The small, rain-soaked town of Forks, Washington is booming with tourism from the hugely popular “Twilight” novels and their Hollywood movie adaptations.
Heading down Highway 101, through the steep-sided peaks of the Cascade Mountains in the Olympic National Park, we are enveloped by a pounding rain and a thick, never-ending fog that obscures the dark, overhanging trees and the small towns we pass. Then, there is a large, green, wooden sign: “The City of Forks Welcomes You.” And instead of another sleepy timber town, we seem to have entered a magical Twilight-ville. Vampire and “Twilight” movie related souvenirs and signs are everywhere, as tourists overflow the shops and the sidewalks.
Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire love saga, “Twilight,” is set in this rain-soaked hamlet in the northwestern corner of Washington state. Once a small logging town of 3,000 residents with a suffering economy, Forks is now booming with tourism from the hugely popular novels and Hollywood movie adaptations. Even though the movies were filmed in neighboring Oregon state and Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada, fans surge into Forks to see the high school attended by the heroine, the vampire family’s home, and other favorite locations from the novels and movies.
Before the vampire saga brought fame and fortune to Forks, it was just one of many small towns with a declining population as jobs were lost in the logging industry. An occasional experienced traveler would pass through looking for the mystical trees of the Hoh Rain Forest or the beautiful beaches of La Push, where 750 members of the Quileute tribe offered whale-watching, hiking, fishing and surfing adventures along with sunset-viewing accommodations. While residents often hoped that tourism would save the town, they never envisioned that it would stem from a teen vampire love story.
On June 2, 2003, thousands of kilometers away in scorching Phoenix, Arizona, a stay-at-home mom, Meyer, awoke from a vivid and gripping dream. “Though I had a million things to do...I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream.... Unwillingly, I eventually got up and did the immediate necessities, and then put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write—something I hadn’t done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering,” she comments on her Web site. The dream, which ended up being Chapter 13 (“Confessions”) in “Twilight,” the first novel of the saga, was set in a meadow in the woods. In it, an “average girl” and a “fantastically beautiful, sparkly...vampire” were having an intense conversation. As Meyer recalls, the handsome vampire was professing his deep love for the human girl and his intense frustration that he also desired to kill her. Meyer became obsessed by the dream and the mysterious characters. She began creating the story line through her days of potty-training her children and taking them to swimming lessons. At night, once everyone had gone to bed, she would sit down and transcribe her story onto the computer.
In planning out this tale, Meyer knew that she wanted the love story to be set somewhere dark and rainy, so she turned to the Internet. After searching for the place with the most rainfall in the United States, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state popped up. Meyer mentions on her Web site that she “pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest…. And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called Forks.” Forks receives about 3 meters of rain per year. She also discovered the nearby home of the Quileute tribe, whose ancestral legends say they descended from wolves. She wove that into her story, too.
Meyer’s story has become four novels, following the adventures of a teenager, Isabella “Bella” Swan, beginning with her move from sunny Phoenix to rainy Forks to live with her father, Charlie. Bella quickly falls dangerously in love with a handsome, 104-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen, who appears to be a teenager. She also develops a close relationship with Jacob Black, a member of the Quileute tribe, who can transform himself into a werewolf. The novels portray Bella’s perilous life, as other vampires try to kill her, and Edward or Jacob come to her rescue while vying for her affections.
Meyer published the first novel, “Twilight,” in 2005 with a print run of 75,000. It reached number five on The New York Times’ best-seller list for children’s books within a month, and then quickly shot up to number one. Meyer wrote the sequels “New Moon” in 2006, “Eclipse” in 2007 and “Breaking Dawn” in 2008. The initial movie of the series, “Twilight,” was released on November 21, 2008 with great success. The other books’ film adaptations followed each year and “Breaking Dawn” is to be released in two parts in 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, “strangers began drifting into Forks searching for ‘Twilight’ related locations during the summer of 2007,” says Samuel Scheyler, a Forks resident who works at the Native to Twilight store that focuses on the Quileute tribe and Jacob Black’s role in the saga. Mostly, teen girls accompanied by their families would roam the streets taking pictures wearing “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” T-shirts, representing whom they were rooting for in the battle to win Bella’s love. All parts of the town, especially anything with “Forks” in the title, became a photographic opportunity. Scheyler comments that “the crowds continued, and even more started arriving after the first movie was released.” Soon, visitors from across the United States and around the world were making the pilgrimage to the town to see whether the reality matched their imaginations. Forks residents were curious at first about the tourists, but quickly caught on to the economic opportunity attached to the saga.
