Unsolved Mysteries – Green Lake’s Sidewalk Grave
Twilight. Crunching leaves as your theme song, you’re walking back from the lake and have turned up Ashworth Ave. to zig zag back up to Tangletown. In a planting strip you see a clump of purple coneflowers, petals shed, whose spiky seed heads look like medieval weapons. Moving in closer, what you see next stops you, well, dead.
So, is there a BODY under there?
Not likely, for several reasons.
First, the one person we could find sharing those initials and dates is a Collin Miles Elliott, buried in Washelli Cemetery on Aurora (thank you FindAGrave.com), and a Washelli staffer says he has been there (as far as they know) since 1943. He was married to Nora Parker Elliott, who died in 1925, and they had a son, Wellington Minor Elliott, who died soon after in 1926.
Second, this is not the marker’s original location, here in the planting strip near 57th and Ashworth. Rather than being a remnant from WWII-era Greenlake, it was actually placed by the home’s current owners, Jeff Mosier and Tamra Chandler, who bought the property in 2002. Amid a major remodel, a contractor unearthed the marker from the backyard in 2004, and the couple stowed it away until, when redoing their sidewalk strip, Jeff was inspired to incorporate this piece of local history.
Jeff’s theory is that the marker may have been part of one of the original stone walls in the yard. “I obviously know nobody’s buried there,” he says, but he adds, “I don’t know how it ended up here.” That remains the big question. Jeff was curious himself, but his research at the time came up dry.
“Looking toward Greenlake” c. 1891. Judge McDonald’s residence. Seattle P-I archives
As far as the home’s history, Jeff says it is one of three on the street built by prominent developer Judge Frederick A. McDonald, including his ow home, shown above to the south shown above. (Note how far the lake edge extends!)
Who are the Elliotts? Did they live here?
If these are the right Elliotts, it would be great if they lived at this house. That would make a tidy closing, but that’s not apparently the case. Join us down the Ancestry.com rabbit hole. According to Census and City Directories, Collin and Nora lived in at least five different places in West Seattle and downtown – none of them anywhere near Greenlake. Collin describes his occupation variously as a window decorator, treasurer for a shirt company, and a salesman for “men’s furnishings”.
Census and directory records from 1922-1958 show the home’s residents as patriarch Lulu Sander and siblings Carlton A. and Dorothy L. Sander, with no apparent connection in their family trees to the Elliotts. (A Sander-McDonald connection is that the Judge’s daughter Hellen McDonald married William Sander, Carlton’s brother, and many grandkids lived in the other McDonald-built homes.)
A neat tidbit is that in 1930, Carlton was working as a chief clerk for – wait for it – the “cement works” (brief moment of excitement – maybe it was a demo he brought home from work?). By 1940, however, he was chief clerk for the Washington Athletic Club. He was still living there in 1942 -according to his draft card – but what happened in 1943 – the year Collin Elliott died – is a mystery.
Lots of red herrings, no closure. Any local history buffs out there? Can you help us solve these mysteries?
Back to School: A Look at Green Lake’s First Schools
Students, Green Lake School, Seattle, ca. 1900. Courtesy Seattle Public Schools (Image No. 229-1)
It’s Back to School Time!
With the first day of school now upon us, this is the perfect time to learn about Green Lake schools and their rich history.
Generations of Green Lake children commenced this same rite of passage, including those of the first homesteaders. Our first Green Lake school opened in 1890 and was a modest one-room building located at 5th Avenue and NE 72nd Street.
However, like Seattleites of today, early settlers were drawn to the tranquil beauty of our neighborhood. By the turn of the century, Green Lake was growing exponentially and so was its student population. Records from the City of Seattle’s Landmark Preservation Board show that this original one-room schoolhouse expanded several times to accommodate new students.
According to Seattle school historians Nile Thompson and Carolyn Marr, in 1902 a newer, and much larger, schoolhouse was constructed at the current site of today’s Green Lake Elementary School (2400 N. 65th Street). Dorothy Nordstrom, who was a student there in 1921, fondly describes her memories of this charming wood-frame building: “It was a handsome, two-story wooden building with 12 classrooms. An impressive entrance on Sunnyside Avenue boasted eight Greek columns supporting an upstairs balcony. We were taught this was called a ‘portico.’” In 1986, the school district demolished this building and replaced it with the building we now know as Green Lake Elementary School.
Olmsted and the Origin of Green Lake Park
Courtesy Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service, 02714-21. Used with permission.
The name “Olmsted” may sound familiar. The Olmsted dynasty is synonymous with park design such as New York’s Central Park and later Seattle’s park system, including designing Green Lake Park. Each day, rain or shine, Green Lake’s picturesque recreational spaces are enjoyed by all. But how often do we stop to consider how these visionary Victorian architects from a bygone era helped to create one of Seattle’s most popular parks?
The backstory is that, in 1903, while experiencing a population and economic boom, the city of Seattle hired the Olmsted Brothers to oversee park planning. The firm was well known for its progressive landscape architecture, and John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920), the stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), was the architect placed in charge of the project. As part of the progressive City Beautiful movement and one of the nation’s earliest environmentalists, he was truly a man ahead of his time.
