On the weekend of September 26th, my wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating our 1st anniversary with a trip to Seattle. While there, we experienced many of the entertaining things the city has to offer, such as underground tours, the Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum, Space Needle, Theo Chocolate Factory and a myriad of wonderful and appetizing restaurants. Of note to me, was the underground tour, which is not necessarily unique to Seattle, as Portland, Salem, and other cities across the country have them, but was interesting because of the history behind WHY it exists.
Seattle was originally built very near the tide flats of Elliott Bay, where the tides were sometimes difficult to predict. The original settlers decided to avoid the water by building up the ground using materials which were available. Sawdust, and dirt. With these, they eventually built enough of a foundation to construct their city. Unfortunately, after they had built the majority of the buildings, they found that it still flooded regularly. After a catastrophic fire burned the city down, they were presented with an opportunity to start over. But rather than move the city, they decided to build over the top of the old one. And so they did. Erecting seawalls around each city block, and raising each building’s entrance one story higher, leaving a trench in the middle of each street thirteen feet deep. For some time, they had to use ladders on each side just to cross the street!
Eventually, they filled in as many of the trenches as they could with whatever they could find, including machinery, garbage, dead horses, sawdust, dirt, and spare parts. This raised the street level to the second story (the new ground floor) and allowed people to walk across the “street” again, leaving certain places below available for underground commerce during inclement weather.
As the years passed, the underground of Seattle fell more and more into disrepair, and became the lair of many undesirables, complete with opium dens, brothels, and black markets. Out of the various loathsome situations which would have occurred on any given day in these parts, there emerged legends and stories of citizens slighted whom turned into roaming ghosts.
As I become more interested in history as I grow older, it is entirely entertaining to me to imagine what these people must have gone through, and how they must have lived those hundred fifty years ago. Seattle, “The Queen City of the Northwest”, or “The Gateway to the Riches of the Orient”, is a real testament to the empire builders, pioneers, and indigenous tribes who all struggled together to build and maintain a community which would endure to this day.