2019 Find of the Month Archive

Smoking Santa

Santa Claus on monorail, circa 1970

Mayor Dorm Braman received the following letter from a concerned citizen in December 1968:

Dear Sir

The construction of the large image of Santa Claus in the downtown mall was a thoughtful and nice idea, it brings to note the Christmas spirit, but why the pipe in the upraised hand? Has anyone ever seen Santa Claus pictured smoking?

Many have spoken of the poor taste shown in view of the well known health damage and dangerous results from smoking.

Recently the Fire Dept reported 38% of all fires during a recent year were caused by smoking and resulted in 11 fatalities.

Why not order the pipe down, leaving a friendly gesture.

Yours truly
A.T. West

The mayor often wrote rather caustic replies to citizen letters, but in this case he was fairly restrained. He noted that "it is rather common for Santa to be shown in this position," but that in any case, "the installation is the work of the Central Association of Seattle, and the responsibility for the design and construction was entirely theirs."

Daylight savings time

letter from J.L. Smick, 1948

In the late 1940s, the city of Seattle established daylight savings time. Citizen letters to the city council indicate this was not necessarily a popular move. For example:

Mrs. C.E. Davis: “Why do you and all those who want DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME, go to the Artic [sic] Circle where they have six months daylight in the summer and then everyone would be happy?... What are you trying to do, wreck our nervous systems and haven’t you anything else to do but sit there and think up ways to inconvenience the people here?”

Norman Hallam: “Could it be that you have been swayed only by a small minority who have been profited by having an extra hour to play golf? If these people want to have an extra hour a day, they can get up an hour earlier and not make us all suffer.”

Mrs. L. Hahn: “Why do you persist in trying to foist on an unwilling citizenry such an obvious falsehood of time saving. If you are bound to add 1 hour on one end of 24 hours you must take it off the other end – so what do you save? Lay off it.”

J.L. Smick: “Standard time is proven and accepted as universal law, and the spectacle of civic organizations swaggering with the impudent impunity of characterless charlatans, shamelessly admitting that their way of life cannot conform with the most perfect law that could possibly be devised, sets them in the position of considering themselves more perfect than eternal law itself.”

A.W. Eckman: “We do not need some Radio Company or anyone else trying to dictate their red propaganda to people what they should do as the city of Seattle has been doing when they shove that old day-light saving on to the people.”

J.M. Hone, Executive Secretary of the Independent Theatre Owners of Washington, Northern Idaho and Alaska: “It is within the power of each individual to save his own daylight so he need not make others miserable.”

In 1951, state law came through for these citizens and prohibited any Washington locality from observing anything but Pacific Standard Time. However, in 1960 a statewide ballot measure succeeded in establishing daylight savings. Last May the state legislature voted to permanently remain on daylight savings time, but as of this writing Washington and other west coast states are waiting for congressional approval to make the change.

Jitney buses

traffic on Occidental, 1922

Beginning in 1914, Seattle's street railway system had a new source of competition: “jitney buses” that would pick people up on the street and drop them off at their destination, for the same nickel fare as a streetcar ride. (One jitney outfit that served the Roosevelt corridor was named the Sound Transit Company.)

Their often cutthroat business practices included things like cruising along transit routes ahead of trolleys to poach their passengers. After a big winter storm, they hiked their prices, and were accused of interfering with the clearance of snow from streetcar tracks to keep their monopoly on transportation services as long as possible. Safety was also an issue, as passengers often rode on packed jitneys’ running boards and fenders, and the cars themselves were often not well maintained.

In early 1915, the Washington State Public Service Commission sent a report on jitneys to the Seattle City Council. In an accompanying letter, the chairman noted that “the report clearly shows that the Jitney bus as now operated results in profit neither to the jitney bus nor to the city.” He pointed out that streetcars were losing money because of unfair competition from the buses, which were unregulated and paid no money to the city. He concluded that allowing the jitneys to drive the streetcars out of business would be “foolish in the extreme.”

