2008 Find of the Month Archive

Seattle songs

Seattle Songs

Over the years, many have memorialized Seattle in song. In 1961, one Ethelyn Hartwich sent the Council a ditty about keeping Seattle clean. Twenty years later, a man wrote from Mexico sending his own Seattle song, written entirely in Spanish.

A song called "I Want to See Seattle" was sent on CD and included lines such as, "I want to see the river/Where the sockeye salmon quiver." Another CD contained a 2001 salute to baseball titled "All Star Town," with verses that included:

It's goin' down in Seattle Town
Everyone comin' round
Getting stoked - cup a Joe
Biggest ticket in the show

One song that received wider distribution was titled "Seattle, My Own Home Town," which was written in 1952 and recorded by the Mercer Island Children's Choir in the early 1980s. A citizen sent Mayor Royer the sheet music along with a P-I column which claimed that if you could listen to it without tapping your feet, "then part of you is dead."

However, Seattle's official song predates all of these. In May 1909 Arthur O. Dillon petitioned the City Council to adopt "Seattle the Peerless City" as the city song.

Seattle City Song

Words by: Arthur O. Dillon
Music by: Glenn W. Ashley

Seattle sits on seven hills,
Her glory is unfurled,
At her feet is Puget Sound,
Where moves The Commerce of the world.

Hail to the Peerless City,
Metropolis of the west,
The gateway to the Orient,
Whom grandeur hath caressed!

Her bosom's gemm'd with pearly lakes,
The mountains tower near;
The fir tree forest skirts her bound;
The beauty of earth is here.


Her men and women active, proud,
Seattle build sublime,
And greater far than ancient Rome,
The matchless for all time.


True love and art shall flourish here,
The heart's sweet, tender theme,
Upholders of the truth here dwell,
The dreamers of the Dream.


The Finance Committee recommended the song be adopted, providing Councilmember Frederick Sawyer sang it for the Council. Sawyer apparently did so, as the petition was subsequently granted.

Ivar's salmon banner


After restaurateur Ivar Haglund bought the Smith Tower for $1.8 million in 1976, he installed a 16-foot salmon windsock on the flagpole at the top of the building. Seattle's Department of Buildings promptly notified him that the flag was in violation of the city's building code and asked that it be removed. As Ivar was known for writing in verse, the Superintendent of Buildings, Alfred Petty, sent a poem in addition to the official violation letter. It read, in part:

Since your kite is clearly in violation,
You must remove that illegal installation.

Word about the dispute got out and the poetry flew. The P-I wrote an editorial in verse that ended:

Ivar has our sympathies in this fight
Against these bureaucratic shams.
We adore his salmon banner,
Swimming over acres of clams.

Citizens also wrote to the city on the issue. Apart from one writer who thought it was a "disgrace" that the salmon was being flown higher than the American flag, the rest of the feedback supported Ivar and the banner. Letters stated that "small, dull thinking shouldn't knock [the flag] down," and that "Seattle needs a free spirit like Ivar's." One citizen got into the spirit and wrote a poem that began:

We know that you must do your job,
But don't be petty, Petty!
What matter if the salmon flies
From building or from jetty?

The city eventually granted Haglund a variance (the hearing examiner's decision concluded with four stanzas of verse) and the flag was allowed to stay. According to the P-I, Ivar said the best part about the decision was that it would stop a lot of bad poetry. After he died in 1985, the salmon banner was flown at half-mast.

Fan letter

The following letter was received by the Mayor's Office in 1971:

March 2, 1971
5:00 p.m.

Dear Mayor Uhlman,
This is sort-of a fan letter and sort-of not. This will probably sound stupid, but here goes anyway. I just want to say that I think that you are doing a great job as mayor. No one else could do a better job.

In case you are wondering, I'm a fifteen year old student out here at St. Edward's Seminary. To be truthful, I'm writing this letter to ask a favor of you. If it is at all possible, I would like very much if I could meet actor Richard Chamberlain. I figured that you are the man to help me meet him. I hope that you get to read this letter, because if no one else thinks that this letter is important, I do.

I'm one of Mr. Chamberlain's biggest (I'm only a little over 5 ft.) fans, and I'd do just about anything to meet him. So please help me to meet him. If you want you could tell Mr. Chamberlain that it could help publicity.

