Category Archives: Clay’s Carousing

Is this David Denny?

(Click and click again to enlarge photo)

Dick Falkenbury, with portrait of what could be David Denny. (Clay Eals)
Seeking your help with a puzzling portrait
 By Clay Eals

Recently I met with Bremerton resident Dick Falkenbury, an activist and former cabbie who is best known for leading the failed Monorail campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He gave me a portrait that he picked up for $20 at a thrift store, and he thinks it might be of famous founder David Denny. It sits very loosely in a frame, as can be seen in the accompanying photo.

Dick merely wants me to find a good home for it. But he also is curious if there is a way to verify that it is of David Denny. All available photos of Denny show him with some form of facial hair, and this portrait does not. I’ve checked with experts at, the Museum of History & Industry and the Washington State Historical Society but found no definitive answers.

So to our blog audience, two questions:

  • Do you think it’s David Denny?
  • Where might be the best home for this?

If you have information or insights, please email me. Thanks!



Library seeks cataloguer for Dorpat collection

Deadline to apply for two-year, full-time position is this Sunday

By Clay Eals

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye … the voice of the people is calling.

Portions of Paul Dorpat’s collection as previously stored in his basement. (KOMO-TV)

The vast collection of famed Seattle historian and “Now & Then” column founder Paul Dorpat went to Seattle Public Library three years ago, and there’s good news — the library is seeking applications from those who would like to catalogue it for public use.

The formal name for the paid, open position is “Coordinating Library Technician (Project Archivist).” It’s a full-time job, temporary but lasting two years, and pays $28.84-$34.93 an hour. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. this Sunday, May 14, 2023.

Among the qualifications for the job is a required minimum of three years of professional experience working in an archive or manuscripts repository.

Here is the link to find out more. Please spread the word far and wide!

Paul Dorpat, 2022. (Clay Eals)

Paul donated his collection, numbering more than 300,000 photo prints, slides, negatives, videos and other materials, to the library with the understanding that citizens one day would be able to access the full collection free of charge. Underlying the donation is his hope to inspire others throughout the region to likewise share their own local photos, films and ephemera—his version of “vox populi,” the voice of the people.

You can see a KIRO-TV story on Seattle Public Library’s acceptance of Paul’s collection in 2020 at this link.

Sean Lanksbury, the library’s Special Collections services manager, is delighted that the library is able to take this tangible step forward. For more information, he can be reached at 206-386-4610 or

Black Santa, 1985

By Clay Eals

PacificNW magazine of The Seattle Times is not running “Now & Then” in the Sunday print editions of Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, 2020.

So as one way to fill the gap for you, our faithful blog subscribers, I offer this “Black Santa” story of mine that appeared Christmas Day 1985 on the front page of the West Seattle Herald, for which I served as editor. The fine photos were by Herald photographer Brad Garrison. This is posted with the permission of Robinson Newspapers.

A couple months ago, thinking this story and photos might make the basis for a “Now & Then” column this month, I tried searching online for Tracy Bennett, the subject of this story, who would be 57 today. Alas, I turned up nothing.

Still, in our coronaviral time of health crisis and social, economic and political upheaval, this 35-year-old story about Tracy and his view on the Santa milieu remains timely, powerful and inspiring — at least that’s my hope.

At the time I wrote it, the story resonated quite personally, From 1985 to 1993, I volunteered more than 100 times to play Santa for children and adults at parties and in schools, community halls and private homes throughout Puget Sound as part of the American Heart Association’s “Santa with a Heart” fundraising program. As any Santa will tell you, it was a uniquely heartwarming and unforgettable experience. (See clippings at bottom.)

Please click any of the images once or twice to enlarge them for easy reading. And if you want to read the transcribed Black Santa text instead of reading directly from the images, scroll down.

Merry merry, and ho, ho, ho!

Dec. 25, 1985, West Seattle Herald, page one. (Posted with permission of Robinson Newspapers.)
Dec. 25, 1985, West Seattle Herald, page two. (Posted with permission of Robinson Newspapers.)

West Seattle Herald, Dec. 25, 1985

‘Just for you’

Black Santa relishes children’s happiness

Santa Claus, known as Tracy Bennett in the “off”-season, walks into a class of busy fifth- and sixth-graders at Hughes Elementary School in West Seattle.

“Hi, boys and girls,” says Santa.

“Oh, hi Santa Claus!” the students respond, almost in unison.

“Howya doin’?”


“That’s good. I thought I’d drop in and visit you for a minute.”