By the next year, many of Seattle’s citizens agreed with this perspective. A petition was transmitted to City Council in May 1916 calling for regulation of the jitney buses. The petition outlined the state of affairs:

At the present time we have two systems, the street railways and the “Jitneys.” The railways for many years have operated for a maximum fare of five cents, have paid to the City annually 2% upon their gross railway receipts and have paid millions of dollars in taxes and for paving. The “Jitney” is a new comer and may be a “Speedy Goer” for all we know. It has only to pay a small license fee and execute a bond for $2500 to pay damages if it injures any one and it is then authorized to operate without restriction or regulation as to service, rates or anything else. It is plain that where one of two competitors is subjected to strict regulation as to rates and service and the other to none, the first, which might otherwise give permanent and adequate service, may by unfair competition from the other be wrecked before time proves that the latter is only a costly experiment which must eventually fail and for which the public must finally pay, in one way or another…

If “Jitney” service is not to be a permanent institution because they cannot operate if subjected to proper regulation as to rates and service then they should not be permitted to destroy or injure street railway service which is so regulated.

The hundreds of people who signed the petition – there were 76 pages of signatures attached – summed up their feelings on Seattle transit this way: “We favor the maintenance of the best permanent and reliable means of street transportation which can be obtained at reasonable rates. The rates must be reasonable or we cannot pay them. The service must be adequate, reliable and permanent or we cannot afford it at any price.”

Public morality ordinance

An ordinance passed in 1907 contained no fewer than 61 separate clauses establishing rules "for the preservation of public morality, peace, safety and good order." While many of the crimes listed are still on the books, some stand out to modern eyes. For example, it was unlawful to:

  • Fly a kite "in any part of the city devoted to business."
  • Supply minors with publications "principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime."
  • Allow "loud or boisterous noises" in your business after 10 pm.
  • Swim in a body of water within 100 yards of a dwelling without the consent of the dwelling's occupant.
  • Associate with drunken men if you had "the general reputation of being a drunk roller."
  • Spit on a sidewalk or on the floor of a public building or streetcar.
  • Wear "any hat, or bonnet or other head covering, within any licensed theatre during the rendition of any programmed upon the stage."
  • "Collect in crowds...to the annoyance or disturbance of citizens or travelers."
  • Scare a horse or mule, "either willfully or by want of care."
  • Refuse to give "a satisfactory account" of oneself to any police officer who asked why you were out after 11 pm, with the threat of arrest and further questioning if the officer felt it was warranted for the public good.

Some behavior was only prohibited for certain types of people. Women were not allowed to "loiter in or about saloons" or "habitually drink with men." Children under 13 could not "get on, or catch hold of, or to race alongside of, or in front of, or attempt to get on, or catch hold of any street railway car while the same is in motion." And if you were known to be a thief, it was illegal for you "to be habitually found prowling around any steamboat landing, railroad depot, banking institution, brokers office, place of public amusement, auction room, store, shop or crowded thoroughfare, car or omnibus, or at any public gathering or assemblage, or lounging about any court room, private dwelling house, outhouse or in any house of ill-fame or saloon." (A list of where they were allowed to be may have been shorter.)

This ordinance was amended many times, but was not repealed and replaced in full until 1981.

"Being without votes"

Before the 19th amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, they struggled to exert political power. Topics seen as "women's issues" were often not given as much consideration, since women could not directly impact officials' reelection prospects. One example of women acknowledging their lack of influence comes in an 1899 letter from the City Federation of Women's Christian Temperance Unions appealing for stricter limits on where saloons could be located.

To the Honorable Mayor, and Common Council of the City of Seattle:

Gentlemen: -

The Federation of the W.C.T.U., being a combination of all of the local temperance unions of the City of Seattle, once more respectfully urge your Honorable Body a sacred cause. Though in your wisdom our last petition was denied, yet we, without malice or resentment, but strong in our faith in the justice of our cause, would plead once again. Though our organization numbers not among its members voters, yet it is composed of the wives of electors, and of the mothers and sisters of the boys who are to grow up and take their places in the battle of life, and who are to give our City rank and standing when you are gone.

We view with deep concern and solicitude the growing influence of the liquor evil and the constant increasing of the boundaries wherein the liquor traffic is permitted. We fail to understand why in so many instances the petition of the liquor influence is granted by the asking, while the prayers of the wives or mothers and sisters must fall upon deaf ears. Be pleased therefore, and deign to notice for one passing moment, a little band who being without votes must perforce depend on your generosity to protect us in our constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness. Though we be an organization of women only, and without political influence, yet among the fruits of our work are found no drunkards, no paupers, no wrecked homes or ruined souls.

