Seattle Now & Then: The “Finest Fruit”

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Local candy-maker A.W. Piper was celebrated here for his crème cakes and wedding cakes and also his cartoons.  This sketch is of the 1882 lynching from the Maple trees beside Henry and Sara Yesler’s home on James Street.  Piper’s bakery was nearby (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
THEN: Local candy-maker A.W. Piper was celebrated here for his crème cakes and wedding cakes and also his cartoons. This sketch is of the 1882 lynching from the Maple trees beside Henry and Sara Yesler’s home on James Street. Piper’s bakery was nearby (Courtesy, MOHAI)
NOW: Jean took his repeats looking across James Street from both the open roof of the “Sinking Ship Garage” and from one of its screen-protected windows.  Although somewhat high, we chose the former
NOW: Jean took his repeats looking across James Street from both the open roof of the “Sinking Ship Garage” and from one of its screen-protected windows. Although somewhat high, we chose the former

If you are inclined to write a history of Seattle then you must include the three bodies hanging here between two of Henry and Sara Yesler’s maples on the early afternoon of January 18, 1882. The trees were planted in 1859; and they appear first as saplings in the earliest extant photo of Seattle, which was recorded that year. By 1882, the shade trees were stout enough to lynch James Sullivan and William Howard from a stanchion prepared for them between two of the Maples.

Yesler's home at the center with James Street to the right of it, typically dated 1860.
Yesler’s home at the center with James Street to the right of it, typically dated 1860.  The forest at the top encroaches on 5th Avenue.
Months after the lynching Henry and Sara Yesler pose in front of the home at the northeast corner of Front (First Ave.) and James Street on July 4, 1883.  The hanging trees are on the right.
A year and a half  after the lynching Henry and Sara Yesler pose in front of their home at the northeast corner of Front (First Ave.) and James Street on July 4, 1883. The hanging trees are on the right.  [Courtesy;, Northwest Collection, U.W. Libraries.)
Henry liked to whittle.
Henry liked to whittle.

As ordered by the judge, the accused couple expected to be returned to jail when their preliminary trail in Yesler’s Hall at First Ave. and Cherry Street was completed. Instead the vigilantes in attendance covered Territorial Supreme Court Judge Roger Sherman Green with a hood, bound the guards, and dragged like the devil the doomed couple up the alley to James Street. There the leafless maples suddenly exposed their terrifying landscape to Sullivan and Howard. Soon after being violently pulled from court – in a few pounding heart beats – these two prime suspects of the daylight killing the day before of a young clerk named George B. Reynolds, were lifeless and their swinging corpses played with.

A map of Seattle in 1882 idealized by it's real estate.
A map of Seattle in 1882 idealized by it’s real estate. (CLICK to ENLARGE)
Watklin's 1882 panorama of Seattle from Beacon Hill, as it is framed and explained on a page of Prosch's picture album of pioneer Seattle preserved in the University of Washington's Northwest Collection.
Watklin’s 1882 panorama of Seattle from Beacon Hill, as it is framed and explained on a page of Prosch’s picture album of pioneer Seattle preserved in the University of Washington’s Northwest Collection.   Below is a detail pulled from this pan, which includes a fat red arrow indicating the location of the 1882 lynching.

