Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Scott Calhoun's Hotel

Washington Hotel in 1903
UW Collections
Near the end of April, 1903, Scott Calhoun, a young son of a pioneer physician, stood on the corner of what would someday become, in his judgment, the corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street.  He was teasing out of his imagination what the new corner would look like and, for that matter, how the entrance to his new hotel would fit on the new corner.  

The distressing look of his next door neighbor, an ornate structure, a great hotel, stranded on top of its property line, 140 feet up in the air, didn’t bother him much.  He continued to see nothing but opportunity in the property he had decided to buy and was confident it would have great value once all of this got cleaned up and streets and street corners set and marked and the engineers and workman were dislodged by the real estate people. 

Another man was a frequent visitor here, Reginald Thomson, the city engineer, whose work all this destruction was. Thomson saw Seattle as a landscape in need of alteration by a wise man's hand.  It was to him a collection of too steep hills, high bank waterfront, all kinds
Reginald Heber Thomson
UW Collections
of inconvenient watercourses, creases, folds, cliffs, slides and swamps. Thomson, who sited most of the great public works we still use in today's Seattle, mostly preferred the straight line to the curvy one.

The up-in-the-air hotel used to be called the Denny Hotel, after one of the original settlers of Seattle, who had tried and failed to develop it.  It was now renamed “The Washington” by its new owner, James A. Moore, who had purchased the place in 1903 and finally put the unlucky structure out of its misery, making just-generous-enough final offers to the bill collectors, contractors, lawyers, bankers  and consultants who had sucked the place dry since the day the construction contract was signed, 14 years previous. It never had a paying guest.
James A.  Moore

Originally, Moore opposed the regrade, as Thomson called his latest public work, but soon found romance and business promise in the straight lines Thomson was drawing on the landscape.  Moore was working on an idea that would result in a hotel and a theater near the site, across the street from Calhoun’s would-be hotel.  He saw bright lights in this mayhem.  He had recently told the Seattle Daily Times: 

“Second Avenue is to be the Broadway of the Queen City.  What that famous thoroughfare of this country is to New York, Second Avenue will be to Seattle."

The Seattle Daily Times couldn’t have agreed more.  Its owner, Alden Blethen, came to Seattle nearly broke but the city took him in and he prospered.  He had a fine building on Union Street on the Seattle Broadway, Second Avenue, and he
New Washington in center of photo as Second
Avenue angles to the west to meet the
new grid forming in the regrade.  Seattle
Daily Times Building is in the lower right corner
could look up the street to the north past many of his advertisers toward the slight turn to the left the street took as it was finding its true footing in the glittery future.

About 112 years later, my wife and I were walking home on Second Avenue, past the New Washington Hotel, now called the Josephinum, past the Moore Theater and over to Virginia Street where Scott Calhoun must have lingered all those years ago, only imagining the sidewalk that we now stood firmly on.  We noticed the hotel seemed almost open after the months of construction and remodeling that we had learned to ignore. We tentatively opened the door, saw some people with luggage at the front desk and quickly and confidently found the route to the bar. 

We learned we were visiting at the end of a soft opening for Seattle's newest Kimpton Hotel. We love Kimpton hotels and seek them out when we travel. They have not only a sense of style but almost always a sense of history and scale. The food is good and this bar, called Pennyroyal, is lovely, its original white marble bar incandescent against the old, dark and polished wood still in place. Known originally as the Calhoun Hotel, it had become the Palladian Apartments over time.  

From the thirties to the seventies, Second Avenue did not exactly reflect the visions of Moore, Blethen, Thomson and Calhoun as the new Broadway. There were repossessed cars parked in the area in lot after lot during the Great Depression and new and used cars replaced them in the fifties and sixties.

Regrade in 1929
Finally, the office buildings, then the restaurants and then the apartments and condos followed. Today, the Denny Regrade has the city's greatest density, is home to thousands and soon to be home for other thousands more, mostly techies working at the new Amazon campus three blocks from this corner. Maybe that Broadway dream is enjoying a new day.

I started searching for Scott Calhoun soon after we came home from that first drink at Pennyroyal and found a young man whose prominence in his time had almost completely disappeared in our own.  His role in his greatest public accomplishment, the creation of the Port of Seattle, is unknown to nearly all the people who are the port's stewards today.  In addition to his accomplishments, his life had plenty of tragedy wafting through it, the early deaths of two wives and the death of a toddler son still booming across time, but who is hearing them today?

Little Crossing Over Place
Burke Museum
Like so many journeys in Seattle, this one starts at "little crossing over place," the Coastal Salish term for what became Pioneer Square -- the still beating and true heart of our city.

The natives would come there to tie up their cedar canoes in a small bay protected by a sandbar angling across its mouth. Good water ran into the bay out of springs just up the hill. An ancient footpath started near the bay and went all the way over the steep hill and down to Lake Washington where many native families had longhouses along the lake, well protected from the winter winds blowing out of the southwest.

Today, the tiny bay and sand spit are all covered over by pioneer detritus -- sawdust, ship's ballast, swamp muck, ash from the Seattle Fire, stumps, dead work animals and lots of other garbage -- sealed over time by layers of dirt, gravel, asphalt and cement.

Scott Calhoun’s family was not among the very first Seattle pioneers, but the family was early enough. His great uncle, Rufus, was a sea captain living in gold rush San Francisco. Rufus Calhoun had once sailed into Puget Sound and past the place the original Seattle settlers moved to when their first choice of land wasn’t working. Scott's prosperous, doctor father, a Regent of the Territorial University, lived with his highly verbal family just up the street from "little crossing over place" and, as a young boy, Scott saw the still disappearing outline of the original land that was Seattle.

