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Thursday, November 15, 2012

EXPLORING SEATTLE'S UNDERGROUND

The pergola, Pioneer Square

Down under the streets of Seattle near Pioneer Square, as we wander through a warren of tunnels an amusing and informative guide tells us of the city's early history. In the mid 19th century these 'streets' and passageways were ground level but after the streets were elevated they fell into disuse and are now a major tourist attraction. Pioneer Square is the city's oldest neighborhood.  The lovely wrought-iron pergoa was built in 1909 and underground there was a fancy bathroom which is now closed since the Seattle earthquake a few years ago. The term "Skid Row" was coined to describe the Square where huge logs shoved from the highlands west of town skidded downhill to the waterfront. There is a memorial at the Square for Chief Seattle whose people once lived on that land.

Chief Seattle
 
Totem
 
The tour groups meet in an old bar at the coffeeshop and ticket office of the Underground Tours. A guide tells the history of the city in a most entertaining way, preparing us for the tour.  Then we are divided into small groups and assigned another guide for our adventure under the streets of the city.

The old bar room
 
Entrance to the underground
 
When Seattle was first built up in the 1800's all the buildings were wooden. On June 6, 1889 a fire was accidentally ignited by an overturned glue pot and the fire bread so rapidly the core of the city was destroyed. To insure against a similar disaster, in future all streets had to be graded and new buildings had to be of stone or brick and only one to two stories high.
Touring the underground
 
 
Pioneer Square had been built on land-fill in the tideland's and as a consequence it often flooded. Flush toilets had to be installed that funnelled into Elliott Bay and made so that sewage didn't back up at high tide as it had before. When the new buildings were constructed, the ground floor would eventually be underground and the next floor up,was the new ground floor.


Brick arches provided the ceiling for the underground corridors and supported the sidewalks above. Streets were lined with concrete walls forming narrow alleyways between the walls and buildings.  Pedestrians had to climb ladders to go between street levels and the sidewalks in front of the building entrances. Skylights with small panes of clear glass were installed creating the area now known as the Seattle Underground.
Skylights

 
 
Toilet
 
The Underground was condemned in 1907 for fear of bubonic plague. The basements were left to deteriorate or were used as storage. Some became flophouses of the homeless, speakeasies and opium dens.

In 1965 a local citizen, Bill Speidel, established "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour", realizing there might be an interest in the underground ruins. Over the years this tour has become more popular and the underground structures have been refurbished.

Items in the Underground Museum
Printing press and typewriter
 
Copy of the original "Crapper" (named for the man who invented the first flush toilet)


There is also an adults-only Underworld Tour.  At one census report at the turn of the century there were reportedly 10,000 loggers living in Seattle and 2500 'seamstresses'.  These women, were of course prostitutes.  The most famous Madam in Seattle was Lou Graham. She had a bevy of 'seamstreses' working out of her house and ran a money-lending operation as well.  When she died in the early 1900s she bequeathed all her money to the Seattle school board.
Madam Graham is on the left and her four favorite girls (the prize one is in black)
In the Underground Museum you'll see a photo of Madam Graham and four of her most popular girls. There's a secret to this photo:  the one dressed in black was the most popular of the girls but clients had to know that in order to choose her for her special services.


Lou Graham's house of ill repute at Washington and 3rd Ave.

IF YOU GO:
The daily tours start on the hour from Pioneer Square, from 10 -7  May- Sept and 11 - 6 Oct-April.
The Underworld Tours is daily May - Sept 8 & 9 pm and October-April Thursday-Sat. at 7 & 8 pm.
608 First Avenue. Tickets at www.undergroundtour.com  or at the Underground Tour meeting place.

NEXT: The Pacific Science Centre and The Wonders of King Tut's Tomb.

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