Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How Gravity Got Me Off Profanity Hill

I was up near Swedish Hospital on First Hill and still in vacation mode so I started walking back to work the way you walk during a vacation, like a pinball, bumping from one bright light to another.

This gravitational decision-making took me on a new, random route and it paid off within the first couple of blocks away from my usual straight line route.  I was standing at the entrance to a small and completely lovely park I don’t recall seeing before, First Hill Park. 

It sits on less than an acre next to the carriage house used by the Stimson-Green Mansion, the home built by lumberman and real estate businessman C. D. Stimson, designed by the hot architect for rich people at the time, Kirtland Cutter of Spokane.  Stimson’s great legacy was his remarkable daughter, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, the first woman to buy and manage a television station in the United States and whose intelligence and canny courage saved the downtown real estate holdings he willed her before The Great Depression. 
Historic Seattle
At one time 40 such mansions called First Hill home, one of the lesser ones sketched by Victor Steinbrueck in 1972.  The growth of health care on First Hill – Cabrini Hospital in 1907, Swedish Hospital in 1908, Providence in 1912 and Virginia Mason in 1920 – along with many multi-family buildings taking advantage of the views and proximity to downtown rather quickly replaced the mansions just as the automobile was providing more distant choices for wealthy people in places like Broadmoor and the Highlands.
First Hill with much of its timber
University of Washington Collections
It is ironic that the fancy homes up at Seattle’s highest point were the starting points of Skid Road, synonymous now with street alcoholics, because it was the first source of timber for Henry Yesler’s saw mill located at the bottom of the hill.   In fact, early settlers first called it Yesler’s Hill as the source of the logs that were dragged down an old native American foot path to the bottom of what would become Yesler Street.
Although First Hill is still the official name, it has many other colloquial ones.  Pill Hill, derived from its health care industry, is still common today, though Profanity Hill, attributable to the cursing of attorneys walking up the steep hill in the rain, is no longer in use since the King County Courthouse moved downtown to something close to sea level.  It may be unfair to single out lawyers.  The teamsters pulling logs down the hill sometimes offered a frustrated darn or a shoot.
Further down, just a block off a street I travel frequently, is another place I’d not seen or noticed in my many years in Seattle. It is the McDonald House, beautifully restored in 2000 and with a brand new treatment of its top floor, an old attic lovingly turned into a lookout for a retired pirate.
The McDonald family built the home in 1899 and in 1922 started a dry cleaning business in a structure they built below on the street level.  In this photo, a sign obscures the house.  Is it an advertisement for the cleaning business or was it leased out space that provided additional income to the McDonalds? 

After prohibition, the family moved the cleaning business into the basement of the house above and called it Olive Way Cleaners.  In the old cleaning space on the street, they opened a tavern.  Because there was less room, it seems likely that the cleaning business was now retail only, the clothing sent out somewhere and delivered back to Olive Way.   Did they lease the tavern space?  The cleaning business signage showed more marketing savvy with some meaningful details such as “French Dry Cleaning” while the bar stuck with a generic name – “Tavern.”
Intriguing as well is the ownership of the sporty Nash Metropolitan parked to the left of the stairs leading to the cleaning business.  Is it owned by the McDonalds?  A customer of Olive Way Cleaners?  The tavern bartender?

Today, a skin care services business has inherited the tavern space and 'Scott M.  Logan, Professional Building' occupies the space above.  The property history is spelled out through a little plaque by the door that includes the pictures.  It was installed by Donald Logan and Scott Shea, who appear to be business partners in the rehabilitation and Paul Aiello and Douglas Johnson, the architect and contractor.  What a great gift they have given any citizen who walks along Olive Way -- and to their city as well.  Everyone who lives in Seattle is enriched by knowing that such a lovely thing has been done, even if they will never see it. 

Their plaque tells us that the that the McDonald family lived in the house until 1983. 