Burke Museum

When Scott’s great uncle sailed by, 300 people clustered around a steam driven saw mill owned by Henry Yesler whose supply of Douglas Fir and Cedar was pulled down the ancient footpath by teams of oxen.  They started calling the road ‘Skid Road’ for its great contribution to the town’s only real industry.  Finally, they named the path for Yesler, who later built a mansion adjacent to it on the apple orchard he had earlier planted. 

The Calhouns had a ringside seat for the construction of Yesler’s amazing mansion, a 40 room affair on a full block surrounded by the orchard. The Calhoun family had moved to Seattle in 1876 right across the street, along Third Avenue about where the Morrison Hotel stands today.  Scott was two, and as he grew, learned that the old, smallish woman selling baskets along his street was none other than Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seattle.  He and his sister recalled visiting old man Yesler during apple season where he would secretly give them bags of fruit in a way that kept the transaction from his wife, Sarah, who did not share Henry’s generous streak with children.  There were now 3,000 people in Seattle and Scott's father was one of six busy doctors.  

Calhoun’s family was from Nova Scotia and several of his relatives and their neighbors came out to the Washington Territory, settling in the Skagit River delta in and around La Connor.  His father became a doctor, studying at Glasgow University, finding a wife there and returning to Civil War America in 1864 to join the medical corps of the Army of the Potomac.  The experience provided a bloody but priceless internship for the young doctor. 

George V.  Calhoun
He was also noticed.  George V. Calhoun was appointed to establish a Marine Hospital in Port Angeles and later to lead the older, more established Marine Hospital in Port Townsend. Hospitals like these were created during the Presidency of John Adams to provide health care to merchant mariners and act as health screeners at US Ports of Entry.  Later, the hospital cared for US Navy personnel and the service became attached to the US Public Health System.  The old Art Deco building on the top of Beacon Hill, recently used as the headquarters of Amazon, was part of the marine hospital system and traces its origins to our second president. 

Scott Calhoun was young, likable and sophisticated.  He enrolled at Stanford University on the institution's first day.  He graduated from Stanford’s very first class, in 1894, along with his wife-to-be, Mary Burke, daughter 
Scott in 1894
Stanford University
of a prominent California legislator. Herbert Hoover was a classmate.  

Calhoun was literally in at the beginning of Stanford.  He suggested the school colors, scarlet (from his favorite handkerchief) and white and attended -- and took pictures -- at the very first Stanford-Cal football game, now called simply "The Game." He had played baseball at Stanford and was a fine athlete, also high jumping on the track team. 

Mary Burke and Scott married in San Francisco and returned to Seattle after Scott graduated from law school. With them was the first of their three children, Ellen. The couple were leaders of the Republican Party, young people of note whom everyone believed would soon be influential leaders of the community and later quite prosperous. 

His mind was as agile as his body and 1903 was a busy year for both him and his home city.  He was offering some serious time to the campaign of Richard Achilles Ballinger, who would be elected Mayor in the fall and later become President Taft's Secretary of the Interior.  Scott had talked to Ballinger about seeking election in the near future as Corporation Counsel, the city’s lawyer. Calhoun and a close friend were also helping a client acquire a baseball franchise for Seattle in the brand new Pacific Coast League.  Seattle had a franchise in the Pacific Northwest League, the Clamdiggers, but Scott and others saw far more opportunity in a league that would stretch all along the great west coast of the country and one day redeem the city’s promise as a big league town.

The new team started assembling for opening day a couple of weeks before the April 29 opener and their handlers were working the media.  On their way to Recreation Park, out near today's Seattle Center, several players stopped by the offices of The Seattle Daily Times to gin up some press.  Their club's name was the Seattle Siwashes. Little has changed in American sport since then.  Siwash is a derogatory word for Native Americans. 

Most of the players were new to Seattle fans as the ownership had just concluded a frenzy of contract signings and poaching from other teams during the winter, trying to find a team that could be competitive. Frank Vernon Hemphill was one of those players and had done all this before and in many towns. A native of Michigan and a journeyman outfielder, Hemphill would have a career with a total of 40 major league at bats from which he squeezed out three hits.  His weak hitting days ahead of him, his role this day was to be a charmer, someone who knew a sound bite from a salmon. 

“This is the first time I ever saw the town,” he told the Daily Times sports desk, “But it looks like home to me.”

1903 Chinooks
UW Collections
The Pacific Coast League was an existential crisis for Dan Dugdale, the head mentor and owner of Seattle's Northwest League squad, who now had to share this growing and vibrant market.  Every day was a new crisis. Players were jumping ship for the spendy new franchises forming along the coast. The salary cap for the Pacific Coast League was $3,000/player.  In the Northwest League, it was half that. Even worse, Dugdale believed he had a commitment through this crucial season from the Seattle Railroad Company, the trolley company of the day, to have use of a property in the south end of town, Athletic Park. Jacob Furth, the President of the trolley company, a forerunner of today’s Puget Sound Energy, appeared unwilling to approve the oral agreement made by a lower level employee two years previous. Dugdale sought a court order to keep Athletic Park available to the Chinooks. In support of his injunction, Dugdale recounted how he had spent $3,800 dollars on the park in preparation for the ‘03 season and then was told he would not have access to it.

