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.

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