Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Underground in Seattle

The Montgomery Muni station in San Francisco is filled with ads touting the joys of 2 Days in Seattle. In the opinion of the many, those worked on me as we packed our bags and flew the friendly skies north for the weekend.

Bill Speidel's Underground Tour was one of the top items on the todo list, and it surely didn't disappoint. The tour was packed. We mitigateg this by showing up early and ordering something from the café, which yields priority seating. Bonus: the cone of fries was quite good.



The tour opens with a 30 minute light-hearted history of Seattle. In this we learn about things like the original settlers' homes being destroyed 3 consecutive years by the weather, and rebuilding in the same location each and every time. It was explained that Seattle's great tradition formed in these moments:

Once we have — beyond a shadow of doubt — realized our idea is stupid, we stick with it.

There was also the enchanting tale of an early sawmill entrepreneur and mayor by the name of Henry Yesler. Yesler's less than honorable qualities include bringing a lawsuit against the town as a private citizen for unfair taxes and settling with himself as the governor out of court for cash...more than once.

But at the top of the comedy list is the city's rivalry with nearby Tacoma, which found itself the butt of several jokes before and during the tour.

In all seriousness though, Tacoma is a lovely place if you're looking to get stabbed.

The Underground

The story of how the underground came to be started with a great fire, just like some other city I know. Oh the olden days, and how they loved to build with wood. A glue fire spread to the next building — full of whiskey — before making its way to a hardware store with dynamite. Jeers from the crowd at the volunteer firefighters prompted the firefighters to produce one of the earliest Cartman responses. The firefighter's packed up and effectively said screw you guys, I'm going home.

The fire took the city.

Rebuilding was smartly only to be done in stone from now on, and on stilts of 10-30 feet. This decision is what created The Underground.

Some of the items recovered during the early days of the tour included the original water system of Seattle, built in...wood. These three pieces were retained for historical purposes while the rest were naturally shipped to Tacoma, as they were upgrading current systems.

Seattle's Original Water System

Interestingly enough, I also learned on this tour what those little glass squares are on sidewalks you sometimes see in cities. They look like this from above.

glass in the sidewalks

glass in the sidewalks by lauren_pressley on Flickr

They actually provide lights for tunnels below them in skylight form. Here's one of them in action.

Sidewalk Skylight from Below

All in all, it's an awesome tour filled with comedy, history, and the smell of whatever building is on top of the place you're currently standing.

Some say you can hear the ghost of an old bass guitarist here from time to time...others say it's just the music store right above this.

Note there's more photos on Flickr

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