When my parents emigrated from Ethiopia, their arduous journey toward a new beginning brought them to Seattle, the city they call their first home-away-from-home. They lived in many neighborhoods, and today when they drive down the same streets, they reminisce about the Seattle they knew in the ’80s: A Mexican restaurant in the University District where they shared burritos as their post-City Hall nuptials lunch; television sets stacked on the windowsills of electronic stores where my father first saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video; and the teriyaki place where my dad would wait for my mother to finish classes. All of those places are now gone.
Thousands of people have stories similar to these. The project “Ghosts of Seattle Past” is drawing upon the memories of Seattleites to create an anthology of photographs, drawings, interviews, comic strips and written recollections to piece together the tales behind the places that made Seattle.
Author, editor and curator Jaimee Garbacik is spearheading the project, alongside collaborators and local artists Josh Powell and Jon Horn. After seeing the beginnings of the project at Short Run, an annual arts and comics festival in Seattle, Chin Music Press became involved.
“We’re in Pike Place Market, we’re watching the city change, we’re a book publisher, and so we reached out to them and said we want to publish this book with you and work with you,” said Bruce Rutledge, a founder of the publishing company.
There are multiple parts to the project, but the main component is a giant anthology of stories, photographs and art that will eventually double as an art installation in museums and galleries. Its spine is held together with twine, which allows new pages to be added with ease.
The collection can also be stretched out on a table to be read by multiple people at once.
To accompany this, Chin Music Press will take on the complicated task of narrowing down pieces to produce a paperback version that will be sold in bookstores later next year. So far, the submissions are organized by neighborhood. The publishers plan to illustrate the submissions in six maps.
Citywide submissions will be accepted through the month of April to make sure a wide range of the Seattle experience is represented in the project.
“We want to make sure that it’s not one slice, but that it casts a wide net,” Rutledge said. It’s an issue that affects every neighborhood. Even though South Lake Union is gentrifying, that affects the ID [or International District].”
In the current draft, an urban planner has penned the forward, immediately followed by an interview Garbacik conducted with the great-great-great-great grandson of Chief Seattle. Garbacik, who has an anthropology background, has also conducted interviews with 30 former Garfield High School students decades ago. But beyond the unique stories and perspectives on the Emerald City, the anthology will include different types of media, including a comic strip and art.
“It’s going to be like a treasure hopefully,” Rutledge said.
Seattle’ current growth is not new; the city has always been stretching and booming, and will continue to do so. The goal of “Ghosts” is not to reprimand New Seattle or hold it back from moving forward, but rather to allow space for reflection and celebration to happen.
“There’s change with thought and there’s change for profit without any discussion,” Rutledge said, citing developers who attempted to change Pike Market into a parking lot during the ’60s. “If we don’t stop and have a discussion, we’ll lose so much. We don’t want an equivalent to [turning] Pike Place Market into a parking garage.”
That space for thought is powerful, as is the actual reminiscing, Garbacik told Bill Radke of KUOW in April.
“The thing about nostalgia is it helps us remember who we were, what a place is about, why we identified with here,” Garbacik said “It contextualizes what matters about our city to us.”
The project is growing as rapidly as the city itself. Public events tied to “Ghosts” have already started. In March, the project hosted an Irish wake. A drag queen band lip synced to “We Built This City,” and residents were invited to gather and share their stories.
“It was fun, but sad — people were crying and there was anger and all the emotions you would imagine at the Irish wake,” said Rutledge. “People came around and gave impassioned essays [such as] about Dave Ishii’s bookstore and how one woman learned about the internment in his bookstore — and about baseball. You just got this chill in your spine, and thought ‘Wow this is resonating through the whole city.’ This is a really important discussion to have and it probably should have happened in San Francisco and Boston and all these other cities that are transforming so quickly without much thought.”
Cali Kopczick, editor at Chin Music Press, recalled a woman who came to the city to work at a startup spoke about how she now considers herself a Seattleite.
“[She made] the point that people come here and they don’t know what to value,” Kopczick said. “One of the wonderful things about this project is being able to show people who are new or who are thinking about development or just trying to make some changes in the city — knowing what matters to people, and knowing what ecosystem they are potentially going to affect.”
The project is evolving, with public forums and special events to be announced soon.
To submit a story, visit seattleghosts.com.
The print version of this image incorrectly identified the photographer, who is Renée Krulich. We regret this error.