A former major league catcher with the nickname "Fatty," Dugdale recalled for the court his conversation with stern old Jacob Furth after being told he had no field to put his baseball club on.

“What will become of me?” Dugdale told the court he had asked Furth. The old banker and businessman responded with something just this side of recreational cruelty:   “I don’t know, Mr.  Dugdale.  I’m not in the baseball business.”

Days before Roosevelt's arrival.  The hastily erected rail line
is on the right.
UW Collections
James Moore didn't have much time to squeeze revenue out of his hotel purchase so this is why he had fielded a hundred workers to install a small, crude rail line and cantilever to pull a rail car up to the door of the Washington Hotel. He had his first paying guest on the way and it was a good one, the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, and his considerable entourage.  He topped it all off with a picture of the president over the portico.

Calhoun had paid $15,000 for his property just north of the Washington Hotel.  It was a big purchase for him.  Scott’s day job then was as grading attorney for the city and his title Assistant Corporation Counsel.  He was just 29, but with some help from his father he was able to buy the property.    

Corporation Counsel
Seattle Municipal Archives
Scott handled legal issues related to the special grading districts formed to reshape the many hills in Seattle and allocate the costs of the projects to the benefiting property owners.  It was a sensitive and difficult job, always on the cusp of public interest and public subsidy. But he knew how the grading game worked and he had considerable confidence that an investment in the land for the hotel would be a good one.  His thinking proved out a year later when he was offered $60,000 for the property.  His eye firmly fixed on the hotel idea, he turned the offer down.

As the regrade project dragged on, Calhoun settled into the political preparations he needed to win the office of Corporation Counsel.  He became the Chairman of the Republican Party Executive Committee in early 1904.  Even though the current Corporation Counsel, Mitchell Gilliam, was re-elected with the largest majority ever for that office, Scott had a plan.  He and others began to sound the alarm to the legislature about the growing backlog in the King County Court system.  Sure enough, by 1905, the legislature approved a new judge.  Gilliam first thought he should not take the position, if offered, since a friend in his office also seemed to want it.  There certainly appeared to be conversations among the principals.  Soon, Gilliam took the judgeship and Scott was appointed Corporation Counsel.  Gilliam’s friend took over as grading attorney.  Everyone agreed it was a very tidy play.

George Cotterill as Assistant
City Engineer
Seattle Municipal Archives
George Cotterill was the assistant city engineer in 1903.  Unlike his boss, Thomson, Cotterill saw nothing wrong with a graceful, curving line and, over several years, developed a bicycle transportation network that followed the contours of the city’s emerging residential areas on Capitol Hill and beyond.  The bike had changed from a clumsy contraption to something very much like today’s product and it had become quite popular, its use stoked by clubs like the Queen City Bicycle Club, a young person’s social group and an impressive advocate on progressive issues. In 1903, the Seattle Parks Department hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to make a master parks plan for the new city and the firm quite quickly saw the advantages of the Cotterill trail network, incorporating the bike routes into the plan’s boulevard system that connected all of the many parks they proposed Seattle build. 

This was good news for the residential real estate market, now growing further
from the city’s downtown core.  The boulevard system help create and connect very special, close in neighborhoods and people found housing in those neighborhoods highly desirable.

The Sylvia
Scott had hired the best hotel architect then working in the city, William P. White, and began construction on the building in 1908.   White had a reputation for clean, classical buildings and designed not only the Calhoun Hotel, as it became known, but the lovely Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia along with the original San Juan County Courthouse in Friday Harbor.

The real estate industry saw great strategic value in the Calhoun Hotel. It would be the first large building to cross Virginia Street to the north, meaning that investor confidence in the expansion of the downtown was no longer imaginary.  The Moore Theater and its hotel annex also went up, following the construction of the great New Washington Hotel, built on the lot of the original Denny Hotel.

The Calhoun
Frank Blethen published a front page editorial in 1903 declaring that the city would achieve its next step to greatness by 1920 as the regrade's promise was redeemed.  In 1908, he published another piece, he called it a vision, on the front page.  “It’s here already,” it said.  “Everything we thought we would see in 1920 is in our grasp today.”

Having survived the Panic of 1893 by the great happenstance of the Alaska/Yukon Gold Rush, Seattle was booming and ready to welcome the era of the Pacific in a great World’s Fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition.  This not only gave a theme to the growing city, but stimulated hotel building and made lasting changes to the city. After 1909 when the Calhoun opened, the three hotels -- the Moore Annex, the New Washington and the Calhoun were changing the center of hotel gravity in Seattle, pulling it north from Pioneer Square.

It’s hard for a Corporation Counsel to have policy priorities.  He represents the city on so many legal matters that he has limited time for his own advocacy.   Plus, his hotel was underway and it required a lot of his time.  But one issue always was near the top of the stack on his desk, an issue that he drove for years– the creation of a port district for the city – an organization that could compete on behalf of the public against the influence of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  The Northern Pacific had long controlled the city’s front porch through its rail yards and docks.  Harbor improvements other than those favored by the Northern Pacific were not easy politically and rarely done.  

Railroad Avenue
Museum of History and Industry
The Progressives wanted a publicly owned harbor with locally accountable officials in charge.  Among those leading the Progressives was our man George Cotterill, now elected in 1906 to the state legislature as one of three democrats in the state senate, where he promptly crossed the aisle and aligned himself with the progressive side of the Republican Party who, with his move, gained the majority.

