Seattle Now & Then: Real Change

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THEN: Roughly a century ago, engineer Leo Snow took this candid photograph of a single Native vendor set up at the corner of Second Avenue and Madison Street. (Courtesy Dale & Eric Cooley)
NOW: Appropriately, for the contemporary repeat Jean Sherrard recorded Cassie Phillips, a Real Change newspaper salesperson, showing her fare at the same corner.
NOW: Appropriately, for the contemporary repeat Jean Sherrard recorded Cassie Phillips, a Real Change newspaper salesperson, showing her fare at the same corner.

Clearly, the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Madison Street was good for sales both inside and out. In 1906, the Frederick & Nelson department store expanded from its mid-block quarters in the block-long Rialto building to both corners, at Madison and Spring streets. While the corner sign does not promote baskets, it does list carpets, and its sidewalk “competitor,” the basket vendor recorded here by amateur Leo Snow, also offers mats. Snow’s snapshot is wonderfully unique for its bright-eyed candor.

As confirmed by many other photographs, including a 1911 postcard printed in “Native Seattle,” historian Coll Thrush’s nearly new book from UW Press, this was a popular corner for both selling Native crafts and recording them doing it. Thrush’s postcard shows three of what the postcard’s caption calls “Indian Basket Sellers” huddled at this corner.

When I began giving illustrated talks on Seattle history long ago, I often included a slide of Native American vendors in my show. Many were the times that seniors in the audience would recall having been with their mothers while buying a basket from Chief Seattle’s daughter, and often off this very sidewalk. Since the 86-year-old Princess Angeline died in 1896, this “princess claim” was impossible, I gently explained. Still, however slanted, the memory of sidewalk meetings with Native Americans was still cherished in 1975. Sometime after the farm boy Snow got an engineering degree from Ohio University in 1902, he folded a three-piece suit in his duffle bag and hopped a freight train to Seattle. He was soon on the streets looking for a job. In 1945, Snow retired after working 37 years for Puget Power, and along the way took many more sparkling snapshots with his foldout Kodak.

[ Below is another example of sidewalk sales at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Second Avenue sometime after Frederick and Nelson moved there in 1906.  This view is numbered.  Unlike Snow’s candid recording this was shot with commercial hopes – hopes that were probaby fulfilled for I have seen prints of this scene in different collections.]

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