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New spot pays tribute to a Vashon family and an island oddity
When a couple from Indiana recently saw Vashon’s bike in the tree featured on a television program, the pair — travelers and history buffs with a special affinity for the 1950s — decided they’d see it next time they were in Seattle.
Last month the couple not only visited the bike in the tree, but also stayed a few nights at the childhood home of the boy behind the legendary bike. One of them left a five-star review of the rental house online, saying it felt like “a family’s home” and “not just another vacation rental.”
Indeed, The Bicycle in the Tree House, a new seasonal rental, seems to have come straight out of 1954, the year 8-year-old Don Puz left his now-famed bicycle in the woods off of Vashon Highway.
“It’s pretty much the same way as it was, though my sister has made some cosmetic improvements,” said Don, who is now in his 60s and whose sister Madeline Bost recently fixed up the house to be a rental.
The spacious 1920’s home is full of antique furniture, flowery wallpaper and framed, black-and-white family photos alongside those of Vashon scenes. Bedrooms are adorned with lace curtains, bedside oil lamps and patchwork quilts, and the bathroom holds a claw-foot bathtub.
And, of course, one wall is now filled with bike in the tree photos and memorabilia.
“It’s kind of like staying at grandma’s house,” said Bret Taitch, who manages the Bicycle in the Tree House and booked the Indiana couple’s stay. “It’s comfortable and kitschy, and the bike in the tree is really fun.”
As the new vacation rental suggests, the story of Vashon’s bike in the tree hasn’t lost steam. Decades after an old children’s bicycle was discovered lodged in a fir tree behind Sound Food, it continues to draw national and sometimes worldwide attention. Visitors still make their way to the curious sight; it’s on television now and then, and the advent of social media produced a wave of shared photos and stories about the bike, both true and rumored.
Bost, who is Don’s older sister and now lives in New Jersey, said she and her family have always been amused by the bike’s popularity and the swirl of rumors around it. However, Bost, who now works as a race organizer and freelance writer, didn’t give the bike too much thought until her aging mother, Helen Puz, moved out of their family home.
The sunny, three-room house near Center with a large lawn and breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, had been a beloved family place for nearly half a century, Bost said. Faced with either selling the home — a place she visited yearly — or finding a way to purchase it, Bost decided the modest house might appeal to visitors as a vacation rental, and the revenue would allow her to keep the home.
“The light bulb went off in my head,” Bost said.
Noting that the house doesn’t have a water view and lacks the “luxury items” found in some other rentals, Bost said she hoped the appeal of the bike in the tree would attract renters. She made some upgrades to the home, but was careful to leave all of Helen Puz’s furniture and décor.
“We wanted to keep the character of the way it was when she was raising her children,” Bost said.
While the bike in the tree has become an amusing tourist attraction, the bike’s story has its beginnings in a family tragedy.
In 1954, a fast-burning blaze swept through the Puz family home near Tahlequah. Everyone in the family of seven was gone that evening but the children’s father, Anthony Puz, who perished in the blaze. Islanders, moved by the tragedy, responded in tender Vashon style, offering up clothes, furniture, financial support and a new bike for Don.
But the bicycle wasn’t his favorite. It had hard, solid rubber tires “and skinny little handlebars like a tricycle,” he said. “I was too big a kid to ride it.”
So one day, when he and his friends were playing in the woods, Don left his bike behind and headed home to where his family now lived — about 100 feet away. He never returned to fetch his bike.
“I didn’t want it, and it disappeared, and I never gave it another thought,” Don said.
After the bike was discovered in the woods behind Sound Food in the 1980s, making headlines and garnering attention,both Don — who had a long career as a sheriff’s deputy on Vashon — and his mother Helen paid a visit.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one that had been given to us,” Don recalled. “It looked identical, except for it was in a tree.”
The story of the bike has followed Don to Kennewick, Wash., where he now lives and still gets calls from reporters once in a while. The bike was featured on local news stations and a Japanese television show; Berkeley Breathed wrote a children’s book inspired by the bike, and a restaurant on Vashon is even named after it.
Once, Don said, someone from the Today show called to inquire about interviewing him, but the time producers chose was during a Seahawks playoff game. Don, a fan of the Hawks, declined to be on the show.
“They didn’t want to wait,” he said.
And with the advent of the internet and social media, Don says, the bike has been gaining more attention. Photos of the bike have circulated online, often accompanied by a false tale of a soldier leaving the bike behind before he left to fight in World War I.
He and Bost are quick to point out that the bike is much too small for someone old enough to go to war, but Bost said she doesn’t mind the rumors.
“I think it’s fun because it adds to the whole thing,” she said.
Helen Puz, who raised her five children at the home near Center, became more well known for her avid gardening and volunteer work than her connection to the bike in the tree, and in 2002, she was named the Strawberry Festival Grand Marshal. She died at 99 years old last June, and there was a standing-room only memorial service at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Bost said.
While Helen never knew her home would become a rental, she always got a kick out of the bike, Bost said, and she thinks she would get a kick out of the Bicycle in the Tree House.
“I think this would have pleased her a lot,” she said. “The whole idea is to keep the sense of Helen Puz’s house.”
Some of Bost’s siblings were skeptical about whether their old family home would attract renters, she said, but the place was booked nearly all summer long. As it turns out, Bost said, good vacation rentals are in high demand on Vashon in the summer. A long-term renter will occupy the place through next spring.
“I didn’t need the publicity (of the bike),” she said. “All I needed was a nice house located in the center of Vashon.”
On a wall in the house dedicated to the bike, photos of the bike over the years, newspaper articles and a an essay written by Bost now weave together what she calls the true story of the bike in the tree. While the Puz story seems to have quelled any other tales, its still unknown exactly the bike got up in the tree. Did Don stick it in a low-hanging branch without remembering, or did a prankster put it up there later?
“Maybe that’s the only mystery left,” Bost said.