In the 1907 session of the legislature, Cotterill found himself nicely positioned as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Harbors and Harbor Lines.  He and Scott Calhoun worked on a draft of a Port of Seattle bill that found its way through the legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor Albert Mead at the insistence of the Northern Pacific.  The bill died in the 1909 session as well.

However, time was on the side of public ownership of the waterfront and the strategic situation was changing.  The French effort to build the Panama Canal had collapsed and the grand idea was tarnished by disease, corruption and incompetence.  There was an opening for American presence there.

Roosevelt, like the assassinated McKinley whom he replaced, saw the Pacific as the new center of the country’s world view.  It is highly likely that among the cables he received at the Washington Hotel during his 1903 Seattle stay were updates of conversations between Panamanian Nationalists and American military men.  Over the summer, the Panamanian Revolution against Columbia ignited.  By November, with the Nashville, an American gunship, standing off the Panamanian coastline, Panama declared itself a nation.  Two days later, the US recognized the new country and, by Thanksgiving, a treaty between the US and Panama gave America the right to build the Panama Canal. 

“Let the dirt fly,” Roosevelt said. 

UW Collections
In 1910, the Calhoun Hotel stood at the highest point of the regrade, the corner of Second and Virginia, just as Scott had imagined it.  A new renter slid into each room as soon as his managers put furniture in.  He negotiated a ten year lease with an experienced operator.  On October 10, he sprung the real estate surprise of the year, selling the hotel to the Interlaken Land Company for $265,000.  Using the proceeds of the sale, he purchased many lots from the Interlaken Land Company portfolio that followed the bike trails laid out by George Cotterill.  These routes formed a wonderful street connection between Lake Union and Lake Washington and enhanced the value of residential real estate. 

At the same time, he announced the sale of 19 of those lots for $60,000.  In one move, the sale guaranteed the Thomson dream of northward expansion on a level gradient, but also Cotterill's dream of a graceful residential and park development along north Capitol Hill down to the shores of Lake Washington.  Today, Interlaken Boulevard remains among of the most lovely neighborhood byways of the city. Scott's family, wife Mary and his three children, were financially set. 

By the 1911 session, the Panama Canal was the strategic driver of state trade policy.  Cotterill and Calhoun pulled all the levers they had and created a powerful consensus around the idea that the era of the Pacific was not to be decided by the Northern Pacific Railroad but by citizens of Seattle. Newspapers and politicians and advocates were lining up.  But it still an iffy deal in Olympia. 
In a dramatic move as the session was nearing its end, the Progressive leadership in the legislature feared the worst.  They asked Scott to explain the legislation and allay the fears of the fence sitters. The legislature met as a committee of the whole to hear Calhoun's passionate arguments.  He carried the day. Even the Seattle Daily Times, no friend of public ownership, lent its editorial page to fulsome praise by supporters of the port bill which now, after the governor signed it, had to be approved by the voters of King County.  Publisher Alden Blethen kept his personal distance, but his newspaper clearly approved the port district as the right thing to do. 

At the end of the year, Scott resigned his job as the city's lawyer and hired on as the new Port District’s lawyer.  Thomson became the district’s Chief Engineer, beating out his old assistant, Cotterill, whom the Daily Times vigorously supported.  That was news in itself.  Cotterill was a Democrat, all for public ownership and, even worse, a prohibitionist, positions Alden Blethen vigorously opposed. The Times reverted to form in the election for Mayor that followed, supporting the thoroughly corrupt Hiram Gill over Cotterill.  Cotterill won.

Harbor Island as envisioned by Calhoun 
Calhoun threw himself into the Port District and the projects it was getting ready to present to voters.  They had come up with seven projects – $5,000,000 for Harbor Island, the largest artificial island in the world, built up by all the dirt the city was moving at the time and a strategic alternative to the waterfront controlled by the railroad.  The plan called for other investments along the waterfront, Salmon Bay in Ballard, Smith Cove below Magnolia and even a ferry from Seattle to Bellevue.  Voters gave the port approval for these projects by 49,000 to 8,000.

Political life swirled around Scott and Mary and they had to squeeze in somehow the everyday parts of life.  A couple of days before Scott was elected chairman of the Taft delegation to the state convention on March 9, 1912, Mary scheduled an appointment at Providence Hospital on March 12 for what friends called a minor procedure.  She checked in at 8:30 in the morning and was dead two hours later.  She was just 37.
Ellen Calhoun at Stanford

Scott's oldest sister, Nellie Calhoun, moved in to help with the kids, Ellen and Katharine.  After Ellen's graduation from Queen Anne High School, she enrolled at Stanford and excelled as had her father. Like him, she became the editor of the school newspaper -- just the second woman to serve and the first woman elected.  She was an athlete, rowing on the varsity women's crew.  Katharine remained in Seattle, mostly, though she attended Stanford briefly.  She and her sister were close, even as they were embarked on very different lives.  Katharine visited Ellen at a southern California ranch her second husband owned and Ellen came to Seattle to help out with the birth of Katherine's daughter, Maribeth, who also became a journalist.  Maribeth Morris was one of the first women to work in the Seattle PI Newsroom. 
Marion Zioncheck

At Katharine's wedding, her husband, Gerald Balthasar, had as his best man none other than Marion Zioncheck, the student leader at the University of Washington.  Katharine's husband met Zioncheck at the University of Washington where Zioncheck was an older and influential student and its student body president. I'm wondering if Frank Edwards, about to be elected the Seattle Mayor, was at Katharine's wedding in that summer of 1928.  Edwards was a great friend of Scott and might have been invited. After, Zioncheck organized the successful recall of Edwards who had sought to privatize the electricity utility.  In 1930, after Edwards had fired Superintendent of City Light, J. D. Ross, by then the beacon of public power in the Northwest.  There was a political firestorm that forged Zioncheck's political career and ended Edward's career.  Said the New York Times:
Frank Edwards, 1928

"Mr.  Edwards is out.  Mr.  Ross is restored to utility control.  The Power Trust has a flea in its ear and the Moscow papers have a good story."

