Category Archives: Jean’s Schemes and Clay’s Carousing

Inclining ourselves through the stages of research grief

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

Here is one of the photos of an inclined coal railway whose location had been identified as in south Bellevue but whose true location has been confirmed by the Newcastle Historical Society. It’s 100 miles north along the southeast shore of Lake Whatcom, five miles southeast of Bellingham. This is the “looking down” photo described below. (Eastside Heritage Center, L90.24.10)
Actual site of ‘Newcastle’ photos is
100 miles north of Lake Washington

(Editor’s note: For this blog post, we invite two guests from the Newcastle Historical Society to contribute a lesson in historical research!)

By Matt McCauley and Kent Sullivan
Newcastle Historical Society

As embarrassing as mistakes can be, in the realm of historical research it is particularly important to correct the record when one inevitably goofs. Here is our journey through the stages of grief:

In the case of research on Seattle’s first railroad, constructed in the early 1870s by Seattle Coal & Transportation Co., our ad hoc group of historians had as the centerpiece of its research two beautiful 19th century photographs of the inclined railway that the company constructed in today’s south Bellevue, the location of which was known at that time as Bensonville.

Coal cars were lowered down the steep incline to a wharf, where they continued their journey, in the finest Rube Goldberg fashion, up Lake Washington to today’s Montlake neighborhood, then across another short stretch of rail, then on another barge ride across Lake Union, and then down a final stretch of rail to another incline at the foot of Pike Street, upon which the cars were lowered then dumped into coal bunkers at the company’s salt water wharf.

The coal was then loaded onto ships for transport to San Francisco and other distant markets.

Here is the second of two photos whose true location has been confirmed by the Newcastle Historical Society. It’s 100 miles north along the southeast shore of Lake Whatcom, five miles southeast of Bellingham. This is the “looking up” photo described in this post. (Eastside Heritage Center, L90.24.09)

These two photos of the incline are quite striking, though their provenance was a bit hazy. A local family had brought prints to the old Marymoor Museum in 1990. The prints previously were in the possession of a family ancestor who had been involved in 19th century coal mining in the Newcastle area.

The family did not want to donate the prints to Eastside Heritage Center, so the prints were photographed on the spot, which was the best-available method in 1990 for quick reproductions, and they were filed away with sparse notes.

Much later, the old Marymoor Museum’s collections were transferred to the then-new Eastside Heritage Center, and it was from the Eastside Heritage Center that the Newcastle Historical Society learned of, and became keenly interested in, them.

In fact, it was the re-discovery of these images that prompted the formation of our ad hoc Seattle Coal and Transportation Co. research team, which brought together people who previously did not know each other and are now good friends — an unexpected but happy outcome.

Our team of eight — Robert Boyd, Harry Dursch, Gary Dutt, Mike Intlekofer, Eva Lundahl, Russ Segner as well as the two of us — did years of research and collected considerable information, including a major, unsuccessful effort to locate the original prints.

We eventually went public a few years ago with our findings by giving several presentations, which led to Jean Sherrard and Clay Eals inviting us to collaborate on this “Now & Then” column from September 2019.

(Our team also provided deep background research on the 1850s-1870s mining era for the recent revision of the classic local history book “The Coals of Newcastle.”)

Shortly after the release of the “Now & Then” column about our research, we heard from Andy Valaas, a local resident with an interest in history whom we did not previously know. He first came across these images in an online presentation by Jane Morton of Eastside Heritage Center and did not believe the two images of the incline were of our incline.

A few things struck Andy:

  • First, as a long-time downhill skier, he thought the incline in the photos was too high and too steep to have been along the southeastern shore of Lake Washington.
  • Andy also believed the type of steam donkey engine seen in one of the photos would have not yet been in use while the Newcastle incline was in operation (1872-1878).
  • In addition, he believed the shape of the Mercer Island shoreline did not match closely enough what could be seen in the “looking down” photo. (Of note: Matt had previously taken several “today” photos and studied early shoreline maps, the upshot of which was that a match seemed possible, although not iron-clad.)

Andy gently brought these concerns to our attention, and, as experienced historians do, Andy also did a bit of research to try to establish where the pictured incline was actually located.

Prompted by a well-known picture of coal cars on a barge on Lake Whatcom, some five miles southeast of Bellingham, Andy focused his research about 100 miles north of Lake Washington. Andy’s research pointed to the Blue Canyon Coal Mine on Lake Whatcom’s southeast shore. This incline was constructed circa 1891 and had much more of a drop (820 feet vs. 175 feet at Newcastle).

Needless to say, Andy’s input sparked much discussion among our group.

We had not really questioned the basic location of the incline up this point. Our work had mainly focused on finding the location of it “on the ground” today, which we were successful in doing and is not doubted. This led us, as a group, to exercise just enough confirmation bias to explain away things that didn’t quite fit:

  • The shoreline in the distance of the “looking down” photo wasn’t a 100% match for Mercer Island.
  • The steam donkey visible in the “looking up” photo was from a slightly-later era.
  • The length and steepness of the incline seemed too extreme for the topography in today’s south Bellevue.

Mike Intlekofer on our research team had raised the donkey concern previously but we had explained it away as a “pioneering use,” while we rationalized that the apparent length and steepness of the incline was due to the photographer using a wide-angle lens of some sort.

Grieving, our Seattle Coal and Transportation Co. research group got through the “denial” and “anger” phases fairly quickly. Then Harry Dursch on our team contacted retired Western Washington University geology professor George Mustoe, who, at first, questioned whether the images were at Blue Canyon — which gave us a brief sense of hope, as being in the “bargaining” phase often does.