As I cross Interstate 5, a window in an apartment building to the south has something to say. It is a complicated message delivered in two panels.  The word McNeil in the upper left hand corner certainly draws the eye, with the current Seattle zip code separated by Compton and Cali.  There is a small, four legged stick figure next to the word Bootz.  Could this be a heart washed up on Puget Sound?  And what is that gold color mean in the container above the heart?
This is a complicated citizen living here, speaking out to the infrequent pedestrians, somehow wanting to be known, to communicate, to be heard over the roar of the freeway.  I snap the picture and silently wish him luck. 
Further down, I come to one of my favorite spots in Seattle.  It is the plaza of the new federal courthouse, a must stop in the summer, a stand of birches fronting the high rise courthouse.  It is a peaceful, comfortable space where a lunch time crowd forms from the adjacent community as well as the bailiffs, judges, lawyer and law enforcement crowd. There are many elements to the design, all infused with the security purposes we’ve become used to, but somehow this design disguises them in the form of little waterfalls, formal steps, a pair of sturdy bollards. 
One summer day last year I saw Bob Lasnik, one of the judges, reading a document while sitting in the sun on one of the steps.   I liked that.  Federal judges seem to have been put so far away from the rest of us.  To see them at work beside us is somehow useful, putting an actual person, someone like us, into the reality of laws, consequences and finality.
The Washington State Supreme Court has adopted a terrific program to make its judges more accessible.  As a group, they visit communities around the state, hold public receptions and often conduct a formal session in some gymnasium or other community building while visiting. 
The park is nearly empty now on an overcast, slightly cool day.  I begin to focus on the statue in the plaza, a piece of black rock, narrow at its base in a small grassy circle and rising to thirty feet or so.  It speaks, I think, to some sort of striving, a struggle somehow against something powerful.  I wonder if the hose reel stationed below the steps is any less a statue.  It struggles as well, wrapping up so much water capacity in so little space, always ready to roll forward or in reverse.  Suddenly I'm considering it a mobile justice dispenser, at work and decorating federal courthouse plazas across the country -- functional, purposeful, elegant, in its way.
While waiting for my coffee at a stand down the street, I check on President Lincoln’s day, 150 years ago, in 1862.  There are several sites that provide this information and I go to www.thelincolnlog.org .  This website is compiled and managed by several organizations and is a daily chronology of Lincoln's entire life with supporting documents and references to other documents.  On this day, General McClellan is much on Lincoln's mind with yet another request for reinforcements.  Lincoln meets with Secretary of War Stanton to discuss the military situation and, issues orders sending General Irvin McDowell toward Richmond to help shore up the defense of Washington, DC.  Lincoln treats McClellan gingerly. 
He distrusts him, is suspicious of his judgment, particularly his cautious warmaking and his voracious appetite for more troops.  Lincoln fears that forces protecting the capital will somehow be sucked into McClellan’s growing but stationery force, leaving the capital poorly defended. He also knows by now that McClellan is considering a campaign for the presidency.  Think of Mitt Romney serving as President Obama’s top general! Lincoln takes the unusual approach of ordering McDowell to cooperate with his superior, McClellan, but apply his own judgment to McClellan’s orders. 
“You will retain the separated command of the forces taken with you; but while co-operating with Gen. McClellan you will obey, his orders, except that you are to Judge, and are not to allow your force to be disposed otherwise than so as to give the greatest protection to this capital which may be possible from that distance.”
These orders surely are from Lincoln the lawyer, not Lincoln the great writer. 
General David Hunter
This was a busy day for the President.  A few days before, General David Hunter had, on his own judgment and without consultation with the President, declared the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida free.
General Orders No. 11.---The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States---Georgia, Florida and South Carolina---heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free. DAVID HUNTER.
The President was not ready to do this and certainly unprepared for one of his generals to do this on his own initiative.  Lincoln’s strategy at this time was for the United States to purchase the slaves as a means of liberating them.  The Emancipation Proclamation, though certainly an option then, was not yet, in his mind, the right course to salvaging the whole country.
The President rescinded Hunter’s order a few days later causing a great clamor.  I learn that Hunter rode with the dead president on the train back to Illinois and served on the military commission that tried and convicted the assassins. 
Rosenbach Library and Museum
Later in the day, of May 17, 1862, he writes a brief letter to Mary Motley, a young woman then working in Washington, DC.
Executive Mansion,
Washington, May 17, 1862.

Miss Mary Motley—

A friend of yours (a young gentlemen of course) tells me you do me the honor of requesting my autograph. I could scarcely refuse any young lady—certainly not the daughter of your distinguished father. Yours truly A. Lincoln

Mary Motley’s distinguished father was John Lothrop Motley, an historian and diplomat who had just been named United States Minister to Austria. Later, in the Grant Administration, he would become Ambassador to the Court of St. James. William Cullen Bryant would write a poem to mark his death in 1877.

Cornell University
Motley carved an interesting niche in the American academic world, writing an extremely popular history about Holland, “The Rise of the Dutch Republic.” He had a ‘your faithful friend’ relationship with the German politician Otto van Bismarck, with whom he went to law school in Berlin.

