Studying Life Through Death

While it is true that cemeteries are places of death, they can also tell us a lot about how people lived. Through the examination of different elements of the grave markers at Calvary Cemetery (such as size, material, and decorative elements) I was able to better understand the people who were buried there and the times in which they lived.

I chose to do a seriation frequency on decorative motifs in Calvary Cemetery. Through this exercise I learned how decoration changed overtime and I was able to make inferences about the people who were buried there. It is clear that crosses have been a popular decorative element at Calvary Cemetery almost since its beginning, but they were most popular between 1925 and 1950. The importance of religion has remained constant over time, but perhaps increases during and after times of war.

 Spacing of graves can also tell us a lot about relationships and gender roles. For example, one set of graves that I recorded were all part of a family plot and were remarkably similar. They were all the same size, shape, and had virtually the same decoration and inscription, only differing to distinguish between “wife and mother” or “husband and father.” Alternatively, there were burials that suggested very different status for men and women. One example of this can be found in the St. Raphael section of Calvary Cemetery. One man’s gravestone is large, metal, and has an inscription that refers to his military service, as well as other religious decoration. Next to this is his wife’s grave, which consists of only a small, plain stone with her name, date of birth and death, and a small cross.

In addition to design difference, the number of burials every year can tell us a lot about what was going on in society at any given time. At Calvary Cemetery, burials increased after major wars, such as World War I and World War II. After WWII there was a decline in burials until the Vietnam War, when we see another, smaller spike.

In all, while it is true that a cemetery’s main function is to be a resting place for the dead and a place or remembrance for the living, they can also be a repository of information for those who want to learn more about the past.


Seneca Village, Remembered

For my final project, I wrote a historical narrative about Seneca Village, a free Black community in New York City that existed during the antebellum period. Founded when slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, Seneca Village became a thriving center of Black political activism and resistance.  Community members sought to qualify for voting rights through the acquisition of land, which was a requirement in New York State at the time, and Seneca Village was home to the largest enclave of Black voters in the state. Unfortunately, during the mid-1850s, white New Yorkers were interested in creating a grand park in their city and the area surrounding and including Seneca Village was slated as a viable option for its development. After a long battle with city government, the residents of Seneca Village were forcibly evicted and Central Park was constructed, largely erasing the site and the memory of Seneca Village as the community scattered.

Detail from Egbert Viele’s 1856 topographical survey of the area to become Central Park, which includes Seneca Village. The horizontal street is today’s Central Park West (then 8th Ave). [Source: The Junto,]

Despite having visited New York and Central Park on numerous occasions, I had never heard of Seneca Village until I went in search of a topic for this project. It was precisely for this reason that I felt compelled to write this narrative – the stories of antebellum Blacks in the North are not well known.

How I picture my fictional character, Sarah Walker. [Source: Beinecke Library, Yale University, Call #: Uncat JWJ MS 59]

Although I had many resources to draw upon, I found it very difficult to write this story. As a white woman living in the 21st century, I have few obvious commonalities with my fictional character, Sarah Walker, and I struggled to imagine what it would be like to be her and to live through the events of the mid-19th century as a Black woman. I found some inspiration in Alice Walker’s short stories, In Love & Trouble, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I still wondered if it was right for me to be writing Sarah’s story. Ultimately, the narrative that unfolded became a way for me to practice listening to and amplifying others’ voices because, although they are my words on the page, they are drawn from all I have read and all I have heard about Seneca Village and the Black community that lived there. It is my hope that Sarah’s story can contribute to the remembrance of this place and this community so that it may not be neglected again.

If you would like to learn more about Seneca Village, please visit the Seneca Village Project website.

Click here to read my narrative. I apologize for the strange formatting on Google Docs, it did not translate well from my Word document.

The Pioneer Building

Located on the corner of 1st Avenue and James Street, the Pioneer Building has become one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Seattle. The captivating history of the Pioneer Building began before it was even constructed, when Henry Yesler built Seattle’s first sawmill on the spot in 1853.

Sketch of Henry Yesler’s first sawmill,



Producing low quality lumber (by Yesler’s own account) the mill operated 24 hours a day and sent lumber as far as Alaska and Hawaii ( Soon other, more technically advanced sawmills began to crop up in the area, expanding the Seattle lumber industry rapidly. The role that Yesler’s sawmill played in establishing the city of Seattle cannot be denied; it launched the lumber industry in Seattle which helped to create the city that we know today.

