2017 Find of the Month Archive

The desperado

council bill

The hunt for escaped convict Harry Tracy was a top story in the summer of 1902. Tracy and his fellow prisoner David Merrill broke out of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem and headed north into Washington. Somewhere near Chehalis, Tracy shot Merrill in the back and continued north, eventually hijacking a boat in Olympia and landing it north of Ballard.

Tracy traveled to Bothell, where he shot two Snohomish County deputies in a gun battle, killing one and wounding the other. From there he headed south on a road following the railroad tracks and hitched a ride with a Green Lake farmer to the far side of Woodland Park. Tracy then entered the home of Mrs. R.H. Van Horn at 5011 Phinney Avenue with his gun drawn, asking for dinner and a change of clothes.

After several hours of polite conversation inside the house, Mrs. Van Horn managed to alert a grocery delivery boy that Tracy was in the house. The boy sped back to Fremont to share the news, and the posse that was already out looking for the convict quickly made their way up to Phinney Ridge. Another shootout ensued, in which a Seattle police officer and another member of the posse were both shot and killed. Tracy escaped again.

Several days after this shootout, Council Bill 462 was introduced with the following language:

WHEREAS, Tracy, the Oregon escaped convict, has been at large in this community and terrorized the residents; and

WHEREAS, by his hand, E.E. Breece, a police officer of Seattle, met his death, and a citizen of Fremont, while a member of a posse, in a battle with the desperado, was also killed; Now, Therefore,

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF SEATTLE AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. That the Board of Public Works be and they hereby are authorized and directed to offer a reward of one thousand (1000) dollars for the capture of Tracy.

Section 2. That the sum of one thousand (1000) dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated from the General Fund for the uses and purposes hereinabove set forth.

By the time the bill was introduced, Tracy had been to Ravenna, to Bainbridge Island, back to the mainland in Renton (where he escaped another posse), and then south to Kent. Along the way he kept homeowners and farmers captive, demanded meals and clothing, and pressed men into service to row him across the Sound. From Kent he headed into Eastern Washington. Almost two months after his escape from prison, he was confronted a final time by law enforcement in Lincoln County, was wounded in a gun battle, and took his own life.

Ivar's offer

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Restauranteur Ivar Haglund wrote to City Council in April 1946 offering to donate five gallons of red paint to the Fire Department to liven up the “dingy grey” smokestack of the fireboat parked on the waterfront. He wrote:

It is time the good ship Alki was artistically reconverted… For some time I have been planning to invite the Honorable City Council to come to the opening of my new place in May, where the finest and freshest piscatorial delicacies from Puget Sound will be featured. But I hesitate to invite you when while eating chowder from clam, cocktail from the shrimp and louie from the crab, you would have to gaze out the spacious windows at that drab grey fireboat Alki.

Council forwarded Ivar’s letter to Fire Chief William Fitzgerald, who sounded a bit disgruntled in his response:

The Fireboat Alki is a work boat, a fire fighting unit. The stack is painted primarily for utilitarian reasons, to conserve the metal from rust and corrosion; secondarily, for esthetic reasons, appearance.

At the present time the vessel is in a good state of repair and presents an appearance that should not jar the esthetic senses of anyone.

However, when more paint is indicated on the stack, this Department will duly consider Mr. Haglund’s ideas as to appearance, using our own paint.

Council invited both Ivar and the chief to a meeting of the Public Safety Committee, but apparently the gift of paint was not accepted and the Alki remained grey. In May of the following year Ivar wrote again, renewing his offer and pleading for the boat to be “dolled up a little bit.” He noted that with the new addition to the waterfront of the fireboat Duwamish – with not one but two gray smokestacks – the view from his restaurant was now “three times worse.”

Council forwarded this second letter to Chief Fitzgerald, who seemed tired of the whole affair. He wrote that the question was explored in detail the year before, “and administratively, this office has considered the matter conclusively disposed of.” He again recommended that the offer be declined, although this time he gave as the reason a departmental policy not to “accept gratuities of any nature or kind from the public, not even a cigar.”

Segregation at the beach

James Wheeler, president of the Mt. Baker Park Improvement Club, wrote the following letter to the Board of Parks Commissioners in July 1938:

We are writing you this letter to ask you advice and help on a problem that is an extreme source of irritation to many of our residents in the Mt. Baker Park area. The bathing beach at Mt. Baker Park which our people are accustomed to use, is, year after year, attracting more and more Japanese. No Japanese either rents or owns property in Mt. Baker Park proper, nor can they; and the use of the bathing beach in the center of our district by these people is openly criticized.