Kora Lotspiech, who works at the Dazzled by Twilight store and tour company, says, “Our quiet little town is now alive with new faces and excitement” though “some people are a bit annoyed. They miss the peacefulness, and don’t like the traffic or all the visitors. In the future, I see Forks always being a little tourist town that people come to for the beautiful sights we have here. ‘Twilight’ will always be a part of our town but the fame won’t last forever, so we better enjoy it now!”
“Twi-hards” or “Twilighters,” as “Twilight” fans are known, have several options when exploring Forks. Detailed novel and movie related maps and travel books are available at many of the stores. Avery Ellis, a 9-year-old die-hard Team Jacob fan from Scotland, came to Forks with her grandmother and chose to explore the town on their own so that she could take her time searching for sights from the stories. “I feel like it is a treasure hunt. I like searching out all the places in the books, or imagining where they would be.”
Jennifer Boggs from Washington state took one of the many “Twilight” tours on offer as she felt “it would be more fun. I wanted to be with a group of people that all enjoyed ‘Twilight’ as much as I do.” The Forks Chamber of Commerce began providing “Twilight” tours in the summer of 2008. Private travel companies offer day trips. Dazzled by Twilight runs tours four times a day, each lasting two to three hours, for $39 per person.
The first popular destination is the Miller Tree Inn, which has been designated as Edward Cullen’s vampire family house. “The Cullen House,” as it is known, is a two-story inn built as a barn in 1916. Glancing through the grand front entrance windows, it is clear that the owners, Bill and Susan Brager, enjoy their home’s new designation. They have put placards in each room with each of the Cullen family characters’ names. “Our piano in the front room we call Edward’s practice piano and we have clippings and other memorabilia in scrapbooks for guests to look at while they are here as well as the musical CDs and board games.” They also have messages from Edward’s mother, Esme Cullen, for visitors on a message board by the front door, and the mailbox bears the Cullen name.
Next is the police station, where Charlie Swan works. If you visit city hall during office hours, you can sign your name in the “Twilight” guest book along with thousands of others from as close as Seattle and as far as the Philippines. The next stop is Forks High School, “Home of the Spartans,” where Bella and Edward study. This building was condemned and is currently being torn down, but pieces are being sold to raise money for a new school in the same location.
From there you can head over to Forks Outfitters, the sporting goods store where Bella works in the novels. At the shop, you can pick up “Twilight” souvenirs, from baby clothes to rain boots and coffee mugs. You can grab a bite to eat at the nearby Thriftway where Bella shops for groceries. Cupcakes in blood-red or black frosting or vampire vanilla fill the pastry counter. There is also “Twilight” coffee and Bella chocolate to match her brown eyes. There is a visitor’s center at the Chamber of Commerce, where Bella’s old, rusted 1956 Chevy truck is parked in front.
Charlie and Bella’s home is next on the tour. Meyer didn’t have this particular house in mind when she wrote the series. After tourism grew, the Chamber of Commerce designated this house as the Swan home because of the resemblance it bears to the book’s description of Charlie’s two-story, Craftsman style house. This house is a private residence.
The next stop is the hospital where Carlisle Cullen, Edward’s father, works as a doctor. The hospital has a parking space with a sign stating, “Dr. Cullen: Reserved Parking Only.” Eventually, the tour crosses the vampire/werewolf treaty line, which is labeled with a sign stating: “No vampires beyond this point.” Here in werewolf territory, we find Jacob Black’s home, a red, one-story house with paint chipping off the walls and an old, rusty motorcycle leaning in the front yard. Twilighter Ellis enjoyed this location because she “liked how they put the motorcycle in front of the house. The owners seemed to really try and make it looklike Jacob’s house.”
