(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 21, 2019
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Nov. 24, 2019)
What are the odds? Descendants of 2 Seattle immigrants find family members in the same 1929 photo
By Jean Sherrard
More than 30 years ago, my wife and I disastrously hosted our first Thanksgiving feast meant to introduce Vietnamese neighbors to an American immigrant ritual and roasted our first turkey. Benjamin Franklin’s favored bird, bane of chefs and home cooks alike, often emerges from the oven raw or overdone, but our perfectly basted 14-pounder seemed to achieve a happy medium. As I transferred it from pan to platter, however, a previously unnoticed bag of giblets exploded from the neck cavity. We assured our slightly unnerved friends that this was not part of the traditional fare.
In this week’s “Then” portrait of King Street Station coach yard workers and trains, taken 22 days before the Oct. 24, 1929, stock-market crash that launched the Great Depression, we encounter another particularly American story of arrival, immigration and citizenship. Ninety years later and by coincidence, two Seattle descendants of men portrayed here separately presented us with this rare image.
It began when Casey McNerthney, visiting a postcard and photo exhibition in Portland in April, spotted a panoramic print in a dealer’s booth. Its inscription tallied with his great-grandfather Matt McAlerney’s time at the coach yard. Leaning in to examine the photo more closely, Casey delighted in finding Matt’s face in the crowd. “No way,” he thought. “What are the odds of that?” Casey purchased it on the spot.
Having immigrated to Seattle from County Down in Northern Ireland in 1911, Matt McAlerney soon found work with the Great Northern Railroad. In October 1916, he met Lily Kempson, a young fugitive who had fled Dublin after playing a significant role in the failed Easter Uprising. After a whirlwind courtship, the couple married and had seven children. Matt continued his rail work through two world wars, retiring in the mid-1950s.
Our second serendipitous contributor, 96-year old Emil Martin (originally Martincevic), at an October book event in West Seattle, presented us with the identical photo and pointed out his father, Petar Martincevic. Petar arrived in Seattle in 1910 from Yugoslavia and began work as an air-brake mechanic in the coach yards. He died in 1964 at age 86.
As a boy, Emil came to know his father’s co-workers well. He says they were of “many nationalities including Irish, Yugoslavian, Scandinavian, Italian, Belgian” along with “an unusually large number of White Russians” who fled across Siberia following the 1917 Russian Revolution.
In the proud faces of these immigrant men (and a handful of women), many who left behind strife, political oppression and poverty, this Thanksgiving we salute their hope for better lives in a new world.
For our 360-degree video of the “Now” photo shoot with Jean’s narration, click here!
Also, head over to Casey’s fascinating biography of his great-grandmother Lily Kempson (and a bit about Matt, as well).
Casey thoughtfully sent along photo ID’s of each and every participant:
Clay Eals visited Emil Martin, the serendipitous provider of the second copy of our “Then” photo, and snapped this portrait:
To read Emil Martin’s short memoir of his own work at the King Street Station coach yards, click on the embedded page just below. For a much more detailed and fascinating handwritten account of Emil’s life and times, check out this remarkable document he provided. Thanks, Emil!
Emil adds on Nov. 25, 2019: “I would like to make one correction in my reminiscence article. I said the 5 and 10-cent stores were Kress and Rhodes. Rhodes had a department store at the SW corner of 2nd Ave and Pike St. It should have been Kress and Woolworth. Kress was on the SE corner of 3rd and Pike. Woolworth was on the SW corner of 3rd and Pike and was the one with the soda counter, piano music and live birds.”