Check out these 13 tidbits of Seattle trivia that even the savviest Seattleite might be surprised to learn
Are you raising a kiddo whose cute, scholarly nose is always stuck in a weird-but-true book? Or are you someone who can’t wait to share your cerebral, oddball trivia knowledge with your awestruck crew? If this speaks to you and your fam, you won’t be disappointed with this kooky list of fun facts about Seattle! Check out these 13 tidbits of trivia about our Emerald (or shall we say Eclectic!) City that even the savviest Seattleite might be surprised to learn.
Pink Elephant Car Wash
Sure, Seattle has the super iconic Space Needle and many other landmarks of note, but if you ask any local, another great symbol that signifies the Emerald City is the giant pink elephant sign at the Elephant Car Wash on Battery Street at Denny Way. The car wash’s large sign is neon pink, rotating, and showcases a huge, happy pink elephant, hosing itself off with its trunk. It is so well known in the area that it has appeared throughout pop culture in movies, music videos, and ads and has even attracted visits from many celebrities. In fact, some claim this quirky car wash sign is the most photographed landmark in Seattle! Elephant Car Washes, originally founded by brothers Eldon, Dean, and Archie Anderson, have been the place to give your car a bath since 1951.
But did you know…while other Elephant Car Washes are still conducting business around the area, sadly the iconic Battery Street location has had to close in the past year? Luckily, these novel signs will get new life. The larger sign is set to relocate to the Museum of History & Industry, while the smaller elephant sign will be refurbed and installed at a public plaza a couple of blocks away from the original location. So the sweet, pillbox-attired elephant will live on!
You know what else…Wonder why did the founders choose an elephant theme? Because it is said that brother and co-founder, Archie, thought an elephant would be a perfect mascot because its anatomy includes its own functional water hose. Trunk-tastic!
The Giant Shoe Museum
There are not many books quite as fascinating to a kid as The Guinness Book Of World Records. Pouring over unbelievable facts is a quintessential part of being a curious kid. Luckily for our community, Seattle has its very own Ripley’s-esque museum hidden in the depths of Pike Place Market. It’s the Giant Shoe Museum. Located in the Down Under level of the Market, this quaint museum-like display takes up a portion of the Old Seattle Paperworks store. This entertaining array of truly enormous footgear showcases part of a collection by Danny Eskenazi, who became a large-shoe connoisseur after his grandfather had once owned a shoe (that still remains at large) worn by the tallest person in recorded history, Robert Wadlow.
But did you know…for only a few quarters (50 cents!), you can show your family the whole collection of the world’s largest giant shoes? Various gargantuan styles are represented, such as hi-tops, boots, and old-timey shoes, including another size 37 brogue shoe worn by Robert Wadlow. So unusual and fun, you won’t want to miss this toe-tally awesome little gem.
You know what else…A reward of $1000 still stands if you can locate that original Robert Wadlow wingtip shoe that inspired Danny’s collection!
The Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, locally known as the Ballard Locks, is a really interesting piece of Seattle history. As many city dwellers know, it is located between Seattle’s popular Ballard and Magnolia neighborhoods, and is used to carry boat traffic (traditionally logging and fishing vessels) from Puget Sound into Salmon Bay, then on into Lake Union and Lake Washington. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sees more than a million curious visitors every year, and has more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S.!
But did you know…that the construction of the Locks changed the whole typography of the area by lowering the water level of both Lake Union and Lake Washington by over 8 feet? That actually added many miles' worth of waterfront land, but it also rerouted and reversed the flow of the rivers, left some piers in Salmon Bay out of the water, and disrupted the original salmon runs. Due to this, a salmon ladder at the Locks was reintroduced in 1976 to help the salmon out. You can watch the salmon in the Locks’ 21-step fish ladder from July to mid-August at peak spawning time.
You know what else…the U.S. Navy originally planned to build a shipyard in this canal between Lake Washington and the Sound, but because of the delays in planning, that shipyard was instead built where it is today—across the Sound in Bremerton, Washington.