x, Red-arrow-Lynching,-1882-Beacon-Hill-WEB

During his 1882 visit to Seattle, Watkins also used the King Street Coal Wharf to record a panorama of what was by then the largest city in Washington Territory.  In this one of the panels from his pan, the location of lynching is
During his 1882 visit to Seattle, Watkins also used the King Street Coal Wharf to record a panorama of what was by then the largest city in Washington Territory. In this one of the panels from his pan, the location of lynching is below the top of the pile driver stationed right-of-center.  The entire pan is printed next.
Most - perhaps all - of Watkin's 1882 pan of Seattle and its waterfront, taken from the King Street Coal Wharf.
Most – perhaps all – of Watkin’s 1882 pan of Seattle and its waterfront, taken from the King Street Coal Wharf. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Watkins was visiting from California.  Peterson, the photographer of this look up the waterfront, also from the King Street coal wharf, had a studio in Seattle.  Most of its was portrait work, but his art for cityscape was hereabouts the best of the time.   This is tentatively dated ca. 1882.  The wharf building commotion in the Watkin's pan has as yet not begun.
Watkins was visiting from California. Peterson, the photographer of this look up the waterfront, also from the King Street coal wharf, had a studio in Seattle. Most of its was portrait work, but his art for cityscape was hereabouts the best of the time. This is tentatively dated ca. 1882. The wharf building commotion in the Watkin’s pan has as yet not begun. (Click to ENLARGE)

In a few minutes more, the by now hungry mob pulled from jail a third suspect, a “loafer” named Benjamin Paynes, who was accused of shooting a popular policeman named David Sires weeks before. For a while the hanging bodies of the three were raised and lowered over and over and in time to the mob’s chanting, “Heave Ho! Heave Ho!” Children who had climbed the trees to cut pieces of rope from the cooling bodies tied them to their suspenders or, for the girls, to the pigtails of their braided hair. It was, we are told, for “show and tell” in school.

In July, 1886 the Yesler's moved up James Street to their mansion facing Third Avenue, a sided at the corner with Jefferson by an orchard large enough for lots of apple sauce and branches enough for crimes and punishments, although none were used so.  Sara died in 1887 and Henry in 1892.
In July, 1886 the Yesler’s moved up James Street to their mansion facing Third Avenue.  It was sided at the corner with Jefferson by an orchard large enough for lots of apple sauce and branches for crimes and punishments, although none were used so. Sara died in 1887 and Henry in 1892.

Although there were several photographers in town, none of them took the opportunity to record – or expose – a lynching. Who would want such a photograph? Judging from the local popularity of these killings of accused killers, probably plenty. A few weeks following the stringing, Henry Yesler was quoted in Harpers Weekly, “That was the first fruit them trees ever bore, but it was the finest.” It was Seattle’s first really bad nation-wide publicity.

Right to left, Yesler, Gatzert and Maddocks, made a Christmas tradition out of carrying together greeting cards to their friends in town, and probably getting their fill of seasonal snaps in return.  Below is a portrait of a younger Henry - a Henry who looks fit for wrestling with Puget Sound's first steam saw mill.
Right to left, Yesler, Gatzert and Maddocks, made a Christmas tradition out of carrying together greeting cards to their friends in town, and probably getting their fill of seasonal snaps in return. Below is a portrait of a younger Henry – a Henry who looks fit for wrestling with Puget Sound’s first steam saw mill.

Yesler,-Henry-Portrait-proc-WEB

In Andrew William Piper’s cartoon of the event, the easily identified Henry stands in the foreground busy with his favorite pastime: whittling wood. The cartoonist Piper was a popular confectioner who loved dancing and singing with his wife and eleven children. He was also a practical joker and the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council. We don’t know if Piper also joined the local chorus of acclaim for the hangings. Judge Green more than objected. Once free of his hood, he rushed to the lynching and tried to cut the ropes, but failed.

The Finest Fruit THEN mr

On the far right of his cartoon, the cartoonist-confectionaire Piper has included the sign of the Chronicle, a newspaper located in the alley behind the Yesler back yard.   It was up this alley that the victims were rushed to their lynching.   Printed next is a transcript from an 1883 issue of the Chronicle, which describes a resplendent new saloon in the basement of the new Yesler-Leary Building at the northwest corner of Front (First Ave.) and Yesler Way and so also at the foot of James Street.

