- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FORKS, WASH.

Pounding rain and heavy mist are constant in this timber town, where logging’s decline left a graveyard of rusting timber mills and unemployment. Businesses shut down. Parts of the local high school were condemned. Families started to drift away.

Until an unlikely cast of vampires breathed new life into the town.

“I fell in love with it,” says 18-year-old Samantha Cogar, who dragged her grandparents on a 2,500 mile road trip to Forks from Louisville, Ky., earlier this summer. “I can’t wait to go back.”

Miss Cogar is one of thousands of visitors who have flocked to Forks in response to “Twilight,” the hottest series to hit shelves since “Harry Potter.” Set in Forks, on the gritty edge of the Olympic Mountain Range, the books have captured the hearts of readers worldwide.

In a town framed by towering spruce, where rough blue-collar edges are tangible, the unexpected attention seems to bring a second chance for the economy. Inspired by a world of make-believe, “Twilight” fans are bringing the town back to life.

Four years ago, author Stephenie Meyer introduced the world to Bella Swan, a 17-year-old who moves to Forks and is torn between the love of classmate Edward Cullen and best friend Jacob Black. Before long, though, she realizes something isn’t right: Edward is a vampire and Jacob a werewolf.

Readers were hooked, and three more “Twilight” books followed. “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth and final book of Miss Meyer’s “Twilight” series, came out in July and has remained at the top of the best-seller lists ever since. Teens throughout the country celebrated the release of the book by dressing up as characters from the series for midnight parties at bookstores - in the same way “Harry Potter” books are launched.

As the pages kept coming, the series’ cultlike following increased. Before long, fans started showing up in Forks, looking to see if magic would spark when imagination collided with reality. What they found was a two-stoplight town where more than a foot of rain falls each year. A place where success is measured in sweat and the four-wheel drive.

Yet Forks was quick to embrace the frenzied fans.

Its “Twilight”-inspired turn has been nothing short of magical, says Marcia Bingham, executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve probably had more than 100 people a day,” adds Miss Bingham, who has watched eagerly as van after van of giddy readers - mostly female - has pulled up in front of the town’s visitors center.

For many fans, the line where reality ends and imagination begins is starting to blur, says Michael Gurling, who caught inspiration from the tourism boom and started his own Twilight Tours.

After enlisting a few locals, he asked for help in picking out houses that could serve as stand-ins for the book’s famous Forks stops: Bella and Edward’s houses, a field where vampires play baseball. Other locations, such as the police station, where Bella’s father works, and the hospital, where Edward’s father is a doctor, play their own parts. They chipped in, providing cruisers near which fans may take pictures and reserving a spot for “Dr. Cullen” in the parking lot.

“The most popular spot is probably the beach, in LaPush, where Bella finds out the truth about Edward,” Mr. Gurling says.

On a recent Friday, his van is headed out of the visitors center parking lot - packed, as it is most every weekend, with teenage girls. Outside the stand-in for Edward’s house, a sign on the door says the Cullens are volunteering at a blood drive.

“It’s not quite how I thought it would be,” says Yena Hu, a University of Washington sophomore who made the four-hour trek from Seattle to visit. “They’re always talking about all the windows - and in the book, the house is on the water.”

Still, it’s surprising how much Miss Meyer did get right, considering she had never been to Forks when she wrote the first book. A quick Internet search revealed that Forks was one of the rainiest places in the world, and from her home in Arizona, the stay-at-home mom began rewriting history.

While locals are accepting of their newfound fame, they’re all too aware of the mania that is continuing to grow.

Almost everyone has a “Twilight” story: the teen who dropped his library card only to discover Twilighters had found it and kept it; the cheerleader who has out-of-town mothers stop her on the street offering cash for her uniform; the Quileute native, who heads to LaPush to chop wood and sees giddy teenagers snatching up driftwood as souvenirs.

Spurred by the boost in tourism and influx of money, businesses are eagerly trying to cash in on the craze.

Wander down the town’s main drag, and you’ll see “We Love Edward and Bella” signs in store windows and a Forks’ Speedway sign welcoming “Vampires and Racers.”

Restaurants have started offering Twilight-themed options: Subway’s Twilight Special, which oozes marinara, and the ever-popular Bella Burger at a local hangout called Sully’s Drive-In. It comes with special sauce and pineapple.

Stacks of Twilight T-shirts sit behind almost every counter in town.

At Sully’s, 32-year-old Eleanor Currit waves a pair of plastic vampire teeth in the air - a standard side for any customer who orders the Bella burger.

“When I go back to my book club, I’m definitely going to have bragging rights,” she says. “The women in my group are honestly crazy about these books.”

Miss Currit, a stay-at-home-mom with a master’s degree in English, says being in Forks is like opening a page of the book and jumping in.

“This town just has a pretty primal way about it,” she says. “It’s really a mysterious beauty.”

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