Next is the small town of La Push, on the Quileute Reservation, where Black lives, 24 kilometers west of Forks, right on the Pacific Ocean. “La Push’s First Beach was my favorite. This is where Bella’s best friend, Jacob, suggests Edward’s true identity to Bella,” exclaims Boggs. “I really thought it looked like what I imagined it would. The beach was so beautiful and I loved all the washed-up wood!”
There is also a tour and store in Port Angeles, Washington, 90 kilometers away from Forks, where you can visit Gottschalks, the department store where Bella and her friends, Angelina and Jessica, went shopping for prom dresses. Stop by the Port Book and News Store, the one Bella decided not to go into because it looked too “New Age” for her. In the novel, Bella gets lost walking around town while it starts to get dark. She ends up cornered in an alley by some strange men until Edward suddenly shows up in his Volvo to save her. Edward then takes her to dinner at an Italian restaurant, Bella Italia, where she enjoys her mushroom ravioli. Besides the tours in Forks and Port Angeles, tours based on the movies have also popped up in Vancouver and Oregon, where the movies were filmed.
In 2005, roughly 5,000 visitors signed the guest book at the Forks Chamber of Commerce. By 2009, an amazing 70,000 names were listed. The pages are full of declarations of love and admiration for characters in the novel. Walking through the town, it is hard to turn in any direction without seeing some piece of “Twilight” merchandise or decoration. Annette Root and her husband have opened two stores, Dazzled by Twilight (one in Port Angeles), a tour company, The Twilight Lounge, and a restaurant downstairs called The Lodge in Forks, all on North Forks Avenue, the town’s main street. Mrs. Root told Peninsula Woman Magazine, “This is about having a true passion for something. It’s why people come here—I guess that’s why we’re all here.” Passion is close to an understatement since Mrs. Root mentioned she has read the entire series 22 times.
Stepping into the Dazzled by Twilight store is similar to stepping into a fantasy “Twilight” world: the floors are covered with Astroturf carpeting, there are large molded trees with twinkling lights entwined in the branches and leaves, and every kind of “Twilight” souvenir imaginable surrounds you. The two young girls working the counter, Lauren Peterson and Kora Lotspiech, are wearing matching Dazzled by Twilight T-shirts and are excited about the tourism that the novels have brought to Forks. “Traffic is always busy at our only stoplight. Main Street’s parking is constantly full, tourists are always at the Forks sign and you regularly see the Dazzled tour bus around town and the store is constantly full!” Peterson says.
Lotspiech adds, “We couldn’t be more thankful for our ‘Twilight’ fans! I love ‘Twilight.’ It’s a series aimed for young females but got the attention of women of all ages. It has done a lot of good for our town. I just like the story plot of the series and all the action in the books.”
Being surrounded by souvenirs from their favorite novels is a bonus, but both agreed that their favorite part was all the tourists. “My favorite part is meeting people every day who are happy fans that are excited to be in Forks. It is cool because you become really good friends with certain fans who come back to town a lot,” says Peterson.
To keep with the “Twilight” theme, many Forks’ residents have altered their businesses to match the vampire hype. A Twilight Coffee Shop, Twilight Firewood Store, Twilight Locksmith and other “Twilight” themed businesses line the main street. Thriftway sells “Twilight” rain boots, slippers, clothing, coffee syrup and wine. It you can think of it, they have it. Sully’s Burgers has sold more than 12,000 of its Bella Burgers, and Subway, the only fast food chain in town, serves up a “Twilight sub,” which oozes with deep red marinara sauce. There is even a Robert Pattinson lookalike, who resembles the actor who plays Edward. The lookalike strolls through town and allows visitors to take photos with him, for a charge of course.
Tourism hits its peak on Stephenie Meyer’s Day, which falls on Bella Swan’s birthday in the novels, September 13. Thousands of visitors swarm into the town each year to celebrate with birthday cake, lookalike contests, music and dancing.
Kaitlin McVey is a writer living in Seattle, Washington.