Therefore, your petitioners, in the name of every mother on whose heart is the destiny of her boy, in the name of every sister, burdened with interest for the father or a brother, in the name or sobriety and decency, earnestly suggest that it is time that a halt be called in Seattle. Therefore, we most earnestly entreat that you will pass the Ordinance now pending before your Body, prescribing and narrowing the limits within which the liquor traffic can be carried on; and your petitioners, as they feel duty bound, will ever pray.

Signed by
The City Federation of the Women's Christian Temperance Unions,
Representing a body of two hundred women
(Miss) Heartie Wood, [Secretary]

The council bill they were supporting did not pass. It would be another 21 years before women obtained the right to vote and could exercise political power directly at the ballot box.

Special policemen

letter from Warren Magnuson

Early city charters authorized Seattle’s police chief to appoint "special policemen" on a temporary basis, usually unpaid. These deputized citizens were given the power of arrest and often served as more informal patrolmen in business districts. During times of labor unrest or other unusual activity in the city, they were brought in to supplement the city's regular paid police force.

Some citizens requested a special policeman appointment because of the circumstances of their jobs. These ranged from guards and night watchmen to men who worked in dance halls, skating rinks, and other amusement places. At least two citizens were deputized to arrest trespassers in the Cedar River Watershed.

The city's Superintendent of Streets and Sewers requested that a sidewalk inspector be deputized because "the teamsters drive over the sidewalks and he has no way of arresting them, without first getting a warrant. In nearly all cases they refuse to divulge their names." Similarly, the city’s weights and measures inspector was given the power of arrest to be used when he discovered consumer fraud.

Supervisors of parks and playgrounds were often given special policeman appointments. A petition from Fremont residents asked for the B.F. Day Playfield's supervisor to be granted these powers, stating that while he had "considerable influence with the young people," he was helpless in the face of "intoxication or rowdyism and those using the grounds are unprotected and unduly molested in their activities."

Another request came from 31-year-old King County prosecuting attorney (and future U.S. senator) Warren G. Magnuson, who wrote asking for "the direct power of arrest. It is not very often that we need to use such authority but there are occasions when it is necessary."

The rules regarding appointments of special policemen were changed in 1981 to more narrowly limit who could be given these powers.

Hatpin regulations

Comptroller File 52175

The first recorded plea to the Seattle City Council for hatpin regulations came in 1911. The writer, J.S. Wheeler, included a news clipping highlighting a case in San Francisco where a barber had his arm amputated after an “accidental stab” and was in danger of death from blood poisoning. Wheeler wrote,

Thousands of less serious accidents occur daily which never reach the public press. It would seem that the time had arrived when drastic measures were necessary to put a stop to the use of protruding hatpins, which in crowded places, are a positive menace to the public safety. This matter has been taken up in other Cities and ordinances passed, and Seattle should do so at once. The injury of today is to a member of other family [sic], tomorrow it may be to a member of your household.

Two years later, the Seattle Federation of Women’s Clubs sent City Council draft language for a hatpin ordinance. In their accompanying letter, they said they had delayed suggesting legislation in hopes that “the thoughtlessness of some of our women might be overcome by more personal methods of appeal. But while waiting for improvement through these milder means – a serious menace to the public safety exists” for which the only solution was regulation.

The week after the Federation letter was written, Ordinance 31419 was introduced. The ordinance declared it unlawful for any person to wear a hatpin “so that the sharp end…shall project more than one and one-quarter inches from the crown of such hat or head covering,” or extend beyond the hat brim, or “extend or project in any manner…as to be likely to, or in such manner as might, wound any person or thing or endanger life or property.” Anyone found to be wearing a hatpin in violation of the regulations could be fined up to $100 or given a jail term of up to 30 days (or both).

The ordinance was promptly passed into law, and was not repealed until 1967.

Sons of Norway

Sons of Norway Hall, image 182187

Things were apparently getting rowdy in Ballard in 1950. City Council received a petition from residents who lived near the Sons of Norway Hall at 22nd Avenue and 60th Street NW, declaring the facility to be a nuisance. Their complaints focused on members parking on both sides of the narrow street and being "loud and noisy disturbing the peace from 12 until 2:30 in the night."

The Division of Licenses and Standards looked into the matter. After interviewing neighbors, they learned that the noise complaints were not about anything happening within the building, but instead with "noise and fighting occurring on the street…when people were leaving the hall." The organization’s president noted that there had recently been a large silver anniversary party at the club; perhaps some of the complaints stemmed from that particular night.