The three Motley girls, their father and mother were excellent correspondents and their letters offer a chatty portrait of royalty across Europe not only from the point of view of the famous historian, but also of his daughters and wife.
I chased Mary Motley down and discovered that she would meet a man while her father was British Ambassador and marry him, a young British aristocrat, Algernon Thomas Brinsley Sheridan, in 1871.  He was a lineal descended of Thomas Brinsley Sheridan, the author of the classic “School for Scandal.”  Over the next 15 years she would have seven children with Sheridan, one of whom was killed in the Boer War.  At some point, Lincoln’s letter to Mary Motley would be acquired by Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library.

By now I've tossed my coffee cup and am in completely familar territory، passing places I go by several times a week.  I pause to take a picture of the bar where my wife and I met fourteen years ago, almost to the day.

A minute or two later, after turning left under the monorail, I hear an opera singer and know I'm close to home.  It comes from a condo a couple of blocks from ours.  The building owner plays opera with speakers directly above the little portico that fronts to the street.  He plays opera here because he believes it improves security.  He doesn't think the street toughs like opera and, come to think of it, I've never seen a street tough lounging there.

About the sources of this story

I walked this route on May 17, snapping photographs along the way with my I-Phone.  However, I was unable to do any writing until the Memorial Day holiday when I engaged in the completely selfish and pleasurable process of following most every Internet clue to its conclusion, all the time the new puppy sleeps on my lap, near my bare feet or at my side, on a towel covering the couch we've agreed is off limits.

The two sites I used for Lincoln’s activities on May 17, 1862, were The Lincoln Log and the thoroughly amazing Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Their collection of letters and other materials comprise 'Today in the Civil War', its tribute to the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. This is a beautiful and worthy site. Also, the late Maurice Sendak was a trustee of the library and they have a loving tribute plus many Sendak materials available on-line.

The dog and I really fell in with the Motleys and spent a fair amount of time chasing them down and reading their letters in two books available on line. An easy and nifty presentation is a compilation of letters done by daughter Susan, who also married into the British aristocracy, and carries the improbable name
Susan Margaret Stackpole Motley St. John Midmay

What’s the aristocracy without an absolutely killer website about them? The Peerage told me everything I needed to know about the Motleys and the people they married, including, quite often, their street address.

Plugging in my charger once again, I wandered around the Seattle Parks System. Don Sherwood came to Seattle in the fifties and hired on as a junior engineer in the Seattle Parks Department and was soon creating sketch maps of the parks, often adding historical data in hand-written commentary on the sketches. His
collection of information on each of Seattle’s parks is completely available on the Internet and a great jewel that needs betterexposure. We’ll visit Don’s work in a later blog.

I also discovered Linnea Westerlind’s blog “
A Year of Seattle Parks,” in which she decides to visit each park in the city over the course of a year and provide a description and commentary. We had a kinship on this day. On May 17, the day I was discovering First Hill Park, she was discovering Peace Park, near the University Street Bridge.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Barrier Islands of Georgia

