2024 Find of the Month Archive

Goat banquet

goat eating brush

"Goats to Munch on Invasive Plants at York Park!" was the headline of a 2005 media advisory from the Department of Parks and Recreation. The text went on to explain that the goats' lunch would help clear ground for a new park on the site of a former City Light substation. The park, located between Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and Rainier Avenue, was in an area that the York Park Task Force referred to as "Chubby and Tubby Heights."

Parks Department communications manager Dewey Potter knew the local media loved stories about goats at work, so when she heard rumors of the planned event, she reached out to the task force to offer help with publicity. (The media advisory described the task force as "an eclectic community support group comprising an architect, a bus driver, a nurse, a librarian, a craftsperson, a Snoqualmie elder, and a senior marketing consultant-dilettante-artist-activist of immense dedication but uncertain temper.")

The goats' feast was to include "the spring temptations presented by invasive plants, especially Himalayan blackberries." Since more than one goat would be needed to clear the site, the group hired Goat Busters to bring in three critters to do the chomping. The initial plan had been to use "our neighborhood pal Wile E. Goat, a most handsome Nubian-Alpine cross," but he preferred to dine without other goats around, so he was relegated to the role of mascot.

Bridges vs. tunnels

tunnel plan

With the Lake Washington Ship Canal due to open in 1917, Seattle began to plan for how people and vehicles were going to cross the newly widened waterway. A bond issue to fund bridges was to go on the ballot in the fall of 1913, but an engineer named J.W. Johnson wrote to City Council with an alternative plan.

Over half of his 4-page letter was dedicated to explaining why bridges were a bad idea and not at all what was needed for a town "destined to be a world city." Johnson argued that bridges would impede ships in the canal, would slow wagon traffic when opened or under repair, and would require an "appalling" level of expenses for maintenance and operation (he estimated $8000 per year per bridge). He also believed a bridge would last just 15 years before needing to be completely rebuilt.

Johnson predicted that with the coming opening of the Panama Canal, hundreds of thousands of people would come to settle in Seattle needing homes and employment and increasing traffic, adding, "We cannot build for the present Seattle; we must build for the future." Bridges "will not serve our purpose" - but luckily, he had another proposal ready to go. He contended that a tunnel could be built for the same cost as building and maintaining a bridge "for a given period" and that the tunnel would be "everlasting" if properly constructed.

He included a map with two suggested tunnel locations, as well as two drawings showing areas for streetcars, wagons, pedestrians, and utilities. He envisioned the tunnels to be 50 feet wide and 18 feet high, with concrete construction, brick pavement, and glazed tile interior walls. His estimated cost was $200 per foot for a total of $500,000 per tunnel. He anticipated the council's sticker shock at this number but argued that "we cannot expect to become a world port unless we offer every facility to the world."

The council appeared not to seriously investigate Johnson's proposal, as his letter was placed on file and they went ahead with the bridge bond issue that fall. The ballot measure did not pass, but the following year voters approved bonds for bridges in Ballard and Fremont.

Operation Cue

Operation Cue observer handbook

A file in Mayor Allan Pomeroy's records alerts us to the existence of Operation Cue, a federal program designed to bring public officials from around the country to Nevada to witness an atomic test and discuss civil defense. Pomeroy was invited to a "shot" scheduled for April 1955 and was sent a form to fill out certifying he was a U.S. citizen.

He also received the Operation Cue Observer Handbook, which included information about the program, registration and lodging logistics, advice on what to wear, and more. A section on security noted that access to the site was controlled because "there are things going on...that potential enemies would like to know about." Observers were advised to pay attention to security briefings to avoid embarrassment and to "accept it cheerfully" if told something was out of bounds.

One page of the handbook related to safety at the test site. Detailed instructions were given regarding protecting one's eyes from the flash (either using high-density goggles or turning away from the test and squinting), as well as how to manage the shock wave. There were also warnings about snakes, rough ground ("under no circumstances should ladies wear high heels"), and wires that could be tripping hazards. No explicit mention was made of radioactivity, although observers were instructed not to pick up souvenirs from the ground.

Participants were advised that the test could be delayed by weather conditions or other factors, which did indeed happen to with the test Pomeroy was scheduled to attend. The mayor's notes indicate that he instead spent his time in Las Vegas meeting with various people, attending a "lousy show," and touring bars until 2 am before flying back to Seattle.

Mary Fischer gets her reward

Ordinance 3732 authorized a $100 payment to Mary Fischer as a reward for information leading to the capture of one David Denee. 1890 editions of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer vividly describe the backstory of Denee's crime and Fischer's role in his capture.

The "dime novel desperado," as he was dubbed by the newspaper, had gone to the Elite Club on Cherry Street between Second and Third in hopes of earning a payout at a gambling table. He started playing the card game faro when the club opened at 10 am on January 27, losing twice. On the third hand, he drew a revolver on the dealer and demanded $200, eventually shooting the doorman and running from the building with the money. The shooter was unknown to all in the club and was presumed to be newly arrived in town. The police chief announced a $100 reward for information leading to his capture, with another $150 offered by the sheriff.