Over time, Scott's law practice began to emphasize business over public service and his work took him further away from Seattle.  By 1923 he was working with an international company that was selling a new wood preservation product.  He lived mostly in Chicago or New York.  In 1923 he married a West Virginia girl, Alice Elizabeth Haller, and they took up residence in New York City where they lived at the St. Andrews Hotel on West 72nd.  

In the winter and early spring of 1930, Haller experienced a series of colds that soon turned into pneumonia.  In early April, his second wife had died.  

Toward the end of the year, he went to a reunion of the the Editors in Chief of the Stanford Daily. Both he and his daughter, Ellen attended -- he served in 1895, she, in 1920. 

They had to have talked seriously about their lives while at the reunion.  The death of his second wife would have been very much on Scott's mind and Ellen's marriage to Dale Van Every, a dashing and talented man who had left Stanford to drive an ambulance in France during the world war, had been a blur.  Success had came so quickly for the Van Everys. 

After returning from France and earning his Stanford degree, he took a job with United Press International as a reporter in New York and then drew the assignment as bureau chief at the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Then Van Every found Charles Lindbergh. Doing what good wire service reporters are trained to do, he told a good yarn in a big hurry to capture the back story of the trans-Atlantic flight. "Charles Lindbergh, His Life," was early, good and a big seller. The Lindbergh book created a path to Hollywood where he was soon writing and producing and making more money in a year than Mary Pickford, the great female star of the day.

It's hard to see Ellen doing very well in her husband's wake, even if they are sailing in the magical place that was Beverly Hills in the 1930s.  Their divorce was final in 1935.  

In 1937, Mrs.  Ellen C. Loeb and her husband, Edwin C. Loeb are listed as passengers on the ship Pennsylvania returning to Los Angeles from Acapulco.  It sounds a bit like a brief honeymoon and it was.  Ellen Calhoun had found quite a guy. Edwin Loeb is one of the inventors of modern Hollywood.  Beginning in about 1914, his law firm, Loeb and Loeb, was the place Hollywood went to get help conducting business. Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner and Louis B.  Mayer of MGM were major clients. Irving Thalberg, the genius producer, was his best friend.  Douglas Fairbanks, D. W.  Griffith, Charley Chaplin and Mary Pickford
were clients.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Edwin Loeb is standing between the right
shoulder of John Barrymore, center and the left
shoulder of Mary Pickford
Loeb attended the first Oscar program in 1927, an idea which many people believe Loeb himself had suggested, with Thalberg and his new wife, Norma Schearer.

Shortly after their trip to Acapulco, Edwin built a seven bedroom home in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, near a reservoir looking over Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, Ellen was only the second of Loeb's three wives.  I think it was their home as a couple and, when they were no longer together, he sold the place, in 1946.  She had many interests. She was a founder of the Los Angeles Chamber Music Society and owned several college book stores in the Claremont, Pomona area.  She died in California in 1969.  Her sister, Katharine, died the following year in Seattle.

Scott moved back to Seattle not long after the Stanford Reunion and, in April of 1933, he married Jessica Brown Ross, the daughter of a friend of his, Judge Frederick V. Brown, a Supreme Court Justice in Minnesota before he was recruited to be the Western General Counsel for the Great Northern Railway. 
Jessica was a sophisticated person whose first husband was in international trade and she had spent time in the far east, mostly in Shanghai. 

Scott was fully retired by the end of World War II and was active in the Pioneer Association and living close by the club house of the association in Madison Park.  In addition to heritage issues and public speaking about history, he particularly enjoyed seeing the young men he had hired at the Corporation Counsel's Office turn into judges and respected legal men.  Scott had a touch for the small, important detail and he was a sought after speaker about the city's history.  He died in 1952.
Shirley and Bill Speidel

Scott Calhoun very much liked Shirley Ross, who was 16 when he married her mom. She married Bill Speidel, a police reporter and columnist turned public relations guy. Earlier, each had married a bit too quickly and a bit in a hurry, and so, once they got together, they determined to have a rich relationship and live well and actively in their out of the way home on Vashon Island.  

I love this photo of them, taken about 1951 or 1952.  It portrays them at the top of their attractiveness.  She is elegant, smart and funny, he the stud he was before he became the grizzled old Seattle historian known for "Sons of the Profits" where he chose to avoid conventional history writing and provide a conversational and casual style that sometimes drives some of today's historians nuts.

I think the picture is a promotion for Bill's first book "You Can't Eat Mount Rainier," of which I have an autographed first edition.  I knew him when he was the grizzled preservationist -- scratchy beard, a cigarette always nearby.  I also think of his constant, frenetic activity, a way to avoid his desire to drink alcohol which he successfully did. Once, in their home on Vashon Island, where I'd gone to ask him to speak at some event, he was making chocolate peanut clusters and watching a Seahawk football game, a chocolate mixing machine spinning slowly in front of him, not quite far enough away from the ashtray. 

