I enter Seattle in the morning with a singular kind of purpose. I was here maybe ten years ago and saw the Space Needle and Aquarium, watched the fish being tossed at Pike’s Place, took a ferry and perused the bookstores. This time, the one thing I wanted to do that I missed out on, was the underground tour. And I’m sure locals or anyone who knows better would be disappointed in me, but hey, I did what I set out to do and I’m content with it.
I actually learned quite a lot of history. When Seattle was first settled they had a horrible sewer system with pipes made out of wood that would overflow every time the tide came in. Their streets had huge potholes bigger than bathtubs that they would fill with sawdust which became quicksand-like when the tide came in. So, when there was a huge devastating fire the City decided to build a story up so that they could first install a sewer system and raise the streets so they wouldn’t flood. But this was going to take almost a decade so the shopkeepers re-built their businesses from the ground up expecting to have their main entrances on the second floor eventually, but realizing that they would need the first floor accessible right away. Thus the underground was created.
Today it’s pretty stinky and even a little boring if not for the colorful narrative added by the tour guides. Mostly it seems like a basement, but it’s interesting to imagine what it was like when the ceiling wasn’t built and the streets were on the second story. Customers had to use ladders to get from the streets down to the store’s entrance, until later on when they built foot bridges from the streets to the buildings, which they later filled in completely, walling off the underground.
The best part was near the end of the tour, under what used to be a bank where they say a ghost guards the vault. It’s really the only part of the tour where there is some idea of how the space was once used. You can see the vault door and the structure of the building. At most of the other places it looks like they’ve piled really dusty miscellaneous rubble in the corners, but here it looks like some abandoned mine, like this rubble really is the original rubble. And for some reason that authenticity makes all the difference.