Sunday Stew: Ghosts

by George Draffan

Every mile we came south the price went down. Our friends were dubious. Wasn’t it dangerous? Not really. It was fantastic — a wild, rich mixture of old and new from Europe and Asia and Africa and Latin America. A meeting place of nature and city, language and culture, wealth and poverty, history and the future.

Lushootseed (Salish) people had been here for thousands of years, living in cedar longhouses along the shores of Lake Washington, calling themselves Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) and hah-choo-AHBSH (People of the Large Lake). They had camps at Brighton Beach and Pritchard Island and at Bryn Mawr, below Skyway.

When Vancouver sailed into Elliott Bay in the big ships, the boy Si’ahl (Sealth, or Seattle) saw them. Si’ahl made friends with Doc Maynard, but Owhi and Leschi put up a fight, and most of the Salish who weren’t felled by disease or violence were rounded up and confined to small places.

The ancient trees were cut for planks and cabins and houses, or simply burned to make room for crops. Guy Phinney built a sawmill at the foot of Charles Street (now the Leschi neighborhood). David and Walter Graham bought a couple hundred acres and planted orchards, and English immigrants bought some parcels to subdivide, and named the area Brighton Beach after a fashionable English resort.

The Rainier Avenue Electric Railway came from downtown to reach Columbia City in 1891 and Renton five years later. Si’ahl’s daughter Kikisoblu (Angeline) died in 1896, and within a few more years Columbia City, Rainier Beach, and Brighton Beach were all annexed into the city of Seattle.

Bailey Peninsula became Seward Park, a jewel in the Olmsted Brothers’ Emerald Necklace. The Park still has ancient trees, eagle nests, and native plants and animals.

Italians settled, planting fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, and named the place Garlic Gulch. Borracchini’s grocery, founded in 1923, is still here, selling pasta and wine and decorated cakes. The plum trees are still here too, abandoned and overgrown and still prolific.

Low-income housing projects at Rainier Vista, Seward Park Estates, and Holly Park were built in the 1940s. African-Americans, forbidden from buying in many Seattle neighborhoods, moved into the Rainier Valley. Brighton Beach and Seward Park became a center for Seattle’s Jewish community, with three synagogues and some 90 percent of the city’s Orthodox Jewish population. In the 1970s and 80s, Asian immigrants and refugees. In the 1990s, Africans. In the 2000s, Euros from the North End looking for an affordable house. Abandoned orchards overrun by blackberry and ivy are being cleared for million-dollar mansions.

When we moved in, we removed the iron bars from the windows, and planted them in the garden for the vines to climb. Twenty years later, many of the retired folks that were living here have died or moved on, and we’re practically the elders on the block, except for the ghosts of salmon, ghosts of ancient trees, ghosts of settlers from around the world, dwelling on the shores of Lake Washington in the southeast corner of the Emerald City.