Here Now Some History #27: The Seattle Burning Time

By Kristine Ota

Many travel blogs suggest taking the Seattle Underground Tour to learn about the dark underbelly of our city of angels, as the city standing today is not the same city that once stood. On June 6th, 1889, Seattle was engulfed by a great fire, creatively dubbed The Great Fire. Few, however, recall the fire that preceded it, known to historians and local drunks as The Seattle Burning Time. 

Fire looks cool, but its not cool. Its very hot.
Fire looks cool, but it’s not cool. It’s very hot.

Seattle was initially built using straw, hay, and each settler’s self-loathing for moving out West. The arid terrain from the East, which has an abundance of dry grass, provided the city’s first building blocks. But on September 29th, 1853, the day that would be remembered until June 6th, 1889, dry materials’ inevitable fate inconvenienced the lives of at least a couple of people.

Born on March 11th, 1828 to a gold digger and a gold digger’s gold digger, Beatrix Thumbie became the city’s first and only female businesswoman in Seattle. A rising star, she helped introduce a product we use today – hairspray. After a drunk patron spewed his drink in her face and subsequently her hair, Thumbie realized she had made a discovery. According to a journal discovered by our staff, the incident gave her the “most glamorous hair day of all my days.” She partnered with alcohol distributors and bottled her new product in fancy, old-timey atomizers, which can be viewed in Seattle’s Museum of Lost and Found.

Besides her hair, Thumbie’s beauty made her one of the most sought after bachelorettes in the city. She was named one of Seattle’s “Top 5 Women Who Are Too Pretty For Ideas” by the Seattle Gazette.

Thumbie had many suitors, the most infamous of which was Mayor Jonathan Longbottom, who tried many tactics to woo her. One such tactic was his garish wooden carriage, which was custom built with large wheels and a gold detail. He would ride past her salon multiple times a day and demand his driver command his carriage at such a speed that his wheels would spray mud across her storefront, which she would then have to clean. Thumbie journaled:

We all knew when Longbottom would ride past on his monstrosity, for the bottles in the shop would rattle and fall to the floor… And as he passed the shop, he yelled out his carriage, ‘Oopsie, did I do that?’ Yes. Yes he did do that.

After many failed marriage proposals, Longbottom accused Thumbie of witchcraft. In a power play,  he charged Beatrix with sorcery and declared she would be burned in Pioneer Square. Little did the city know, Thumbie stored large amounts of hairspray in the city center.

Seattle celebrated the annual Lighting of the Witch festival, with colorful parchment paper and streamers that lined the city blocks and buildings. Beatrix was led in a procession behind children running around on broomsticks, while they chanted the popular nursery rhyme of the festival:

You could have said yes
But instead you said no,
So now we must burn you,
to Hell you will go!

Longbottom's diary was full of detailed drawings of Thumbie and witch burnings
Longbottom’s diary was full of detailed drawings of Thumbie and witch burnings

The children tied Thumbie to a pole, on what would be Safeco Field today, atop a platform of straw and kindling. Her cotton dress draped alongside the small stage, completely covering it, while the children placed small bundles of straw in dress pockets. When asked her final words, she said, “Thumbie’s Hair Salon will be under new management tomorrow but our doors will still be open.”

When Mayor Longbottom lit the kindling it wasn’t long before the fire reached one of the stockpiles of hairspray, and blew up the his very office. The fire tore apart the city, destroying half in the first few hours. It would have covered the entire city, if the rain had not arrived. Like Longbottom’s carriage, the rainstorm came quickly and left just as quickly. Unlike the carriage, it distinguished flames, but the damage had already been done.

After, it was decided that all future buildings would be made of timber. The decision was unanimous; since the city was always damp, it would be impossible for the lumber to catch fire. Men in top hats patted each other on the back and proceeded to measure each other’s dicks to see who would be the first to break grounds for the new city. They would have drawn straws, but the mayor said it was, “too soon” to make that kind of reference. The city would soon rebuild as a sprawling woodtropolis, only to be destroyed again by the Great Seattle Fire.

So if you’re visiting the Seattle area and decide to take the Underground Tour, ask your guide about The Seattle Burning Time and give them a wink. You’ll feel satisfied that you know more than the guide.

This guy must know a lot that you dont
This guy must know a lot that you don’t


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