A Travellerspoint blog

Going Down Under


Rats, flooding, sewage, and scandal. Yes, these were the glory days of Seattle past. Sure the founding fathers had the best of intentions, but building their city upon tidal flats created some problems. In a nutshell, Seattle’s rocky start can be summed up as follows:

The streets are flooding twice a day!

Fill them with sawdust!

The streets then turn into a fabulous oatmeal consistency.

Horses get stuck. People pry them out. Big holes are left in the oatmeal like streets.

The holes fill with water.

Yippee! Now people have the luxury of boating to work!

Until a kid rafting home from school drowns. Then swim lessons become mandatory.

Oh and did I mention Seattle had a bit of a plumbing issue? Think exploding toilets and use your imagination.

Finally, many years later someone gets the bright idea to build retaining walls (duh!).

Well kind of. The retaining walls took years to build which also required that the streets be built anywhere from eight to thirty feet above the flood waters. In effect this boxed in the city below and created what is now known as the Seattle Underground.


Seattle’s underground sits just below Pioneer Square, the heart of historic Seattle. For many years it sat unused and forgotten, but along came Bill Speidel, a man determined to preserve the historic underground and unearth the stories of scandal and disease which plagued the haunted hallways. He began giving tours of the underground in the 1970’s and today massive tour groups leave Pioneer Square every hour to go down under into a world unlike anything you could imagine.


The Underground was once home to prostitutes, rejects, and drug dealers. Today it resembles nothing more than a series of darkened hallways and rooms. Yet it remains rat infested (although the rats generally sleep during the day), it is also rumored to be haunted (several paranormal investigators have labeled it one of the most haunted places in America), and yes it still floods - somewhat. But these are mere hurdles to the fascinating whirlwind history lesson provided by the knowledgeable tour guides.


So, how better to entertain my two young guests on Labor Day weekend, right? All seven and nine year olds deserve a good lesson in prostitution, alcoholism, and exploding toilets. Well, ok, maybe just exploding toilets. The tour is actually quite family friendly – if you don’t mind the excessive use of the word crapper, which without Mr. Thomas Crapper who invented the toilet, Seattleites might still be using their ineffective exploding outhouses. Along with being family friendly, the tour guides do an excellent job of speaking in code if you will, thus providing the scandalous history of prostitution in Seattle without offending uncorrupted young minds. If you are left hanging, the Underground also offers an adults only tour in the evenings, no speaking in code necessary. Overall, the tour was a hit with adults and kids alike. Stories of mystery, intrigue, and sewing circles (code for prostitution) kept us all on our toes.


Ninety minutes later we emerged from the depths of Seattle into a downpour. As our clothes went from dry to wet in a matter of minutes, we quickly took shelter in an alleyway doorframe. Looking around at the homeless people sleeping under cardboard boxes and the rats scurrying for cover under the trash bags heaped in the alleyway, I began to realize that perhaps when the city rebuilt and the “underground” was paved over, the problems of drugs and prostitution were not eradicated but merely pushed to the surface. Either way, we found ourselves fondly reminiscing of the warm, dry interior of the ghostly haunted underground, but rather opted for the comfort of nearby café.


After a whirlwind weekend of museums, zoos, aquariums, and restaurants this tour was the highlight for my young guests – and I would have to agree. I will definitely be going down under again – but this time on the adults only version!

Posted by Jennylynn 07:01 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I have been following your blog/journey since the Shoreline sandcastle competition. (My daughter is actually one of your photographs.) You have an incredible photographic eye when it comes to composition and I truly enjoy sitting and just looking at all of your photos, not just browsing them. I really like taking time to look at every angle that you chose and the over all set up of each photo. You have got serious talent.

by JonathonEC

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.