The Underground Tour

Tawdry tidbits from Seattle's past—plus creepiness!


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You're probably thinking . . .

Many, many rain jokes, bad puns, municipal facts about as exciting as Canadian C-SPAN delivered in a monotone. You'd be right about the first two.

Here's what you get

Bill Speidel's locally famous Underground Tour is full of all kinds of tawdry tidbits about, and insight into, Seattle's surprisingly lively founding fathers (and a few mothers). It all begins with a punch line-packed 20-minute introduction in the tour's main hall, covering the arrival of the Denny party and the struggles to find footing as first a settlement, then a town, and finally a full-fledged city. The part of the trip that actually follows the tour's title— the area was built up to rise above sea level in the late 19th century, leaving an entire 33 square blocks literally underground—is both fascinating and a little bit creepy (scenes for the Night Stalker were filmed down here, and it's not too hard to see why). You'll learn all kinds of fun scatological facts—including things you'll wish you never knew about the city's early boomeranging sewage system—and even more about its characters, like Seattle's first mayor, Henry Yesler, a lying, cheating, selfish bastard who, not surprisingly, was re-elected to two additional terms. Even visitors who used their high-school history books as a weapon or a pillow will stay engaged by the jokey but encyclopedically knowledgeable tour guides—it's quick-paced and aimed to amuse as well as inform. The tour ends with a chance to walk unchaperoned around the small but well-curated museum, which some might find the most interesting part of the trip. The only way out is, of course, through the gift shop.

Save this one for . . .

On a recent tour, visitors from London and the Philippines shared space with weekenders from the Tri-Cities, but anyone who's lived here less than 30 years would probably be equally entertained, believe it or not. One caveat: Kids under the age of 7 or 8, unless they're very mature, will be either freaked out by the musty, dark underground or totally bored, since the entire thing clocks in at 90 minutes.

Who knew?

The tour was started by Bill Speidel in 1965 as a protest against the tearing down of "Old" Seattle—and what was originally slated to last a few months is now coming up on its 40th anniversary, with 200,000 visitors last year alone. Also, did you know that Seattle's original name was Duwamps? And that Pioneer Square back in the Gold Rush days was one big sin pit, overflowing with hookers, opium dens, and card halls? Nice.

It's not you, it's me

Everybody has to get their two cents in, and if you don't recall handing Earl from Omaha your nine bucks, you may find yourself wishing he would shut it and let the professionally trained guide do the talking.

I'll always remember . . .

The sewage thing. If you had to time your toilet visits by the tide tables or risk getting shot up six feet in the air by backlogged poo, you'd remember it too.

Leah Greenblatt

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