Together, they started the Seattle Underground Tours as a way to contribute to the saving of Pioneer Square from the parking lots that relentlessly followed the construction of the Kingdome. Largely, they succeeded and the tour program, a regular feature of Seattle culture, has its offices right on top of "little crossing over place."  

Ghost Shorelines Project, Burke Museum
History of Seattle Water System Slide Show

1946 Pacific Coast League Promotional Film

50th Anniversary of Stanford University

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Little Strychnine

I went to Colorado last year to look into the murder, in 1929, of my grandmother’s brother.  I heard about it 86 years after the fact when someone working on a college writing project posted a message on the Ancestry website seeking relatives of Elmer Stephenson.  The student was working on a story about her grandmother, a pioneer woman from Colorado whose stepfather was Stephenson.  He had come into her life when she was a very young girl and the two had a loving relationship. 

Lena Estelle Hampson
I didn't know much about Elmer Stephenson and had heard nothing of his murder which should tell you something about our family's not-so-robust internal communication. I knew he and his sister, my grandmother, were raised poor, lost their mother at an early age and were taken care of by the community around them in several towns in rural Northwestern Colorado.  Their father stayed in Missouri as a bridge tender for the Chicago and Alton Railway.  I knew that Elmer was an outdoors guy but had no real specifics.

I didn't even know much about my grandmother.  I knew that she had a lovely, 19th Century name, Lena Estelle.  She was a good businesswoman, working alongside her husband, Thomas Jefferson Hampson, while he and his brothers made a success of several grocery stores in Colorado in the 1890s.  The first store was in Salida, Colorado.  Soon, along with their Spanish immigrant businessman partner and successful silver miner, Don Valdez, they opened another store in Rifle and finally one in Grand Junction.  

Hampson Brother's store in Salida
The brothers were quick to anticipate the coming of “cash and carry,” the idea that people would select their food from a much wider variety of products than the Hampson boys offered, arrayed on open shelves, pay cash for it and haul it home themselves.  The two by four kind of stores like theirs were doomed, they thought, even if they offered credit and very personal service. Later, in the twenties, they bought Piggly Wiggly franchises offered in Oregon and northern California, stores that revolutionized the grocery business of the just passed century.  Unfortunately, the brothers did not anticipate the Great Depression.  Every store except the one in Crescent City, which they kept in the Hampson family until the 1980s, failed.

I heard my grandmother was funny and clever.  I also heard she was disciplined.  After a late pregnancy, she handed over the new baby to my Mom and went back to work.  Mother was twenty years older than her new sister, Barbara, and Mom spent those years living in Lena Estelle's home and raising Barbara. That established my Mom's brand of being the mother of choice after a divorce, an early death, or some kind of breakdown, mental or physical. 

My grandmother died just a few months before I was born and was just 62.   While I wish I would have known her, her developing dementia made her a bit of a stranger to everyone, let alone me, in utero.  I heard that she had stopped being a reliable babysitter for my toddler brother.  Once, in December 1941, she lowered my brother, then two, into the bushes below the window of the room where his crib was.  She had noticed a whole lot of Japanese troops marching down West Second Street in Medford, Oregon and did what she could to protect her grandson.  

Trout on the menu for the President
and his hunting cabinet.  I wonder if Elmer
is in the shot.  Jake Borah is on the left just
under the server's arm
What I subsequently learned about Elmer Earl Stephenson was that he was indeed an outdoor type.  As a very young man, 14 years of age, he had shot one of the largest bears ever killed in Colorado.  Ten years later, in 1905, he was in the hunting party that guided President Theodore Roosevelt on his three week bear hunt in northwest Colorado.  While he was not the lead guide, the amazing Jake Borah and John Goff were, he was in the party of 12 guides and wranglers whom the President like to call “the hunting cabinet.” 

Borah apparently was a real comic. According to the Vail Daily Enterprise, a day or so before taking a party out on
The President on the left of the picture.
a bear hunt, Jake would head out along the trail and dump some raspberry jam on a rock or log easily visible from the trail. After drying in the sun for a few hours, raspberry jam starts looking a lot like bear scat.  The following day, while escorting his clients out of camp, Borah would locate the rock with the dried jam on it, get off his horse and move in for closer observation.  "Bear sign," he would announce breathlessly.  Then, while the astonished clients watched, he would stick his finger in the jammy pile, raise it to his mouth, wipe it clean and announce "a 350 pound black bear passed by here just six hours ago!"

In 1907, Elmer was among the first rangers hired into the brand new federal agency called the United States Forest Service and he thrived at the White River National Forest headquarters in Yampa.  He was respected, a community leader, deemed fair by the most suspicious rural ranchers and farmers.  

Early White River Forest Ranger 
Later, when he left the Forest Service, Colorado was experiencing a boom in head lettuce farming. Lettuce stood up to the low temperatures in the high plateaus leading up to the Rockies and a good manager like Elmer could add another income stream to his prosperous life.

Yampa's Main Street.  The Royal Hotel, 
built the year Lillian and Elmer met, burned
to the ground earlier this year.  
Before all of that, in 1904, the 25 year old Elmer moved not far from Yampa to run a hunting lodge and he met a young, divorced mother of two, Lillian Rittmayer.  Lillian had married a much older German man at 18 and quickly had two babies before divorcing after seven years. She had come to Yampa to be with her family living on a ranch about four miles outside of town.  From a pioneer family, she was nicely connected and in a few years was appointed the postmaster of the town.  When Elmer came on the scene, he joined Lillian and the two kids at the ranch and became a good father and breadwinner.  Walter Rittmayer was the eldest child at six years and Anna, the woman who was the focus of the writing project that introduced me to all these details about Elmer, was just five. Anna became particularly close to this tall, fair-haired guy with blue eyes.  It was Elmer’s arm Anna held onto when she walked down the aisle to marry Fred Stell, a Forest Service Ranger colleague who had been brought in to help Elmer and who became a close friend. 