As the club held members-only meetings and dances (at which "the music stops promptly at twelve o’clock midnight") and additionally served as a rental facility, it was determined that "no licenses are required for the operation of this hall." The city’s licensing apparatus therefore had no issues with the club. Since the division had no jurisdiction over noise and parking, they suggested the file be passed along to the police chief for his information.

The Police Department also investigated, and found that the racket in question was "noise which normally goes with the gathering and dispursing [sic] of people, that is, conversation and noise caused by cars." They seemed unconvinced that the hall truly was a nuisance, stating, "We are unable from the records to discover any very serious problem incident to the operation of this hall… A search of our records does not reveal an accumulation of reports relating to noise or disturbances."

City Council’s License Committee held a hearing on the matter and invited the neighbors to attend, but it does not appear that any action was taken against the club.

Teenage sleuth


A young amateur detective named Albert Hartley wrote to the Mayor and City Council in 1894:

Your petitioner respectfully represents, that he is 18 years of age and is engaged in running an elevator for a living; that on the morning of October 4th 1894 he learned that one Bridwell had been murdered by an unknown person at the corner of Main and South 3rd streets in Seattle in a saloon and that for the purpose of procuring information concerning the murdered and to affect the arrest of such murdered a reward had been offered by the chief of police of Seattle in the sum of Two hundred and fifty dollars; that by reason of said reward petitioner made it his business to examine persons of suspicious character and particularly persons of unknown character in the Bay View House on West St.; that petitioner left his work at the elevator during October 4th 1894 for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not a certain person then at the Bay View House was the murderer of said Bridwell and that petitioner by reason of such investigation, came to the conclusion that an unknown person then staying at said Bay View House was the murderer; petitioner not being an officer of the law and not being strong physically notified and informed the officer of the city, to-wit: Dective [sic] Cudihee of all the facts then in his possession and known to him concerning said person suspected by petitioner, and said Cudihee thereupon as an officer of the city, upon the information furnished him by petitioner, immediately arrested said person pointed out by petitioner, who then gave his name as Thomas Blanck, and said Blanck was thereafter convicted of the murder of said Bridwell in the Superior Court of King County and sentenced to be hanged; that petitioner has been advised that upon a strict technicality the city might defeat all claim for reward, and petitioner submits to this honorable body whether or not he should not in some manner be rewarded for the efforts he put forth to effect the capture of said Blanck, and therefore requests that your honorable body will allow him such portion of said reward as may be deemed just and equitable under all the circumstances; petitioner files herewith a petition of many taxpayers and leading citizens urging that the reward be paid.  

A petition signed by about 80 people was indeed attached, asking the council to give Hartley at least a portion of the reward.

Discussion ensued within the two chambers of the bicameral city council. Members of the Board of Aldermen suggested that "a proper adjustment of the matter would be an equal division among all three taking part in the capture - Hartley Cudihee and Corbett." (Corbett was a second police officer involved in the arrest.) However, the City Comptroller noted that the city charter prohibited members of the police force from collecting rewards for work done in the line of duty.

The Claims Committee of the House of Delegates reiterated the charter prohibition on police officers receiving any reward, even though Cudihee and Corbett "exhibited a great deal of courage in the performance of this duty, and that they, if any one, would be entitled to the reward." Given that the payment was "for the capture of the murdered, and not for information leading to apprehension," they recommended no reward be given and that the petition be rejected.

However, two weeks later they apparently had a change of heart and recommended that "an award of $25.00 be given young Hartley providing we have assurance that this full amount will go to A.L. Hartley if appropriated." Ordinance 3710 authorized the payment.

Rock concerts


The following memo was written from one Seattle Center staffer to another in 1981:



Despite today's conversation, I still have an unsettled feeling in the afterpath [sic] of Journey whose followers trampled over perhaps the broadest definitions of decency and respect for property and appropriate behavior. Not a new experience for us.

The toll to date includes significant damage to planted areas a year and a half in the making, damage to property in Center House and no doubt damage to other Seattle Center facilities.

But most important. Damage to the general public’s perception of Seattle Center. What many of us work daily to maintain and improve. People who work here don’t plant, paint or build to have it destroyed. Citizens don’t vote for Bond Issues or pay taxes to support things with a life of days or weeks.