Thank you very much for all your trouble. Thank you very much.

[name redacted]

Note: Chamberlain appeared in Richard II at the Seattle Rep that year. It is not known whether the student (or the mayor) ever met him.

Bowling alleys

Bowling 1 of 2
Bowling 2 of 2

The loss of bowling alleys has recently created some gloom in Seattle, but in earlier years, the building of such facilities often caused alarm. A 1950 petition from Queen Anne residents protesting plans to build an alley in their neighborhood cited parking problems, "noise and racket," and depreciation of property values. It also claimed that "such a bowling center contributes nothing to the best interests of the community" and would be "certain to become a hang-out for juveniles." Additionally, the petition objected to the expected presence of pinball machines, concessions, "and other devices designed to extract money from the public."

A 1946 plan to build an alley on Roosevelt Way brought out similar concerns from neighborhood residents. A petition argued that since Roosevelt "is a very important arterial highway" used by ambulances and fire trucks, adding more traffic to the street would put the whole city at risk. One woman wrote that the bowling alley would be "not only a bad influence on our dear children, but it must be very hard on our dear old neighbors… These poor old souls, who never do anyone any wrong, will have to suffer for it all, I'm afraid."

One citizen had a more specific complaint. In a 1945 letter, he described how he "was subject to the demands of the bowling alley to rent their shoes... The result was Athlete's Foot." After describing his attempts to fight off the disease and keep it from spreading to his family, he went on, "You may wonder why I am writing such a detailed report on this… I am wondering if you can't in some way…stop this awful practice of renting out shoes." He said the alley manager claimed they sterilized the shoes three times a week.

The city's Chief Sanitation Inspector believed the writer's complaint to be "well founded" and suggested that bowling alleys, skating rinks, and costume shops be required to disinfect footwear between each rental. An ordinance to this effect was passed exactly a month after the citizen wrote his letter.

Frog jumping

Frog Jumping

In 1975, Seattle and Snohomish jointly sponsored a frog in the Calaveras County (Calif.) frog jumping contest. In a letter to the contest manager, Mayor Uhlman spun a tall tale about how frog jumping originated in Washington when lumberjacks would use high-jumping frogs attached to ropes to bring down tall trees. He claimed that Snohomish was currently required to alert the Canadian government before their town's frog-jumping contest "to assure the safe return of any who might inadvertently cross the international boundary."

The mayor further described the superiority of Washington's amphibians, asserting that frog jockeys "unfamiliar with the particular characteristics of our local breed have been known to suffer bruised or broken ribs from standing too close at the time of the jump." He finished the letter with a request: "If ABC's Wide World of Sports covers the event again this year, our frog is not to be requested to grant any interview to Howard Cosell. Our local Humane Society has very strict rules about such things."

Radio station KWYZ financed the frog's entry, and station employee Randy Thaut served as travel escort and frog jockey. A naming contest sponsored by the station resulted in the chosen frog being christened Lord Sno-Sea the 123rd. In a letter to Thaut, a mayoral assistant signed off with, "If you don't win, forget about coming back."

A mayoral assistant worked with the Woodland Park Zoo amphibian curator to prepare a box in which the frog would be flown to California. The curator also suggested a diet of crickets and earthworms "to insure maintenance of the frog's stamina and physical agility."

Alas, Lord Sno-Sea the 123rd must have had an off day, as a frog named Ex-Lax won the contest that year with a triple jump landing 16 feet 6 3/4 inches from the starting pad.

See a video version of this story.



A file in Mayor Uhlman's records details a campaign to save the Bubbleator at Seattle Center. The Bubbleator was a distinctive glass elevator originally installed as part of the Coliseum's "World of Tomorrow" exhibit for the 1962 World's Fair. It was moved to the Food Circus (now the Center House) after the fair, but in 1973 was scheduled to be removed as part of a major renovation of the building.

Hundreds of citizens wrote letters and signed petitions in protest. One letter began, "For Heaven's sake what is this we hear about doing away with our 'one and only' much loved Bubbleator!" One writer described it as "one of those things which creates the unique charm of the Center." Another asked, "How many other cities have bubbleators? Let's keep Seattle on the map!" An Everett resident contended that "if San Francisco had it they would have post cards of it and really play it up." A postcard from a child read, "I'm only 5 years old and have only ridden in the bubbleator 2 times - please don't have it removed - I want to ride it some more." And a Seattle man directed his ire at the mayor, writing, "I've shaked [sic] your hand a lot of times and NOW I want to shake the rest of you!"

