Sunday, June 24, 2012
Seattle - Underground Walking Tour
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, in 1889 a small grease fire caused by spilt glue grew a great fire that wiped out the entire town. It did not help that the fire started in a carpentry shop full of sawdust, rags and turpentine, that most of the town was made of wood, that nearby stores contained dynamite and loose ammunition, and the fire chief was out of town, leaving inexperienced volunteers to try to fight the fire. Being low tide, there was insufficient water so the firefighters tried to contain the fire by blowing up buildings. Not knowing how to do this properly, they just caused the fire to spread more.
On the bright side, this gave Seattle the opportunity to rebuild and regrade their town on higher ground. Eight foot tall retaining walls were built above the old town using the rubble of the fire as land fill. This resulted in the series of tunnels and walkways representing the original town that are now part of the Underground Walking Tour.
During prohibition, the tunnels were used to transport illegal alcohol smuggled in from Canada. People started dumping their garbage down there and for while, the tunnels were closed due to bubonic plague and rat infestation (our tour group squirmed uncomfortably during this part). To ease the rat situation, the city offered to pay 10 cents for every rat tail captured. This plan backfired as youths started raising rats in order to turn them in for the reward.
There was an archival photo and many souvenirs of Madame Lou Graham, who ran Seattle's most profitable brothel, although she called her girls "seamstresses" and so they became her "sewing circle". The tour guide sardonically talked about how Seattle in the 1880s became the early "fashion capital" with 2500 seamstresses registered within a 3 block area. The town levied a $10/month sewing machine tax but the tax collector could not find a single machine. Upon her death, Lou Graham donated a quarter of a million dollars to the school system.