“Yeah,” say a couple of students. “You changed colors.”

“Yeah,” answers Santa, “I sure did, didn’t I?”


When most of those who are opening packages under the Christmas tree this morning think about “the man with all the toys,” their vision probably doesn’t look like Tracy Bennett.

That’s because Bennett is Black, while nearly all of the Santas in the world — at least in the United States — seem to be as white as the North Pole’s year-round snow.

Bennett isn’t bothered, however. He keeps an upbeat, optimistic attitude about the seasonal craft he’s practiced for the past 12 years. He says he’s encountered subtle prejudice from adults and skepticism from kids, but he boasts of being able to win over most of the doubters.

Exposure is what Bennett says he needs most. And so do the other Black Santas in America, he says.

Bennett got some of the exposure he desired last week when he walked the halls of both Hughes and Van Asselt elementary schools, the latter of which is attended by some students who live in southern West Seattle and the city side of White Center.

He roamed the halls at Hughes and, with the assistance of teacher Willa Williams, peeked into classrooms and dropped off sacks of candy canes, occasionally stopping for a few minutes to talk to kids on his lap. Bearing a staccato, smile-inducing “ho, ho, ho,” he almost resembled a politician, repeatedly extending his hand for a shake and greeting children with a steady stream of “Howyadoin’? … Howyadoin’, guy? … Hiya guys. Workin’ hard?”

The racially mixed classes responded in a generally positive way. Although one sixth-grader was heard to say, “I thought Santa Claus was white, because I saw a white Santa Claus at The Bon,” for the most part any negative comments centered on whether he was “real,” not on his skin color.

“He’s nice, but his hair’s made out of cotton. Weird,” said fourth-grader Jessica Canfield. “And he has clothes under his other clothes.”

“He’s fine, and I like him,” said fellow fourth-grader Johnny Cassanova. “He said that he would visit me, and he would try to get everything that I want for Christmas and to get good grades.”

Was he the “real” Santa? “Yeah,” said Johnny, “to me he is.”

“It went real good,” Bennett said afterward. “They were very polite. They weren’t skeptical. Mostly loving, you can tell.”

Bennett, who at 22 is unemployed and intends to go to school so that he can get a job either as a police officer or working with handicapped kids, began his Santa “career” at the young age of 10. “I started as a little dwarf and moved my way up,” the Rainier Valley resident said with a laugh.

Over the years, Bennett said, he’s been Santa at private gatherings and community centers in Seattle’s south end, and he’s pieced together a costume he thinks is unimposing. The key part, he said, is his beard, which is a rather flat affair.

“The big Santa Claus beards and hairs are so flocky, so thick, that it scares some children,” Bennett said. “His color of his suit and his beard is so bright already, along with the brightness of his face.

“A Black Santa Claus with a white beard seems to bring out an older look, and the color of my skin makes it look like a normal Black man wearing a suit.”

Consequently, he said, kids warm up to him rather quickly. “Apparently I work out pretty good,” he said.

Children, both white and minority, raise the racial question fairly often, Bennett said. They usually just say, “Santa Claus is white,” expecting a response, he said.

“But I really don’t say nothing. I just look at ’em and smile, or I say ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ and they usually don’t ask anymore,” he said. “I’m used to it, so it’s no problem.”

Bennett does look forward to a day when more Black Santas are around to break the racial ice at Christmastime.

“I’m not the only one, but I never see ’em in stores,” he said. If just one major downtown store would feature a Black Santa, “that would mean the 12 years that I’ve been working on it has started to come through,” he said. “It would be a breakthrough. I want it to happen.”

He also would like to see children exposed to Santas of a variety of races. “If we bring the children Black Santa Clauses, Korean Santa Clauses, Japanese Santa Clauses, the kids will like it after a while,” he said.

For that to happen, however, some prejudices will have to be broken down gradually. “You can feel it’s there,” he said. “You try to believe it’s not there, but you can see it in people’s eyes.”

Like any Santa Claus, Bennett finds it a “thrill” to portray Saint Nick to children. “When kids are happy, I’m happy. When they’re sad, I feel for ’em. I’d like to give ’em more than I can.”

He insists, however, that it’s important not to insist that he’s the “real” Santa when kids challenge him. He tells children, “You don’t have to believe in me. But I’m doing this just for you.”

“Why ruin a kid’s mind and say, ‘I’m real, believe me’?” he said. “He (Santa) is a beautiful man, OK? No one can take that away from him. But we have to tell what’s real from not. We have to tell our kids we play Santa Claus because we love children.”