The Space Needle
Sure, if you and your family have been up the Needle then you know a thing or two about this iconic symbol of Seattle. For instance, you might be aware that it was constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair; that its space design concept was first drawn on a napkin; and that it stands 605 feet tall.
But did you know...that if you were to ride up the elevator (which takes 43 seconds) in a snowstorm, it would look like the snow was falling up? That’s because the speed of the elevator at 10 m.p.h. is faster than the speed at which a snowflake falls at 3 m.p.h. Cool! Also, your little ones might be excited to know that if you were to walk up the Space Needle, there are exactly 848 steps in the main stairwell. Just FYI…because, you know they will ask!
You know what else...the Needle is built to withstand winds of up to 200 m.p.h. in case that question ever crossed your mind.
As the symbol of our state and the recipient of our unending adoration, Mt. Rainier (originally called Tacoma or Tahoma) has a special place in the heart of any Seattleite. But how much do you really know about this magical mound? We know our favorite volcano stands 14,411 feet tall and that it is the highest mountain in the Cascades.
But did you know... that Mt. Rainier has 25 named glaciers, the most of any mountain in the lower 48? The biggest one is called Emmons Glacier, a 4-mile behemoth that also happens to be the largest glacier in the contiguous United States. Now that’s a big ice rink! But there is also something unique about the glaciers on Mt. Rainier we bet you didn't know. Did you know that Mt. Rainier’s ice is home to iceworms? These iceworms are the only type of worm to live their entire lives on the ice. These small creepy-crawlies are exclusively found in the glaciers of Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and British Columbia.
You know what else...Underneath the ice cap of Rainier are ice caves made from ice, rock, and steam. They are being studied for their likeness to the conditions on other planets in our solar system like Mars.
Pike Place Market
Guess what? The famous Pike Place Market wasn’t created to showcase the fish throwers or to scare the heck out of little kids with a lurching Monkfish. It actually started due to overpriced onions in the early 1900s. The price of produce had skyrocketed, so our city and residents proposed a public market, where food could be bought directly from farmers (keep it local!). So in 1907, Pike Place Market was formed and has been operating ever since. It is now the oldest operating farmer’s market in America.
But did you know... the bronze piggy bank that stands in the middle of the market is named Rachel? She weighs 550 pounds and was named after a real 750-pound pig who won the 1985 Island County Fair. What a ham!
You know what else…the Market’s famous fish tossing came about because back in the day, the fishmongers got tired of trekking out to the fish table each time a customer ordered a fish. They realized it was just easier to chuck the fish over the counter instead. Hence the “flying fish” still sailing through the air today!
We all know Seattle's brilliant nickname: the Emerald City. But where did it come from? Well, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau ran a competition to come up with a slogan for an advertising campaign. Sarah Sterling-Franklin (from California) won the contest and came up with the slogan, “Seattle, the Emerald City. Seattle is the jewel of the Northwest, the queen of the Evergreen State, the many-faceted city of space, elegance, magic and beauty." And it has stuck ever since.
But did you know... it wasn’t Seattle’s first fun moniker? Its first common nickname was actually “Queen City.” This name was given to the city in 1869 by a Portland real estate company who used it in a pamphlet saying it was the “Future Queen City of the Pacific.” That nickname stuck until 1982.
You know what else… Other Seattle nicknames include Rain City and Coffee Capital of the World (for obvious reasons!) and also Jet City, due to Boeing’s proximity!
We all know how Seattle gets a lot of drizzly and overcast days. There's no disputing that.
But did you know... the people in Seattle buy the most sunglasses per capita, more than any other U.S. city? It sounds strange, but some of the reasons that contribute to this phenomenon include the need for protection against sun glare off wet roads; the unique PNW lighting that causes brightness even when it's overcast; our preference for outside and water activities that might require eye protection; and the fact we may forget our sunglasses when we leave the house, so we are left to purchase another pair. Something to think about stashing in that stroller when taking Junior out for a walk.
You know what else… Seattle has about 71 total sunny days a year, meaning there are only just over 70 days annually where the cloud coverage is 30 percent and under.