Sometimes, we in the Northwest think we have the only franchise on natural beauty.  After spending a week in South Georgia on one of the Atlantic barrier islands, Saint Simons, I’m getting the feeling we should open another store.
I’ve always liked the sense of motion set off by the tectonic action that is part of living in the Northwest, the great Juan de Fuca Plate plunging under the North American Plate creating the basics of our place, thrusted-up and folded mountain ranges, topped by working volcanoes and the occasional shaker.  In turn, this movement creates the temperate rain forests on one side of the region and the great dry regions on the other.  It all provides an abiding feeling that you are moving with it, rafting a little bit closer to Canada everyday.
Google Earth
On Saint Simons, I felt a similar essential motion, though the motive force is hydraulic.  A rising ocean scrapes sand from the eastern beaches, stores it up in great, shifting sandbars, pushes it around the edges of the islands every day.  Eight foot tides carry this energy to the west, joining with the runoff of the silty rivers inland, creating flat salt marshes where an inch of elevation means success or failure to hundreds of species.  The islands are picked up and put down again, a bit closer to the older western shore.
Understanding and living with the causes of this movement organizes most hours of the day, connecting you to a rhythm played out in a soft and warm envelope of air with just a fleeting bit of humidity, like a long sigh. The barrier islands are a system rising out of several thousand years of climate change that continues and accelerates today. Observing and connecting to those rhythms, all the while entertained by the sensational bird and other wildlife the islands host, was the essence of my very busy week on Saint Simons Island.
University of Georgia
There are really several sets of sets of barrier islands, evidence of the really old ones seen in exposed clay as far away as Waycross, 50 miles to the west.  Closer to the shore there are two groups of islands, the first set formed in the Pleistocene, 35-40,000 years ago, when the shoreline was four to six feet higher than it is today.  The other time, at the peak of the last great ice age, 18,000 years ago, the shoreline was 80 miles to the east, at the edge of the continental shelf, because huge volumes of seawater were locked up in the great ice sheet.  Fairly rapid warming led to a fast moving rise in sea levels.  As it slowed, 4-5,000 years ago, these new barrier islands rose to the east of the older ones.  At that time, the ocean was rising 4-6 inches a century, stable enough to allow island formation and also pushing the new islands to the west, which continues today but with higher water levels at a rate of 12-14 inches/century.
Recurved Spit
Southwest Coastal Group
The technical term for the island’s creation is a 'recurved spit.'  Longshore currents from the north create the islands, curving and extending the land to the south.  Inside and protected by the arm of this new land is where the marsh grows.
Behind the islands, the salt marsh stretches across very considerable distances – four to eight miles wide -- the great plains of this seashore.  Because of water piling up north of the Georgia Barrier Islands, the tides pack a real punch, eight to nine foot tides at Saint Simons and other nearby islands – Jekyll, Sea Island, Sapelo, Wolf, Cumberland, Blackbeard, Tybee, Ossabaw.  The tides sweep the salt marsh twice a day.  Filling quickly and overflowing into the adjacent flats, the tides make the small creeks, looking peaceful and flat, an athletic event in the kayaks, dunking a couple of our number not more than twenty feet after pushing off.  
Because the salt water doesn’t linger long on the edges of these water courses, the thick Cordgrass grows to its full height, about six feet.  In other areas, where water spills onto the lower levels and creeps slowly along under a hot sun, the Cordgrass is less vital, reflecting the soil salinity and the anaerobic muds, growing to just three feet.  Where the water stays longer, for nearly the full tidal cycle, Cordgrass is three to six inches if it survives, but is often replaced by hardier grasses.  In places where the marsh has grown into sandy highpoints, just a couple of inches higher than the surrounding land, water may stay for just an hour or so, but it bakes and evaporates, pulling up salt from below by capillary action and crusting it on top.  These are called salt pans and vegetation does not grow there. 
Other life is transient on the salt pan, even the Fiddler Crabs, otherwise ubiquitous across the great flats, find some other place to be.  Research in North Carolina had the burrows of Mud Fiddler Crabs at 4-28/square foot in a salt marsh there.  The 100 miles of Georgia’s coast contain nearly a half million square miles of marshland, a third of all the salt marshes on the east coast of the United States.  They are a great factory of life forms serving many purposes, but most significant is that they are the flyways of eastern North America’s bird life.
The house we stayed in was directly across the marsh from a small, squat monument to the War of Jenkins' Ear and its climactic battle, The Battle of Bloody Marsh, where the Spanish failed in their lengthy attempt to expand their influence from St. Augustine in Florida further up the coast to Georgia. 
The Spanish did not do well in Georgia.  The Creek Indians were not enthralled by the busybody Jesuits.  They murdered or enslaved the missionaries and worked with the English to keep the Jesuits out.  The Spanish turned their attention to rivals in Europe.  They chased out the French, who saw this part of Georgia as a great place to transport the Huguenots, French protestants whom they couldn’t hang fast enough at home.
Despite their failures, the Spanish had treaty rights from the War of the Spanish Succession, a conflict based on growing influence over Spain by France and the frustration the Dutch had about their Spanish rulers.  While Spain’s wartime political objectives were not met, they did gain the right to board British ships in America to ensure that the trading concessions they were forced to give were not being abused by the serial plunderers and smugglers they knew the Brits to be.  A commercial captain named Robert Jenkins, was boarded in 1731 by a Spanish captain who found evidence of contraband and created a judicial solution on the spot, cutting off one of Jenkins’ ears and handing it back to him. 
Georgia Encyclopedia
While the popular telling of the story has the disengaged ear enraging Parliament who then immediately declared war, it was actually seven years before Jenkins brought his severed ear to Parliament!   How was Jenkins able to keep his ear for that period of time?  While there are engravings of Jenkins showing the ear to the lawmakers, there is little commentary on how a fleshly part of the head, no more than cartilage and skin, and seven years detached, could be so compelling.  Nonetheless, it apparently helped the argument and the British declared war.  Three years after Parliament's declaration, the Battle of Bloody Marsh ended the conflict. 
Georgia Encyclopedia
A large Spanish force had invaded, broke through the island’s shoreline defenses, followed the creeks up toward the British stronghold at Fort Frederica and were ambushed from the thick part of the forest along the marsh, something the botanists call the Forest Climax, the thick canopy of oaks and pine that signals the boundary of the marsh.  The Spanish broke and ran, those that could.
Resting in a patch of Cordgrass along Postell Creek, thinking how I might get out of this damned kayak, I felt the tide start to push the other way, toward the sea.  Happily, I let it take me.  Soon happy turned to a general concern that I was going pretty damned fast.  A dolphin breaking the water nearby was more than cool, but I quickly turned my attention to the sandbar along a channel to the east, our bird watching objective.  It required paddling across the broad, sturdy tidal flow and managing my beating heart.
At the sandbar, we saw a remarkable collection of birds, many of them mating.  Also mating were the horseshoe crabs, a species 450 million years old, huge and slow moving creatures caught on the sandbar, burrowing into the sand until the water comes again.  Looking away, across the choppy ocean to the east, we saw two examples of how much sand the ocean moves about the edges of these islands.  There used to be a sandbar called Pelican Bar, a great sweep of sand reduced to a small break in the ocean surface.  At one time it hosted vegetation and even a tree.  Two years ago, it disappeared and was replaced by Haas Bar, several thousand yards away and still barren, except for the massive numbers of birds, migratory and resident.
Crossing over to the beach, we pulled up the canoes and watched how hard the plants worked to keep all this movement at bay.  My favorite was the Beach Oat, a tall, bushy grass existing along the beach ridges.  Once a plant establishes there, it knocks down blowing sand, creating a small mound, covering up competing plants and establishing a colony of just Beach Oat.  The State of Georgia makes it illegal to take this plant off the beach, it protects so well. 
We also saw our friend from the salt marsh, Cordgrass.  Eroded into the tidal flow of the creeks, old plants are pushed out to sea, collected there and brought back home the eastern beach with a new look and function, placed by the tide into orderly rows, they are homes for fleas, beach crabs and other critters the shorebirds fancy.
The house we had was on the marsh side and the noise of the birds was so various and loud that I speculated to myself that the sound engineer of the Masters Golf Tournament responsible for its rich bird call sound track was renting the house next door.
We were joined in the morning for coffee and later for cocktails along the house's little pool above the marsh by Red Wing Blackbirds and a pair of Long Tailed Grackles who would wash up or cool off by knocking water over themselves, throwing it into the air with their heads.  They even practiced full immersion bathing, appropriate for animals growing up around all these Southern Baptists, jumping into the pool and popping back out.  Sometimes they were so wet they could hardly fly to a nearby tree to preen. 
We saw two species of vulture – first the Turkey Vulture, one of whom sat on a dock until deep dusk and waited for us to leave, not ten yards away, so he could have the carrion stashed on the other side of the marsh creek. 

