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Seattle USA Underground City

Seattle Underground Haunted Teller's Cage Featured In TV Show Ghost Hunters

Seattle is best known for the Space Needle, which offers breath-taking views of the city. However, beneath the sidewalks and city of Seattle, another world exists – a city which was burnt down, then rebuilt on top of itself.

It is the world of the pioneers, the original settlers of Seattle. The subterranean passageways under the city show the unknown history of Seattle. Above ground, Seattle is a thriving metropolis, a modern city, the gateway to Alaska. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Seattle was first settled in 1851, and incorporated in 1865, which makes it relatively modern in America’s history. The streets were at sea level, which meant that the city often flooded, and this caused damage to the main streets. Potholes in the roads were huge, and citizens sometimes drowned in them.

They did this by building high retaining walls along the streets, and filling them in with the rubble from the fire. Therefore, the streets were high above the sidewalks and building entrances. Simple matters like walking from one side of the street to another became a little more complex. One had to walk to the intersection, climb a ladder (up to six metres) to street level, cross the road, then climb down a ladder to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. The storefronts were still at sidewalk level, and street level was at the buildings second level, or higher.

Seattle Underground Oriental Hotel

Eventually, the sidewalks were built over, so they became level with the streets. The buildings upper levels became the new entrances from the raised sidewalks, with the old sidewalks and old entrances still below ground, and forgotten for many decades.

In the early 1960’s, Seattle City began a program of demolishing all the old buildings in Seattle’s downtown area, the area that contained the now forgotten “underground city”. One man, Bill Speidel, decided to collect signatures to preserve these historical buildings. He did this by conducting tours of Seattle’s underground, to show the significance of the buildings to Seattle’s history. These tours eventually became so popular that Speidel turned them into a full time career.

The tour offers fascinating insight into a previously forgotten world. There is the teller’s cage, supposedly still haunted by the ghost of the teller who bought the gold from miners returning from Alaska. This was featured in 2007 on the American TV show Ghost Hunters.

Seattle Underground Bar From Night Strangler

There is the old Oriental Hotel entrance, underneath the Oriental Hotel building which is still directly above it. This was one of the many buildings saved by Bill Speidel’s underground tours.

The underground has also featured in movies and TV shows. The TV series Frasier regularly features the main character and his brother Niles meeting in a coffee shop in the restored underground, a part that is now openly accessible to the general public. An episode of the TV show Scooby-Doo also featured the Seattle underground. Most famous of all, though, was the TV movie The Night Strangler, starring Darren McGavin, where the underground was the major setting. The bar and other areas used in this movie are featured in the tour.

The underground creates a sense of surrealism. When walking around on the sidewalks above, one barely notices the glass windows in the concrete below one’s feet. Yet, after descending from the noise of the city, those same windows are now in the ceiling, allowing light into the eerily quiet subterranean caverns.

The tour guides regale with tales of a time long gone. The tourists faces are struck with awe, as accounts of the city’s past are revealed. A special night time tour, for adults only, even addresses the cities seedy past. It talks about the role prostitution and corruption played in securing the city’s sound financial position, prior to the great fire.

Seattle Underground

One story even discusses the problems with the then newly invented flush toilet, prior to 1889. As the outlet pipes were at (or below) sea level, it was usual that sewerage would “wash back” through the sewerage pipes during high tide. This would result in spectacular fountains of sewerage being forced back out the toilet bowl. Apparently, even closing the toilet lid would not stop these mini geysers, which reportedly went as high as six metres. The rebuilding of the city at an artificially higher level has, thankfully, remedied this problem.

Today, the tours are operated by Bill Speidel’s daughter, and employ a number of specialist guides. Last year, over 200,000 people took the tour through Seattle’s underground. NorthWest Airlines fly to Seattle.

Apart from being entertaining and informative, the underground also provides an opportunity for the traveller to reflect on a time long past, and what the future will bring for a city which literally rose out of its own ashes.

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About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


23 thoughts on “Seattle USA Underground City

  1. I remember that Night Stalker episode! Legend (a very tall tale) has it that there is something similar under Vancouver’s Chinatown. };->

    Posted by Roy | January 23, 2012, 17:58
    • I have that movie, and the entire series, in my collection. I had wanted to see the Underground since seeing it in the series, and finally got my wish after 35 years. I’ll post more pictures soon.

      Posted by Craig Hill | January 23, 2012, 19:03
      • I have the series too. It really is excellent. I’ll post about it soon.

        In fact Darren McGavin’s Kolchak was one of my influences to start a second career in journalism! (Ok, so he’s not exactly Bob Woodward). I also bought a straw hat and, hey presto, a few months later I’m a columnist in a major paper. Now, I’m not saying those two events were connected, but…

        Posted by Roy | January 29, 2012, 20:55
    • It also inspired me to become a writer/journalist. Unfortunately, there are often more bizarre creatures at the press club than in the series 🙂

      Posted by Craig Hill | January 29, 2012, 21:40
  2. Nostalgia for me. Took the tour in 1981.

    Posted by eideard | January 24, 2012, 10:22
  3. Hi! Thanks for checking out my blog! Wow! I love this article about subterranean Seattle! My parents lived in Seattle for a time, but I’ve never checked this out. It’ll have to go on my list of things to do when I’m next there. Thanks.

    Posted by Thandiwe | January 24, 2012, 23:09
  4. In Adelaide we too have underground catacombes but unfortunately it is very rare to get an opportunity to see them. They are also bricked into segments. In Port Adelaide there are tunnels where the ship captains could shanghi drunken sailors and secret them aboard their ships.

    Another facinating underground city is Derinkuyu in Turkey. A guy was renovating his house when he stumbled on this ancient city.

    Posted by bagheadkelly | February 22, 2012, 23:01
  5. Ok, note to self, I must travel to Seattle and check this out.

    Posted by intendedforuse | March 1, 2012, 13:27
  6. I took this tour when I was young and visiting Seattle. Now I want to go back as an adult. Apparently they have an “Adults only Red-Light Tour” drinks included that showcases the seedier side of the Underground city. Or at least that’s how I saw it advertised last. I’ve put it on my ZeroDayProject list as one of the 101 thngs I plan t experience in the next 1001 days. Hope it’s soon!

    Glad you got a chance to go, I think it’s one of the best things to do in Seattle hands down.

    Great post 🙂

    Posted by Andromache | March 2, 2012, 22:00
    • The tour guide we had actually took the group on both tours, as a special treat. It included the locations of some of the brothels and gangsters places, but not really X-rated or anything. Just a few mildly risqué stories. Still very interesting, though, and a different tour all together.

      Posted by Craig Hill | March 2, 2012, 22:07
      • Oh you got to both. Niiice! I can’t wait to go, I love the regular tour and would do that all over itself. You lucky kid you!

        Posted by Andromache | March 2, 2012, 22:10


  1. Pingback: Seattle Space Needle « Craig Hill - January 10, 2012

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  5. Pingback: Underground City Of Seattle « Craig Hill - February 19, 2012

  6. Pingback: Seattle Underground Homeless | China Daily Mail - March 4, 2012

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  8. Pingback: Underground City Of Seattle « China Daily Mail - April 6, 2012

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