Snarky in SeattleOn May 26, 2021 by Elyse
Some people say, “Take a trip and forget your unhappy love affair.” What! Forget it now, only to remember it all the more later on? Never! . . . Better let your heart bleed for several days in succession and then heal itself than to staunch it by a few weeks’ trip somewhere only to let it bleed slowly and surely to death all the rest of your life.– Elizabeth Eldredge, the Washington Times, November 9, 1919
Whether you’re a longtime blog subscriber (thank you!) or a casual clicker, you know I’m all for taking advice from historical newspapers, no matter how outlandish. However, as I grieve a devastating breakup, I have to disagree with this one. If my heart is going to bleed, it might as well do it somewhere exciting. Thus, I found myself last week in sunny Seattle, which, believe it or not, isn’t an oxymoron:
In between gorgeous walks, delicious cocktails, quality time with family and wonderful visits with friends, I did a deep dive into Seattle’s history through its endlessly fascinating historical newspapers. Along with a new appreciation for the aptly named Emerald City’s beauty, I came home with a few tidbits the guidebooks definitely won’t tell you. Forget Rick Steves and Celia Fiennes; read on for the inside scoop on Seattle’s municipal matchmaking, squeaky clean coins and deep-rooted inferiority complex.
Seattle’s dating scene sucks.
And I thought dating in Chicago was hard. It was so bad in the early 1900s that Seattleites had to appeal to the mayor for help—and not even their own mayor but one elected in a city 1,400 miles away.
Your Honor:– The Santa Fe New Mexican, January 6, 1911
. . . To be short, I want your help for getting a wife from the country, not yet spoiled by the habits of large cities; a wife caring more for a comfortable home than for luxury. I believe there are still existing such women. I am 35 years of age, healthy and steady in my customs. In favor of my future wife I would also change my place. I would be obliged to many thanks for you if I would get your aid in this matter, perhaps with the assistance of your local newspaper.
Ladies, if you fit his stringent criteria, grab your quill pen, and send your reply by carrier pigeon, care of Mayor Arthur Seligman of Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a girl already “spoiled by the habits of large cities,” I’m swiping left.
Some may have had good reason to look outside the city boundaries:
Every time John Jenks of Seattle, Wash., sees soup he goes crazy. . . he shrieks and howls, and if he is offered it at table he grabs the dish with a maniacal yell and throws it up in the air. . .
This is the peculiar case agitating Seattle; and is the ground for a divorce applied for by Mrs. Shehezerde Jenks who fears John’s mania will spread. The courts have the matter under advisement and the doctors are diagnosing this case of “soupiana dementia.” Meantime polite folks, when John Jenks is invited to dine, make the cat eat the soup downstairs safe away from all suggestion to Mr. Jenks.– The Bennington Evening Banner, September 4, 1908
As if we didn’t have enough strange diseases to worry about. Mrs. Jenks, if it’s any consolation, the best balm for my own broken heart has been Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Just be sure to eat it before it melts into ice cream soup.
Seattle has a rival.
Every hero has an archnemesis, and in Seattle’s case, that foe is Tacoma, Washington, a city 30 miles southwest across the Puget Sound. As explained by one 19th-century traveler:
There is a keen rivalry between [Seattle and Tacoma], which is sufficiently amusing to a stranger. A resident of Tacoma will assure you that it is the only place which has a commercial future, while a Seattle man will discourse of the beauty of its situation, and state with the utmost confidence that for shipping and trade Tacoma is nowhere.
So far has this been carried that it is extended even to natural objects. A magnificent mountain peak of the Cascades, 14,000ft high, is visible from both; but while at Seattle it is Mount Reiner, on the other side of the sound it has become Mount Tacoma.– William Morley, America: Notes by the Way, quoted in the Lyttelton Times, December 30, 1891
Even without knowing the specific circumstances, the smirk comes through loud and clear more than a century later:
During the present great carnival of thuggery in the City of Destiny [Tacoma], we shall not be unkind enough to refer to the historical Tacoma comments upon the peculiar Seattle style of law and order.– The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 10, 1899
Don’t get too cocky, Seattle. What goes around comes around.
Seattle is in a bad way about her courthouse. The street superintendent is trying to devise a plan to keep the edifice from sliding down the hill. The entire hill rests upon a layer of soapstone which is as slippery as a greased skid, and every time it rains some portion of the hill goes sliding downwards.
When Tacoma had a portion of her ocean dock washed away it was very amusing to the people of Seattle. This time the trouble is at home, and consequently is not half so funny.– The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 5, 1896
Spoiler alert: the superintendent must have figured it out, because 15 years later, Second Glance History’s friend Floyd Merrill, the “joy riding kid” and “automaniac,” spent some time there.
With all this snark flying around, no wonder Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan couldn’t sleep.
Seattle’s currency is squeaky clean.
In Seattle, even the criminals wash their hands.
Seattle’s feelings are easily hurt.
Somebody’s upset about a bad TripAdvisor review:
Sen Bentley, village cut up and local oracle, of Wichita, Kan., “b’gsh,” out of the store of his wonderful knowledge—gained in a trip of fifteen or twenty days—has passed judgement. And Seattle and Alaska have been condemned as practically worthless. Anyway they are not as good as Wichita—“gosh ding it!”
And the worst of it is that Sen’s decision has been scattered broadcast to the world through the columns of a Wichita paper that maybe has a greater circulation than the local journal published at Medicine Hat, wherever that thriving metropolis may be. . .
Sen Bentley condemned the Pacific Coast climate. . . Hark to the voice of Wichita:
“The great state of Washington greets you one and all,
With nine months of winter and three months of fall. . .”
“Seattle is overgrown,” says “Sen.” He probably strained his neck looking at the top of the 42-story L. C. Smith building, which is a trifle taller than the local “opery” house at Wichita. Besides, we have the word of Sen Bentley for it that there are too many “nonproducers” in the state of Washington—not all of them are engaged in that lucrative industry of growing pumpkins, so assiduously followed in Wichita. . .
He analyzed Seattle and found that the taxes are higher than a cat’s back, but as “Sen” does not state whether Wichita felines have curvature of the spine, one can gain but little knowledge from his altitudinous figure of speech. . .
“Sen” saw some wonderful things on his journey to the far West and North. In Seattle the forest fires were so thick he couldn’t see the sun, and when he was passing those glaciers in Alaska, large chunks of ice fell off every time the steamship whistled. . .
“Sen,” while you are cutting up and amusing the populace, Seattle will be going ahead in its feeble way, building ships and skyscrapers, mills and manufacturing plants, establishing new industries and opening new channels of commerce. . . both Seattle and Alaska will try to survive the shock of his verbal onslaughts.– J. J. Underwood, the Seattle Times, quoted in the Douglas Island News, October 7, 1914
I can attest that Sen’s seasonal ditty is wholly unsubstantiated. I saw evidence of both spring and summer on my visit—and not only in the climate-dependent frizziness of my hair.
For the sake of its self-esteem, I hope Seattle considers this post a more favorable review. Unlike Sen, I don’t measure a city by its pumpkin-growing industry and am already looking forward to a return visit. Although next time around, I’ll leave the hand sanitizer at home since I now know Seattle’s coins are multipurpose.
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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