Photo from King County Archives
This house at 6416 NW 64th didn't give up the secret of why it disappeared in the 60's.

At Large In Ballard: Finished Lives

It’s the stories. For the final stage of Ballard Historical Society’s Mapping Historic Ballard project volunteers have researched and provided background material on just 150 properties out of hundreds with historic value. I volunteered as one of 15 researchers to do a single one. Flash forward three months (two since targeted completion) and it’s down to Sue Cromarty, mapper and researcher extraordinaire, and me. We are hooked on piecing together lives.

I’ve always loved crossword puzzles and acrostics. Trying to fit together the clues assembled by the volunteers who scanned and uploaded all the property cards and photographs is rewarded by what they reveal: the lives, loves and losses of those who lived in the apartment above the corner grocery, the Mench house, the pharmacy that was replaced by the telephone exchange building. I was hooked on my first property, the Grankull’s home on NW 70th.

While turning over clues like game cards…fee owner on the side sewer card, name on the census with address, I learned the death card is usually first. Once I’d matched a resident to an obituary I worked backwards to birth of children, marriage, engagement, drunk driving (mostly confined to fishermen who boarded where I live now), resident by resident, owner by owner.

Plying the Seattle Public Library’s special collections I did all my sleuthing from home, blowing up census pages and city directories, submitting and re-submitting variations of street names and possible residents to the 1895-present archives of the Seattle (Daily) Times.

I found valor in Donald Billington of 7042 18th NW, stationed aboard the Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor who served 25 months in the South Pacific. Forty years later the homeowner was a Seattle teacher on strike. I tracked children from birth to fishing derbies, through graduation and marriage. I read of service pins awarded for 50 years of service, to the city, to a bank, to a business. There was an invalid wife and a brother who died while waiting for the bus to work. Always the community club elections, the decorating contests, the Elks and the Odd Fellows.

Photographers in a dark room hold their paper in a chemical bath waiting for images to appear. That’s what it’s like hoping a square preview will surface on a blank screen meaning the combination of name and address has yielded a result. Then waiting as whatever magic exists between our homes and scanned, old newsprint takes form in front of me, peering at the tiny print to see if it’s just a false lead, a Nelson born too soon or too late. Finding Percy C. Sankey, Ballard merchant, helping to avert a garbage strike and his son Percy D. working for the City of Seattle for 46 years.

Obsession is the only word. Ignoring the clock I feel that I have to knit the family back together before I can go to bed. Who was Mrs. Betty Cox who suddenly appeared in the household? Ah, it’s the daughter Elizabeth married at 19, divorced at 22, later remarried and in her own home. There’s her father’s long service as a railway man and mention of his collection of train photographs.

Am I trying to drown out today’s news by reading the articles that flank those written in 1920, 1945, 1966? I look at grainy wedding photos and download an obituary that tickles my fancy with the headline, “Former Writer…”

Friends bought a house in West Seattle and feeling like a magician, a librarian wannabe, I found part of their first home’s past, a mountain-climbing man, President of the Seattle Outdoors Good Manners Association. He railed against thoughtless hikers in a newspaper story titled, “Wreckreationists.” They want to frame the article.

An archeologist without dirt, a genealogist for families I’ve never met. I may be the last to finish but so many other volunteers have been winding their way through Ballard’s past as well, watching the sons and daughters marry and move closer to Boeing, south to Renton and north to Everett. Making new of the old is very satisfying.

Volunteer Mia Hannula ventured to the downtown construction files and emerged with a French Canadian widow whose daughter Valencia married Lem Fong Chin. Valencia was herself widowed and later remarried, but she lived on 19th NW for 50 years of her adult life, first with her mother and siblings, and then her husband and children.

I started with Arthur and Hilda Grankull, both from Finland who lived on Seaview and then moved up to a new corner home on 70th NW in 1930. They were in their home 50 years, until their deaths.

I want to award them 50-year pins.

So when I found a family who lived around the corner, a Norwegian (Cornelius) married to a Swede (Hannah), I reveled in the names of the four Asmervig daughters, Mathilda, Eugenia, Selma and Delia. Mathilda married Chester Walling, who’d served in World War I. Their entire married life, during his 46 years with Seattle Transit and on into retirement they lived in a beautiful home near Sunset Hill Park. After their deaths her sister Mrs. Eugenia Roo was the one who sold the home to its current, and only second owners. This strikes me as a happy ending to finished lives, which may be at the root of any present, and former, writer’s obsession.

Reach Peggy at peggysturdivant@gmail.com

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