As John Olmsted’s well-documented design indicates, work on Green Lake began in 1908. Merging aesthetics with function, it was Olmsted’s vision to provide a sanctuary where residents, even 100 years into the future, could enjoy nature and partake in a restorative moment of peace away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Apparently the Victorians were also in need of some downtime!
Here are just a few examples of the Olmsted Green Lake master plan, in the architect’s own words! Consider this a quick and easy Green Lake guide to Olmsted. Continue reading…
Green Lake’s Aqua Theatre: From Aqua Follies to Led Zeppelin
Courtesy of: MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection.
Did you know that Green Lake has its own fascinating historical landmark dedicated to Seafair, one of Seattle’s oldest and most popular summer festivals? That’s right, our very own Green Lake Amphitheatre, that looming concrete structure that we walk, bike and run past daily, was built in 1950 for the very first Seafair. With Seafair weekend fast approaching and summer in full swing, now is a perfect time to look back on this legendary landmark!
The Aqua Theater, as the structure was originally named, was designed specifically to house the dazzling attraction called the Aqua Follies and their “swim-musicals.” According to the Historylink.org , every summer from 1950 to 1965, Seattleites filled the Aqua Theater’s 5,200 seats and were treated to a variety show featuring everything from comedy to synchronized swimming, music (emanating from an orchestra pit), as well as divers who performed amazing acrobatic feats from forty-foot towers that flanked center stage. However, the climax and star attractions of the event were two groups of female performers: the “Aqua Dears,” who performed a type of synchronized swimming, and the “Aqua Darlings,” who did not. One need only think of Esther Williams’ “aquamusicals” to get a sense of the lavish spectacle performed by the Aqua Follies.
Courtesy of MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection
For several more years, Seattleites packed the theater’s fan-shaped grandstand to enjoy these illustrious troupes under starry skies on warm summer nights. Then, as more “modern” forms of entertainment emerged, attendance at these aquatic performances began to wane. Even so, Green Lake’s unique setting still lured some of the period’s most popular rock bands. The swan song for the Aqua Theater was the notorious 1969 Led Zeppelin concert, which filled the theater beyond its capacity. Following the stress of one more concert, this time by the Grateful Dead, city inspectors officially marked the theater as unsafe for public use and had it partially dismantled.
The amphitheater has undergone one more image makeover and now serves a multitude of purposes in our community. Not only is it home to the Green Lake rowing club, the theater is also used by fitness enthusiasts who run the stairs, and by others who climb to the top simply to take in the view. Rumor has it that, on occasion, birders with a pair of binoculars can even catch sight of a bald eagle!
Green Lake: Seattle’s Former Fireworks Show Destination
Independence Day Fireworks over Green Lake in 1947. Photo credit: MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection, used with permission.
Did you know Green Lake was the site of one of the largest Independence Day fireworks celebrations in Seattle for 60 years? According to a 2010 article originally posted on My Green Lake and reposted by the Seattle P-I, from 1920 to 1980 crowds of up to 250,000 people converged on the neighborhood to take in the fireworks show, which was usually launched from Duck Island.
The show was not enjoyable for some Green Lake residents. According to a 1952 Seattle Times letter to the editor, Green Lake resident Thomas Glisan wrote:
As a long-time resident of the Phinney — West Green Lake district, I should like to see a few expressions of opinion with respect to the continuation of the Fourth of July fireworks at Green Lake.
I have no dispute with the fireworks as such, as they do provide enjoyment for many thousands of people. However, their enjoyment should under no circumstances be at the continued expense of the Green Lake residents who, after all, might enjoy spending a July 4th holiday in some other manner than in doing police duty around their yards and homes.
In 1941 (our first July 4th as Green Lake residents) we made the mistake of being away from home while the fireworks were in progress. Returning just before the show’s conclusion we found: Six boys on the roof (the roof leaked that winter from the damage); part of the rockery knocked down; most of the shrubs trampled; lighted cigarettes and cigar stubs on both porches (the back porch is of wood); rockery plants torn out; a car parked in the basement driveway (it runs downhill) pressing the double doors in and the place generally looking like a cyclone had hit.
With all justice, this curse should not again be fastened on the people of Green Lake and I believe I voice the consensus of thousands of homeowners in this district.
After 1980, the show moved to Lake Union, taking the crowds (and sometimes the chaos) with it.
Learn more about the history of Independence Day at Green Lake in this 2010 article (written by Amy Duncan) here.
Green Lake Library
Photo Courtesy MOHAI, PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection
Few things look the same around Green Lake as they did in 1910 — except the Green Lake Library.
The 8,000+ square-foot branch opened in 1910 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the Seattle Public Library, Green Lake library service began in 1905 in a small, one-room structure on the eastern side of the lake. Specifically, according to The Green Lake branch’s website:
“The structure was built on a wooden platform. A board sidewalk led from the street and the streetcar tracks to the library. In rainy weather, the tiny building was surrounded by mud and water and young boys begged the librarian for twine so they could fish over the railing.
In 1908, wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie agreed to donate $35,000 to build a replacement branch. Local residents rallied to the cause and raised $3,000 to buy the current branch site; the city contributed another $1,000.”
In July 1910 the Green Lake branch opened with tall ceilings and much more space for patrons to peruse the books.
Since then the building has been remodeled several times, with its most recent remodel in 2004.