Y’all, I just love useless knowledge. I especially love reading or listening to stories about how something came to be. Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Lore. This particular episode was all about the founding of Seattle, its great fire, and its subsequent rise from the ashes.
One of the most fascinating characters in Seattle history is a lady named Lou Graham. Ms. Graham was a Madame. She owned several brothels including one that still stands today on the corner of South Washington and Third Avenue. It, ironically, is now called the Washington Court Building. But, that’s not the most interesting part. Ms. Graham was a German immigrant who worked hard, had a great head for business, and knew how to court power and influence. She used her power, influence, and money for philanthropy in her new town and granted loans to the city and the city’s wealthy elite when the city hit financial troubles – like after the great fire. At the time of her death, she was one of, if not the, richest woman in America.
The funny thing about all of her wealth, she had no direct descendants or a spouse to leave her substantial fortune to when she died. She had a will. The will stated the money should be distributed to various relations back home in Germany. Apparently, despite all of her power and influence when she was alive, it didn’t count for much when she died. Her will was ignored and the City of Seattle used her fortune to establish the public school system. While a good and noble thing and worthy cause to be sure, it sort of sucks that a bunch of men, the same men that probably frequented her establishment felt they were better stewards of her money. If you research her online some sources say these relatives in Germany were frauds, that they really weren’t relatives. Other sources make it appear her will wasn’t a proper document. However, I feel like it was just another case of a bunch of powerful people trying to pull rank on someone they couldn’t control.
If you want to listen to the podcast that led me down this rabbit hole, it’s called Lore, episode 98, entitled, Never Alone. You can find it here. I pulled the picture for this blog off the internet. A simple Google search will produce more images and information but this was her crowning jewel establishment. I think it looks rather plain and boring – sturdy even. One would never suspect its origins.