Bennett also said it’s important not to push the religious aspects of Christmas as Santa. “When we talk about religion, we have to let kids do what they want, do not force them.”

Williams, the teacher, took the same approach in deciding to invite Bennett, a friend of hers, to visit Hughes. While Christmas “is a fun time and should be a time for joy,” she said she’s well aware of the Seattle School District’s policy that’s intended to separate religion from school activity.

Bringing Santa to the classroom — and a Black Santa at that — was an attempt to get students to “understand each other’s differences,” she said.

“When I told them Santa Claus might visit, one student told me, ‘I don’t believe in Santa Claus.’ Another said, ‘Santa Claus is my mom and dad,’ and another said, ‘Santa Claus is Jesus’,” Williams said. “It was just the idea of general thought and letting them express themselves and learning to accept each and every person and their differences as long as there isn’t any harm.”

For Bennett, the delight of being Santa is that “guy is just a giving person, you know?

“He gives away things to make people happy. If a child’s sick in bed, he sees Santa Claus, he’s going to try to smile as much as he can because he’s happy. When they say, ‘Santa Claus, you didn’t give me so-and-so,’ I say, ‘Well, maybe next year, OK?’

“I don’t tell them I’m going to get this (particular item) for them and get their hopes up. I tell them that maybe somebody will get it for them very soon.

“One guy said he wanted to go to college, and I said, ‘Maybe next Christmas or a few Christmases from now, you’ll be going to college and be saying you got your wish.’ ”

Bennett clearly is hooked on his annual role: “As long as I live and as long as I stay healthy, I’ll always be Santa Claus.”

P.S. Clay as Santa

As promised at the top, here are tidbits from my eight-year volunteer Santa Claus “career” for the American Heart Association: two clippings in which I demonstrate for other Santas the best way to don the uniform, plus a sketch I created to provide step-by-step guidance. Click once or twice on the images to enlarge them. —Clay

Nov. 11, 1992, North Central Outlook.
Dec. 16, 1992, West Seattle Herald.
Clay’s sketched guide to the most efficient order for donning elements of a Santa Claus suit.

A bonus:

Just for fun and to keep with the theme, I also dug up and am including a Santa article I wrote that appeared on Christmas Eve 1980 in the Oregonian near the end of my eight-year stint as a reporter and photographer for that newspaper. Again, click once or twice on the image to enlarge it for easy readability. Enjoy! —Clay

Dec. 24, 1980, Oregonian, page B8.

More glass-neg images from Tom Reese

Tom Reese identifies this as Portland, Oregon. See the caption for his waterfront detail below. (Courtesy Tom Reese)


Bonus round — three more glass-neg images
By Clay Eals

Remember last week’s post with 15 unidentified glass-negative images submitted by Tom Reese, former longtime photographer for The Seattle Times, who bought the negatives from the Antique Mall of West Seattle?

Many of you commented with clues to when and where the photos were taken.

To further the discussion Tom has scanned three more glass negs from the same batch, and they appear here, with captions supplied by Tom. Please add further comments. It’s possible that one or more of these could become the basis of a future “Now & Then” column!

This is a detail of the Portland, Oregon, waterfront depicted in the uncropped scan at top. Says Tom, “The side-wheel paddle steamboat T. J. Potter looks to be in its original state, before remodeling in 1910, and since it’s still in Portland that probably means it’s in its first years after going into service, 1888 or so. Wikipedia says it moved to Puget Sound after running the Columbia River. Looks like the remains are on a beach near Astoria.” (Courtesy Tom Reese)
Says Tom: “Another Northwest-looking town.” (Courtesy Tom Reese)
Says Tom: “Absolutely no idea. What an immense building. European? The figure at the top looks like a soldier hoisting a rifle.” (Courtesy Tom Reese)

Any clues to the years and locations for these glass-neg images?

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

Where are these horses lined up? Near what waterway? In what year? (Courtesy Tom Reese)
Unidentified history – in glass!
By Clay Eals

Tom Reese, former longtime photographer for The Seattle Times and the photographer for the 2016 book Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish, has a mystery that he would like help solving.

Actually, he has 15 mysteries. They are the stunning scans of 15 glass negatives that he recently purchased at the Antique Mall of West Seattle.

When and where were they taken? The clues are few. Perhaps one of you reading this blog can help.

The Antique Mall had no information about the negatives other than they came by way of an estate sale, perhaps from a family in Magnolia.