Clusters of Black Vultures, whose head lacks the red skin of the Turkey, hung around the edges, waiting for a mistake by the Marsh Bunnies, residents of the marsh edge and oh so smitten by the tender and sweet grass made by the lawns of the house creatures. 
Audubon's Woodland Stork
Printable Images
There are 280 species of birds living in or visiting these barrier islands.  People say the Bald Eagle is making a big comeback here, though we saw only one, an immature who lost a fight with a big vulture over something in the marsh.  Osprey are everywhere.  The kings of the salt marsh are the long legged birds, ciconiiformes  -- Ibises, Herons, Spoonbills, Storks, Egrets, Bitterns.  Two sitings were notable.  An enormous Great Egret sat comfortably on the dock nearby, solitary, watchful and uncommon.  We saw a pair of Woodland Stork, quite rare, twice and hoped they might have been two pairs, though we doubt it.
Other notable species here are professional golfers.  St.  Simons is home to PGA Tour players Davis Love III, Matt Kucher, Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover and Jonathan Bird.  They can be found at the Sea Island Club, a lovely and exclusive club and at the airport, just off the main road, where a clutch of jets patiently wait.
There are many slave stories, of course.  Nearby Jekyll Island was the place where the Wanderer landed, in late 1858, containing 409 people who had survived the passage.  It was the last slave ship delivery on American soil. 
Ebos Landing
Georgia Encyclopedia
Another story is that of Ebos Landing and why some black fishermen still don’t fish in Dunbar Creek.  In the early part of the 19th Century several just-arrived slaves were sold in Savannah and put on a smaller boat headed for St. Simons, about 70 miles away.  The Igbos are a tribe from the southeast region of Nigeria whose lot has been one of global and national predation and the greatest suffering.  In the 60s, as nations and corporations battled for the oil that lay under their land, the Igbos were caught up in a civil war, creating briefly their own country, Biafra, the name synonymous then of starving children, replaced today by Darfur or South Sudan. 
As the slave boat approached St. Simons, some stories have them committing suicide by scuttling the boat, drowning all on board.  Others have them taking over the boat and ‘heading for the swamp,’ a term calling up the sure consequence of death.  Rising from this tragedy is a powerful mythology that they did not drown.  Rather, they were able to gain the ability to fly, turn themselves into buzzards and fly back to Africa. 
A New Deal Writers Project in 1940 recorded another telling of what is likely the most enduring story of this region:
Ain't you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.
Novelist Toni Morrison used the Ebos Landing story as the basis for her book Song of Solomon. 
One other slave story caught my attention on St. Simons.  The biggest slave owner on the islands was the Butler family, owning 638 slaves in 1812, farming rice on Butler Island and cotton on St. Simons.  A grandson, Pierce, was living well in Philadelphia where he saw a performance, in 1832, given by Fanny Kemble, a British stage performer.  He fell flat out, face down in love and followed the later stops on her American tour.  She took her time, but finally returned his love and they married, settling in Philadelphia, quickly having two children, both girls.
Fanny Kemble
Civil War Quilts
In 1836, Pierce and his brother inherited the plantation and its many slaves and, after a time, Fanny and her English anti-slavery views came to live on the plantation.  She was a storyteller, a diarist, had a great eye and an even bigger heart.  Her account of her time there, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838 and 1839, did what few books about slavery accomplished.  She made room for the voices of the slaves themselves, sharing the conversations she had with them.  She vowed not to publish it, but her experience there and her husband’s pro-slavery views had already doomed the marriage.  She left the island, continued her performances and finally left for England, Pierce suing her for divorce.  She published the story in 1863 during the Civil War when she feared that Britain’s interests might lead to their entering the war on the southern side.
Just before the civil war began, Butler’s finances were in disarray and he was forced to sell the slaves.  He sold 500 people for $300,000, the biggest single transaction of human beings in the history of American slavery.  The children of Fanny and Pierce continued the familiar and corrosive slavery narrative.  One daughter stayed with Pierce on the plantation and was pro-slave, the other daughter moved to England to be with her mother and was abolitionist. 
This is a place to go back to.  While a bit of a trek, it is a five hour flight to from Seattle to Atlanta and another five hour drive to the island, it was worth it.  We also caught a Class A Savannah Sand Gnats baseball game, Savannah and all its joys just 70 miles up the road.

