Underground in Seattle

This is the blog of a 25-year-old bookmark. I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Are you interested in the seamier side of Seattle? Or even the seamstresses of Seattle? This worm was not, until recently. Then me and the TC took the Seattle Underground Tour and emerged with a new understanding of the way sewers, seawater and seamstresses have shaped this great city.

Our Underground Tour guide gave us a hilarious potted (or perhaps “pottied” would be more appropriate) version of Seattle history. According to our guide, the original designer of the city took no account of the twice-daily high tide that capriciously plagued the area where he wanted to build his city. As a result, the downtown streets were always either under water or dangerously muddy.

This problem was compounded when the indoor toilet came into vogue. Now the rich folks at the top of the hill sent their waste down the hill via a single wooden sewer pipe. All was fine and dandy at low tide. But when the water rose, as it still insisted on doing twice a day, it reversed the flow in the pipe. Downtown toilets became geysers, spouting a mixture of sea water and sewage some ten feet into the air. Downtown streets were even more of a morass than before.

This seemed to be an intractable problem, until the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Read on to discover the solution. And the seamstresses.

Travel tip

Seattle has lots of great coffee shops. It’s cold in Seattle, especially underground. The underground tour lasts a long 90 minutes. Taking all these factors into account, it’s a good idea to make use of a toilet when there’s one at hand.

Recommended restaurant

Icon Grill, 5th Avenue, Seattle. The glasswork is impressive if a little overwhelming. The food is good too.

The book I’m in

The Girl who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland.

This worm is delighted to be ensconced in a good, spine-stiffening book

The photos

Me, with Peg acting as counterweight, hanging nonchalantly from a tap under the Seattle streets:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Underneath the Seattle sidewalks lurks an alternative city. You walk on pavements, with buildings rising at your side, just as if you were above ground. Windows and doors appear in their rightful place on the walls. But above your head is the underneath of the pavement!

The Underground Tour has an interesting history of its own. In 1954, Bill and Shirley Speidel came up with the idea in an effort to save the older parts of the city from property developers. The final straw, so we were told, was when the old Seattle Hotel was torn down to make way for the “Sinking Ship” parking garage:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

The Underground Tour starts off in the old Pioneer Building, built in 1891 after the Great Fire and once acknowledged as the most beautiful building in Seattle:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Here we are in the darkly atmospheric Doc Maynard’s Pub, inside the Pioneer Building. The tour guide is preparing us for the great underground excursion:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Going down…

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Underground:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

There’s a lot of room down there, and a lot of old junk. This young dude is checking out the debris while his mother examines the supports holding up the road above our heads:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

The story is that the Great Fire of Seattle in 1889 was a blessing in disguise. It destroyed all the old wooden buildings and gave the city a chance for a complete face lift. The city decided to raise the level of the streets, to avoid that twice-daily dunking in muck.

Meanwhile, building owners started enthusiastically reconstructing their own private buildings, in brick instead of wood this time, but at the original street level. Huh. So come a certain date, they had to abandon the lower floors of their buildings when the city simply built the new road above their heads.

Hence the gap. Hence the Underground Tour. And all largely thanks to the indoor toilet, if our tour guide is to be believed. As convincing evidence, the tour operators have left various water closets strategically placed at points in the tour for us to see:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Missed that one? No worries, here’s another, nicely framed with its own mood lighting:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Toilets aside, there are scenes of weird beauty down there too, like these two glass windows left hanging in an archway:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

We saw people’s feet walk over skylights in the sidewalk above our heads, like this one:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

Me still underground, hanging about with an old sign the TC found lying on its side. It must date from the early days of the Underground Tour:

Underground in Seattle

Underground in Seattle

And what about the seamstresses, you ask? They were, of course, not seamstresses but rather ladies of the night who plied their trade in the old downtown streets of Seattle. The city authorities at one time considered driving them away. But then some entrepreneurial councillor realised that real money was exchanging hands here. So, as our tour guide remarked, the city imposed a sin tax on “liquor, gambling and sewing”. And so the “seamstresses” played their part in supporting the city too.

That’s all for today dudes.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I sew! Please don’t hold that fact against me!

  2. Hallo Rhonda girl,

    I could never hold anything against you! But, a word from the wise worm: Have you let the tax man know?

    This worm will let you into a little secret: I have seen the TC knitting on occasion. Hrrm.

    On to more seemly and less seamy matters😉 Would these attractive articles be some of your handiwork? A little bird told me about them and I was uncharacteristically impressed. (This worm usually avoids little birds as they have a distressing history on the worm front. But they are occasional bearers of good tips, as in the case of Rhonda Made It.)

    Yours ineluctably
    Wordsworm

  3. You found me out, you detective you! Yes, they are mine. I find working with fabric creating little pieces of art very meditative and therapeutic — and it gets me away from the computer where I seem to spend most of my life!

    Seamy matters, indeed!


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