The note on the Ancestry site continued:

“Elmer was murdered in 1929 and my great grandmother was accused of his murder. She was acquitted and I don't believe they ever found out who killed him.”

If you know anything about these events, or would like to know more, please contact me.”

I was all ears, of course, and soon was talking to Sue, Anna Stell's granddaughter. While her great grandmother was acquitted of murder, Sue told me that some in her family were still out on the long-ago jury verdict.

Elmer seemed in good spirits that day, a Thursday, July 11, 1929 when he left Yampa and headed out to the house for lunch.  Friends recalled him passing the pool hall, lingering at the door, watching silently, and then calling out:

“That was a hell of a shot!”

Lillian prepared pot roast for Elmer that day, brewing a fresh pot of coffee and taking out the biscuits when she heard the car in the driveway. After lunch, she said she went to town to have the carburetor on her car adjusted and go to the post office.

Returning to the house, Lillian saw Elmer on the floor of the kitchen experiencing violent convulsions. As the alarm spread and the neighbors and the doctor rushed in, Lillian offered several explanations. To some neighbors, she was sure that Elmer had purchased and consumed bad liquor.  To others, she seemed to theorize it was a suicide.  “Why did you do this?” “Why did you do this, Elmer?”  Later, to the local newspaper, she attributed his death to a forest fire a couple of weeks before that seemed to sap his strength and weaken his heart. 

AP Photo of Lillian
You couldn’t live in Yampa or nearby without knowing that the Stephenson’s marriage had gone sour by 1929.  There was lots of drinking, loud, public arguments, even fist fights between the two in which Lillian gave as good as she got.  People were aware of sex with other partners.  Things also weren’t going well for Walter, Lillian’s son.  He had been arrested with other young men in Leadville, Colorado law enforcement for violating the Volstead Act, the Prohibition Law.  She wanted to spend the money to bail him out before his trial.  Elmer refused.  “The more I do for him, the more trouble he gets into,” a friend testified that Elmer had said. Walter, nicknamed “Hop,” was sentenced to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas for two years in June of 1929, just before Elmer’s death but bargained it down to four months shortly before Lillian's trial began in March.

At Elmer's ranch in Yampa.
Clockwise from left:  Barbara, Mildred, Lena
Estelle, Lida Hampson, Helen Hampson.  The
two girls in the foreground are from the Higbee
family, cousins of Mildred, my Mom.
Along with my grandmother, my mother, Barbara and several other sisters and cousins attended the funeral in Yampa, taking the train out from Medford, Oregon.  They spent several days in Salida and then Grand Junction, all places members of the Hampsons lived in Colorado.  When they got to Denver, Lena Estelle decided to retain an attorney to look after her deceased brother’s interests.

Lillian had taken up with a hired hand who sometimes worked at the ranch, a guy named John Rundle.  At the trial, the prosecutors took to calling him “mattress man” because of a story most people in town knew about.  Rundle had hid underneath a bed when Elmer came home from work unexpectedly. Elmer then sat on the porch for hours holding a rifle, waiting for Rundle to come out.

When the autopsy was performed on a Saturday morning, July 13, Elmer’s organs were full of strychnine.  There was no alcohol in his blood and very little food in his stomach. It was sensational news.  All their troubles as a couple, her obvious and long-term relationship with Rundle, the terrible things she said about Elmer around the little town, the divorce papers that arrived the morning of his death, their clash over Elmer not springing for Walter’s bail money and a string of seeming half truths posited by Lillian seemed to point to her as the murderer.  And there was that $3,500 insurance policy on Elmer’s life, taken out a few days before his death.

Farrington Carpenter as a young lawyer in
Hayden, Colorado
Farrington Carpenter had just been elected as District Attorney the year before Stephenson was killed and he decided to take his time before charging someone with the crime.  He had graduated from Princeton and then Harvard Law and he was smart and patient about what his strategy would be.  Charging a woman -- from a pioneer family -- with a capital crime was a big deal in 1929.  Farrington was as good as it gets when it came to grazing law, but this would be his first murder trial.  And the evidence was mostly circumstantial.  Strychnine.  Everybody had strychnine.  All kinds of Colorado varmints were controlled by strychnine.  Elmer had consumed very little food and his stomach was largely empty.  That fact pointed to the coffee, but the neighbors had cleaned up for the grieving widow Thursday evening and no traces of poison were available in the pot on the stove or in the cup on the table.  Lillian claimed she had drunk a cup of coffee from the same pot, though only one cup was on the lunch table, and it had been Elmer’s.  Like most everything in the kitchen, the cup had been long since washed and put back on the shelf.  What happened to all those biscuits they ate?  They weren’t in Elmer’s stomach.  And the carburetor adjustment?  The guys at the garage recalled no work being done on the car. It was clear to the owners of a ranch in Mancos, 400 miles away, that Rundle and Lillian were trying to rent their place a couple weeks before Elmer’s death. 

After Elmer died, the rumors abounded across tiny Yampa, 310 people living there in 1930 at 7,800 feet. When Lillian and Rundle came into town, they usually caused a quiet and intense stir.  Elmer had many friends.  She sent at least two letters to Carpenter asking him to do something. 