New Georgia Encyclopedia--Great for anything about Georgia

Ebos Landing

Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838 and 1839 by Fanny Kemble

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Who's Smiling Now?

Seattle PI
Mayor McGinn has passed the halfway point of his first term and weathered what could have been a mid-range disaster with the May Day parade and its associated vandalism.  For some reason, the May Day event brought up next year’s mayoral politics and made me think about the preparations that are going on right now by those who think McGinn is dead meat and for the McGinn strategists who are saying ‘not so fast.’
It also caused me to look at another election, one held in 1973, which has some similarities to the one we anticipate today.  Not only are there some interesting comparisons, but the 1973 election brings to mind an unusual guy, someone I haven’t thought about in many years – an advertising man who drifted into politics, first producing political messages, then running campaigns and finally running for mayor himself.  Clever, engaging and inventive, he couldn’t resist stretching a perfectly good story into one that was even better.   He claimed that he had invented the smiley face image.  Though the record shows that whatever image came from his night of restless tossing and turning came later than some others who also aggregated two eyes and a big smiley mouth on a yellow background.   

He also claimed to be the first person to put a political message in a fortune cookie, another first that wants an asterisk.  It is, however, the smiley face that still defines his life, witness his book, boiled down from 2,842 pages to a pithy 100 pages of narrative demonstrating how a smiley face guy from Seattle became an Arizona sourpuss in just a few short decades.

For our narrative about the 1973 election, what is important is that David Stern’s hatred of Wes Uhlman, the incumbent mayor in 1973, was such that the candidate he was managing became the front man for a wholly negative campaign that just didn’t seem right for his personality.  The sourpuss campaign squandered a big lead, leaving no one feeling very good except Wes Uhlman. 