Did you know that Seattle has a big ole troll living under one of its bridges? In the community of Fremont, located under the Aurora Bridge on N. 36th Street and Troll Avenue N., is an 18-foot-tall, 30-year-old concrete troll just lying in wait to meet your acquaintance.
But did you know...Fremont's famous troll was born thanks to a 1990 art competition intended to revamp the area under the bridge. Artist Steve Badanes led the team that made this Billy Goat’s Gruff-inspired sculpture into a local masterpiece. If you can find the troll, look under his hand. He is doing more than just lurking. He is crushing a Volkswagen Beetle under his grasp. So many quirky things to love about this guy. Also, check out his uncovered eye. It’s made of metal and shiny. So delightfully sinister!
You know what else… that shiny metal eye of his is more than actually meets the eye. It’s made up of a Volkswagen Beetle hubcap!
Have you driven on a floating bridge? If you have ever piled the kids in the car and gone from Medina to Seattle, then you have. The bridge that connects these two areas and runs across Lake Washington is actually called the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge at Evergreen Point. It’s not the only one of its kind in this area, either. When you travel on the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge on I-90 from Seattle to Mercer Island, that bridge floats too.
But did you know...that if you drive either of these floating expanses you will be on the world’s first and second longest floating bridges (one of which actually sank during reconstruction in 1990, eek!)? Who knew? Now that is something we know your kiddos will flip over!
You know what else…The real reason behind these unique bridges over Lake Washington is that the lake is deep and the lake bed is way too soft to support a conventional bridge. That's why ours need to float!
Any local should know that Seattle was rebuilt on top of a city that was destroyed by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. But if you have yet to hear this story, you're in for an unusual ride. This city-built-on-a-city gives birth to the very famous Seattle Underground, a network of underground passageways and basements in Pioneer Square that used to be at ground level before the fire. Instead of revamping the city where it originally was, the streets were regraded and elevated one to two stories higher (about 22 feet). That means Seattle sits right on top of the old city. The businesses underneath eventually fell into disuse, but certain sections have now become a major tourist attraction. You can still walk over some of the pavement lights that were used to light up the underground sidewalks below.
But did you know... one of the reasons for building the streets higher up was that it kept the sewers that drained into Elliot Bay from backing up at high tide? Thankfully, because of this, our ‘new’ Seattle is far less stinky than it could have been!
You know what else… The Great Seattle Fire that destroyed the original city all started when a cabinetmaker forgot about glue he was heating up over a fire. When it boiled over, it caught fire, started spreading rapidly (because of turpentine on the floor), and soon ignited the whole block.
If you ask a local they'll tell you Seattle is named after Chief Sealth, a leading figure of the Suquamish and Duwamish. And they wouldn't be wrong.
But did you know... Seattle was first known as Duwamps? Say what now? It’s true. A group of travelers known as the Denny Party came to claim land on what is now Alki Point (formerly and funnily named New York Alki). After a hard winter, most of the Denny Party relocated across Elliot Bay to claim more land at the site of present-day Pioneer Square, which they promptly named Duwamps. After these two settlements competed for dominance, New York Alki was eventually abandoned and everyone moved across the bay. After that, Duwamps' name was changed to “Seattle” to honor the very accommodating and welcoming Chief Sealth of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes.
You know what else… The name “Seattle” was used in print for the very first time in 1852.
Every Seattleite knows how hilly it can be (clutch drivers beware!). All these hills in our community are a result of glaciation. Glaciers moving south first dug out our terrain, but when they receded, huge mounds of rock debris were left in their path. These rock hills are thought to be what is now First Hill, Yesler Terrace, Cherry Hill, Denny Regrade, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne Hill, and Beacon Hill.
But did you know... that Denny Regrade was originally a big hill, too? This particular hill was removed and regraded in the years between 1898 and 1930. Regrading started on First Avenue in 1897 and 1899. Then years later, the hill was sluiced right into Elliot Bay. The last pieces of the left-over hill were finally removed by steam shovels in 1929 and 1930.
You know what else… some of the earth dug up from these regrades was used to build Harbor Island out in Elliot Bay. It was once considered the largest human-made island in the world.