By the beginning of 1889, Yesler had hired architect Elmer H. Fisher to construct the Pioneer Building, and excavations began soon after. But, on June 6, 1889, the Great Seattle Fire swept through Seattle’s commercial district, razing it the ground. Remarkably, the excavation for the Pioneer Building along with Elmer Fisher’s drawings survived the fire, and construction was completed on the building in 1892 (

(Fisher’s drawings, University of Washington Digital Collections)

The Pioneer Building when it was Puget Sound National Bank in 1900, Pacific Coast Architecture Database

Some of the building’s first tenants included The Puget Sound National Bank of Seattle, the Union Trunk Line, and the King County Medical Society.



The Pioneer building during renovations in 1974






The Pioneer Building has been used for a number of purposes and housed a variety of different companies throughout its 125 years. Between 1897 and 1908 , amid the Klondike Gold Rush, it became a hub for mining companies, and it was “Seattle’s finest speakeasy” in the 1920s during Prohibition (Pacific Coast Architecture Database). The building began to fall into disrepair in the 1930s, continuing into the 1940s and 1950s. During the late 1950s, however, support mounted for renovation and rehabilitation of Pioneer Square, with the Pioneer Building being one of the main focuses. In 1970 it was added to the National Historic Places list, and saw significant renovation by 1980.

The Pioneer Building has changed hands three times since 2001. After being acquired by 600 Pioneer LLC in 2001, it was sold to Sun Capital Corporation in 2014 for $12.3 million. Finally, a Chicago-based real estate company, called Level Office, bought the building in 2015 for $20.5 million, and it now houses offices for small businesses.


During its 125 years of existence, the Pioneer Building has carved a place in Seattle history and created a legacy that will endure for years to come.


A History on Harborview Medical Center

For my Seattle Building History report, I chose Harborview Medical Center. The hospital is owned by King County, and was built as a two-story six-bed King County Welfare Hospital in 1877. The hospital first moved to Georgetown by 1906, and had 225 patient beds. The hospital was originally named, “King County Hospital” and was renamed after its second move in 1931. This was when the center wing of the current hospital was completed. I had much difficulty locating a map of the building prior to both moves.

This link shows a map of the present hospital:

This is a postcard, shortly after the hospital was moved in 1931:

In my research, what I found most interesting was “Harborview Hall,” which served as the base for the University of Washington’s Nursing School. It is across from Harborview Medical Center, and opened in the 1930’s. In the late 1940’s, the first African Americans enrolled in the nursing program, and lived in Harborview Hall

Property of Harborview Medical Center Board of Trustees


King County’s website, on December 19, 2016, states that the county is working on preserving Harborview Hall, and to establish the building as “a landmark building in the heart of Seattle’s hospital district.” Unfortunately, I was not able to find any updated information regarding the preservation of Harborview Hall.

Here is a more current photo of Harborview Hall from King County’s website:

-Stephanie H.

Imperfections – will they be missed?

As a beer drinker I go through many many bottles, probably too many… but I recycle, I promise! What I’m trying to say is I encounter bottles on a daily bases, many breweries these days design their own bottles that differ quite a bit from the narrow-mouth brown/green bottles we are all used to. New designs include embossing the brewery names or logos on the bottles, adding embossed designs, bands and patterns and etching information about the beer and brewery right into the glass! While these are all very neat, after working with some historic glass, I realized they lack a bit of ingenuity and uniqueness.

Most bottles we encountered in our historic glasswares lab included debri on the inside, breaks and cracks, imperfections, wear and tear, etc. All of these faults gave each bottle its own unique look and feel, and also it’s own story. How did each bottle get these imperfections during manufacture? How did each bottle get all these cracks? What can this debri tell us, is it just the remnants of an unfinished product or was it used multiple times?

One bottle that certainly has a story to tell is 45KI765/M-10. This is most likely an ale bottle that is green with a crown finish. While it has mold seams all the way through the finish; signifying a machine finish, the exterior has many imperfections as well an orange peel texture. The imperfections, like waves moving over the body of the bottle, seem to be almost intentional; creating this wave pattern design – it is very very unique! Being a bottle with a machine finish with many imperfections I would date it to the very early 20th century. The makers mark reads; “JL & Co LTD 684”, however online searches didn’t yield any results outside of finding that most JL & Co bottles were made pre-WWI. I would assume this bottle held a common beverage; soda or beer. However I am curious to the life story of the bottle. Despite being a common beverage bottle, whoever drank it must have seen that the imperfections made a delightful pattern that might have been rare in bottles of that time. I am curious if that person considered saving it, if they noticed it’s uniqueness or if this is only a trait that we start noticing once all our bottles are manufactured flawlessly.

-Roman Chichian