Washington State Senate
Unlike Mayor McGinn, who came to elected politics late, Uhlman was a political prodigy who was elected to the state legislature in 1958 when he was 23 years old while still in law school and a year before our current Mayor was born.  Uhlman had become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee just after he turned 30 and was elected a state senator at 32.  He was by no means the favorite when he filed for Mayor in 1969, but comfortably led a primary election field of city council members, a secretary of state, a state legislator and a civic leader in the primary and would easily be elected in the general election as Seattle’s youngest-ever Mayor at 34.

R.  Mort Frayn, finished second in the 1973 primary and would be Uhlman’s opponent in the general election.  One of the very nice men of politics, business and civic life in Seattle, back when Republicans could be very nice, Frayn is important to this story because of Uhlman’s respect for him and the changes Uhlman made in his general election campaign after it was clear that Frayn would be his opponent in the general election. 

Uhlman’s had retained Stern for the 1969 election.  Stern’s views of politics and political motivations were severe and he had a bleak view of political life.  Perhaps it came from product differentiation in the ad business -- praise your product, savage the other.  Whatever the reason, a conversation with David Stern that turned to politics would change the weather in a room, bringing in a ironic and sarcastic dark sky and marble-sized hail.  After Uhlman had won the 1969 primary, Stern  told him that the only way to beat Mort Frayn was to relentlessly attack him and marginalize him as a hapless establishment tool.  Uhlman, who could harden his heart as well as any Seattle politician, would have none of it.  He liked and respected Frayn.  There was a big shouting match and Stern was gone from the campaign and now was a durable enemy.  

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Liem Eng Tuai had just been appointed to fill a Seattle City Council vacancy in 1969 and was the second Asian to serve on the Seattle City Council, the first being Wing Luke, a gifted community leader who was a rising star in Seattle politics until the float plane he was a passenger in disappeared near the summit of Stevens Pass in May of 1965.  There was something down to earth about Tuai that was very appealing to voters and he earned, as an appointed member in just his fifth month on the job, as many votes as Uhlman had in the 1969 general election, an impressive and unusual accomplishment.

Like McGinn’s first term, Uhlman’s first term was rough as a cob.  The difficulties Uhlman had largely came about because he had a passion for civil rights and equal opportunity and the courage to act on those noble ideas.  Uhlman was the first modern mayor and had been given real executive powers by the state legislature.  This created stresses with the city council and with departments who were used to dealing with council members rather than budget managers with a policy agenda.  Uhlman fought with the city unions, particularly police and fire, because he believed in affirmative action and equal opportunity and was not afraid to take on the specifics of those policies.  Uhlman also had a terrible problem with the police department, his efforts at affirmative action making it harder to fix a payoff scandal that wouldn’t go away.  The municipally-owned electric utility, City Light, was also a source of conflict.  The utility believed it was fully responsible for the electricity part of city government though it was willing to leave the rest of government to Uhlman.  When the utility bought land for a nuclear power plant without his knowledge, Uhlman sent the Fire Chief, Gordon Vickery, to subjugate the electric utility.  Gasoline on the fire was the great Seattle recession of the early seventies – to my mind, a harder shock locally than this one.

Finally, there was something about the Mayor in his first term.  A bit glib, a bit distant, a bit full of himself and clearly with a wandering eye for the next office.  The Seattle Times started referring to him as “The Mod Mayor” which was the easy part.  Times columnist Herb Robinson, who did not think highly of Uhlman, described him a bit harder as:

“…a tough vote hustler who has spent most of his present term polishing his image to run for higher office.  Or, as a fallback position, to try to hold on to the penthouse suite while he sorts out his political future.”

David Stern describes the night the happy face came to him as a confluence of several disturbing events –– a friend with a troubled daughter, an evening searching for her through the streets of the University District, taken over, in his view, by drugs and hippies, in 1966.  One night he had attended a film performance of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” and the lyrics from one of its songs, “Put on a Happy Face” kept churning through his mind.  Up most of the night, he sketched out a rough version of a button, groggily brought it to his art director and asked him to make a a prototype.  Voila!  He orders 25,000 of them for a client, they disappear within a few days, the town is buzzing and the world is never the same again. 