We recognize that certain civil rights allow the Japanese the use of this beach; however, our property is adjacent to and entirely surrounds it, and we thereby feel that we have prior rights over those who come to this district from non-adjacent areas. Perhaps it is futile to suggest restrictions in the use of our public beaches, and we are not asking that but suggesting the development of some plan that would allow segregation.

We have in mind, the provision of another and smaller float at the beach between the present float and the boat house to carry signs that its use is restricted to residents of the Mt. Baker Park area. The present beach and float would then be left open to the general public. Such a plan without any attendant publicity on the reason would hurt no one and would certainly please our people in this area. We would be glad if you will discuss this with your board members and advise us.

In a responding letter, Park Board president James Gibbs agreed that the two-raft solution was a good one because “the matter of segregation become almost automatic, without the necessity of arousing a certain amount of antagonism and ill feeling by the placing of signs or directions.” His objection to the plan was only with the financing, as there were not city funds available at that time. He asked whether Mt. Baker residents would be willing to raise money to build the raft.

Wheeler wrote back thanking Gibbs for his letter but saying that neighborhood funding was not possible, given the club’s deficit and other considerations. He urged the Park Board to continue to search for a solution:

The oriental problem has become a matter of great concern throughout the district, and the bathing beach is overrun every day of the summer by Japanese. With your cooperation, I feel confident that this problem can be solved in some manner, and I feel certain that it will be one of our principle matters of interest in the future.

letter letter letter

Letters from box 39, folder 10, Don Sherwood Parks History Files (Record Series 5801-01)

Timothy Leary

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A file in Mayor Dorm Braman’s records illustrates the uproar caused by a planned visit to the city by Timothy Leary in 1967. A promoter had arranged to rent the Opera House at Seattle Center for Leary’s “psychedelic religious celebration.” A newspaper ad for the event promised “sensory meditation, symbol-overload, media-mix, molecular and cellular phrasing, pantomime, dance, sound-light and lecture-sermon-gospel.”

As citizens learned about the event, they began to write to the mayor. One resident wrote, “I see you are still going to have that LSD ‘ministerial conference’ in Seattle Center… So you want to start an opium den at the Center? Pls explain reasons.” Mayor Braman and the City Council were opposed to Leary’s appearance in the city facility, and eventually voted to deny his use of the Opera House. Leary later sued, but the case was dismissed.

The file includes a document titled “Confidential Report on Dr. Leary and His Psychedelic Religion.” The report describes Leary’s drug arrests and his “new religion called the League for Spiritual Discovery (L.S.D.),” along with an explanation of his “tune in, turn on, drop out” mantra.

Also included are numerous citizen letters. While some writers agreed with the public health nurse who declared that “social problems are not resolved by government decree,” sentiment ran about two to one in favor of the city’s action. In a response to one of his supporters, Mayor Braman wrote, “I am confident that the vast majority of the good people of this city feel just as you do – that no good can come out of providing forum for such trashy individuals as Leary to fulminate their nonsense.”

Electric vehicles

As national concern began to develop about fossil fuels, pollution, and other environmental issues, Seattle City Light (SCL) began some early experimentation with electric vehicles. In 1968, SCL introduced the Electruc, which was an experimental electric-powered utility truck. A sign painted on the truck read, “Your bright new future is all electric!”

Research and development continued in the 1970s. City Light photos from 1973 show a prototype electric car made from a modified AMC Gremlin. The car was powered by 24 rechargeable six-volt batteries and could run for about 50 miles at highway speeds before needing to be recharged. SCL developed an “Electro Park” charging station for the vehicle.

Then in 1976, City Light designed another prototype electric vehicle, the RT1, which could travel up to 75 miles on one charge of its eight six-volt batteries. The four-passenger car was only seven feet long and five feet wide, and took up one-fifth the parking space of a typical car from that period. The vehicle was created with funding from SCL’s Research and Development budget.

The RT1 was conceptualized as part of a downtown restricted transportation zone from which most internal combustion vehicles would be barred. City Light envisioned this zone, full of electric cars like the RT1, as nearly eliminating transportation pollution in the urban core.

