be Ivan Olson, 91, of Anacortes, Berte Olson’s son. He played a big part in Johnson’s research, and “it will be very special to have him there,” she said.

Johnson’s show was selected to be part of the “Inquiring Mind” series of Humanities Washington, and a CD of the performance won honors in the national Storytelling World competition.

The coming performance is part of the “Folk Arts in the Park” program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington State Parks, the Washington State Arts Commission and Northwest Heritage Resources.

For more information, call Adam Lorio at 360-675-2417.

Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or

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