The outcry caused city leaders to rethink their plans. A rather unenthusiastic memo from the Seattle Center's director outlined possible options for changing the architectural plans. A mayoral staffer attached his own analysis, suggesting that a change order should be put in, as the Bubbleator "is unique in the city and… preserves some sense of continuity between the present facility and the remodeling." The mayor attached a note saying, "Agree! Implement!"

The Bubbleator's reprieve was only temporary. In the 1980s it was removed for good, and was sold to a man who used it as a greenhouse in his yard. The operator's chair was donated to MOHAI in 2005.

1920 rapid transit plan

Subway 1 of 2
Subway 2 of 2

A 1920 report lays out a plan for rapid transit in Seattle that includes subways, elevated trains, and "motor busses." Written jointly by the city engineer, superintendent of public utilities, and superintendent of railways, the document proposes a rapid transit system "suited to present needs, but planned for future enlargement."

The authors envisioned a subway running beneath Third Avenue from Virginia to Yesler, coming to the surface near the railroad stations - essentially the route followed by the present-day tunnel. Trains going up to Capitol Hill would follow a line up Pine Street that would be alternately underground and elevated, ending at 15th Avenue East. An elevated line would serve Pigeon Point in West Seattle, while surface rapid transit would connect with the existing streetcar service at stations in Fremont, lower Queen Anne, and the University District.

Additionally, the report proposed installing escalators between First and Fourth Avenues on selected streets. The authors believed that "the construction of such escalators in the business district of Seattle will tend very greatly to develop this district and to do away with the present handicap occasioned by the steep grades between our main north and south streets. We have no doubt that once in use they will find themselves immediately in favor."

The report estimates the savings of this system over the current streetcar system to be $1.2 million per year. An integral part of the plan was the removal of streetcar tracks downtown, thereby creating "an enormous benefit …The savings in time for trucks, delivery wagons and automobiles has a very real cash value." As for the expected expenditure to build the system, the authors claim that "the interest and depreciation charge on such cost will probably not exceed one-half of the total saving in the cost of maintenance and operation," but do not give an actual cost estimate.

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

In early 1970, Mayor Uhlman turned down a federal request for cooperation in a raid on the local Black Panther headquarters (which ended up not taking place). He expressed concern over "Gestapo-type tactics" and argued that violent raids as had recently occurred in other cities only served to radicalize more people. His actions made national headlines, and he received letters from citizens from across the country.

Almost half of the letter writers favored Uhlman's actions, praising his "courage," "fairness," and "good judgment." One telegram expressed "deepest admiration for not forgetting history and not being stampeded into the vigilante tactics of too many hysterical public officials," and another said that "a nation's police look better without armbands."

Those who opposed his decision felt strongly that he was wrong. Some claimed he was a communist and "not a true American." One writer said, "I don't see why the federal agency had to ask a jerk like you whether they could stage a raid on the black panthers [sic]." Another wrote, "May I suggest you save your money and buy a TV, then you'll see some of the happenings across the country that involve the 'Panthers' who you protect from us vicious tax paying, law abiding citizens."

Responding to one critic, the mayor wrote, "The Panthers, as any other group, will be held responsible for the legality of all of their activities in Seattle, but will not be harassed or treated prejudicially by the City… However, there exists already enough racial fear and mistrust on both sides without creating more through unwarranted investigations and other activities."

In 1971, a clerk for attorney Johnnie Cochran wrote to Uhlman to ask him to testify for the defense in a case against thirteen Panthers in Los Angeles. Uhlman declined to do so, saying that the incident "has strained relations between local and federal law enforcement agencies" and that he would prefer not to aggravate those tensions.