Electruc Electro Park RT1
Electruc, 1968
Item no. 78726, Seattle Municipal Archives
Electro Park charging station, 1973
Item no. 181159, Seattle Municipal Archives

RT1 electric car prototype, 1976
Item no. 175218, Seattle Municipal Archives

Search warrants

In 1894, eleven Chinese businessmen wrote the following letter to Seattle’s Board of Police Commissioners to express concerns about illegal property searches:

signatures

The undersigned, Chinese merchants of the City of Seattle, respectfully represent that it is the habit and custom of some of the detectives on the Police force of the City of Seattle, to enter their residences and places of business, at all hours of the day and night, and without warrant, to search through their premises.

We would respectfully call your attention to the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which reads as follows –

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

And also to Section 7, Article 1, of the Constitution of the State of Washington, which reads as follows –

“No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.”

We are advised that both the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of the Constitution of State of Washington, are being violated by these officers. We desire to be law abiding residents of the State of Washington, and ask that your Honorable Body instruct the detectives on the police force that they at least respect these Constitutional provisions.

The Board apparently asked Police Chief Bolton Rogers to look into the complaint. About three weeks later, he reported to the Board that “I have been unable to find any case where an officer of this department has entered a Chinese house and searched the same without having a proper search warrant with him.”

Rain fatigue

Seattleites in the throes of rain fatigue can relate to City Council’s sentiment from 20 years ago. Unrelenting rain led the Council to propose the following resolution in 1997:

Expressing hope, against hope, that at some point Mother Nature will bless the Pacific Northwest in general, and if not, at least Seattle in particular with what we vaguely recall is called Summer.

WHEREAS, thunderstorms interspersed with sunbreaks represent an improvement, but fail to meet Council’s summer expectations; and

WHEREAS, there has been sufficient wet and dark to drive away even the most persistent Californians for several years; and

WHEREAS, the City coffers cannot long afford the rate at which its most taxworthy private real estate is sliding into Puget Sound; and

WHEREAS, the slugs have all drowned; and

WHEREAS, there is a limit to how much green tomato a City of 500,000 can eat; and

WHEREAS, the Fourth of July sunshine demonstrates that Mother Nature knows how to do it right;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE, THE MAYOR CONCURRING, THAT:

The weather is directed to immediately start acting like SUMMER, or the City Council, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and all sunscreen manufacturers will move their teams to Arizona.

The resolution passed 8-0. Given that resolutions are unenforceable, it is unknown whether the weather complied with the Council’s directive.

Anti-Nazi resolution

As the world watched Germany with alarm in late 1938, Seattle City Council discussed the following resolution:

A RESOLUTION condemning the persecution of Jews and Catholics, warning against Nazi inspired stimulation of anti-Semitism in this and other cities, and requesting the President of the United States and Secretary of State to take appropriate action.

WHEREAS, the wanton persecution of German Jews and Catholics is spreading despair among hundreds of Seattle’s most respected citizens, whose friends and relatives are at the mercy of Nazi mobs intent upon reviving in Germany an intolerance repugnant to all civilized men and women and completely out of keeping with the ideals at the basis of American democracy; and,

WHEREAS, the only aid that can be given to the unfortunate victims of this persecution must come from outside the Third Reich; and,

WHEREAS, the best answer to Herr Goering’s brazen demand that Americans keep quiet or else is a demonstration from every walk of American life that his threats cannot prevent free citizens from expressing indignation against tyranny; and,

WHEREAS, President Roosevelt has from time to time expressed our nation’s sympathy for the helpless minorities within Germany’s borders; Now, Therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE:

That, speaking for thousands of liberty loving Seattle citizens, we condemn the wholesale persecution of Jews and Catholics in Nazi Germany and warn against Nazi inspired attempts to stir up racial and religious hatred in this and other Pacific Coast cities; and,

That we respectfully petition President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull to exercise every peaceful means in renewed efforts to stop the atrocities committed against thousands of German citizens, guilty of no crime except membership in a proscribed race or church; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we send copies of this resolution to President Roosevelt, Secretary Cordell Hull, and the German Consulate.

Attached to the draft resolution was a report from the Council’s Judiciary Committee recommending that the words “and we further condemn Naziism [sic], Fascism and Communism” be added to the end of the first paragraph of the “be it resolved” section.

The resolution was stamped “indefinitely postponed” and was eventually retired without passage.

Frasier

Call sheet

The sitcom “Frasier” put Seattle on the TV map in the 1990s, but the show was filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, with stock shots of the city interspersed (including the mythical view from Frasier’s window). However, for the 100th episode, the cast and crew came to the city to film on location, including scenes at Seattle Center, in the Pike Place Market, and on board the monorail.