And people won’t come to a place that’s dangerous, dirty, unseemly or just plain gross. Dogs cover their own excrement.

I am not convinced we have looked at the existing crowd management problems or solutions fully.

And I am not convinced, bottom line, Seattle Center needs to truck with trash.

The Kingdome is a cement building. That’s all it is. It does sports. Sports is controlled violence. So are rock concerts. Seattle Center does families. And we should have the courage to throw the bums out.

Watch for Flying Saucers Week

letter to Mayor Braman

Members of a group called World Wide Watch wrote to Mayor Braman in 1967 asking him for a "Watch for Flying Saucers Week" proclamation. One of the letters explained that "this year is a LANDMARK! The 20th Anniversary of the very famous phrase 'Flying Saucer,' coined in Washington State by Newsmen when a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold, Boise, Idaho related to the world that on June 24, 1947, he had observed nine disc-shaped objects flying towards Mt. Rainier."

The letters and an accompanying press release explained that to mark the anniversary, the group was organizing watch teams around the country to search the skies. One of the teams would form a caravan from World Wide Watch headquarters in Eatonville up to Mt. Rainier. Teams were to look for "intelligent patterns of behavior" or any attempts to communicate. Reports from all teams were to be collected at the Eatonville headquarters, where they then would be collated and shared.

In addition to encouraging citizens to watch for UFOs, the group also hoped to persuade Congress to pass laws allowing "legal landing and protection for friendly extra terrestrials":

It is the general consensus of many people interested in the subject of space visitation that we will be involved in an exchange of culture that will lead to interplanetary commerce by 1988. So let US open the space doors now! Let US have vision and foresight enough to begin a two-way approach to space.

Mayor Braman responded to the group:

While I appreciate your interest in this subject and recognize that it could have considerable import, I do not feel justified in issuing such a proclamation. I certainly see nothing wrong in your attempting to stir up interest to the end that many people would join you and your associates in this kind of a watch. It just doesn't seem appropriate as an official pronouncement.

The Seattle Times interviewed the group leaders at the beginning of the watch week, when they were confident they would see UFOs. One leader was quoted as saying, "They (flying saucer pilots) know we're watching because they monitor radio-station reports about our activities. We'll be ready if they respond." The newspaper followed up at the end of the week, when the group reported that two objects that "might have been unidentified" were spotted that Saturday night.

Soldiers and saloons

memo to council, attachment to CB 806

In the autumn of 1899, Seattle was eagerly anticipating the return of the First Washington Volunteer Infantry from their service in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The governor declared a state holiday and many celebrations were planned, but some were concerned that the welcomes would be a bit too festive.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union proposed that City Council close all saloons on the day of the soldiers' return home:

Whereas; True patriotism includes not only love of country, its citizens and its soldiers, but also an intense desire for a peaceful and prosperous country; for an intelligent, industrious and lawabiding [sic] citizenship, and for an upright, sober and courageous soldiery, and

Whereas; The saloon is one of the most potent factors in staining the reputation and in retarding the genuine prosperity of our country, in hindering the growth of intelligence, industry and the love of true liberty and good order in our citizens, and in destroying the moral courage and sobriety of many of both our soldiers and citizens, -

Therefore, Resolved, that we hereby most earnestly and urgently request and petition your honorable body to use the power delegated to you by the sovereign citizens of Seattle, as other cities are doing in the United States, and by the authority of the great state of Washington, for the honor and good order of the city, to close the saloons and every and all places where intoxicating liquors of any kind are or may be sold or given away in this municipality, and that they shall be and remain closed in fact, under severe penalties, during the day or days and entire time in which, within the city of Seattle, the citizens of Washington shall tender a reception and welcome to its returning soldiers whom they desire to honor.

Members of the Seattle Anti-Saloon League attended the October 9 City Council meeting to voice their opinion on the bill. As part of what the Seattle Times described as a "short but lively debate," Councilmember Hiram Gill was quoted as saying, "If these people would stop to think they would arrive at the conclusion that the whole thing is an insult to the boys who risked their lives for their country. The boys that went to Manila are fully capable of caring for themselves, and I would advise these people to look out for the boys who stayed home with their mammas. The ordinance is fathered by a couple of carpet-baggers who threaten to leave the city should it fail to pass. I tell them now that their return to Ohio will not be the calamity which some people think it would." The council voted 7-4 to indefinitely postpone the bill.

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
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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.