Most are of exteriors – showing horses, logs, sailboats, falls and settlements. (A “Jonks Bros” sign peeks out from one. The image with tents shows men in uniform waiting in line. A left hand protrudes in another image.)

Two show interiors – a kitchen and some dishware. (A blow-up of the hanging phone book is little help. In the dish photo, two boxes in the background say “Specially manufactured for Case, Gravelle & Ervin Co, Butte, Mont. by William Liddell Co, Belfast, Ireland.”)

A scrap of a 1901 newspaper clipping (below) was slipped between two of the negatives — a clue?

Are these from the Northwest? Is there a thread among them? Even if only one image were identifiable, it might make for a great “Now & Then” column!

We ask ye of endless curiosity and skill to help us piece together this story – or stories. To do so, please reply below. The first person to reply with at least a partial and substantive solution to these mystery photos will receive an inscribed copy of Seattle Now & Then: The Historic Hundred!

(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
A detail from the kitchen photo. (Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
A detail from the previous photo. (Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
A detail of the previous photo. (Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
(Courtesy Tom Reese)
A newspaper scrap that was tucked between two of the glass negatives. (Courtesy Tom Reese)






For Emmett Watson, ‘Lesser’ is more

This caricature of the legendary Seattle newspaper columnist Emmett Watson by the equally legendary former Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist Bob McCausland appeared in Watson’s 1988 Lesser Seattle wall calendar.

The following story, an interview of longtime Seattle newspaper columnist Emmett Watson, appeared Dec. 16, 1987, in the West Seattle Herald/White Center News. More than 30 years later, Watson’s comments have a lot of resonance given today’s development boom. The interviewer, Clay Eals, was editor of the papers at the time. The story is reprinted here by permission of Robinson Newspapers. To see the story as printed, click here or scroll to the bottom.

For Watson, ‘Lesser’ is more

Columnist comes home Saturday to sign calendars
By Clay Eals

One of the West Side’s more famous/notorious native sons returns to his home turf this weekend.

He comes hat in hand, however, looking for holiday shoppers who are having trouble finding just the right item for those remaining on their lists.

It helps if the toughies on the list are from Seattle – now or sometime in the past.

That’s because Watson is pushing his new Lesser Seattle wall calendar for 1988. It’s a fanciful look at the not-so-attractive aspects of the Queen/Emerald City as detailed by Seattle’s consummate newspaper columnist. The $9.95 calendars also feature more than a dozen caricatures of Watson by ex-Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist Bob McCausland.

Watson will sign copies of the calendar at Pioneer West Book Shop, 4510 California Ave. S.W. in the Junction, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Those who miss him there can find him scribbling his signature Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 at Frederick and Nelson downtown.

Watson, who spent his youth in West Seattle, was one of the dignitaries featured in the West Side Story history book published this year by the West Seattle Herald and White Center News.

The history book is on sale at the News-Herald office, 3500 S.W. Alaska St., during the holiday season. It also is on sale at Pioneer West Book Shop, along with Watson’s calendar, and Watson will sign both on Saturday for those who are interested.

Watson, who lives next to the Pike Place Market, sat down for an hour to reflect on the mythical Lesser Seattle organization and on West Seattle earlier this month, over a cup of coffee at his favorite haunt, Lowell’s cafeteria in the market. Here is an edited transcript of the interview:

You’ve had Lesser Seattle around for quite a while.

Yeah, and a couple of times guys have come to me and said they wanted to market it, and I said no. But Fred Brack, a freelance writer, he does those cookbooks with Tina Bell, Taste of Washington, he’s a hell of a reporter and writer, worked for Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post, in fact he even had a hand in hiring Carl Bernstein. Anyway, he was trying to figure out a way to make some dough.

So we talked about it, and I had to go to the (Seattle) Times to get the OK, and I did, and we began to fool around with it. We already had those T-shirts out, sweatshirts and stuff, so we knew the designer, a guy named Tim Girvan, and Tim is one of the hot young designers in the country. Nice guy. I don’t know why Tim fooled with us. I think he just liked the concept of it.

So he went to working on it, then we got Bob McCausland out of retirement. (The caricatures) are all new. Some of them look like the old ones, but he did ’em all new. He really outdid himself.

Then I sat and wrote the stuff and took about two months or so to get it out.

With the flood of calendars on the market, what is this one’s appeal?

It’s a novelty calendar. We tried to get some tongue-in-check fun into it. That’s all Lesser Seattle is anyway, a tongue-in-cheek spoof.

