ExtraHyperActive: Being A Tourist In Seattle : Seattle Underground Tour.

Being A Tourist In Seattle : Seattle Underground Tour.

Seattle has tons of famous, unique, and quirky things to see : Space Needle and EMP Museum, Boeing plant and Amazon headquarters, "Sleepless in Seattle" houseboat and Bill Gates mansion, Statue of Lenin and the Fremont Troll, Pike Place Market and Gum Wall,  Bruce Lee and Jimmy Hendrix graves, and etc.

But one attraction plays a very important role in the history, and tourism industry of our beloved city. One place you don't want to miss while in Seattle - Seattle Underground.

The Seattle Underground is a network of underground passageways and basements in downtown Seattle that was ground level at the city's origin in the mid-1800s.

In 1889 the Great Seattle Fire destroyed 25 city blocks. Instead of rebuilding the city as it was before, the city leaders made two strategic decisions: that all new buildings must be of stone or brick, insurance against a similar disaster in the future; and to regrade the streets one to two stories higher than the original street grade. After the streets were elevated these spaces below fell into disuse.




In 1907 the city condemned the Underground for fear of pneumonic plague.The basements were left to deteriorate or were used as storage. Some became illegal flophouses for the homeless, gambling halls, speakeasies, and opium dens.

But in the 60's, the Seattle Underground became a tourist attraction.

In 1965, local citizen Bill Speidel realized there might be interest (and profit) in the subterranean ruins. He established "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour" and took customers on a tour of what was left underneath Pioneer Square, paying rent to the building owners for the privilege of doing so. He peppered his tour patter with tall tales from Seattle's history (some more factual than others), giving the tour an amusing counterculture feel that made it an "underground" tour in every sense of the word.

The Seattle Underground was featured prominently in the 1973 TV movie The Night Strangler; 's Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) pursues a story concerning an immortal serial killer hiding amid the ruins of the Seattle Underground (impossibly pictured as a collection of multi-storied buildings rather than the single extant level). It was also featured in the TV show Scooby-Doo and on the Sci-Fi Channel series, Ghost Hunters.

Though I've lived in Seattle ( on and off ) since 1999, this was my first time going on the tour.


I took my 8 year old to so he could learn about Seattle history in a fun and exciting atmosphere. To be fair, the tour organizers warn that children under 6 may might find the Seattle Underground Tour too long and boring. The tour includes lots of stairs and uneven surfaces, and is not handicapped accessible.

Personally, I found the narrative part of the tour to be educational, and entertaining. Our guide was knowledgeable, and funny. But the underground itself was... not much to get excited about.

The tour starts in Pioneer Square inside Doc Maynard’s Public House, a restored 1890s saloon.Then you follow your guide to roam the subterranean passages that once were the main roadways and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle,

You learn how Seattle rebuilt itself 40 feet higher on top of all the sawdust from the lumber mills after a fire at the turn of the century. You learn how toilets "unflushed" when the tide came in, how the streets were 20 feet higher than the sidewalks and you had to climb up and down ladders to cross the street.


You learn how there were dozens of "seamstresses" but only a couple of sewing machines, and how they basically funded the whole project, and the history behind the famous "$75c Rooms" sign. Personally, I learned the history behind  glass ceiling tiles that I often saw while walking around Pioneer Square.



You'll definitely learn a lot about local history, but nothing that you couldn't learn from books like the famous "Seattle Underground" or "Skid Road : An Informal Portrait of Seattle".

But as I mentioned above, in terms of "things to see", there aren't a whole lot of them :  it feels almost like you’re strolling through a dilapidated old museum, past wooden storefronts with glass still intact, remnants of old store signs sitting in corners and even forgotten toilets and tubs littered with cobwebs.





But it was great to be a tourist in my own town exploring new areas and revisiting old favorites ! There is something special about seeing your town how the tourist see it.

Whether you're traveling to Seattle, or, like me, have lived here for a while, but never had a chance to really explore our beautiful city, check out some of the guide books to learn  more  about the city's most popular, and less known attractions.

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