Book Review: Monumental Seattle: The Stories Behind the City's Statues, Memorials, and Markers

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 2/28/2019
  • Essay 20730

By Robert Spalding
Washington State University Press, 2018
Paperback, 220 pages
Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index, appendices
ISBN 978-0-87422-359-0

Perhaps in your busy drives around Seattle you have wondered about some of the statues and monuments you pass. If so, this is the book for you. Accompanied by numerous photographs and in a chronological format, the narrative provides fascinating stories about them and Seattle's history.

From the story of the first Seattle monument, the totem pole stolen from the Tlingits in 1889, to the statues in Occidental Park of the firefighters who lost their lives in 1995 fighting an arson fire in the International District, the author paints a picture of the city's history and how it memorialized heroes and places.

The imposing statue of George Washington on the University of Washington campus, funded in part by school children of the state, it was unveiled at the opening of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. Through the years it variously stood on stacks of railroad ties, on muddy soil, and on a one-foot-high concrete base, until finally in 1939 it was placed on a 24-foot-high pedestal on the campus in its present location facing 15th Avenue NE.

Later decades gave birth to monuments honoring Seattle citizens like Governor John H. McGraw, whose bust is at Westlake Avenue and Stewart Street, and Sherwood Gillespy, promoter of public golf courses, whose statue can be seen at the Jefferson Park Golf Course. Others include the Judge Thomas Burke monument in Volunteer Park, the Reverend Dr. Mark Matthews statue in Denny Park, and the Jimmie Hendrix statue on Broadway.

Events such as the First and Second World Wars and the Battle of Seattle are memorialized in plaques and statues. Some historic places are remembered by plaques on buildings or parks with intriguing stories of the person inspiring them. The plaque on the Washington Athletic Club building has a romantic inspiration and one in Kerry Park memorializes the man who financed the Olympic Hotel.

In addition to these Seattle stories the book features vignettes about the artists who created the monuments and statues. James A. Wehn, who died in 1973, was the first sculptor of Seattle and is the creator of many of our most recognizable statues. He also designed the first official seal for the City of Seattle and was the first sculptor at the University of Washington.

The three appendices are treasures in themselves. Annual Maritime Plaque Inscriptions (1957-1986) are listed in the order they were dedicated. There is a chart listing monuments and statues in chronological order and indicating year, type, location, and artist. Markers and plaques are also listed in chronological order noting their original and current locations. Included too are maps of Seattle and of Pioneer Square that indicate the locations of some of the monuments and plaques discussed.

This well-researched book boasts an index, a list of sources, and notes on each chapter. Full of little-known facts about Seattle's history, it is a highly recommended publication for any bookshelf.

By Mary T. Henry, February 28, 2019

Submitted: 2/28/2019

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You