Seattle Pilots baseball


Seattle's first experience with Major League Baseball was brief and tumultuous. The Seattle Pilots played the 1969 season in Sick's Stadium, a minor league park that was built in 1938. The stadium needed extensive renovations, and construction continued right up until Opening Day. However, the American League still declared the stadium to be "inadequate" less than two months later. The facility's problems and the owners' shaky finances led to the purchase of the team by Bud Selig, who moved them to Wisconsin. The players went to spring training as the Seattle Pilots but were the Milwaukee Brewers by the time the season started - a move so sudden that their uniforms weren't ready for their first game.

In the mid-1960s, while the city was working to attract a team, the mayor received correspondence from citizens eager to make Seattle a "Big League Baseball city." One writer castigated Mayor Braman for not working harder to get a franchise, saying, "I cannot understand your apparent apathetic attitude in not AGGRESSIVELY getting behind this movement." Another argued that the economic benefits were too great to ignore, asking, "How can we afford NOT to have a major league stadium and team?" However, another writer expressed skepticism about what would happen after the initial enthusiasm died down, fearing that Seattle "could well have a white elephant on its hands."

When it became apparent that Seattle was in danger of losing the team, citizens began writing in with solutions. One suggested that the franchise issue stock, believing that local residents would buy in ("100,000 loyal baseball fans like myself at $35.00 equals 3½ million dollars"). Another recommended a special election be held to authorize King County to buy the team. Eddie Carlson, who was involved with the World's Fair, tried to put together a community ownership plan. None of these ideas worked out, but the city's lawsuit against the American League eventually resulted in the new Mariners franchise.

Potlatch riot

Clerk File 52924 illustrates the aftermath of an anti-Socialist riot during the Potlatch Festival in 1913. Spurred by an incendiary article in the Seattle Daily Times, a large group of soldiers, sailors, and civilians roamed the downtown area on a Friday night ransacking any property they identified as "red" (along with a mission that was the victim of mistaken identity).

The file includes damage claims from various Socialist Party officials outlining items destroyed in the riot, which included desks, tables, a typewriter, benches, books, two pianos, and (ironically) ten American flags. Windows were smashed, a newsstand was demolished, and furniture was burned in the street. A police report estimated the crowd at over 3,000 and cited "the influence of liquor."

Mayor Cotterill assumed emergency control over the police department and issued orders banning street meetings and closing saloons until the following Monday to protect against "a renewal of disturbance of public order." He also accused the Times of willfully inciting the riot through its "exaggerated, false, and perverted publications," and directed the police to stop all distribution of the paper for two days unless the proofs were first approved by the mayor.

Police did indeed attempt to stop an edition of the Times from being distributed, but publisher Alden Blethen went to court and got the order overturned. A huge headline in the next issue of the newspaper trumpeted, "Cotterill attempts to suppress Times; Tries to shift blame for last night's riots." The paper also recapped the events of the previous night in detail, clearly in sympathy with the actions of the mob. Toward the end of the article, the writer declared that "the sailors were entirely orderly last night with the exception of their attack on the reds."

Anti-war demonstrations

Kent State 1 of 2
Kent State 2 of 2

A day after the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, more than 7,000 demonstrators blocked Interstate 5 in a march from the UW campus, and protests continued in the city for days. These incidents prompted numerous letters to Mayor Uhlman, the majority of them critical of both the "rabble rousers" and the mayor himself.

A petition signed by almost 250 citizens stated, "We the undersigned feel that the tragedy at Kent State University was the FULL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DEMONSTRATORS." One letter writer wrote with outrage about "allowing our Flag to be worn by these dirty people down our streets." Another wanted to know "just how long MOB RULE is going to override law and order… If you didn't stop the cars from driving on [the] Interstate during a demonstration, there would probably be only one such demonstration."

The mayor's decision to fly the flag at half mast to memorialize the Kent State students generated some critical letters as well. One writer suggested that the flag be lowered for all deaths resulting from traffic accidents, falls, and so on, saying that "all of these occasions for sorrow are fully as valid as the deaths of the students, and probably more so." The man also stated his belief that "much of the disturbance is instigated by behind-the-scenes maneuvering of enemies of our nation."

Not all the correspondence criticized the mayor's actions. One letter stated that "Seattle is fortunate to have had you as mayor during the past weeks of anti-war demonstrations." Seventeen employees of Bank & Office Interiors also signed a letter stating their appreciation for "the restraint, as well as the calmness, the Seattle Police Department has shown" during the protests.

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.