That evening, Denee went to the Fischers' boarding house near Sixth and King and asked for a room. Mrs. Fischer noted his nervous manner and attempts to conceal his face, and became convinced that he was the wanted man. She acted normally with Denee but relayed her suspicions to her husband, who headed to police headquarters to inform the authorities. Policemen staked out the room until the next morning, when Denee was captured after first trying to escape out a window. A headline in the following day's newspaper declared, "The Robber Caught – He is But a Beardless Boy."

The P-I announced that the $250 in reward money "will be divided between Mrs. Fischer, who gave the first information of Denee's presence in the city to the police, and those officers who took an active part in his capture." However, actually collecting the reward took a great deal of perseverance on Mary Fischer's part. In August 1894, more than four years after the incident, Fischer wrote to City Council to remind them that she was waiting for her compensation. She pointed out that the clerk had been instructed to draw a warrant for $100 back in February of 1890, but that it had never been done "although often requested to do so." Apparently this petition still did not shake loose the money, as she wrote again in December to "take this means of reminding you" about the reward. An ordinance was finally passed in March 1895 appropriating the $100 to Mrs. Fischer.

Aid for the unemployed

five men standing near bricks, 1915

In late 1914, Police Chief Austin Griffiths grew concerned about the increasing number of unemployed Seattleites. He wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council on November 5 pointing out how one shelter, the Workingmen's Home, was at capacity and turning away many who needed a place to sleep.

He suggested possible ways for the facility to house more people, including building an addition, adding a third tier of bunks, and allowing people to sleep on the floor. He also proposed delaying the demolition of the nearby pest house so people in need could sleep there, giving assurances that it had been "thoroughly fumigated." (Longtime readers may recall that the pest house had housed smallpox patients and was burned down shortly after this, to great rejoicing by the neighborhood.)

In a second letter, dated November 10, Chief Griffiths widened his scope. He opened by writing, "I beg to call your attention from a police point of view to the necessity for adequate provision to care for the unemployed. Unless times soon change for the better it will be necessary to choose between providing men with work or furnishing them on a large scale food, shelter and clothing."

He again pointed out that the Workingmen's Home was full, and added that an increasing number were coming to the city jail for overnight shelter. He mentioned that many unemployed men were stranded "in the Washington Street and Occidental Avenue part of the city," continuing, "It is not humane neither is it practical to attempt to drive these unemployed persons" out of Seattle. He stressed that the number of people needing shelter and food "is not a police problem but is a social problem":

In the main these conditions are social and not always individual in their origin and must be dealt with by social action and not by police methods. The police are unable where the numbers are so great to sift out the worthy unemployed from those who are unwilling to work at all and who are properly known as vagrants. But unless society acts through the legislative branch of the city government, or through voluntary agencies does put forth organized effort to provide adequate means for caring for the worthy unemployed, the matter is left to the police to handle as best they may. Necessarily the handling under these conditions amounts to suppression and the lumping together of good and bad, and does more harm than good. To the misfortune of being without work is often added the stigma of being treated as a vagrant or criminal.

City Council passed an ordinance later that month providing for "relief and care" of the unemployed of Seattle, to take effect immediately.

Elton John plays tennis

Elton John and Bill McGrath at Seattle Tennis Center

When Elton John played a sold out show at KeyArena in May 1999, the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer both printed glowing reviews with details about the concert. They reported that he wore a purple plaid suit and a skull-and-crossbones earring, and was accompanied only by his piano (as well as smoke effects and a light show). He played and sang for nearly three hours, leading the P-I’s review to be headlined "Elton Fans Treated to a Marathon."

Perhaps his stamina for performing was increased by his daily exercise at city recreation facilities while he was in the area. A Parks Department newsletter from that August spilled the beans on how he’d been keeping busy while not on stage, in this article written by Seattle Tennis Center director Bill McGrath:

By night he was captivating thousands of fans with his sold-out solo piano concerts in Portland, Seattle, and Spokane. But by day, he was on the court at the Seattle Tennis Center, playing the game that he so loves.

For one week in late May, Elton John played every morning with his own fellow Brit tennis pro, Chris Clark, at the Seattle Tennis Center. The scene was much the same every day, with Elton arriving in a black limo accompanied by his bodyguard who doubled as match scorekeeper.

I’d rate Elton a solid 4.0. He played a defensive style against the serve and volley, attacking Clark. Using a combination of crisp passing shots, off pace low balls and lobs, he appeared to hold his own.

Our staff at the Tennis Center kept a wrap on Elton’s presence on the courts, so he was able to play without being noticed by the other players.

The facility was renamed the Amy Yee Tennis Center in 2002 to honor a local woman who had offered free tennis clinics to adults and youth for over thirty years.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.