However, a graphic designer in Boston claimed the same voila three years previously and a World War II pilot had one on the nose of his fighter plane.  Don Hannula, a Seattle Times reporter who had a low tolerance for anything but the truth from political figures, confronted Stern about the Smiley provenance when Stern ran for Mayor against Norm Rice in 1993.  Stern claimed that he never said he had invented the Smiley Face.  Hannula pressed on the fortune cookie.  Stern called it a misunderstanding.  The Rice/Stern for mayor match-up is one to forget.

It’s a bit unfair fuss too much about the smiley face invention.  Lots of people have invented it – cookie store owners, used car lots operators, cake bakers, even pre-historic French people, according to the Smiley World website, a London based company that owns the rights to the smiley face in 100 countries, though not in this one.  A French journalist, Nicolas Loufrani, began adding a smiley face to a newspaper so that readers could immediately identify positive stories.  This happened in 1971.  Well after Stern’s moment in 1966 and even further from a Boston graphics designer in 1963.  What distinguished Loufrani is that he got legal ownership of it.  In fact, there is even a struggle over rights to the smiley face emoticon, but it is too vicious to go into and we need to return to the story of the 1973 election.
The primary election is perhaps the most dangerous exposure for the incumbent mayor save a personal scandal.  In the past ten years, two sitting mayors found themselves kicked to the curb in a primary election.  In 2001, Mayor Schell was defeated, finishing a poor third and, most recently, Mayor Nickels was ousted in the 2009 primary for what might have been his third term.   Historically, this is unusual in Seattle.  Since the political turmoil of the twenties and thirties, being Mayor of Seattle has been, while not a sure thing, a relatively stable vocation.

The primary creates a great deal of volatility.  The lower turnout magnifies the opposing candidates' support as well as the disaffections and disappointments created by the incumbent in the first term.  This is especially so because of the legislation which now has us voting in the middle of August when so many voters are soaking in Seattle’s one month of sun.  There is also so much room for mischief, particularly when many city council candidates are in play.  Council candidates are often involved in a wordless negotiation between themselves and the mayor.  One action creates several different reactions, played out in legislation, press releases, letters, questions at hearings to the mayor’s surrogates. 

In Uhlman’s case, african-american city councilman Sam Smith’s announcement that he would be a candidate removed Uhlman as the candidate who would be the largest recipient of black voters, reducing his primary strength by as much as 5,000 votes.    The other council candidate was Tim Hill, one of the emerging progressive majority on the council who gave more liberal voters an option against the mayor.  It was a volatile mix and less than one third of voters gave their support to Mayor Uhlman in the primary.  He had just enough to beat Hill, the third place finisher, but trailed Tuai by more than 12,000 votes. 

Stern and Tuai kept pounding away on the negative.  The mayor was running a political machine on public money, including federal money, through the Johnson Model Cities program.  Tuai released a list of people he would fire once elected.  Uhlman had tried to get another council member to file an ethics charge against Tuai.  The Mayor had offered a municipal judge appointment to Tuai if he would get out of the race.  Some of these charges resulted in Tuai backtracking and waffling on their veracity.  This negative barrage grew so intense that supporters of Tuai paid for their own brochure, featuring the actual accomplishments of their candidate. 

In an interview, Stern defended his strategy. 

“You have to say why one man is good and the other is bad.  You have to throw some punches and some of them might wind up low.”

Tuai, the authentic, decent guy was marked up by his own campaign.  At the end, it was Tuai who looked like the politician.

On election night, down by two points, Tuai looked out at the crowd and saw Stern working the crowd.  “There goes the candidate,” he said, ruefully.  “There were certainly parts of my campaign I just didn’t like.”
The issues that Uhlman and Tuai talked about had remarkable durability over time -- fairness among ethnic and racial players in jobs, housing and education, protection of the neighborhoods from the incursions of large transportation projects, Seattle's role in international trade.  They were essentially the issues of the Mayors who followed them – Royer and Rice. But now, think of trying to speak to a voter in 1973 with the vocabulary of today’s digital age. Think of all the companies who weren’t around in 1973 and all the issues they create today.  About 45% of Seattle residents are under 30 years old today. Do any of the presumptive mayors know what to say to them?  Think of the changed demographics.  Asians and hispanics now outnumber black voters in Seattle three to one.

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To me, the great lesson of Tuai/Uhlman is one of authenticity.  Is the candidate a real person or one that is manufactured?  Liem Tuai, who had a low view of the political arts, ultimately found out that you need to respect it at least enough to keep your own political personality firmly in your grasp.  He gave himself to his campaign manager and Wes Uhlman got to be the only smiley face on election night, 1973.