An excerpt from the
An excerpt from the August 23, 1883 issue of the Chronicle.
The Yesler-Leary building at the northwest corner of Yesler and Front.   Like the rest of the neighborhood, including the Yesler's hanging trees, it was destroyed during the "Great Fire" of 1889.
The Yesler-Leary building at the northwest corner of Yesler and Front. Like the rest of the neighborhood, including the Yesler’s hanging trees, it was destroyed during the “Great Fire” of 1889.
Twenty-six years later, the lynching block on James Street, between First and Second Avenues in 1908.  The photo was recorded from the Collins Building on the southeast corner of Second Ave. and James Street.  The Collins survives and well too.  On the left is the northeast corner of the Seattle Hotel.  It was destroyed in the early 1960s for the "Sinking Ship Garage."  The side below the Pioneer Building, right-of-center, where they lynching was done in 1882, is here crowded with locals and tourists in town for the 1908 visit of the Great White Fleet.
Twenty-six years later, the lynching block on James Street, between First and Second Avenues in 1908. The photo was recorded from the Collins Building on the southeast corner of Second Ave. and James Street. The Collins survives and well too. On the left is the northeast corner of the Seattle Hotel. It was destroyed in the early 1960s for the “Sinking Ship Garage.” The side below the Pioneer Building, right-of-center, where they lynching was done in 1882, is here crowded with locals and tourists in town for the 1908 visit of the Great White Fleet.  A few of the dreadnoughts can be seen in Elliott Bay.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?  Yes Jean, and most of it, again, links to past features related to the place and/or the subject.    Most of extras – if one takes the opportunity to click and read – will be the several links that Ron Edge will be soon putting up directly below this exposition.  Then, after the links, we will probably continue on with a few more features – if we can find them tomorrow (Saturday) night when we get to them.   We should add that we do not encourage lynching of any sort, or for that matter capital punishment.   It is all cruel, pathetic and even useless.  Yes – or No! – we do not agree with the wood whittler Henry Yeslers.  We have imprisoned within quote marks our title “finest fruit” borrowed from him.

 

Then: Looking north from Pioneer Place (square) into the uptown of what was easily the largest town in Washington Territory. This is judged by the 3218 votes cast in the November election of 1884, about one fourth of them by the newly but temporarily enfranchised women.Tacoma, in spite of being then into its second year as the terminus for the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad, cast 1663 votes, which took third place behind Walla Walla's 1950 registered votes.

THEN: For the first twenty years of his more than 40 years selling tinware and other selected hardware, Zilba Mile's shop looked south across Yesler Way down First Ave. S, then known as Commercial Street.

dispatch-122477p1-web

a1878-birdseye-web

THEN: With the clue of the ornate Pergola on the right, we may readily figure that we are in Pioneer Square looking south across Yesler Way.

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NIGHTY-BEARS SKUFFLE

It has reached that nighty-bears (copyright) moment before we are finished, this time with lynching related extras.  Until we return in the morning - or sometime tomorrow - to continuing dressing our figures, here is a James Street related skirmish I photographed in the early 1980s.  This, we hope, will momentarily satisfy the urges for sensational news we may have nurtured within.
Again, we have  reached that nighty-bears (copyright) moment before we are finished, this time with lynching-related extras. Until we return in the morning – or sometime tomorrow – to continue dressing our figures, here is a James Street related skirmish I photographed in the early 1980s. This, we hope, will momentarily satisfy the urges for sensational news we may have nurtured.   The 1882 lynchings were a few feet behind me, a century earlier.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The “Finest Fruit””

  1. A splendid account of a gruesome and disturbing incident. Jean’s photo also fixes the precise location of the lynching. I never walk that block without thinking of it. One question: where was the city jail at that time?.

  2. Though a gruesome event, I commend the artist/cartoonist’s print which includes in front, to the right, the drawing of 2 Chinese gentlemen (and closely behind are shown 2 African American gentlemen). A. W. Piper of Piper’s Bakery shows a keen honesty and sensitivity to people of diversity. Unfortunately 4 years after this 1882 drawing the Chinese were driven out of Seattle because they worked for such low wages that they became scapegoats,

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