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My father (my parents had me at a later age) used to recall streams and streetcars running through Ballard. I had a patient with dementia who, while lacking short-term memory, thoroughly retained her long-term memories of places now long gone and liked to grilled me about them to see if I was a “real” Seattlite. When a co-worker suggested that I was not old enough to have been a “Patches Pal,” I simultaneously bristled and glowed (I watched the clown every morning before school until I moved on to Star Blazers. Yes, I am old enough. Thank you for thinking I’m not).
Every local of a place has a different era that they consider the “good old days.” Seattle has grown in ways both positive and negative. For those of us who grew up here or have lived here for a long while, it can be fun to look back and reminisce about things the way they were, even in eras that nobody is left to recall.
Here are some online resources that you can use for looking back on Seattle’s past. A warning: if you are, like me, a lover of archives who missed her opportunity for librarianship, you may lose yourself in some of these and then realize that hours have gone by.
Please note that each of these sites has its own rules about using vintage images. Some are in the public domain, but many require permission. Most are accommodating if you ask. For instance, MOHAI asks that you submit their permission form for each image you want to use, but has been generous in permitting me to use the low-resolution photos downloaded from their site without charge, as long as there is attribution.
Ghosts of Seattle Past
From the name “Ghosts of Seattle Past,” you might imagine that the website might be about haunted places. Not so. Instead, it’s about places that once were but now are not.
Some of these places haunt our memories, and the creators of this website give those memories a voice by encouraging people to contribute those memories to an interactive map.
As you might be able to tell from this site, I’m a bit fascinated with creating online interactive maps and was reassured to find some of my Seattle memories (like the Queen Anne blob) represented on the map.
The site became so popular that it turned into a published anthology of memories, stories, cartoons along with a printed collection of maps and they even held a series of tours. The book collects recollections from older to the relatively recent and is a satisfying read, though, once again, what we consider “old Seattle” varies with our age.
Vintage Seattle (Facebook)
Vintage Seattle is a Facebook group with a large membership. People post everything from photos of old Seattle memorabilia to personal Seattle memories. Some of the places and memories here were before my time, but I identify with many of the posts (I, too, recall being a barefoot child running around near Greenlake).
I Miss Retro Seattle (Facebook)
I Miss Retro Seattle is yet another Facebook group. Joining requires you to answer a few questions. A test, it seems, to determine if you’re a “real” Seattleite. One challenge: “Did you watch JP Patches?”
Again. The question.
Yes, yes. I did.
Seattle Municipal Archives Digital Collections
Sanborn Insurance Map circa 1893, courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives #1256
For those of you who don’t like archives and sifting through old photos, perhaps you won’t understand my love of the Seattle Municipal Archives and all its resources.
But for those who do, and who want to know more about Seattle history (or just like looking at old images) the Seattle Municipal Archives Digital Collections is vintage Seattle archives heaven.
The online archives include an enormous, searchable, collection of old maps, historic Seattle photos browseable by year, as well as textual records.
Here, you can find a proposed Seattle city flag from 1970, old Bumbershoot brochures, campaign brochures, 1962 World’s Fair memorabilia, and much, much more. Follow their Flickr, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts to get your regular old photo fix. Their YouTube is also an eclectic and entertaining mix of various Seattle footage and old films, sometimes running into the dorkily amusing. Case in point: the collection of old Mr. Bumblesbee fire safety cartoons from the 1980s like Mr. Bumblesbee Meets Jim Zorn:
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