Seattle Mythbusters

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Seattle Mythbusters

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Like most cities, Seattle has its share of myths and urban legends that are passed from one generation to the next with pride and a hint of mystery. I've put on my Seattle mythbuster's cap and compiled a list of the more persistent myths and legends concerning the city and the surrounding area. Probably the most common urban myth about Seattle is that it's the rainiest city in the U.S. If you've heard this one before and believed it to be true, it's time to reconsider. You might be surprised to know that Seattle is not the rainiest city in the U.S., and it doesn't even make the top 10 list of rainiest cities in America. The distinction of rainiest city in the U.S. actually belongs to Mobile, Alabama with an average annual rainfall of 67 inches per year. It does rain frequently during the winter months in Seattle; it just doesn't accumulate enough to set any records.

It is frequently said that Chief Seattle, a well known leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish Native American tribes for which the city is named, gave a famous environmental stewardship speech in 1854 which is still being quoted today. This is one of those enduring urban myths that has a life of its own. Many people have heard former Vice President Al Gore quoting the Chief's famous speech and have read about it in Gore's 1992 book, Earth in the Balance. The truth behind the oft quoted words is that the discourse attributed to Chief Seattle was actually written by screenwriter Ted Perry for a movie in 1971.

Yet another prevalent urban myth in Seattle is that Mount Rainier is named after Rainier Beer, a prominent brewery in the city. This one is completely false. Supposedly, this rumor was spread by enraged citizens of Tacoma. They believed the owner of Rainier Brewery, Emil Sick, had used money to influence a Washington committee into naming Washington's highest peak after Rainier Beer instead of calling it Mount Tacoma. It's true that there was a heated debate over whether the peak should be called Mount Rainier or Mount Tacoma, but the name had nothing to do with Rainier Beer. In reality, British Captain George Vancouver named the peak for his friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier in 1792. The truth is that Rainier Beer is actually named after the mountain.

An interesting Seattle urban legend tells about a man who attempted to rob a local gun store and was taken down in a hail of 23 bullets fired by armed customers in the store. Although actually true, the details are slightly less sensational. On the afternoon of February 3, 1990, a man named David Zaback waltzed past a police car in the parking lot and into the door of H&J Leather and Firearms. Zaback announced his intention to rob the store and ordered everyone to put their hands up as he fired his .38 caliber pistol in the air. Shots were exchanged and after taking several rounds, Zaback was left lifeless on floor of the shop. The legend says that all of the customers were armed and everyone turned and fired on Zaback, striking him 23 times. While it's true that a number of customers did draw their weapons, the only weapons fired belonged to Timothy Lally, the King County deputy inside the store, Zaback, and store clerk Danny Morris. Zaback took just four bullets, not 23. It's one of those urban myths that have an unbelievable Wild West flair to it, but the reality isn't too far off. Let's just say it's pretty clear that Zaback hadn't thought this one out very well.

Every city has its share of ghost stories, and Seattle is no different. It's widely believed that the Seattle Underground is haunted, and it's unlikely that this legend will be successfully substantiated or debunked, so it's sure to stick around. After most of downtown Seattle burned in the great fire of 1889, the new buildings, streets, and sidewalks were elevated and built above the ruins beneath them. This left a network of tunnels beneath modern day Seattle complete with old sidewalks and storefronts. Many visitors swear that it's haunted and even have unusual photographs that are difficult to explain. Some people claim that the ghost of a nervous bank teller guards an old bank vault in the Underground, while others have said that the spirit of a man murdered on the streets in the early 1900s appears in the tunnels beneath Seattle. Mythbusters from the television show Ghost Hunters have even paid a visit to the Seattle Underground to investigate the claims and were unable to prove or disprove the presence of paranormal activity. Explore the Underground and see for yourself, or enjoy a ghost tour in the Pike Place Market.

Bill Speidel's Underground Tour
608 First Ave
Seattle, Washington 98104
(206) 682-4646
Tours run hourly and times vary according to season. Tickets are $7 for children and $15 for adults.

Seattle Ghost Tour
1410 Post Alley
Seattle, Washington 98101
(206) 805-0195
Tours are Sun-Wed 5:00 and 7:00PM; Thu-Sat 5:00, 7:00 and 9:00PM. Tickets are $15-20 per person. br />
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