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Published in The Seattle Times online on Jan. 26, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Jan. 29, 2023
Busy physician Jacob Benshoof relied on four-hoofed transit
By Clay Eals
Not yet 2 was tiny Rene Alarie. The evening of Aug. 13, 1907, she played in her South Park backyard as her mother focused on her 4-month-old sister. The tot opened a gate and toddled into the road, where returning to Seattle was a Route 5 streetcar.
The conductor and motorman, not yet aboard, ran to catch the car, but its fender knocked Rene down, and she was seriously injured. Fortunately, she regained consciousness while resting at a neighbor’s home, where she recognized her mom.
“Dr. J.A. Benshoof, the attending physician, believes she has a good chance to recover,” reported The Seattle Times.
With automobiles a blossoming curiosity, the phrase “attending physician” painted a rustic picture 115 years ago. The doctor, Jacob Andrew Benshoof (1882-1979), who began work in South Park two years earlier, reached a wide swath of patients — including uphill in forested White Center, where he was the district’s first doctor — via horse.
“I would start out for some cabin in the woods in the morning, and by the time I got there a neighbor might have sent for me to come on another two or three miles farther to their home,” Benshoof told The Times in 1955 on his 50th anniversary of practice. “I’d go out to some tent or cabin in the timber to care for a woman in childbirth or a man who had been hit by a timber or caught in a saw or shot. Things happened in the timber country in those days.”
Born and raised in Iowa and trained in St. Louis, the busy Benshoof served as surgeon for the long-gone Meadows Race Track south of Georgetown and as Seattle medical examiner. He also joined the early staff of Providence Hospital and established offices downtown.
And he acquired a car. (He placed a 1910 Times ad to sell his “buggy horse and saddle, sound and gentle; new buggy and harness.”) But while building a family and becoming known as a prolific deliverer of babies, he never lost his early reputation for four-hoofed service, carrying a medical kit and rifle while riding or driving an ex-racehorse named Mabel Payne.
Two days after Rene Alarie’s streetcar accident, the Times reported that another South Park girl, Helen Taylor, 7, visited a neighbor’s home to get milk.
The neighbor’s chained bulldog startled the girl and bit her as she fell into a hole. A key part of the report:
“Dr. J.A. Benshoof dressed the wounds, and the little girl was removed to her home, where she is now resting easily.”
Special thanks to Dina Skeels of the Benshoof family and to Wendy Malloy of the Museum of History & Industry and streetcar historian Mike Bergman for their invaluable help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are 4 additional photos and, in chronological order, 24 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.