The plot of the episode revolves around a celebration of the lead character’s 1000th radio broadcast, with a “Frasier Crane Day” mayoral proclamation and a large rally in Frasier’s honor at the base of the Space Needle. Mayor Norm Rice appears briefly in the episode, in this scene with the British character Daphne, who is having difficulty renewing her passport in time to take advantage of a free Mexican vacation:

DAPHNE: Excuse me, Mayor Rice?

MAYOR: Yes?

DAPHNE: I have a small bone to pick with you. I can’t say I care for the way your city treats us poor aliens.

MAYOR: You’re an alien?

DAPHNE: Yes. Daphne Moon. My friend Xena and I – she’s an alien too – are trying to get to Mazatlan to rendezvous with her mother’s ship.

MAYOR: Her mothership?

DAPHNE: Yes, and from what I hear, it’s quite spectacular.

MAYOR: I’m sure it is. Why don’t you talk to these nice men here and they’ll see what they can do for you.

TWO MEN GENTLY BUT FIRMLY ATTACH THEMSELVES TO DAPHNE’S ARMS AND LEAD HER AWAY.

Real life imitated art while the show was in town: the city held an actual Frasier Day rally at Westlake Park featuring musical entertainment and introduction of the cast. As part of the event, local celebrities like Detlef Schrempf, Gerard Schwartz, Alex Rodriguez, and Bill Nye presented cast members (including Moose the dog) with gifts. The final gift was to the show’s star Kelsey Grammer, to whom Mayor Rice presented a “Frasier Way” street sign. Grammer also threw out the first pitch at a Mariners game.

Footage from the Westlake event ran through the end credits of the show with the caption “The Real Frasier Day Rally.”

"Reforestation"

Newspaper photo and caption

The issue of illegal tree-cutting comes up periodically in the city. In October 1970, the Seattle Times published an article about "wholesale pruning" outside the 5 Point Cafe downtown. The cafe's owner, Richard Smith, had cut down three sycamores because they were obscuring the business's sign. The trees were originally planted for the 1962 World's Fair and had grown to be about 25 feet tall, which Smith said was "too much." He said of the potential fine for cutting street trees, "I've blown $150 in a lot worse ways."

A group of University of Washington students read about the tree-cutting and decided to take action, arriving at the cafe with pickaxes, shovels, and two sycamore trees. They also brought signs reading "Thou Shall Not Kill," "$ vs. Trees," and "Going, Going, Gone." John Hinterberger of the Times described the ensuing scene:

The students put down their signs and picked up picks. They removed the asphalt covering and began digging out the stump of the tree. They had a 2-foot-deep hole in the sidewalk when Smith decided to do something.

First he called the newspapers; then he called the police.

Officers David Orange and F.D. McDonald arrived almost immediately. Three youths were digging furiously.

Officer Orange began cautiously.

"You digging that hole?" he asked. "Yep."

"Have you got a permit to dig that hole?"

"Nope."

"OK - you, you and you," Orange said. "Step over to the car, please."

Three more youths picked up shovels.

"Let's save time," Orange said. "Everybody who wants to dig, pick up the shovel and then come over to the car."

They all went.

Orange told them: "Look, you're probably going to get your tree planted anyway. Do you want to get a permit and do it the right way? Or do you want to go to jail?"

At this point an Engineering Department employee arrived on the scene and explained to the group how to obtain a permit, upon which one of the students jumped in her car to visit the street-use counter. Officer Orange allowed the digging to continue in the meantime, and the students successfully "reforested" Tillicum Square, with the appropriate permit.

WPA servant girl school

During the Great Depression, numerous projects were created by the federal government to train and employ the many jobless workers around the country. One such endeavor was the W.P.A.'s Household Service Demonstration Project. The project's Washington State supervisor, Mary Conrad, described it as follows:

This Project is designed for the purpose of training girls for household employment. Employable girls and women are taken from the Works Progress Administration rolls, and after training are placed in private industry, which procedure we hope will take several girls and women from the relief rolls of the City of Seattle.

City Council received the following letter of concern about the project from Local No. 2 of the Workers Alliance of Washington:

To the honorable City Council Seattle. This is to inform You that a resolution was adopted at our last meeting asking Your honorable body to take some action regarding W.P.A. project in the firm of a servant girl school. That after they complete the courses they are forced to accept employment with out regard to wages hours or conditions and if they do not accept are to be dropped from the relief rolls. We take the position that this practice is against the best interest of public morals and lowers the American standard of living of the women concerned.

Council placed the letter on file but does not appear to have attempted to influence the project's policies.