The Blue Canyon incline, looking down. (Whatcom Museum X.4001)

We then reached out to photo archivist Jeff Jewell of the Whatcom Museum. Jeff sent us straight to “depression” because he was able to quickly provide us with several images of the Blue Canyon incline, including views we had never seen before, along with much-crisper versions of the images we had previously obtained from Eastside Heritage Center.

Another view of the Blue Canyon incline, looking down. (Whatcom Museum, 1996.10.3301)

The presence of the same four trees in the Eastside Heritage Center and Whatcom Museum “looking down” photos made it unquestionably clear that the photos were not taken along Lake Washington. (See A–D in the accompanying comparison image.) The same Whatcom Museum image also made it clear that we were not looking at the east shore of Mercer Island.

These two annotated crops make it clear that the images that Newcastle Historical Society members obtained from Eastside Heritage Center were of the Blue Canyon incline rather than at Newcastle. (Left: EHC L90.24.09; Right: WMPA X.4001. Graphic assistance: Noel Sherrard)

No historians worth their salt would deem a painful lesson of learning and enlightenment to be complete without arriving at “acceptance,” which we did in fairly short order, although some of us may or may not have drowned our sorrows first at the Mustard Seed Too in Newport Hills.

We have since embarked on the mighty challenge of locating a sketch, drawing, photo or painting of the Bensonville incline, the one the Seattle Coal and Transportation Co. built circa 1872. Unfortunately, the corporate records of Seattle Coal and Transportation Co. appear to have largely been discarded by a successor company, so sketches and drawings that must have existed at one time likely no longer exist.

What makes finding a photo a substantial undertaking is the state of photography in the 1870s. At that time, photographers used the “wet plate” method. This means:

  • Prior to making an exposure, the photographer needed to use a light-free environment to coat a glass plate with liquid emulsion.
  • That “wet” plate was then placed into a light-free magazine that was slid into the back of a wooden box camera.
  • The light block was removed and the camera’s lens cap pulled away to allow the image to be exposed onto the glass.
  • The light block was replaced, the magazine removed from the camera, taken back into the dark area, removed from the magazine and immediately immersed in liquid developer and fixer to create a glass plate negative from which prints could be made.

Needless to say, any photographer taking images of outdoor features needed a literal wagonload of equipment: an unwieldy camera and tripod, liquid chemicals (in fragile glass bottles) and some kind of tent or other means for a portable darkroom.

Given this complexity, it is understandable why most 1870s-era photographers chose instead to do portrait work inside of studios, with adjacent darkrooms and chemicals.

We had assumed that the extraordinary effort it would have required to make these images was due to the company documenting the large sums from its San Francisco owners and investors were being spent wisely.

We recognize that the odds of us finding images of the Bensonville incline are vanishingly remote, But we will keep looking. One never knows. Historical research is full of unexpectedly delightful discoveries!

Season’s greetings 2021 from Santa Paul and other holiday musings

Our Christmas Eve grab-bag

From his abode at Providence Heritage House at the Market, “Now & Then” column founder Paul Dorpat, decked in his father’s Santa garb, extends us greetings of the season. (Video by Jean Sherrard)


Our collection of cheer continues below. It includes an assortment of Christmas-related images from the collection of Paul and Jean, past and present, as well as a reprise of Clay’s 1985 newspaper profile of a Black Santa. Enjoy!


‘The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’

Our next feature, however, is a delightful video excerpt from Jean Sherrard‘s “Short Stories Live: Rogue’s Christmas,” presented Dec. 12, 2021, at Town Hall. It’s a reading of Charles Dickens’ “The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” by Marianne Owen.

(VIDEO: 25:59) Marianne Owen reads Charles Dickens’ “The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” during the Dec. 12, 2021, “Rogue’s Christmas” at Town Hall. (Photo: Clay Eals)


Images of the season, from now and then

(Click to enlarge photos)

Nov. 30, 1907, reception of Garvey Buchanon Co.’s Santa Claus and live reindeer Dancer and Prances at Pioneer Square totem pole. (Paul Dorpat collection)
Dec. 12, 1935, Seattle Christmas Trolley. (Paul Dorpat collection)
Santa Claus promotion at the Bon Marche, downtown Seattle. (Paul Dorpat collection)
Baby seal Patsy heads to the Aquarium, led, of course, by Ivar Haglund. (Paul Dorpat collection)
October 2003: Paul Dorpat in his father’s Santa garb poses with friends at Paulk’s 65th birthday party. (Paul Dorpat collection)
A peppered wreath: Christmas at Pike Place Market, 2019. (Jean Sherrard)
Santa at Pike Place Market, 2019. (Jean Sherrard)
Santa at Pike Place Market, 2019. (Jean Sherrard)
Santa at Pike Place Market, 2019. (Jean Sherrard)
Pork deer at Pike Place Market, 2019. (Jean Sherrard)
Gum wall at Pike Place Market, 2019.(Jean Sherrard)


Black Santa, 1985

By Clay Eals

PacificNW magazine of The Seattle Times is not running “Now & Then” in the Sunday print edition of Dec. 26, 2021. So I offer this “Black Santa” story 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.

In 2020, thinking this story and photos might make the basis for a “Now & Then” column, I tried searching online for Tracy Bennett, the subject of this story, who would be 58 today. Alas, I turned up nothing.

Still, in our COVID era, this 36-year-old story about Tracy and his view on the Santa milieu remains timely and inspiring — at least that’s my hope.

At the time I wrote it, the story resonated 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 “the 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 above, 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. —Clay

Dec. 24, 1980, Oregonian, page B8.


… and to all a good night!