On September 15, 1929 she wrote Carpenter in her large and florid handwriting:

“O, how much longer must I remain in the shadow?” 

“I have been very lonely and sad.  And – often call out involuntarily for Elmer to come to my aid.”

“Please do all you can, dear friend, in your line of duty, to bring this most complicated situation to an early closing.”

The little girl, Anna, was living in Mancos with her husband and Lillian was visiting there at the beginning of the new year. Lillian had made the suicide narrative the most prominent part of the story in the weeks after Elmer's death and Carpenter urged her to look for some kind of note.  Sure enough, she found one!  It was written on the front pages of a small book of Elmer’s he had purchased when he became a Mason.  On the front pages of the book, was a kind of farewell note with this admission:
“My sweet Lida, farewell.  You’re right.  I am a rotter, no hope. Farewell.”

Lillian eagerly sent the book to Carpenter and he sent the note to handwriting analysts in New York, Chicago and Denver.   In February, 1930, the Chicago expert reported that the handwriting was not Elmer’s, but was, in fact, Lillian’s.  That was it for Farrington Carpenter.  He promptly sent deputies to Mancos where they arrested Rundle and Stephenson, charging her with murder and Rundle as an accessory.

In the Colorado State Archives, the box that was brought to my table and an associated folder proved disappointing.  There were the original letters from Lillian to Carpenter, some notes and handwriting comparisons by the
handwriting expert, the autopsy report, written by hand on a Yampa Pharmacy letterhead, the alleged suicide note in the Masonic book.  There was no transcript or other investigative materials.  Since Lillian had been acquitted, there was no appeal and no need for a transcript.

What does exist are the accounts of the trial in the Steamboat Pilot, the Steamboat Springs newspaper, and also wire service stories appearing in papers across the country.  The trial took over the large courtroom in the Steamboat Springs Courthouse, reduced today to the place where the Routt County Commission meets and makes policy.   

Probably the most interesting and potentially most important item in the archival record is a letter written anonymously and sent to Elmer's employer, the Barker Commercial Company in Los Angeles.  It was written eight months before Elmer's death.

“This man, Elmer E. Stephenson, stood high in the community, but for a long time this man has been drinking and this has led to affairs with married women and very young girls involved.”

“This man can furnish alibis by the score,” the letter continued.  “He is a keen thinker and has a knowledge of technicality in Law and Life but he will fall and that soon.”

“He is now visibly headed for a drunkard’s ending”

The letter described an incident in a company shed where Stephenson and a girl “barely sixteen” spent several hours.  He had given her silk stockings “on the condition that he let him put them on her," the letter stated.  "He gave her a drink that knocked her silly…regular flapper talk.”

The letter ends with a threat:

“And unless he is removed, your place of business will be destroyed in Yampa…and he will fall and that soon.”

Without the transcript, we don’t know how this letter came into evidence, but the jury saw it and it gave Lillian’s defense an opportunity to point to someone else who wanted Elmer dead. 

Carpenter wasn’t happy with the judge.  He set a high standard for bringing in the strychnine.  He had to show that the killer bought it.  That made everyone in Routt County a potential suspect.  The judge also wouldn’t let the handwriting report come in because the other expert opinions weren't brought in as well. Finally, Carpenter thought Lillian was not only a good witness in her own defense but also a highly manipulative one:

“She sported a new hairdo and wore a low-cut, tight-fitting velvet dress over her fulsome figure.  The male jurors could not keep their eyes off her.  Whenever their attention strayed, she would lean forward and pour out a glass of ice water, sipping this for several minutes just as I was trying to make an important point – such as the difference between manslaughter and murder – to the ogling jurors.”

Trial was held on second floor, right hand side
The jury and the judge had gotten away from Farrington Carpenter.  After 48 hours of deliberation over several days, the jurors instructed that a “not” be typed into the blank space before the word “guilty.”  They all signed their names to the bottom of the verdict document and Lillian and her soon-to-be husband, John Rundle, walked out of the Routt County Court House in Steamboat Springs and headed home to Yampa.

Lillian lived 28 years after she left the courthouse with John Rundle. She married him soon after the trial.  For the next nine years, they lived on the ranch outside of Yampa, but in 1939 they sold it, all 546 acres.  A few weeks later, In 1940, she announced that she had acquired the lease of the Golden West Cafe in Yampa, but soon thereafter moved up the road about 20 miles north to the town of Oak Creek.  

She was seriously ill in 1954, enough so to bring her son, Hop, down from Leadville where he continued to work in law enforcement, even was elected Sheriff despite his criminal conviction.  

She returned to the hospital in Oak Creek several times in 1958 and died in March.  Nothing Lillian did was without considerable drama.  The day she died, John Rundle was admitted to the hospital for reasons not specified.  Her son Hop could not attend the funeral later that week because of a serious heart condition.  She is buried in Yampa's cemetery under the name Lillian C. S. Rundle.  Elmer is there too, a few yards away, with an empty plot reserved for Lillian C. Stephenson next to his grave, an unfortunate oversight of the estate administrator or perhaps a conscious decision by Lillian herself.  John Rundle died three years after Lillian and is buried a couple of hundred miles away in Crawford, Colorado.  

Carpenter never pursued the case after the acquittal.  No retrial, no investigation of other possible suspects, nor was there an effort to change the cause of death to a suicide.  Subsequent prosecutors stayed away as the case grew colder than a late Colorado frost.  She beat them.  All of them.  Fair and square.

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