There’s a serious message in it, too. A lot of people feel that way about the city. They don’t want it to balloon up. See, at the rate they’re going, why, they’re going to really make the streets deserted around here with all those high-rises. High-rises just wipe out a whole block of shops. And now we’re getting these elaborate plazas and a bunch of upscale shops that the ordinary person can’t afford. See, Third Avenue’s going to be wiped out.

Do you have any answers for the situation?

It’s too late now. Hell, they got so many new high-rises going in. They’ve got about four going up right now, and to some people that’s OK. I don’t like it that way. I like it the way it was on Third Avenue with the cigar store and the pool hall right around the corner. That’s all being moved out.

Does the character of a city stem from its downtown?

All you have to do is imagine what Seattle would be like if we didn’t have the Pike Place Market. Really.

Do you get into painting outlying areas with the Lesser Seattle swath?

Oh, yeah, we talk about Lesser Poulsbo, Lesser Winslow.

How about Lesser West Seattle?

Oh, I don’t know. Is it growing over there? It’s very much of a mix over there. I don’t know how dramatic the bridge has been, but it looks like it would have an impact. What I’d say there probably is, “Tear down the bridge.”

So far, how is the Lesser Seattle sentiment appealing to people through the calendar?

We were hoping that people would get carried away and buy four or five of them and send them to their relatives as sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke. And that’s happened. They give ’em to friends who have moved away. I always sign ’em, “Come back soon. Lesser Seattle welcomes you back.”

I was signing at Union Station the other night, and a lot of younger people bought ’em for their parents. There is that feeling. People don’t like to see Seattle get big.

Memories are funny things. We all think back on what it was like in the ’50s and the ’40s and ’30s, and I guess it’s kind of a growing-up process. We look back with nostalgia and fondness. I suppose it was just as hard to find a parking place in those days as it is now, but it doesn’t seem like it, y’know? People don’t like to have their lives disrupted.

Has Lesser Seattle had any tangible effect on the way things develop?

No, if anything, it’s probably counterproductive. I don’t think it has that much influence anyway. But people enjoy it because it’s a vehicle for saying a lot of things, like denouncing the high-rises.

And why do we want a Super Bowl here? All we’re going to do is get a bunch of drunken football fans in here for a week, and we’re going to subsidize them with free rent and parties. God, I really hate to see that. You just fall on your face in front of ’em and say, “Please come.” It’s just one big bash.

Anyway, you can always take off on it and use it that way.

Coming to West Seattle for a calendar signing, do you look forward to seeing people you know?

I was amazed when I did the book over there (five years ago) at how many people showed up who I’d forgotten, people I’d gone to school with.

West Seattle always was sort of a city in itself. See, when I grew up, we had the streetcar like everybody remembers, and it was a fair task to go downtown or to the U district. You had to ride that thing on those trestles, and it would take you 45 minutes to get downtown, and another 40 minutes to get to the U district.

I used to do that when I went to college. It was a bit of an isolation, and I’m convinced there are many, many families who grew up in West Seattle and never left, never went to any other part of the city.

West Seattle was also semi-country, really, and that wasn’t all that long ago. In the ’30s, there were an awful lot of wooded areas. In those days, as kids, we just ran loose. Back behind (James) Madison Junior High, there were little paths and trails, and you could walk almost clear to the Junction that way.

You once wrote, “I have never known anyone who moved to West Seattle for the sheer status of it, only because they liked it.”

I think that’s true. I really. You never got the feeling that there was any Highlands or Broodmoor mentality in it. At least I never did.

The people who had enough money would get beach property in those days. West Seattle always struck me as a mix, because you had people with real money down on the beach: the Schmitz family, the Colman family down along Fauntleroy. But then not very far away from that, very close, would be a middle-class and blue-collar neighborhood.

About Admiral Way and 45th, 46th, a lot of that is still with us. Once in a while, when I was recovering from my heart attack, I’d go over and go for walks around there, and it’s amazing how little of it has changed. A lot of rehabs everywhere. But the same kinds of people were there.

What do you remember best about West Seattle?

Well, I was born on Duwamish Head, and in college I lived with my brother and sister up on 35th. You could see down, and it was always kind of industrial, but I don’t think as kids we appreciated a lot of that. We didn’t think too much in terms of views. We thought too much of our own little problems.

Several years later, you get away from it, you go back over there, and Holy Toledo, the views.

The Dec. 16, 1987, interview as printed.