Death and density: 40,000 and counting make Lake View their eternal Capitol Hill home

"Cemetery crows" (Image: Kate Clark via Flickr)

“Cemetery crows” (Image: Kate Clark via Flickr)

Mother Damnable turned to stone before she came to Capitol Hill. Mary Ann Conklin, who ran one of the city’s first hotels, and likely one of its first brothels, earned the name Mother Damnable for her foul mouth and the name Madame Damnable for her side job.

She’d been buried in what was a city cemetery and is now Denny Park after her death in 1873. By 1884, Seattle leaders had decided to turn the cemetery into a park, and relocated the bodies, including Conklin’s. When her remains were moved, the legend at the time said it took six men to lift the casket. In doing so, the lid popped open, and it appeared as if she had been perfectly preserved and turned to stone.

Conklin has one of the more colorful stories surrounding those buried at Capitol Hill’s Lake View Cemetery, but it is far from the only one.

If you’ve lived in Seattle for more than a day, odds are, you’ve been on a street named for someone buried there, off 15th Ave East, just north of Volunteer Park.

Every year, countless tourists head to Lake View to visit the grave of arguably the most famous permanent resident of Capitol Hill, Bruce Lee (his son Brandon is right next to him).

The Lees, and the poet Denise Levertov, are among the more modern and well-known denizens of Lake View, but they are laid among dozens of luminaries from Seattle’s pioneer days.

The 40-acre cemetery was established in 1872 as Masonic Cemetery and changed its name to Lake View in 1890. 142 years after its opening, there are more than 40,000 people buried there, and it’s still accepting new burials, according to cemetery officials.

The cemetery, run by a nonprofit association, typically sees 125-150 people buried there per year, prices start at $968.

Cemetery administration doesn’t have any estimates on how much more space there is, or when it may reach capacity.

Some of the choicest spots at Lake View are claimed by people who shaped the history of early Seattle. Here’s the part where you’ll start recognizing street names.

  • There are members of the Denny Party (the first white people to settle in what is now Seattle) including partier-in-chief, Arthur Denny, and Carson Boren.
  • Princess Angeline, oldest daughter of Chief Seattle (South Angeline Street is named for her).
  • David Swinson “Doc” Maynard, who, in an early example of re-branding, urged that the town be called Seattle instead of Duwumps, to everyone’s eternal gratitude, because who wants to be a “Duwumpsite.” His second wife, Catherine, who claimed to be the first white woman to see and touch Lake Washington, is buried near him.
  • Thomas Mercer is credited with naming lakes Washington and Union and conceiving of the canal between them, and was one of the first commissioners of King County. It’s unclear if he’s the Mercer of Mercer Street, or if that honor would go to Asa Mercer (who brought the so-called “Mercer girls,” about a dozen marriageable women, to the burgeoning city) or perhaps some other Mercer.
  • Henry Yesler, was a lumber baron often called Seattle’s first millionaire (back when being a millionaire was kind of like being a billionaire is today).
  • John Leary, an early businessman and former mayor.
  • Corliss Stone, is the man who platted out Wallingford and Fremont – and has two streets (Corliss Avenue and Stone Way) up that way named after him. He’s a former mayor who embezzled some money, fled town to San Francisco with another man’s wife, and at some point, found his way back to be buried at Lake View Cemetery.
  • And if streets aren’t enough, there’s Col. Willaim F. Prosser who has a town named for him, and Elisha Peyre Ferry, Washington’s first governor (after statehood) who has a whole county named for him.
  • Edmund Meany, an early professor at the UW, with the Meany Crest, near Mount Rainier, Meany Hall on the UW campus and, of course, Capitol Hill’s Meany Middle School named after him.
  • Some early political movers and shakers are there, such as Seattle’s first four elected mayors, Henry Atkins, John Jordan (third is the above mentioned Corliss Stone) and Moses Maddocks, along with a good number of other early mayors.
  • Also at Lake View is one of Washington state’s first U.S. Senators, John Beard Allen.
  • A.W. Piper, who totally sported a hipster beard, was a socialist city councilmember in 1877, way before it was cool to be a socialist city councilmember.
  • Asbury F. Haynes won the Congressional Medal of Honor (the highest decoration that can be given to a member of the U.S. Military) for actions during the Civil War.
  • Alden Blethen, who purchased a little newspaper called “The Seattle Daily Times,” which today, of course is “The Seattle Times.” The paper is still run by the Blethen family.
  • Nearby are other early ink-stained wretches like David Higgins, an early owner of “The Seattle Weekly Intelligencer” which would go through some name changes and mergers and dissolution of its print version before becoming Seattlepi.com.
  • And with what is possibly the most recognizable name other than Bruce Lee, there is a former shoe salesman by the name of John Nordstrom.

Visitors are permitted to roam the cemetery’s grounds, but they are asked to be respectful of those buried there, particularly if they should encounter a funeral in progress. Neither dogs nor bikes are permitted, or for that matter, skateboards or skates. Visitors should use the paved roads and paths as they navigate the grounds. The cemetery is open from 9 AM to dusk, daily. You can learn more at lakeviewcemeteryassociation.com.

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6 thoughts on “Death and density: 40,000 and counting make Lake View their eternal Capitol Hill home

  1. Back in 2003, the Doc Maynard 54-40 Outpost (now Chapter) of E. Clampus Vitus coordinated the replacement of Doc Maynard’s headstone with the local Masons. The old one was cracked and had slipped from Doc’s actual resting place. In 2006 the Clampers helped get a new headstone for Mother Damnable too. Keep an eye out for Clampers in red shirts and full tin at Lakeview Cemetery every year on Doc’s birthday and the Saturday before Mother’s Day when they are paying their respects.

  2. Loved this article. When a person takes their walk through the cemetery, you can bank on directing people to wear Bruce and his son are buried.

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